Working alongside mainstream Western medical practitioners in the Wood River Valley are a number of women who offer what is described as alternative, or complimentary, health care.
These women often work beyond the boundaries of conventional medical practice, addressing emotional and spiritual concerns as well as physical ailments. Their thriving practices are evidence of a local predisposition to leave no stone unturned in the search for optimal health.
Joan Scheingraber is a licensed acupuncturist working at offices in Ketchum and Hailey. An avid athlete, she had to quit the track team in eighth grade after contracting tendonitis in both knees. Later she underwent three acupuncture treatments in Breckenridge, Colo., and was able to run again.
“From then on I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” she said. “I love to see people feel better. I love to see people open up to a new way of healing themselves.”
After receiving a master’s degree from the Oregon College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a biology degree from Dartmouth, she traveled to Gui Lin, China, to study at a hospital that specializes in the acute care of stroke victims.
In keeping with the evolving 4,000-year-old tradition of Chinese medicine, Scheingraber uses needles and herbal remedies to move and unlock the flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”) energy within the body. She relies on tongue inspections, and tests the “quality” of a pulse in many locations during examinations, rather than simply the pulse rate.
“Chinese medicine is about restoring balance in the body, between yin and yang (male and female) and moist and dry. It’s all about achieving balances and finding patterns. If you come in with a headache, I might end up treating your digestive issues.”
Scheingraber treats numerous ailments, from sciatica and menstrual and menopausal problems, to the aftereffects of chemotherapy. She concedes that the terminology in Chinese medicine is very different than what is used in Western medical practice; a headache with a sharp pain is said to be a “dry” symptom, whereas a dull pain is described as “damp.”
She also allows that a patient’s belief system could play a strong role in healing.
“But acupuncture also works very well on dogs and horses, and I don’t know if they believe in it or not,” she said.
Mary Wheeler says atmosphere has something to do with the healing quality of her office in Ketchum. The suite where she practices reflexology and cranio-sacral therapies is warmly lit and filled with exotic scents. A small fountain trickles in the corner. Feathers, diplomas and texts and drawings from Eastern medical traditions line the walls.
“People go on journeys in here,” she said. “They also release emotional traumas from their bodies.”
Wheeler became a certified reflexologist many years ago, learning to apply pressure to feet, hands and ears in order to effect healing in specific areas of the body.
Wheeler also studied cranio-sacral therapy, the treatment of flows in cerebrospinal fluid with light touch and massage. Her practice deepened quickly in 2000 after an awakening in her own body of Kundalini energies, associated in yoga with nodes of energy that run up the spine.
“Cranio-sacral work just started zooming for me after that,” she said. “It works to help people unwind the healing patterns in their bodies.”
Wheeler treats people with chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, depression and other illnesses by focusing her mind on the “fascia” or connecting tissues around the spine and brain, as well as other soft tissues in the body.
“I help unwind healing patterns of the body,” Wheeler said. “I think of it as clearing out the ‘not self’ so more of the divine plan can inhabit our bodies, especially in those places where we are wounded, so the inner critic can disappear.”
Mary Kay Foley is a physical therapist who was coordinator of the St. Luke’s Wood River Integrative Therapies Program, which included yoga, acupuncture, guided imagery and healing touch. Foley is now the hospital's healing touch coordinator.
“I’ve always had a pretty eclectic physical therapy practice,” Foley said. “We try to support the whole being—body, mind and soul, so they are in a better position to heal.
“Bringing about the relaxation response is very helpful during healing from injury and illness because if you are feeling a lot of stress, your energy goes toward the stressors, rather than toward healing.”
Healing touch is defined by the National Cancer Institute as “a form of complementary and alternative medicine based on the belief that vital energy flows through the human body. This energy is said to be balanced or made stronger by practitioners who pass their hands over, or gently touch, a patient’s body.”
Foley said the practice “involves increasing sensitivity to subtle energies, things we are not aware of on a daily basis ordinarily, such as grounding and centering, breathing and becoming present with the patient.”
“Belief plays a huge role in healing,” she said. “Just look at the placebo effect. But on the other hand, a lot of nonbelievers have become believers at St. Luke’s because healing touch has been so effective. Based on patient surveys, we have seen a 50 percent decrease in pain and 70 percent decrease in anxiety from healing touch.”
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org