Does a Composer’s Body Need to be Tuned?

A client of mine, Mark N. Grant, is both a musician and a writer and has written an intriguing article for NewMusicBox, entitled: Does a Composer’s Body Need to be Tuned? I believe it may be of interest to many of you and so I am using it for this week’s blog. My thanks to Mark Grant and to NewMusicBox for allowing me to reproduce the article.

Professional singers and dancers have always been trained to think of their bodies as delicate instruments that need constant maintenance. Instrumentalists, less so—a bout of tendinitis is still regarded as something of an aberration in the professional life of a pianist or violinist, though not as much as it was a generation ago. But is it possible that we have not recognized heretofore that a composer’s body is itself an instrument, too? That you unconsciously “tune up” the body to compose as much as you tune up your cello, harp, or clarinet to play with other musicians? Even if this kind of “body tuning” doesn’t involve intonation or pitch per se?

In my view a composer is a musician who sings with his brain. But that brain state of composing is a somatic activity as well. To sing with your brain you engage your whole body, not just consciously in the physical labor of notation but unconsciously in the tension engendered by the anxiety of creation. Gershwin famously complained of his “composer’s stomach.” Morton Gould once wrote that for him “creating is like tearing out one’s guts—it is both a devastating and exhilarating experience….The period of digging into one’s self is always distressing.” To me that’s a remark you’d more likely expect of Mahler, but no, that was Morton Gould. And as for his supposed glibness as a crossoverish composer, Gould added, “Well—all I can say is that it is not an easy facility, and if it is—I would hate to function with any less!” So even the effortless Gershwin and the facile Morton Gould had nervous tension problems with the creative act? This makes me feel much better, because even when I’m sketching (especially then, in the early stages of composition), the creative act pitches me into a state of extraordinarily high physical and nervous tension. Is it performance anxiety of the brain? Is it that the body is being just as cooked as my brain by the mental pressures of the muse? Or is it because I’m unconsciously “tuning” my body as well as my brain in order to compose?

If you talk to a psychiatrist about the stresses of his/her work, you’ll be surprised to hear them tell you how physically (as well as emotionally) taxing it is to sit for hours in a chair listening to other people talk. There’s a famous, maybe apocryphal story about writer John O’Hara collapsing cold on the floor just after mustering the finishing keystroke on his typewriter for a short story he was completing on deadline. We composers, too, sit (or stand) for long, long hours with incredibly intense mental traffic coursing through our brains and bodies. Think of Strauss scoring his operas by sitting in the chair at his desk for 12-hour stints at his Garmisch villa interrupted only by his wife’s tea service. The Germans have a word for it: sitzfleisch.

It’s hard to separate the psychic tension from the sheer elbow grease (or “drudgery,” as William Bolcom put it to an interviewer) of composing. In the pre-software days of composing music (i.e. the entire history of the world prior to about 15-20 years ago), your body has to be a workhorse to tolerate the physical marathon of notating concert music in longhand. (How did Stravinsky do it with all those colored inks? And Boulez’s autograph scores, with his extremely microscopic handwriting?) Composing (i.e. thinking up and notating) a large scale work like an opera or symphony can put a strain on our bodies, and in some susceptible people can be as athletic and exhausting as performing. Sure, there are composers blissfully unaffected by strain of any kind, like Darius Milhaud, whose startling prolificacy was unimpeded even by rheumatoid arthritis (which disease, by the way, also afflicted Morton Gould). Milhaud’s close friend Kurt Weill was not so lucky. Endlessly writing out full score after full score for Broadway by hand, without arrangers’ help, on three hours’ sleep a night in the 1940s arguably helped kill Weill, who had hypertension, at 50.

It goes without saying that many great composers produced their output in spite of all manner of physical impairments, we all know that. But could we all function better and longer, both creatively and mechanically, if we had our bodies “tuned up” the way we have our automobiles tuned up? I for one suffer from the redoubled wear-and-tear of a lifetime’s double occupational exposure: I’ve always been both a writer and a musician. I have used my hands daily for both typing and playing the piano since I was a little boy, and now I’m in my fifties and my body has started to cry uncle. One experienced physical therapist in 2005 alarmed me by announcing, as she palpated, that there were bumps and nodules all over the tendons and fascia of my forearms (until she calmed me by adding that many professional musicians she had treated had the same invisible nodules). Though I’m an irregular piano practicer at best, I don’t know anyone else who has, cumulatively over decades, compiled as many keystrokes of both the typewriter and the piano keyboard as I have. I have typed both my books and innumerable published and unpublished pieces of writing going back to the 1970s. Many pianists who aren’t also writers have suffered tendinitis; I come to it through a triple physical insult, since I’m not only a writer but for some 30 years I composed entirely in longhand. As if this weren’t enough, in my early adult years I studied with a composer who was also an accomplished painter and whose breathtaking musical calligraphy with a dip fountain pen infected me with a compulsion to emulate him. I then attempted, despite being left-handed, to become a professional music copyist (copying was still by hand in the 70s), and to avoid smudging the ink with my southpaw moving left to right on the page I adopted a tight, twisted hand posture which somehow became permanent. Eventually I developed ulnar nerve syndrome and by the 2000s could no longer endure the longueurs of copying parts by hand, my own or others’.

I’ve also injured my hands through various non-music-related accidents (broken fingers, etc.) over the years. Yet I am typing this article and still playing the piano and working weekly as an organist and using my hands in the extravagantly labor-intensive task of composing and notating music, both by hand and by Sibelius, as well as writing prose (maybe 50,000 words in the last year) and doing the daily websurfing-by-keystroke-and-mouse we all do. How do I keep going? I get my body tuned up. By physical therapists and, occasionally, complementary medicine practitioners. It works. Acupuncture, for instance, substantially reduced my ulnar nerve pain and has even helped the early arthritis I have in my finger joints.

There is a Manhattan physical therapist named Shmuel Tatz who actually calls his method “body tuning.” Tatz’s work is premised on the idea that the entire body, like a single musical instrument or ensemble of instruments, must be “in tune” in order both to heal and to prevent injuries of chronic overuse. His system is self-evolved (over 40 years), intuitive, and eclectic—it is neither osteopathy, nor chiropractic, nor Feldenkrais, nor any other “brand name” of holistic body treatment. I went to him for treatment of a knee injury, and found in the very first session that he can “read” a person’s gait and physical mechanics in an uncanny way almost instantaneously, then manipulate your joints, tendons, and fascia with his bare hands to “retune” you according to this “reading.” Believe me, this is not mumbo-jumbo. In one session I mentioned in passing to Shmuel that while riding a bicycle my right arm was going numb. He immediately found a few points along my upper back and shoulder and pressed here and rubbed there. An unexpected by-product occurred that night, when I sat down to play the piano at home: my playing was suddenly like greased lightning. I had technique I never knew I had. Shmuel had truly “tuned” my body.

Shmuel says we musicians, for all our years of training and practice, have not properly learned how to live in our bodies. He doesn’t mean just the correct hand position or arm position you learned from teachers, he means the total body—your carriage, your hip, and other body areas remote from the actual scene of battle, so to speak. He uses many different machines to help reduce inflammation and pain, but his primary technique is to discern, with his eyes and hands, a lifetime of dysfunctional postures, gaits, and muscular imbalances you didn’t even know you had, then retrain you how to rebalance them. His principal therapeutic tools are his own hands. His hands are magic manipulators. He feels surgery is a “racket” and should be used only as a last resort. Treating carpal tunnel syndrome nonsurgically is “easy,” he says. He also says everybody, even world-class professionals, has physical problems, and if they say they don’t, they’re lying. Inasmuch as he’s personally treated musicians like Isaac Stern, Christa Ludwig, Rostropovich, and Penderecki, one takes him at his word.

Shmuel Tatz has just published a book entitled Hands on a Keyboard: A Guide for Musicians and Computer Users, co-written with Vladimir Mayoroff, a Lithuanian M.D. who is also a musician. “Both intense concentration and pure physical strength are required for public performance, and the musician is expected to have more stamina that many athletes do,” the authors write. The book explains several hand and arm ailments so you can really diagnose yourself, and then it describes many excellent self-treatment techniques that you can use for them at home, techniques new to me despite my many previous experiences in physical therapy. As a bonus, it also is a fine primer on hand anatomy for both keyboard and string players.

There are many clinics around the country that specialize in performing artists’ injuries and medical issues, such as the Performing Arts Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston or the UCSF Medical Center’s Health Program for Performing Artists in San Francisco started by the late Dr. Peter Ostwald, a biographer of Schumann and Glenn Gould. To locate similar clinics in your area of the country try these two excellent links: or (—a caveat: some listed contact addresses may be out of date). But to find a complementary healer in your local area who can address musician’s body tuning issues may be a harder task, though some of the doctors at the performing arts medicine clinics may refer you to good alternative practitioners. Then again, you can always buy Shmuel’s book, or if you’re in New York City, you can make an appointment to see Shmuel.

But the question remains, can this kind of “body tuning” therapy also help a composer become a well-oiled mental machine—a better mentally and physically lubricated creator? Can parts of the body that are out of joint because of the stresses of composing music be adjusted so that composing will become smoother and more creative, too? Does the body really reflect our minds more than we know? Maybe the longevous Elliott Carter is just naturally tuned-up? If one can learn to be less physically tense, will the creative ideas issue forth more profusely? Or if not, if the creative act necessarily induces a certain a priori tension, then can one learn to cope with one’s physical tension better so as to access the muse more efficiently? Actors learn various techniques to explore their deepest emotions so as to liberate energy and improve their powers as actors. Some of these are physical disciplines, some are emotional release techniques. Could it work for composers as well? Maybe the secret of facilely prolific composers like Milhaud, Villa-Lobos, Hindemith, or Schubert is that they were able to carry states of mental tension without becoming physically tense. They didn’t even realize they were mentally tense because they never felt tense physically. They were, in short, in a natural state of good “body tuning.” They were good composing athletes.

For my part, physical therapy, in restoring my ability to work with pencil freehand, has thus also been psychologically liberating. Though I use Sibelius now (an older edition which I need to upgrade), I have a love/hate relationship with it—it affords me greater writing speed and the ability to extract parts automatically, and permits me to engrave large works in defiance of my ulnar nerve problems, but it also feels like wearing socks in the shower. Computer engraving is de rigueur now everywhere in our field, but there’s just no replacement for the unfettered creative freedom and sensuous hands-on experience of making that pencil (or ink) draft with your bare hands like a painting. Recently I returned to sketching and drafting by hand using green Aztec paper, Archives soy ink recycled paper, and my favorite pencil since the Eberhard Faber Blackwing was scandalously discontinued: the Mirado Black Warrior No. 1. (Not long ago a Carnegie Hall exhibit of Leonard Bernsteiniana displayed several sharpened-to-the-eraser Blackwings Bernstein evidently saved for posterity. “My soldiers,” he called them.)

But the final test will be to go back to Shmuel and see if further body tuning will help promote further creative liberation. I hope to “stay tuned,” in more than one sense.


Mark N. Grant composes in all forms, especially music theater: he won a special Friedheim Award in 2006 for his cantata The Rose of Tralee. He is the author of two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award-winning books, The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical (2004) and Maestros of the Pen: A History of Classical Music Criticism in America (1998), and wrote a biweekly column for NewMusicBox’s Chatter in 2007-2008.

Shhh! Body Tuning in Progress

Jason Alan Griffin, teacher of Nia, Yoga Tune Up®, Strength and Toning, actor and model shares his early views of his apprenticeship with me. His observations have been condensed here for your interest.  For more information from Jason, see:

“I have been a fitness professional for 20 years. I work with people who are exercising and want to improve their bodies. And in this process, I’m often stunned by how little conversation there is going on. At no time is there much inquiry on the part of the client; and if there is, it is usually an inquiry of me, not of their own body. Most people want to be told what to do and then they may or may not do it. But if they took the time to listen to their own body and then responded to what the body was saying, they wouldn’t need to ask me anything; they’d already know the answers. Or at least they’d know where to find the answers.

A simple thing like gentle, flowing movements of all the joints is something that your body will likely ask for every morning. Are you listening? That creak. That staggered movement. The stiffness. That is the language of your body. This is the language a Body Tuner speaks. By being alert to the sounds and sensation of your body, a Body Tuner hears your body’s request loud and clear.

Today, as I was watching Shmuel work, I was struck by how often people are wrapped up in their stories. They love to describe everything that was or currently is going on in their bodies and to relate a total history, complete with the opinions and ‘diagnoses’ of other professionals. Shmuel asks the clients to stop talking. “I only want to know what’s going on right now,” he says. He asks, “What are you feeling right now?”

The work of Body Tuning has no use for all the information clients want to give.  It serves as nothing but a distraction. “Please listen to the guitar,” Shmuel will say, referring to the peaceful classical music playing in the office. When the client is finally quiet and relaxed, Shmuel can better ‘hear’ the body. The body will ask for what it needs, and it will clearly and precisely describe what is wrong. A Body Tuner listens by touching and moving the body. It is an intimate relationship between body and hands.

The techinique of Body Tuning seems to be one that would be very hard to teach, and I admire Shmuel for endeavoring to teach me.  The work itself is powerful in its simplicity. As I watch, I sometimes think, ‘that’s yoga. If this person had been doing yoga, then they might not be here in this office.” But then there are other times when he uses reflexology, or deep, constant pressure or traction.

Today, as he was working on a famous dancer, Shmuel was mobilizing his hip and as he worked, I could hear him repeating “relax, relax, relax, relax.” At first, I assumed Shmuel was speaking to the person, but the dancer was lying on the table and seemed utterly relaxed. His right hip, however, was telling a different truth. I finally suspected that Shmuel’s mantra was directed to the body, rather than the mind. “Relax, relax, relax” was what he wanted the muscles of the hip to do.

When I first started to watch Shmuel work, my big question was “how do you know what to do?” But after only two days, having observed his work on about ten clients, I think I know how he knows what to do. He asks the body, and the body answers.

And isn’t that how it should be? If he sat me down and told me, “First, you pull this, then touch that, making sure you always turn this that way first,” I’d glaze over from the dullness. But Body Tuning is exciting in that it is alive. It’s fresh. There is no pattern, no system. It’s a communication and allows the body to do its best. We all have the capacity to self-heal, and Body Tuning sets that capacity free.

Today I was given the opportunity to assist manually. I was stabilizing the lower leg of a client while Shmuel was pulling the thigh. At first, I didn’t feel anything happening, but after a minute or so, I started to feel the tissue of the leg shift and change. I could swear I felt it moving around, adjusting, making itself more aligned. And then I heard (or did I feel?) a few, very tiny popping sounds. Intuitively, I knew that felt good. Moments later, the client said, “that feels good to turn my hip that direction.”

How did Shmuel know? The client didn’t tell him. The client never would have known that’s what he needed. But this client was lying quietly and letting his body tell us what it wanted.

If you made a lifetime practice of listening to your own body, you’d be in great shape. But if you, like many people, have some pain in your body that doesn’t seem to be going away, that’s your body saying, “This is wrong! Do something different.” My recommendation would be to try Body Tuning. And perhaps I’ll see you in the studio so I can learn more from you and your body as it is tuned up.”

How to Play Now and Avoid Paying Later

Recently I met two people who were of great interest to me. One, an eleven year old girl, the other, a 63 year old man. The young girl has been actively engaged in physical training as a competitive athlete for 4 or 5 hours a day since she was 5 years of age. She has not been able to walk without pain for the past four months. The gentleman has been physically active since his teen age years. He now walks like a very old man.

The young girl’s doctor has suggested cortisone injections. The man has already had several surgeries for his tendons and bones. Neither client can imagine life without being active for at least several hours a day in organized physical activity.

It is true that we humans must move, move, move. We need to improve our endurance, our flexibility, strength, coordination and balance. But, the question is: how much do we have to improve our physical abilities? The answer is that we need to be carefully measuring this with a professional who knows the norms, that is how strong and flexible the muscles need to be, how much mobility there needs to be in the joints. Someone who knows how to help us improve our physical body, but who, understanding the cost of overdoing exercise, will tell us, for example, that there is no reason to run every day for three hours, which may be good training for a marathon but for which we will pay the price with musculo-skeletal or vascular problems later. Strength training for hours a day, or excessive yoga practice can also lead to joint problems and replacement surgeries, witness what happened to Jane Fonda. We see super athletes who have heart attacks and this is why in many cases, the emotional desire to compete, to jump higher, to be more flexible, run faster can have many unpleasant side effects.

In classical physical training, for every hour of physical activity, the athlete needs 10 minutes of rehabilitation, or ‘body tuning.’ Just as every car after 5000 miles needs to have adjustments, the same goes for athletes, dancers and musicians. After 5 hours of practice there needs to be one hour spent on tuning the body to prepare it for the next day’s activity. Olympic athletes hire professionals who work with them every day doing tuning and rehabilitation. In contact sports it’s almost impossible to avoid contact injuries, but in sports like running, dancing, bicycling, or yoga, in most cases there are no contact injuries. The injuries are from repetition. And, once again, just as mechanics check and reevaluate the various systems of our cars after many miles of wear, so, too, must we regularly consult professionals who can evaluate the wear and tear on our muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints and help us minimize the damage with a tune up.

Neither the 11 year old nor the 63 year old had the benefit of that advice. The child’s trainer did not suggest such an approach. The surgeon who did the gentleman’s several surgeries did not suggest how to take care of himself to avoid future problems. The best piano teacher who has a brilliant student sees a competition winner. He does not have it in mind to take care of that student’s psycho-physical condition to avoid future problems. A coach may see in a gifted student a future Olympic champion, but may not take good enough care to see that the student pays attention to his/her physical instrument in order to avoid problems later.  Don’t expect from your trainer, coach or teacher suggestions about keeping the body in tune. In my 40 years of body tuning, only a few professionals who saw students trying to do things that strain the body, recommended a professional who could help them avoid the consequences.

I am so happy right now that more and more people are searching the internet and evaluating the best practitioner for their physical problems. I see piano players, yoga practitioners, musicians, dancers, famous, wealthy, poor…all who suffer with body ailments. I treat each patient, each body with the same amount of time and expertise that I have gained in a varied practice over the years. And to each I try to give the same message: Take care of your body today for a comfortable life tomorrow. Treat it with respect and do not overstress it. For every 4 or 5 hours of activity, you must spend one hour of rehabilitation and tuning.

I keep hoping that people will learn something from me and keep themselves from having bigger problems as time moves on.

Announcing a New Program for the Study of Body Tuning!

After a week of fasting and meditation, I found that I had many insights, one of the most important of which is that I want to share my professional experience with people who are interested in studying the art of body tuning.

Over the years I have received countless emails and telephone calls asking to study with me, to learn from me, asking if I have written a book on body tuning. The decision I have made will make it possible for those who wish to learn what I have been doing for many years to do so.

Age or profession is not the deciding factor. Anyone with interest is welcome. You do not have to be a physical therapist or a body healer to do this work. You can be from any walk of life. To be interested in the practice is all that is needed.

There will be no ‘classes.’ A program of body tuning study will be designed for each person. You can be with me for one hour and up to 2000 hours. If you are already a physical therapist, it may only take 500 hours for me to teach you what I do. If you are a massage therapist, perhaps 700 hours. Should you be a psychologist or an accountant, then it would take 2000 hours to learn the art of body tuning. To put that in perspective, to learn the practice of Feldenkreis, it would take a student 3500 hours; to learn the Alexander technique, 4000 hours; Rolfing, 2000 hours; Massage Therapy, 1000 hours; Shiatsu, 300 hours; Yoga, 200 hours.

Not all of the work you will do will be with me. The ‘faculty’ in this venture will include the practitioners of the Body Tuning Studio, Viktor Jeriomenko, Valery Kovalenko and others to whom I will refer you. The more education and knowledge of body work you have, the fewer hours you will need to study with me. Of the 2000 hours, you may be studying with massage therapists, or with Feldenkreis practitioners, or acupuncturists. If I have determined that you need to study anatomy, I will refer you to classes that teach anatomy. If I see that you are not sure of yourself, I will refer you to a psychologist to talk about your insecurities and to help you become stronger and more secure in your own practice. We will decide together how to expand your knowledge of how to help and heal the body.

In the course of your study with me, you will observe for 10 or 20 hours and then have a session on the table to have the personal, hands on experience of what I teach. Later on in your study, you will start to practice body tuning under my supervision.

At the end of your 2000 hours I will no longer be your teacher, counselor or supervisor, but your colleague.

You can begin immediately if you choose, or let us know when you would like to have your first hour of study with us.

The cost of your study will be determined in consultation with me when I know what it is that you wish to study and how long you can commit your time.

If you are interested in learning the art of body tuning, please email your credentials and tell us what you wish to study or call the office at (212) 246-7308.

I look forward to hearing from you.

There Are No Accidents!

From time to time I am going to have some of my clients tell of their experience with the care they have received in our Body Tuning Studio. If anyone would like to contribute their story, please contact the office and let us know. It is not necessary to post your name if you wish to withhold it. It is your direct experience with our physical therapists that is important. Here is the first.

“I found the BodyTuning Studio by ‘accident.’ An ‘accident’ that turned into one of the most important things I have ever done for myself. As I was having lunch at a restaurant near Carnegie Hall with a friend, a young woman sat down at a table next to us. She looked very peaceful and mellow and she struck up a conversation with us. After a while I mentioned that she looked so relaxed and calm and she told me she had just had a physical therapy session with Shmuel Tatz at Carnegie Hall.

I said: “Carnegie Hall? I didn’t know there was a physical therapist there. I really need one.” She told me about the Body Tuning Studio and how wonderful her experience there was. I told her that I had been to so many physical therapists and though they had helped me some, I always found myself in pain in not too long a time after the sessions were done.

So, first I sent an email to the Studio asking if they dealt with my particular problems, which are many. I have back problems, arthritic knees and hip and degenerating disks in my neck that cause me a lot of pain from time to time. I received a short note back saying that they could definitely help me. So I made an appointment. I count that day as the first day of the rest of my physical life as it was a turning point for me in my ability to find relief from long standing pain and impairment. The therapy was unlike any I had ever experienced in a physical therapy office.

Since that time, I have had sessions with Shmuel most of the time, but have also had many healing sessions with Viktor and a few with Valery. I am tended to no less than 30 to 40 minutes at each session, depending on the nature of my problem. Following the hands on therapy, I am given various modalities which are soothing and relaxing since at times the therapy can be somewhat painful, but a good kind of pain that means progress and more movement in my joints. That day I may experience some feelings of discomfort but it never lasts and when it leaves me I am aware of being more flexible than I had been before I had the session.

Although I have been given many exercises to do at home, if I miss an office visit I can tell the difference in the way I feel, the way I walk and carry my body. So, I try not to miss any sessions that are not absolutely necessary. I truly do not know what I would do without Shmuel and Viktor and the BodyTuning Studio, and that includes the kindness of Irina, who greets me so warmly and is always so helpful and knowledgeable about my particular insurance claims.

As long as they will have me, I will be a regular visitor to the Tatz Body Tuning Studio because it means a happier and healthier life for me.”

Name withheld for privacy.

The Nature of Physical Therapy

The other day a client of mine told me a story. Her housekeeper had fallen in the home of one of the people she works for. She fell on her right side, shoulder and arm. She didn’t think she had been hurt because she was able to finish all her work and continued to work for the rest of the week, but in increasing discomfort. When her pain level was too difficult to manage, she went to Bellevue Hospital and saw an orthopedist who took x-rays and pronounced no bones broken but probably a lot of muscle bruising and tendonitis. He injected her shoulder with cortisone. It did not help her. She then went to a chiropractor she had been told about who took more x-rays and told her that no bones were broken and to get a shoulder splint and wear it. She did but the pain increased. She then went to another chiropractor who sent her to a different hospital where the physician told her to take off the splint and to get some physical therapy because it was necessary for her to move her arm with proper instruction as how not to harm herself further.

This is a story repeated over and over in my office. There is a tendency in modern countries for injured people to believe that only an MD can treat an injury. It is my opinion that if physical therapy were sought as a first resort, many injuries would have less recovery time.

I applaud the work of dedicated physicians to their specialties. But the truth is that doctors receive no training in physical therapy. Nowadays, there is some training in medical schools in alternative methods of healing, but as far as I have been able to determine, no training or credit hours in physical therapy per se. Following Medical School, doctors spend at least four additional years in hands on training in their specialties, but that training still does not include the art of physical therapy.

Many people do not realize how well trained physical therapists are in diagnosing and treating all kinds of injuries. Of course they refer to physicians when they suspect there is something more at hand than the injury described by the patient. But too often physicians prescribe rest or injections for an injury when the more advantageous treatment would be gentle and then greater manipulation along with proper exercises designed to strengthen and heal.

The Education and Training of Physical Therapists

The education and training of physical therapists is lengthy. (See the United States Department of Labor’s website)  It includes science courses such as biology, anatomy physiology, cellular histology, exercise physiology, neuroscience, biomechanics, pharmacology, pathology, radiology/imaging, as well as behavioral science courses, such as evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning. In addition to classroom and laboratory instruction, students receive a great deal of clinical experience. Their training nearly equals the number of years it takes doctors to gain proficiency in their particular fields of interest.

Before entering an accredited Physical Therapy program many students have already completed an undergraduate degree. They can then study for a Master’s Degree or DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy.) All graduates must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination and fulfill State requirements to obtain licensure, after which they are able to practice in hospitals, outpatient clinics and/or private offices. Most full time physical therapists work a 40 hour week.

Many States require continuing education as a condition of maintaining licensure. However, all physical therapists are expected to continue their professional development by participating in continuing education courses and workshops.

Physical therapists also carry personal liability insurance as do other health care professionals.

How to Find the Proper Physical Therapist

But knowing all of this, there still remains the problem of finding the proper physical therapist for you. A recommendation from a trusted friend can be helpful, but I will give you some guidelines for finding the help you need.

  1. The physical therapist should have a minimum of 10 years of experience in private, solo practice and should spend a minimum of 30-40 minutes, hands on, with you.
  2. Don’t be impressed with the look of the office or the convenience of the location.  What is important is the therapist’s knowledge of how to work with your body. The best physical therapist talks less, explains less and asks the minimum. His expertise is in finding in your body what you are not aware of and trying to fix it.
  3. The physical therapist should know all about various modalities and manual techniques such as laser, ultrasound, short wave diathermy, non invasive electrical stimulation and also Alexander, Trager and Feldenkreis. Not necessarily to use all of them, but to choose the right ones for you condition. Then he must teach you how to behave with your body to minimize the damage you may be doing with every day activities.
  4. Most important of all is how you feel. Ask yourself: “Do I like this touch?” Some pain that you may experience is not necessarily bad, but you must decide: “Is this right for me? Do I feel better?” If your answers are no, then you must find another therapist. However, give yourself at least 4-6 sessions with the therapist before deciding whether to continue or not. If all your answers are yes, and you are satisfied, then you are in the hands of a professional who has the training and ability to make your life a happier one, hopefully free of pain, with increased mobility and a more positive outlook on life.

Every health practitioner wants to help you. But nobody knows everything. You need to feel in your body that your choices are leading you to the shortest way to recover from discomfort, pain and tension in your body. For today and tomorrow.


An article by Lesley Alderman in the New York Times (May 8, 2010) under the heading of Patient Money, concerned the practice of acupuncture. It tells the story of a patient who went to an acupuncturist to help with getting pregnant. She did conceive her child but it was unclear as to whether it was the acupuncture that helped or just the urgings of her gynecologist to keep on trying. The article went on to say that there are great numbers of people turning to acupuncture for help with all kinds of conditions ranging from infertility, chronic pain, depression to symptoms of menopause and helping with anxiety before surgery.

The website of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine urges that people first consult a medical doctor and not an acupuncturist to obtain a diagnosis. Though acupuncture can have a positive effect on the body, serious conditions require Western Medicine’s evaluation first. Sometimes antibiotics are necessary for a cure, sometimes a serious condition can require surgery.

Acupuncture still can be a beneficial adjunct to traditional Western medicine. Conditions like chronic pain, arthritis, musculo/skeletal problems and others can respond well to acupuncture. Sometimes doctors even refer their patients for acupuncture. The problem has been that it usually is an out of pocket expense. To receive a license to practice acupuncture in New York State, over 4000 hours of course work must be completed, then over 600 hours of clinical training and work on over 200 patients. And then of course, national certification examinations are required. However, most insurance companies still do not pay for acupuncture sessions.

I have used acupuncture in my practice for many years. For me, personally, the practice of acupuncture has evolved into ‘physio-puncture’ which I find more beneficial to the way I work with patients. It is using the same points that acupuncture uses, without the needles, and it works exceedingly well. That said, Dr. Valery Kovalenko, a member of our staff, uses traditional acupuncture with his clients.

If you wish to find out how you can receive acupuncture as part of your care in our practice, please call our office for more information.

What is “Body Tuning?”

Body TuningBody Tuning is the name I have given to what I do as a physical therapist.

Because I have been involved with music and musicians over many years it has made me realize how much physical therapy is like tuning a beautiful instrument. For instance: a piano tuner comes with his bag of tools, but before he begins to work on the piano he asks the owner of the piano what she or he hears from the instrument that does not seem quite right. Then he sets out to discover on his own what the problems are. He plays, he looks at the strings, he tests, and with his various tools he tries to make the piano sing again, thereby making the owner extremely happy.

That is exactly how my practice of ‘Body Tuning’ works. My tools are my hands.

When you come into my studio I ask you to tell me your complaints, that is, what you feel are the problems with your body…something in your muscles, skin, tendons, bones, something inside that bothers you, some pain or discomfort. Then, my job is to ask your body for the answers to what is wrong.

Usually people who come to me have talked to several health practitioners. If you are in my studio then those conversations have not solved your problems. It is my task to then ask your physical body what is wrong, and if I don’t find the answers, I’m going to look at the different tests you’ve had…your lifestyle…your behavior…your habits.

But first I want to talk directly with the problem. I look at your body. I see its appearance and how it moves. Second, I try different passive movements with your body. I try to move your skin, your connective tissue, your muscles, your bones, your ligaments, to see how the mechanics of your body work.  And I listen to the noise…the sounds that the joints and muscles make. My hands feel and my ears listen and tell me what is wrong. This ability has come after many years of study and practice. Just as getting to play in Carnegie Hall involves ‘practice, practice, practice,’ so does learning how to tune the body. From simple body movements to deep manipulation it is like knowing how to play fortissimo on the piano without killing the piano. Working on the body deeply with expertise can accomplish solutions with perhaps some pain, but it is good pain. It is constructive and not destructive.

Body tuning is looking at, listening to, and helping the body restore itself and its ability to sing once again.

What is “Body Tuning?”

Body Tuning is the name I have given to what I do as a physical therapist.

Because I have been involved with music and musicians over many years it has made me realize how much physical therapy is like tuning a beautiful instrument. For instance: a piano tuner comes with his bag of tools, but before he begins to work on the piano he asks the owner of the piano what she or he hears from the instrument that does not seem quite right. Then he sets out to discover on his own what the problems are. He plays, he looks at the strings, he tests, and with his various tools he tries to make the piano sing again, thereby making the owner extremely happy.

That is exactly how my practice of ‘Body Tuning’ works. My tools are my hands.

When you come into my studio I ask you to tell me your complaints, that is, what you feel are the problems with your body…something in your muscles, skin, tendons, bones, something inside that bothers you, some pain or discomfort. Then, my job is to ask your body for the answers to what is wrong.

Usually people who come to me have talked to several health practitioners. If you are in my studio then those conversations have not solved your problems. It is my task to then ask your physical body what is wrong, and if I don’t find the answers, I’m going to look at the different tests you’ve had…your lifestyle…your behavior…your habits.

But first I want to talk directly with the problem. I look at your body. I see its appearance and how it moves. Second, I try different passive movements with your body. I try to move your skin, your connective tissue, your muscles, your bones, your ligaments, to see how the mechanics of your body work.And I listen to the noise…the sounds that the joints and muscles make. My hands feel and my ears listen and tell me what is wrong. This ability has come after many years of study and practice. Just as getting to play in Carnegie Hall involves ‘practice, practice, practice,’ so does learning how to tune the body. From simple body movements to deep manipulation it is like knowing how to play fortissimo on the piano without killing the piano. Working on the body deeply with expertise can accomplish solutions with perhaps some pain, but it is good pain. It is constructive and not destructive.

Body tuning is looking at, listening to, and helping the body restore itself and its ability to sing once again.

The Body Whisperer

Legendary body-worker Shmuel Tatz explains why keeping your body in tune can help you avoid long-term injuries

Generally speaking, we yogis are a healthy bunch. We practice our asana regularly, are mindful of what we eat, and often meditate to release any and all negative energies. Sometimes though, we come up against obstacles, the most annoying of which are physical.

But we deal. We steam our strained muscles, haul our sore bodies to massage sessions, and sometimes even enjoy a day at the spa. We start to feel better, so we go back to the mat, and in a few weeks or months, a new obstacle inevitably pops up. As this cycle repeats over and over, many of us face chronic injuries. In the long run, our bodies and our practices suffer.

So it was that I recently found myself sun-saluting my way through this wheel of physical suffering. Then, one afternoon, as I rested on my mat waiting for class to start, I heard the quiet whispering of nearby yogis, speaking about a man with a magic touch.

Stay Tuned

Shmuel Tatz PTBecause active people often have problems with their knees, ankles, or lower back, it is essential to get regular therapeutic sessions with a qualified professional. He believes his body-tuning technique is the best tool for helping very physically active people stay injury-free (and I would have to agree), but if you don’t live in the New York area, here are some of his suggestions to help keep you in a perfect rhythm.

  • If you experience pain, stop doing yoga and get daily treatments from a physical therapist until the pain I gone.
  • Make sure the physical therapist has at least 10-15 years of experience. The therapist should spend a minimum of 40 minutes treating you, and a large percentage of that time should include “hands-on” treatment of your body. At every visit, the therapist should be trying different techniques.
  • In addition to working on the affected joint, the therapist should work on other body parts that have been thrown out of alignment because of the injury.

Magic Man

A few days later, I am in an office located deep in the belly of Carnegie Hall. It feels like I stepped into a time warp. The office is worn, with an air of another era but somehow comforting, and there are strange-looking devices here and there (was that a flux capacitor?). classical music is playing, and there are pictures of dancers, actors, and musicians on the wall—all reveal loving and grateful inscriptions dedicated to the man with the magical hands—Shmuel Tatz.

Shmuel is a thin, distinguished-looking man, with playful eyes and a thick eastern European accent. He orders me to walk across the room, and I hear him muttering as I obey. On my return stroll, I can see him shaking his head and stroking his chin. Shit.

“What you are doing to yourself?” He seems really annoyed with me. My voice is meek as I tell him about the tightness in my thoracic spine, a strained shoulder, and an injured hamstring. “You do too much yoga!” he exclaims, as he leads me to a smaller room, and I lay my submissive self down on a table.

He began to whisper to me to relax and breathe as he went to work on my neck, my psoas, my hips, and my feet. Things were cracking and popping like an Orville Redenbacher Fourth of July, and I was alternatively sweating and feeling relieved. I felt gooey afterward, but I also felt as though my breath was traveling on a freeway around my body. Best of all, I swear I walked out of there taller!

Continue reading “The Body Whisperer”

Tune Your Body

I’ve worked with thousands of musicians from Rosalyn Tureck, Mstislav Rostropovich and Issac Stern, to Leon Fleisher, Richard Goode and Gidon Kremer. Most of the pianists I have seen have had good training in the mechanics of playing the instrument properly: how to sit… the importance of arm weight and relaxation… and having a nicely rounded hand. Even so, there are many pianists for whom the normal pedagogical training simply doesn’t apply, and yet, regardless of their anatomical make up-whether their hands are large or small, whether they play with straight fingers or curved or hold their hands high or low-they still achieve wonderful results. Vladimir Horowitz often played with almost completely straight fingers. Glenn Gould sat very low and almost seemed to play from under the keyboard.

What was their secret? They managed to be at the keyboard in s position where their muscles and ligaments were working for and not against them. It is possible to play for long periods of’ time without experiencing any tiredness or pain. And to achieve that, the body must be as in tune as the piano.

One of the ways that you can help your body to help you is through active physical exercise. Another is through passive exercise, and by that I mean lying on a table and allowing someone like me to move your body. I will talk more about that but first, here are a few tension-relieving exercises that can be done by any pianist when taking a break from practicing, (hopefully after 5000 minutes at the keyboard). Please note that none of these should be clone with out first having an evaluation by a physical therapist to make certain they are right for you.

Continue reading “Tune Your Body”