Thursday, May 31, 2012

Look, No Hands!

Mention alternative medicine in a conversation and you’re bound to get reactions all over the spectrum. Many people will be ambivalent on the subject, taking the “whatever floats your boat” approach, albeit often with a glimmer of disdain in their eyes.  The less diplomatic ones will tell you that you’re the ultimate nincompoop for believing that a couple of indiscernible traces of a highly centrifuged molecule in a glass of water could possibly have an effect on a headache, or a sore throat, or a cyst on your ovary. Edge the discussion towards slightly more woo-woo stuff, such as a blocked meridian or a dysfunctional chakra and chances are they’ll scoff loudly and derisively, turn on their heels and walk away. There’s someone like this at my stables; I know better than to broach the subject with her!

Not that I’m an alternative medicine fanatic. When it comes to medicine, I swing both ways. I’d say I originally belonged to the ambivalent clan, but that, over the years, personal experience has opened my mind to the powers of homeopathic medicine, essential oils, naturopathy, etc. About ten years ago I suddenly developed intense day-long headaches on a daily basis which I was convinced were triggered by a short, ill-advised stint with a contraceptive pill. I’ve always had bad reactions to the pill, didn’t want to take it, but my gynaecologist assured me that contraceptive medicine had come a long way, baby. Err…sorry doctor, but as far as I’m concerned, clearly not! I quit the pill within days of the headaches appearing, but months later, I was still suffering. I saw various doctors, had an MRI to rule out anything serious, but nobody could tell me what was wrong. I was living on pain-killers, and I hated it. One day, a week or so prior to attending a writer’s workshop in London, a lady at my Pilates class suggested I go and see her naturopath. She told me she saw him every couple of months to keep her energies centred and her meridians in order, and that he had incredible results with all kinds of ailments.

Somewhat sceptical but pretty darn desperate, I made an appointment with Dr. Garcia. He checked my pulse Chinese style, examined my irises, and told me what I’d suspected all along, that I’d been poisoned (by the pill). He then lay me down, ran his “remote control” over me (I call it a remote control; it’s really some sort of meridian detecting device), tried various remedies on me via muscle testing (you hold a remedy between two fingers, he tries to pry your fingers open and if your body needs this particular remedy your fingers won’t open. How much of the remedy you need is determined by how much resistance your fingers offer. Yes, it’s mega woo-woo, but it works, as things you don’t need just slip straight through your fingers. I promise.). He told me to avoid certain foods (anything acidic), to stay away from alcohol, and wrote a prescription for all kinds of obscure detoxifying drops (including a snake poison), which I filled at a nearby specialised pharmacy.

 Within forty-eight hours I no longer had a headache. Dr. Garcia became my hero, and from then on I consulted him for all kinds of problems. One of the most off the wall effects his healing powers had on me occurred after a visit for extreme fatigue and fuzzy-thinking. He performed some cranio-sacral therapy, fixed my meridians with his remote control and gave me some flower remedies.  I went home so energised that I felt compelled to go and run for an hour. I hadn’t run in decades prior to this visit, and I haven’t run since! Is that weird, or what?!
Of course, I also recommended him to family and friends. Dr. Garcia cured my mother’s tinnitus when all the ear specialists in Geneva told her there was nothing anybody could do. He helped my father with a multitude of aches and pains. Sure, there are certain things that Dr. Garcia hasn’t has mind-blowing results with, but in my experience the positive has definitely out-weighed the negative.

So, what does Dr. Garcia have to do with horses?  Well, nothing, really. But his positive results opened my mind, and one day last week while I was saddling up Qrac, I noticed a man working on a horse in the stall opposite the tacking-up area. The man was floating his hands up and down and from side to side, inches above the horse’s body. The horse, usually relatively hyper in his stable, looked sleepy and kind of out of it. I remembered that I’d heard about this man before from various people at my stable who swore by his amazing results. Intrigued, I watched more closely and once he’d finished, I went over, introduced myself and asked him some questions.

Mr. Merz is a “magnétiseur” who specialises in horses, although he also told me that he sometimes works on people, too. From what I understood, he manipulates horses similarly to an osteopath, but without touching them. He struck me as a good person, both gentle and friendly, and before I knew it I’d asked him whether he might be able to look at Qrac one of these days, not because I thought there was anything particularly wrong with Qrac, but to defuse any tensions or muscle blockages that might lead to problems later on. Of course, I didn’t mention that earlier in the week, Qrac ‘s left hind pastern had been a little hot and very slightly swollen, and that consequently I hadn’t worked him for a day or two until the heat and swelling disappeared, but that, nevertheless, when I’d resumed work he’d felt unusually negative, cranky, and “against me”. All I did was ask whether I might make an appointment with him, and I admit that it was more out of curiosity than concern. I should add that when I’d mentioned Qrac’s moodiness to my trainer over the phone she said it might do him good to see an osteopath. The problem is, the only osteopath she and I really like is virtually impossible to get hold of. So when I ran into Mr. Merz, I figured it was worth a shot.

As it happened, I was in luck; Mr. Merz was scheduled to return to my stables the following day to work on another horse, and could spare an hour for Qrac. He arrived on time (which is always a plus!) and I took him into my horse’s stall. I slipped on the halter and held Qrac’s head while Mr. Merz began to float his hands above my horse’s body, starting with his neck on the right hand side. I watched intently, stunned at the way my horse’s skin twitched and rippled as Mr. Merz’s hands scanned his body without ever touching him. Qrac’s eyes became sleepy, he yawned, made chewing noises, the extent of his relaxation altering depending on the area the man worked on. Mr. Merz detected some tension under the saddle area on the right hand side, and had me go and fetch my saddle to see whether it fitted properly. It did, and I told him it had been made to measure for Qrac last summer, but that I’d had to have it refitted recently because my horse had built up a lot of muscle. Mr. Merz thought the tension might be residual from before the modifications, or even come from an ill-fitting saddle before I bought him.

It was when he moved over to the left side that things became really interesting. Mr. Merz detected some tension in the lower part of Qrac’s neck, and once again, some slight tension in the saddle area. But when he moved to Qrac’s left hip he “hmmed” loudly, turned to me and said “Now we’re at the heart of the problem. There’s quite a lot of tension here. It’s nothing serious, but you probably have problems with the connection between the hind-legs and the mouth, especially when working on the right rein, and particularly in the canter.”
I’m pretty certain my mouth dropped. He had just described in a nutshell the problems my trainer and I have been working on for an entire year. Mr. Merz went on to tell me that Qrac probably has problems stretching into the contact because there’s a point in his body where something bothers him, making him wary of going long and low, so he’s inclined to evade the contact by making himself hollow. Mr. Merz kept his hands hovering over Qrac’s right hip in a big “V” shape, concentrating so much that beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. My seriously sleepy horse’s skin rippled and twitched, until all of a sudden he jumped, as if he’d had an electric shock, and then relaxed again completely. I heard a distinct cracking sound in his hip area.

Mr. Merz exhaled, smiling. “Voila, manipulation,” he said, mopping his brow and unzipping his jacket. I could see the heat oozing from his body. For a few minutes he seemed drained of all energy.

Could he really have manipulated Qrac without even touching him? From what I saw, it definitely looked that way.

Mr. Merz advised me to rub arnica on the affected areas for a few days, to give Qrac the following day off and simply turn him out, and to work him long and low, getting him to stretch into the contact as much as possible during the next few riding sessions. He said I may or may not feel a big difference in the way he moved, but that if by chance he felt amazing the next time I rode him to remember to not overdo it. Then he got into his car and went off to treat another horse.

Have I noticed any huge changes since Mr. Merz worked on Qrac? He’s definitely a lot more relaxed, both in his body and his mind, and when I worked with my trainer on Monday, seemed more willing to stretch into the contact. The crankyness and negativity of the previous week are gone. Of course, this could be due to all sorts of other factors: as my riding, my moods, the weather, a temporary glitch between us, his moods, sleeping in a funny position, or bumping himself. Who knows!

 What I do know is that Mr. Merz definitely had an immediate and intense physical effect on Qrac without touching him, and that I was fascinated. I’ve since learnt that, last year, another trainer I’ve recently started working with had Mr. Merz come and treat her horse when it went lame and none of the regular vets could do anything to help. Thanks to Mr. Merz her horse has made a full recovery and is now competing at Grand Prix level dressage.

Of course, had Qrac’s left hind pastern been seriously swollen, or had he been lame, I wouldn’t have immediately sought alternative solutions; I’d simply have called my vet. As it happened, meeting Mr. Merz and having him work on my horse was entirely coincidental; my approach was preventative rather than remedial, and I figured that as he wasn’t going to touch him, he couldn’t do him any harm. All I had to lose was a little money. And judging from how my horse feels beneath me this week, it was money well spent.

How do you feel about alternative medicine and healers? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share?


REITTV said...

Love this article

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Great post!

I don't understand why alternative / complementary medical therapies get some people so angry and defensive. It's almost as bad as discussing religion or politics. If they don't want to try them, that's their prerogative.

Seems like successful outcomes in non-western medical modalities goes hand in hand with open mindedness. It's my understanding that in the Chinese model, you don't pay your practitioner if you become ill. You pay to stay well... food for thought. :)

Laura Crum said...

I have had some very positive experiences with both homeopathy and Chinese medicine--for both myself and my son. I haven't used these methods on my horses much--the one horse where I did try it--(both Chinese medicine and an osteopath), it didn't work. And neither did conventional treatment. Like you, I'm open-minded towards anything that will do no harm and might do some good.

Susan said...

To me, vets are last resort. I always use the woo woo stuff, on myself and all our animals. The muscle testing you describe is called kinesiology and I believe it's quite effective at finding problems.

A massage therapist saved a horse of mine after vets couldn't do anything.

Drugs are just too toxic and they don't heal anything, just hide the symptoms, so I'll always go the natural route.

Francesca Prescott said...

Calm, Forward, Straight: I think you're right about the Chinese paying their practioner to stay well. It definitely makes sense. I often saw Dr. Garcia to try and keep everything balanced, I think quite a few people do.

And yes, alternative/complementary medicines do tend to stir up passions. I guess part of it is that people are unsettled by things they don't understand, that can't be explained by science. Thanks for reading.

Laura: the only homeopathic remedy I've used on horses in the past is Rescue Remedy (Bach Flowers). It definitely relaxed my high-strung mare before a competition. I use it on my dogs occasionally, too, but never noticed as strong an effect as it had on that mare. I use a lot of arnica on my horse; in fact I have an amazing homeopathic arnica gel for horses that works absolute miracles on people, too. A few years ago, when my daughter got her foot stamped on by Kwintus, we bathed her foot in cold water, then slathered it in the arnica gel, and wrapped it up in a bandage before going to the hospital for an x-ray. She was lucky, nothing was broken, but the doctor told her she'd have a massive bruise. We kept slathering her foot with that horse-strength arnica and the bruise never appeared!

Francesca Prescott said...

Susan: thanks for clearing up the kinesiology! I knew the term in French but didn't know the English equivalent. Speaking of muscle testing, a couple of friends once tested our reactions to cigarettes. Would you believe we couldn't keep hold of those awful things?! Just goes to show!

I'm actually hoping to see Mr. Merz again soon to ask him to do some work on my mega wonky ankle...

horsegenes said...

I use a massage therapist for my horses..not quite the same thing but I do get a lot of odd looks when I tell people that he has a massage therapist. She is a student/teacher of the Masterson Method. I am a firm believer that it works.

Dreaming said...

How fascinating! I would have loved to have been there to see it.
I used to frown on alternative medicine.... even about chiropractic. However, I've seen some amazing things - so my mind has become much more open to alternative methods.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

Interesting...I know that the experienced and rather esoteric massage therapist that I see for my bodily aches can have quite unexpected effects - feelings of bad energy departing, enlightening dreams whilst under treatment, a wonderful calmness that stays with me. Mind and body are peculiarly linked.

A good chiropractor has also changed my life dramatically for the better. Another has helped both of my horses. Keeping the body in mechanical balance is so important - it allows us to move in dynamic equilibrium rather than seeking a static point of least discomfort.

On the other hand I've experienced a part-trained and over-ambitious osteopathy student transfer pain from a lame horse straight onto me. I could barely move or work for a week afterwards. The profession closed up as if an outsider had caught a whiff of its gnosis, backed away, and was far more concerned to protect its hidden knowledge than undo the harm done. This was disturbing, and the pain the least of it.

jenj said...

I've used alternative therapies - namely chiro and massage - for both myself and my horses. It definitely seems to help for everyone!

The most "woo woo" thing I've done is have an animal communicator talk to my horse Cash about his permanent injury (bone splint under the suspensory). She didn't know he had an injury, but told me exactly where he was hurting, although he said it only bothered him sometimes, after hard work. He also told her that he needed more "vitamins" to make it feel better. I asked what she meant, and she described to me - in exact detail - the horse cookies I was currently feeding him as treats! I'm still not sure if he was trying to sucker me into more cookies, or if they really made him feel better... still, it was pretty funny!

TBDancer said...

I'm the same way about alternative therapies. Acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal treatments, you name it. I know the stuff works on ME, so why wouldn't it work on four-leggeds? My vet and shoer are all for "whatever works." Shoer once said if I wanted to "waste my money" on supplements for better hooves to go ahead (my TB had the typical shelly feet) and six weeks after he said that asked me what I had given the horse because the growth was so much MORE and the quality of the hoof coming out was visibly improved.

Vet is a traditional medicine guy, but he recommends chiro and acupuncture. Even suggested I ask the acupuncture vet about electro-acupuncture for the horse's roaring. The condition was years old, but the one session resulted in an improvement that lasted several months.

I'm all for "whatever works." (Horse is all for it, too. An acupuncture vet once told me, "Don't ever have a massage or acupuncture done on your horse at a show or you'll be riding in on a 'puddle of goo.'" ;o)

Val said...

Hi Everyone. Science teacher here.

There may be misconceptions about or outright dislike for alternative medicines and therapies, but there are also many misconceptions about general science and biology. I hear and see them quite often. What bugs me is not the use of alternative medicines or therapies or the encouragement of others to try it, but the disdain for traditional medicine and "scientific thinking" that may come with it. I do not like the implication that I am not open-minded, because I do not reach for Eastern medical practices. If an ailment is not diagnosed by a doctor of modern medicine, it doesn't mean that it is truly undiagnosable. And an ailment cured by other practices is not necessarily without scientific explanation.

I not am saying that I would never try alternative medicines or therapies. Who wouldn't try something if it could mean the difference between sickness and wellness, life and death, for a loved one? The thing that I am objecting to is the disdain for science and modern medicine that may reside with a commitment to alternative medicines/therapies. I have seen it more than once and often from the lips of people who claim to like science.

Doctors are people, too. Unfortunately, really great ones are probably pretty rare and pharmaceutical companies may (and do) market drugs for reasons other than helping people.