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Fine Tuning

Vol. 15 •Issue 14 • Page 14
Fine Tuning

A Manhattan therapist shares his unique approach.

Upon entering Carnegie Hall, the first thing you notice is the glitz and the glamour. Each of the Hall's three performance venues are vast, sparkling settings for the performing arts, with row upon row of seating topped off by well-lit, oversized staging areas.

A trip to the eighth floor of the Hall, on the other hand, quickly returns you to a typical Manhattan building—short, dark hallways with offices at either end. At the far end a door with a nameplate that reads simply: Shmuel Tatz, Body Tuning.

Tatz, PhD, PT, is the owner of Manhattan Physical Therapy and Body Tuning Studio. Some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Isaac Stern, Lou Reed and Kathleen Turner, swear by his treatments.

But Dr. Tatz's office—or studio, as he prefers to call it—doesn't have a "rich and famous" aura about it. Equipment is placed about the office wherever space allows. Three chairs, taken from the performing studios at the Hall, serve as a waiting area, placed up against a wall adorned with pictures of some of Dr. Tatz's better-known patients.

The studio, like Dr. Tatz and his practice, is a celebration of functionality.

Background

Dr. Tatz, the son of Holocaust survivors, was born and raised in Lithuania in the old Soviet Union. "My father lost relatives, my mother lost relatives," he lamented. "They met each other while hiding in the woods."

Growing up, Dr. Tatz shared the dream of most Soviet boys—to become a famous athlete or musician. "It's the only way you'll ever get to travel," he reasoned. "You cannot just buy a ticket."

But when it became apparent he was not going to become a standout in either area, Dr. Tatz turned to the medical world, seeing an opportunity to help athletes and musicians in their craft. "I didn't want to be an engineer or lawyer, like so many," he said. "My cousin, she introduced me to world of physical therapy," he recalled.

After majoring in medical exercise in college, Dr. Tatz got his primary body tuning experience working with Soviet athletes in the early 1970s. Athletes received massages at least once a day, and Dr. Tatz took special classes to learn massage techniques as well—which he was later able to incorporate into his physical therapy practice.

From there, he traveled to Israel to study techniques in Western physical therapy. It was here that he became acquainted with many of the world-class musicians he treats to this day, such as Mstislav Rostropovich and Isaac Stern, for whom the largest venue at Carnegie Hall is named.

Working With Musicians

Dr. Tatz's next patient enters the studio and introduces himself as Arto Lindsay, a guitarist and singer. Lindsay, who has worked with Dr. Tatz for a year and a half, originally started seeing the therapist after injuring his leg while swimming.

"The results have been incredible, so I'm sticking with it," said Lindsay. "Aside from helping my leg heal, Shmuel's taught me better overall posture, and really educated me about staying in shape."

As he works with Lindsay, Dr. Tatz explains each movement he performs to the musician, all the while telling him to relax. "The communication between Shmuel and myself is excellent," said Lindsay.

Dr. Tatz knows how important trust and communication are to his patients and to musicians in particular. His wife, Golda, is an accomplished concert pianist, and Dr. Tatz believes that musicians see that as a sign he will understand them better than would another therapist. "When you live with a musician, not only can you work with them, but you can see what happens in each stage," he explained.

Having aspired to become a musician himself, Dr. Tatz also understands the toll the art can take on the mind—especially when the musician is not experiencing the desired level of success. "Some musicians, they do not want to get better," he admitted. "They have trouble, and they can say, my physical problems are the reason for my [lack of] success."

The approach to the physical treatment is no different. Dr. Tatz knows he must operate with great care when manipulating the body of a musician. "With a football or soccer player, I can do this," he said, taking his own hand and pushing it into a certain position. "Not with a musician. If I do that to a musician, he will stop me. For a musician, his fingers are his life."

Dr. Tatz pointed out that, unlike dancers and athletes, musicians are not accustomed to using their bodies in their professions to make their livings. Therefore, as a profession they may be more resistive to unfamiliar manipulations or movements. The focus of the therapist turns to gaining the musician's trust and convincing the musician to relax.

This is demonstrated in Dr. Tatz's work with his next patient, a young violinist. After watching her play, he begins asking questions. "Is this muscle tight?" he asks, touching her neck. When she replies that it is, he switches his focus to her thighs, which are very tense, and tells her to relax her legs.

When the woman responds with a confused expression, Dr. Tatz explains that the tension in her legs is spreading to her chest and neck, causing her discomfort while she plays. Sure enough, the young woman changes her posture from the legs up, and produces a smooth, tension-free sound.

Focus on Practice

Dr. Tatz's studio is a tribute to the old way of physical therapy. Fancy, expensive equipment is eschewed in favor of shelf upon shelf of books written in any of the six languages Dr. Tatz speaks. The walls are covered with anatomical pictures of the human body, including an oversized diagram of the human ear, indicating the different actions and senses triggered by each part of the ear.

But while Dr. Tatz's collection of literature is impressive, he acknowledges that there is no substitute for the more than 30 years of experience he has accumulated in the field. "I have the books, but you can have all the books in the world," he said. "It won't matter if you don't practice—to learn, you can only practice. Just like playing piano, you can watch the best players all the time, but without private lessons, you will never become a great pianist."

From his earliest days in the profession, Dr. Tatz said he knew one day he would emigrate to America and therefore wanted to accumulate as much knowledge as possible. "Back then, in the Soviet Union all you could take was knowledge," he said. "Nobody could take that from me. So I spent a lot of time and money to learn from the best therapists."

Since coming here, however, Dr. Tatz has formed some opinions on the state of affairs in physical therapy in the United States. "It seems like we're losing everything," he stated. "We're losing the things that we had 30, 40 years ago. I see chiropractors using lasers—that's physical therapy. Personal trainers are becoming more popular. What's the difference between personal trainers and physical therapists? Massage therapists are doing manipulations, occupational therapists are doing hand therapy—what's left for the physical therapist?"

At Dr. Tatz's practice, a steady stream of clients enters his office on this day. So how does he keep such a solid clientele?

"I have to be 10 times better," Dr. Tatz claimed. "I need to be that much better, and the patients will come here. I'm not affiliated with any insurance company, or doctors or hospitals—99 percent of the people who come here are because of word of mouth."

Dr. Tatz also attributes his success to setting rules and sticking with them. He has a strict policy that his clients must come to his office—he does not make house calls. One of his better-known clients asked him to come to his house for a treatment, but Dr. Tatz refused, citing the need for the equipment in his office to perform properly.

"I have my table here, my short-wave diathermy machine, ultrasound," he said. "These are not things I can take with me."

Dr. Tatz points to his track record of helping patients as the reason they should come to his office. He insists that each person who comes to see him has a serious mindset about improving. To him, there's a difference between feeling better and actually getting better.

"More and more people, they do not want to be cured," he said. "They want to feel better, but they want to just say, 'One-two-three, I'm better.' I don't deal with one-two-three. If you want to feel better, take Advil. But if you want to get better, you need to come and spend time on [your ailment]."

In his waiting area, Dr. Tatz shows off his collection of pictures of some of his better-known clients. Musicians, dancers and celebrities inscribe their images with tributes such as "To the magician of our time." But for every celebrated client, Dr. Tatz has also helped countless everyday patients overcome their ailments.

"I have some clients who are willing to travel two hours to get treatment, but cannot afford it," he said. "With word-of-mouth, I know the background of most people I treat—where they come from, who sends them. I tell them, money is not an issue, if I know they have a problem and they are committed to fixing it."

To learn more about Shmuel Tatz and his practice, visit www.tatzstudio.net

Rob Senior is on staff at ADVANCE and can be reached at rsenior@merion.com




     

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