Quest for alternative health

Yoga, Reiki, herbs and something called craniosacral therapy: Are these the keys to a healthier lifestyle?

Don Howard Morrissey performs Reiki on Adrienne.

Don Howard Morrissey performs Reiki on Adrienne.

Photo by David Robert

It snuck up on me like a Trojan horse.

First came the realization that my fellow man is inherently good. Vegetarianism followed soon after, and then clamoring hordes of hippies came teeming out of that horse’s belly and set up camp in my psyche.

“Animal rights!” they shouted. “Human rights! Environmentalism! Pacifism! Anti-consumerism!”

I read Hindu scripture. I shopped online for non-leather shoes. I royally annoyed my boss by refusing to go to Starbucks on one of our frequent coffee runs.

So when my friend Carmen started bending my ear about alternative health, my defenses were already weakened. The hippies in my noggin had been busily evicting my skepticism and were replacing it with cautious open-mindedness. I was ready to give it a try—on the RN&R’s dime, of course. I may be socially conscious, but I’m still broke.

Toni E. Fain
Naturopathic Doctor, Master Herbalist

My alternative health saga began at Everlasting Health Center, 1515 S. Virginia St. Carmen had been extolling the virtues of a certain ayurvedic doctor there who took her pulse in a dozen different ways, accurately diagnosed her ailments and sent her off with a bag full of inexpensive herbal remedies.

When I arrived for my consultation, I discovered that Toni E. Fain was not an ayurvedic doctor, but a naturopathic doctor and master herbalist. It was a little mix-up with the clerk who made the appointment, but it’s not like I’d know the difference anyway. Ayurvedic, naturopathic … whatever.

Carmen, photographer David Robert and I hung out in the cozy, book-lined waiting room until Toni arrived. She offered us some tea and ushered us into a small, brightly lit office.

Her grayish brown hair and white lab coat gave her an air of authority, although the state of Nevada forbids her to “prescribe” any treatments. I filled out a short questionnaire, and she asked me about my health problems.

Now, I’m not exactly a shining example of healthy living, but my complaints are rather minor. I get headaches, especially when stressed or angry. I have some stomach problems. I don’t exercise, and I don’t sleep well.

And, OK, I’ll admit it. I smoke.

“So you already know about the miscellaneous slime and grime,” Toni says sternly. “It traps pollution in your heart, like Elmer’s Glue … your plumbing is getting narrower … In reality, you’ve got sludge instead of blood.”

It doesn’t take long to figure out that Toni is a master of disturbing imagery. I’m already imagining the gooey sludge running through my arteries.

Toni eases up on the smoking and launches into the basics of nutrition.

“A body needs to manufacture whole, healthy, perfect cells,” she says. She describes unhealthy cells as “Swiss cheese cells,” conjuring up yet another discomforting image.

To make sure these cells remain healthy, a body needs nutrients: vitamins, minerals, enzymes and the like. But if your acid/alkaline balance is out of whack, Toni says, you can’t process these nutrients, even if you eat healthy food.

She says many of her clients test their acid/alkaline balance with litmus paper. Litmus paper? Like in chemistry class? I’m pondering whether I would actually buy litmus paper—then Toni throws me a real curveball.

“Start at the bottom, namely the anus, and work up,” she says.

That’s where she wants to start a cleansing—the colon, then the liver, then the gallbladder, maybe even some lymphatic drainage.

“I’ve had people lose a lot of symptoms just from cleansing,” she says.

I imagine plastic tubes and rubber gloves. Awkwardness and ickiness. Call me crazy, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with some stranger hosing out my nether regions.

After cleansing your colon, she says, debris now has an easy exit, without a bunch of gunk clogging up the works. The problem, Toni says, is that many people don’t want to invest the energy into these preventative measures.

“They say, ‘Where’s that magic pill? What herb do I need to take to fix this?'” she says.

I’m starting to feel a little guilty now. I’ve invested an hour of my time and $60 into this consultation, and I’m balking at Step One.

She lets me off the hook by telling me that it all comes down to what a person is willing to do. Everybody is different, she says, and no two people react the same to the same treatment.

“What does your body tell you? Take the time to sense. Go inward,” she says.

She mentions that she also does iris analysis, and I indicate that I’m up for it. She pulls out a little flashlight and a magnifying glass, and as she examines my eyes, she tells me about how different iris textures and colors can signify certain health problems.

“You may have parasites,” she says.

Now, before you run screaming, you should know that parasites are in just about everything, Toni assures me. It’s not like I have cooties. Although she does use the words “fermenting and putrefying” in the explanation, which almost makes me prefer to talk about my colon again.

To my relief, Toni finishes up with a deeper discussion of recommended nutrients. She says there’s no perfect product on the market for all the vitamins, amino acids, minerals, enzymes and fatty acids a body needs, so I should experiment and see what works for me. She suggested a few products and encouraged me to try liquid chlorophyll, especially alfalfa, which has tons of nutrients.

It’s all pretty simple. Stop smoking. Eat healthy foods. Take vitamins. Hose out your septic tank. Toni’s expert opinion reinforced things I already knew, and she gave me some ideas for getting started. She also gave me a final inspirational thought.

“God didn’t give us garbage,” Toni says. “We have turned it into garbage, but I’m not stuck with that chemistry.”

Don Howard Morrissey
Karuna Reiki Master
Don’s office is in the basement of Esprit Salon, 628 S. Wells Ave. Make sure you enunciate when you ask for him, or you’ll end up on the second floor talking to a woman named Donna.

A large, friendly black Labrador cheerily gooses me up the stairs and down again. Maybe he knows something about my colon, too.

I exit the back door of the salon, turn right and go down some concrete stairs. Don greets me in a soft, gentle voice, and I soon find myself talking in library tones as well.

Dave the photographer shows up soon after I do and settles into a large leather chair. A raised massage table takes up most of the space in the room, and the low ceilings and soft lighting lend the place the feeling of a cozy little den.

Toni E. Fain, a naturopathic doctor and master herbalist, examines Adrienne’s irises and expresses parasite concerns.

Photo by David Robert

Don is a Karuna Reiki Master Teacher. Today, I will be receiving an attunement and a healing session, and I will become a certified level one Reiki practitioner. I learn that Reiki (pronounced ray-key) is loosely defined as “spiritually guided life energy.”

The attunement will channel Reiki energies through me and will allow me to use them. This apparently involves a bunch of hand movements. I sit on a chair and close my eyes, and Don gives me cues on where to move my hands.

We repeat this many times. The digital camera Dave is using makes noises. I’m trying to concentrate, but I can’t help wondering if I look like a goofball. Maybe the camera is disrupting my flow.

We’re done, and I now have Reiki energy. Neat.

Time for the healing session. Don offers a choice between music or a self-hypnosis tape, and I tell him to choose whatever he thinks is best. He chooses the self-hypnosis tape.

I lie on the big massage table, and Don starts doing his thing. He lays his hands gently on a part of my body for a while, and then moves on to another part. I can’t see what he’s doing because my eyes are covered, but I hear Dave take a couple of pictures.

I try to concentrate and relax into the session. But the more I listen to the tape, the weirder it gets. The voice on the tape tells me I’m in a very deep state of hypnosis, and it’s getting “deeper and deeper.” And every time the voice says it, he stretches the vowels a little longer until it becomes “aaauuunnnd … deeeeeeeeper …” And I am suddenly terrified that I’m going to burst out laughing, which would be totally inappropriate.

I barely manage to control myself.

When the session is over, Don teaches me one last technique that we practice on Dave. With my hands on Dave’s lower back, I ask him a series of questions:

“What color is your pain?”

“What shape is your pain?”

“How close to the surface of the skin is it?”

I ask him this over and over until his pain turns into a tiny, white ball and floats out of his lower back, or so Dave says. You’ll have to ask him if it actually worked.

I thank Don for his time, pay him $25 and start to leave. But Don reminds me that I have not “disconnected” from Dave yet, which is a short series of hand movements so that the people involved in sharing Reiki energy together don’t stay linked.

It’s not that Dave’s a bad guy, but we don’t need to be cosmically linked or anything, so I oblige.

Charles Whitten
Yoga Instructor
I set up a yoga session with Charles mainly to deal with stress, which can cause all kinds of nasty health problems. He also uses yoga therapeutically for asthma sufferers and victims of trauma and abuse, among other things.

The morning of the scheduled session, I ended up on the wrong side of town because I didn’t check a map first. (I thought I knew where the place was.) When I called Charles to apologize, he told me it was OK—mental lapses like that are a symptom of stress.

That afternoon, a computer virus hit our main server at the RN&R, and we were frantically trying to save the paper from being eaten. No yoga that afternoon, either, and by this time I really, REALLY needed it. I called Charles again, and he talked me through a posture and breathing exercise I could do in my chair to de-stress.

In short, Charles is the man.

I finally made it to one of the yoga classes he teaches out at the North Valley Regional Sports Complex in Stead. Charles is a tall, thin, serene-looking 58-year-old with a shaved head; in other words, he actually looks like a yogi, not an aerobics teacher.

“I joke with my students that yoga does not promote hair growth,” he says with a smile.

Charles tells me that it is not his place to impart religious teachings upon his yoga students, although there is some spirituality to it. The beauty of yoga is that you get whatever you want out of it, be it tight abs, peace of mind or spiritual enlightenment.

There is only one other student today, a woman who kindly lets me borrow a towel, and we sit in the sunlit room facing Charles. We start with a few simple breathing exercises combined with arm motions, and Charles shows us a posture, or asana, that will release tension from our backs. This is especially important for those who sit at desks all day, and he shows us how to do a variation of it while sitting in a chair.

I feel inordinately peaceful. None of the asanas are physically difficult, and I learn how to easily correct my awful posture by placing my hands behind my head and lacing my fingers “prisoner of war” style.

I let my mind zone out, focusing only on my body and my breathing and the soft sounds of Charles’ voice. Our hour is up before I even realize it.

Because it was my first class, I paid nothing, but Charles’ prices are by no means extravagant: only $7 for drop-ins or $26 per month. I may not drive out to Stead every week, but I’ll probably look into his other classes in town.

Marigael Morris
Craniosacral Therapist
Marigael’s office, at 327 Thoma St., is small and decorated minimally, but the sun shining through the large side window gives it the illusion of spaciousness.

She starts with a brief explanation of how craniosacral therapy works, using a painted, plastic model of a skull to show where the different bones are and how they fit together. It costs $65 per hour. The basic idea is that the bones from your head to your tailbone shift and react to stress, and any bad alignment can cause ailments throughout your body. Through gentle pressure and energy work, Marigael would realign my craniosacral system and make me feel better.

I lie down on the massage table, which is too comfortable for words. Marigael begins by finding my “cranial rhythm,” which is like a heartbeat, she says. She finds this rhythm by touching various parts of my body, from the feet up.

She returns to my feet, and I later find out that she asked my body where the problem was. She says the image my body sent her pointed to my pelvic area. And it’s none of your business what’s wrong with my pelvic area.

Marigael places her hands under my tailbone, and I feel a definite heat and a weird pulsing sensation. Despite my best attempts at skepticism, I had to admit that there was something going on down there. The sensation was a low, pulsing burn—far too hot to just be body heat.

You can stop snickering now. Yes, there was a burning, pulsing sensation in my pelvic area. Har har.

If I were a regular client, Marigael says, she would focus all her attention on the areas I needed work on. But she wants to demonstrate the entire craniosacral technique, so she works on the rest of my body.

As she works, I try to focus on each part of my body and imagine it in my mind’s eye. But I’m finding my brain cluttered with random images in striking detail, including abstract, colorful shapes and the faces of people I love. I’m surprised by these images, because I’ve always been disappointed in my ability to visualize things in my imagination. This is sort of fun.

I’m about to fall asleep! I sort of mentally float until the session is over, and then I describe to Marigael how completely trippy the whole experience was.

I leave the office with another stack of handouts, refreshed and goofily cheerful. My skepticism tries to reassert itself, but I can’t deny that I just had an extremely enjoyable experience.

Looking back on my experiences, the jury’s still out on whether alternative health practices will really help someone with an illness or injury. I never really had much wrong with me in the first place; it’s not like I was trying to cure cancer.

Plus, there are so many variables to consider, including your mindset, the personality of the practitioner and the degree of your problem. My experiences were completely different than those of people I’ve talked to who had the same kind of treatments.

I will say that my attitude toward alternative health is much improved, and I’m definitely willing to try other methods.

Anything to keep those hippies in my head quiet.