Healing hands

After years of living with back pain, Michael Tonetti says he’s found the cure BACK TO BASICS Michael Tonetti shows some of his moves from his Postural Rejuvenation program.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Tonetti online:
More information on Michael Tonetti and his therapeutic programs can be found on his Web site (www.dealingwithgravity.com).

About the author:
A periodic contributor to the CN&R, Emily Brannen is a fourth-generation Chicoan, a playwright, and an instructor in the Drama Departmentat Butte College.

A periodic contributor to the CN&R, Emily Brannen is a fourth-generation Chicoan, a playwright, and an instructor in the Drama Department at Butte College. Michael Tonetti points out that I do not stand up from my chair correctly, and that I am allowing my spine to “collapse.” He shows me how to change, but his solution requires losing the assistance of my arms. After four unsuccessful knee surgeries, I tell him there’s no way I can possibly do it.

He looks at me thoughtfully for a moment, then asks me to make a tiny adjustment in the way my feet are positioned and try it again, this time without the arms. I sigh, ready to show him how futile it is. But to my utter astonishment, after more than six years of difficulty and pain, I practically fly out of the chair, without the aid of my arms, and without any pain in my knees whatsoever.

Tonetti claims that “virtually every single person” in Western civilization suffers from a syndrome he calls “unstopped use emergency collapse pattern movement,” where the spine basically collapses into a slouch.

“This creates overstretching and weakening of the deep spinal muscles, which causes the long surface muscles to grab, the pelvis to tip forward, and we end up swaybacked,” Tonetti explained.

He goes on to give a technical and detailed description of the problem, but simply put, it’s hell on Earth for people whose syndrome progresses to the point of chronic or recurrent pain, degeneration, joint replacement and/or disability.

The cause, he says, has to do with our lifestyle. Computers and cars are the worst culprits, not to mention television, board meetings and movie theaters. Our furniture is partly to blame, too.

“Chairs are designed for stacking on top of each other,” he said. “not for sitting in.”

But Tonetti claims there is a solution. And after 25 years of research and experimentation, he has collected and organized his knowledge into a body mechanics improvement program called Postural Rejuvenation.

“This is what the planet needs,” Tonetti said confidently. “You should yell it from the rooftops.”

Tonetti—a tall, lanky, 54-year old with salt-and-pepper dreadlocks—came to Chico in 1982. Whether you know him by name or not, you have probably seen him around town in drum circles, or playing Hacky Sack, or on a bicycle heading up to Forest Ranch or Cohasset.

Most encounters with Tonetti, however, are in his massage studio. He has been practicing massage therapy for 27 years and estimates that he has accumulated at least 50,000 hours of hands-on experience.

Tonetti’s interest in healing began at the age of 20, when he began to suffer severe, debilitating lower-back pain. His father advised him to “just get used to it,” citing his own lifelong back pain as proof that his son would not escape the curse. Tonetti was horrified.

After nine years of seeking relief, he attended a course in rolfing (deep tissue massage), and within five weeks his back pain was nearly gone. Though he was hopeful, Tonetti realized that if he did not drastically alter the way he used his body, the pain would come back. He studied everything he could get his hands on about body mechanics, including bio-energetics and the Alexander Technique, a method of changing habitual patterns.

Still, Tonetti could not find a single technique or system that satisfied him, and even found some aspects of various techniques (including yoga) to be counterproductive, with the potential to actually cause injury.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Tonetti took what he felt was helpful from wherever he could find it and threw out the rest, and after all these years of experimenting on himself, correcting and perfecting his methods (often mildly injuring himself in the process of finding out “what not to do"), he says he has managed to live virtually pain free for 25 years.

Postural Rejuvenation has been slow to catch on, even though Tonetti has been trying to generate interest for years. Asking people to be continuously aware of how they are walking, sitting, bending, moving and not moving is a tall request, and Tonetti is the first to admit this.

“Simply put, people don’t want to do the work,” he said.

Postural Rejuvenation may take effort, and a period of feeling uncoordinated in a new movement pattern, but the payoff is priceless, Tonetti says, and he is convinced that the world is ready.

“It’s a worldwide movement,” he said. “I just happened to be tuned into it.”

In April, Tonetti will launch an international campaign, starting with the release of his instructional DVD Postural Rejuvenation: Effective Joint Protection for a Long, Active Life. Eventually he hopes to train and certify Postural Rejuvenation practitioners, in the same way that the Alexander Technique and yoga provide official training and certification.

For now, Tonetti and his program remain relatively unknown. He’s still practicing massage therapy, and gives lessons in Postural Rejuvenation as well as Therapeutic Boogie and footbag (Hacky Sack).

But Tonetti is convinced that Postural Rejuvenation will catch on quickly.

“All these top trainers are going to go, ‘Oh shit. Why didn’t I think of this?’ “ Tonetti said. “Because they know some of this stuff, they just don’t know these words yet.”