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Different pathways to good health

In May I took a three-day Orthomassage workshop taught by James Waslaski. In June, I served as a teaching assistant for a CranioSacral Therapy II workshop offered by the Upledger Institute.

The former focuses on the prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal dysfunctions, chronic pain and sports injuries. The latter uses a soft touch to facilitate the release of restrictions in the craniosacral system to improve the functioning of the central nervous system, to ease painful dysfunctions, and to serve as a preventive health measure for its ability to bolster resistance to disease.

Both represent different approaches to the same pathway — good health. And both are open to me to help my clients in my practice as a massage therapist.

That ability to learn different modalities is one of a myriad of reasons why I love being a massage therapist.

Technique of the Month

Myofascial release of the tibialis anterior, the lower leg muscle that hugs the tibia from the below the knee to the ankle.

Clients are often surprised how sore and tight this muscle is, which can cause dull and diffuse pain throughout the leg.

Using Prossage heat ointment as a lubricant, the therapist begins on the outer (lateral) side of the tibia just above the ankle using thumbs, index finger pads or the palm of the hand and working at a 45 degree angle down and out, also impacting the extensor digitorum and extensor hallucis longus muscles.

The speed is slow to start and then becomes even slower as the therapist works progressively deeper and more specific through the layers of fascia. The strokes are repeated up the leg several times, going deeper each time aided by the heat of the lubricant to make the muscle fibers more accessible and pliable. Gentle compressions of the muscle also increase blood flow to the area, while grasping the tibialis anterior directly also helps move it back and forth away from the bone in place where it may be stuck to the bone.

The result is more relaxed muscles and flexibility while walking or running.

Stretch of the Month

Trunk Extension, from Aaron L. Mattes’ “Active Isolated Stretching,” available at

Muscles stretched: Increases lumbar spine extension and flexibility of abdonimal muscles, including rectus abdominus, external obliques and internal obliques.

Muscles contracted: Erector spinae muscles.

Method: Lying on your stomach with lower body stabilized, contract erector spinae muscles (entire long back muscles) and lift head and shoulders while lower body remains on the surface. Use hands to assist extensor muscles at end of range. Lower body immediately after reaching extension. Repeat.

Contraindications: Extending the upper and lower body simultaneously is a dangerous, contraindicated exercise (the rocker or banana exercise) and may result in muscle spasm or low back injury.

Caution: Trunk extension may initially be contraindicated for those with back histories.

Repetitions: 8-10.

For the Spirit

Alan Seale, spiritual development and life coach (, shared the following poem in his recent “Full Spectrum” newsletter. He, in turned, had it brought to his attention by a friend from the book “Praying Dangerously” by Regina Sara Ryan. It speaks vibrantly to welcoming blessings in our lives.


Deliver us, O God, O Truth, O Love, from quiet prayer
from polite and politically correct language,
from appropriate gesture and form
and whatever else we think we must put forth to invoke
or to praise You.

Let us instead pray dangerously —
wantonly, lustily, passionately.
Let us demand with every ounce of our strength,
let us storm the gates of heaven, let us shake up ourselves
and our plaster saints from the sleep of years.

Let us pray dangerously.
Let us throw ourselves from the top of the tower,
let us risk a descent to the darkest region of the abyss,
let us put our head into the lion’s mouth
and direct our feet to the entrance of the dragon’s cave.

Let us pray dangerously.
Let us not hold back a little portion,
dealing out our lives — our precious minutes and our
energies — like some efficient accountant.
Let us rather pray dangerously — unsafe, profligate, wasteful!

Let us ask for nothing less than the Infinite to ravage us.
Let us ask for nothing less than annihilation in the
Fires of Love.

Let us not pray in holy half-measures nor walk
the middle path for too long,
but pray madly, foolishly.
Let us be too ecstatic,
let us be too overwhelmed with sorrow and remorse,
let us be undone, and dismembered and gladly.

Left to our own devices, ah what structures of deceit
we have created;
what battlements erected, what labyrinths woven,
what traps set for ourselves, and then
fallen into.


Let us pray dangerously — hot prayer, wet prayer, fierce prayer,
fiery prayer, improper prayer,
exuberant prayer, drunken and completely unrealistic prayer.

Let us say Yes, again and again and again.
and Yes some more.
Let us pray dangerously,

the most dangerous prayer is Yes.

Recipe of the month: Cumin-Scented Stew of Red Lentils, Chickpeas and Pumpkin

The following dish recalls the red lentil stew so fragrant and tempting that, according to the Bible story, it won Jacob his birthright. For a meal-in-a-bowl, serve atop steamed basmati rice.

1 cup red lentils, picked over and washed
3 cups water
1 carrot, scraped and cut into diagonal slices
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 cups peeled pumpkin or butternut squash (see note)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (or 3/4 teaspoon dried)
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian flat parsley or cilantro (leaves of coriander plant), to garnish

Place the lentils in a pot and cover with water. Swish them around, drain and cover with fresh water. Repeat until the water runs clear. Transfer to a pot with the 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Partially cover (or the pot will boil over), and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the vegetables, spices and the chickpeas; partially cover and cook 30 minutes or until the stew is thick. Stir gently from time to time during the cooking process.

(If the stew is too thick, or if serving over rice, add boiling water and thin to desired consistency. Let cook 5 minutes longer. If too thin, remove the cover and slightly raise the heat, if necessary, to evaporate excess water.)

To serve, divide among bowls and garnish with parsley or cilantro.

Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: To facilitate peeling the pumpkin or butternut squash, make a few slits in a large piece of pumpkin (or use the bottom bulb of the squash) and place in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, or until just soft enough to peel. Cool slightly, remove seeds, peel and cut into chunks.

(Recipe from “The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking” by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer, 2004, HarperCollins, $29.95)

The following appeared in the May 26 issue of the Times Herald-Record.

Physiotherapist, friend, unexpected mentor

By Dennis Sprick

I am sitting in the fire hall of Milford Square, Pa., at the beginning of a three-day Orthomassage workshop, and I’m thinking about Jim Mathews.

It’s not surprising. Milford Square is a few miles away from my alma mater, Lehigh University, where Mathews had served as a physiotherapist from 1947-78. And just this week I had read Mathews’ obituary in the Lehigh Alumni Bulletin.

What is surprising is that I’m even taking a class in Orthomassage — or, indeed, that for the last six years I’ve been a nationally certified masage therapist with a part-time practice. For a newspaper copy editor with a B.A. in journalism/English/drama, it’s an unexpected career path that had its start at Lehigh, with Mathews as the initial inspiration.

For, in Mathews’ last four years at Lehigh, among the hundreds of students and faculty members that the physiotherapist treated each week, I was a fixture in the University Health Center treatment room, an hour a day, six days a week. Ultrasound, whirlpool, massage, strengthening and stretching exercises — all were employed to ease my leg and back pain in my efforts to run track and cross country.

From my earliest, gloomiest days at Lehigh, when carry-over injuries from high school caused me to miss the first two months of the 1974 cross-country season, to the high point of my South Mountain career, a 30.58.9 fourth-place 10K East Coast Conference track performance in 1978, Mathews was a mainstay of my life at Lehigh. His mock gruffness, the way he yelled “Owwww” so his client wouldn’t have to, his favorite turns of phrase such as calling someone “old shoe” — all created a convivial atmosphere for healing and friendship. In fact, when an ill-advised 20-mile run back from the senior class picnic left me in mighty pain, Mathews did me a mighty favor by giving me one last treatment the morning of my graduation that hot Sunday in May 1978.

Though such nurturing sessions had come to a close, my need to bolster and understand my personal health had only begun. Toward that end I have been treated and mentored by many health-care practitioners. Dr. Phil Maffetone, a Putnam County chiropractor, identified via applied kinesiology and nutritional testing that my adrenal glands needed strengthening via supplements and the avoidance of refined sugar. During my years of writing Broadway and film reviews, the late bodyworker John Albano foresaw my years-later conversion to his way of thinking when he said he’d rather be massaging people than directing them in his former life in the theater.

Continuing to keep my energy level stable by helping me to hone my diet, Dr. LuviaJane Swanson, formerly of Cuddebackville, advised me to stay away from gluten and yeast; she also encouraged me to attend massage school and, later, Upledger Institute CranioSacral Therapy workshops — workshops she now teaches as she and her husband, Bruce Swanson, gave up their individual chiropractic practices to move to Puerto Rico, where Bruce is a scuba instructor. And osteopathic physician Dr. John Upledger and his CranioSacral staff, as well as James Waslaski, the instructor and founder of the aforementioned Orthomassage Workshop. All have guided me along a professional path I never would have predicted that first day in Jim Mathews’ office in 1974.

But Mathews was the first, and for that I’ll forever be grateful, even as our friendship gave way over time and distance from visits to Mathews’ North Carolina retirement residence in 1979, 1980 and 1982 to occasional letters to yearly Christmas cards. The last one I sent, in December 2003, was returned marked “address unknown,” leading me to suspect what Mathews’ obituary in the Spring 2004 Alumni Bulletin confirmed — that Mathews had died at age 91 in 2003.

Rest in peace, old shoe. And thanks.

Until I see you again on my massage table and share my Heartful Touch with you … be well.

Dennis Sprick
The Heartful Touch
Massage and CranioSacral Therapy