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!

Tune up or pay the piper

After that first session, Shmuel suggested I visit him three times a week for the next couple of weeks. Apparently, he had lots of his famous “body-tuning” to do.

During those visits, Shmuel explained that the body was a lot like an automobile. You wouldn’t drive a car for thousands of miles without changing the oil and rotating the tires. You wouldn’t wait for the car to break down before you charged the battery or changed the spark plugs. Yet we always seem to wait until the body breaks down before we do maintenance. Getting a massage, according to Shmuel, is just like a band-aid. It’ll help you feel better in the moment, but in the long run, you’re right back to square one. “You must do regular tuning,” says Shmuel, or else you will find yourself dealing with constant pain and injury.

Another of his pet peeves, regarding yogis in particular, is that there’s not enough rest time in between practices. He suggests alternating yoga with something like walking or weight-training. This way, the body can have a break from the repetitive strain of overusing the same muscle groups.

“Body-tuning is a special approach to keeping your body completely aligned, in top shape,” explains Shmuel. “For example, if your meniscus ruptured, you would probably have surgery, then rehabilitation. It might seem as though everything was going well, but what you might not realize is that while you were immobilized, your other body parts became unaligned. So now, your other body parts are working improperly, and are ‘out of tune.’ They need to be carefully adjusted to enable them to work together again. With something like a knee trauma, I would be working on your hip joints and lumbar spine. So you see, by keeping the entire body ‘tuned,’ you will be able to maintain top physical form.”

Listening with his fingers

After 30 years of practice, Shmuel Tatz has reached almost legendary status in the fields of orthopedics, pain management, back and disc problems, asthma, headaches, and sprains and strains. He has trained such yoga luminaries as Glenn Black and Charles and Lisa Matkin, treated celebrities such as Isaac Stern and Lou Reed, and continues to garner an ever growing list of yogis and athletes.

Shmuel studied medical exercise in college and medical massage in Moscow and was the official body tuner of the Soviet Olympic team in the 1970s. His treatment methods incorporate a variety of techniques that include cranio-sacral therapy, ultrasound, Feldenkrais, neuromuscular therapy, shiatsu, acupressure, magnets, and physiopuncutre. But the real magic comes from his intuitive ability to tune into each individual. Somehow, he is able to “listen” with his fingers and hands, and feel the vibrations emanating from muscles, joints, organs. Somehow, he can get rid of the muddy, dark pockets of stress and injury. He has the uncanny ability to restore fluidity to your joints and rekindle your inner spark. And after a few regular visits with Shmuel Tatz, your body will be humming along like a well-oiled, finely tuned organic machine.

By Rita Trieger