Free your mind

Alternative-medicine healers of the Yampa Valley


Next Sunday, Steamboat Springs High School will be filled with evidence that the area's approach to medicine is changing. For the second year, healers from the area will gather for the Yampa Valley Holistic Fair.

As lives become more stressful, more patients suffer from stress-related illnesses, and more traditionally trained Western doctors are turning to holistic healers as partners in treatment.

In the yellow pages of the Steamboat Springs telephone book, there are 55 massage therapists advertising everything including traditional Swedish and deep tissue massage, CranioSacral Therapy and Rolfing.

Dr. Kelly Victory, a part-time Steamboat resident, has been watching the growing trend for years from her vantage point as an emergency medicine and trauma specialist. "I think it's important for me and my colleagues to be aware of and keep an open mind to alternative therapies," she said. "There are a tremendous number of diseases these days that are related to lifestyle issues -- poor eating, drinking, smoking and stress."

Seventy percent of people who go to the doctor are suffering from stress-related or mental health issues, Victory said. "The problem with Western medicine is that it is a reactive way of looking at things."

Victory thinks it's time for doctors to ask the question "why" more often.

When a patient comes into the doctor four times in a year with a cold, the doctor should step back and examine the person's mental state.

"I'm not saying that stress causes colds. Viruses cause colds," Victory said. "But being under chronic stress impacts your immune system. People do complain of headaches, stomachaches and muscle spasms when they are under chronic stress. Unfortunately, Western medicine treats the symptom instead of looking at the root cause."

No one knows better how stress affects the body than Hellerwork practitioner Bethany Hrbek.

Hellerwork is an offshoot of Rolfing, developed by Joseph Heller. Like Rolfing, patients are treated in 11 sessions. Each 1 1/2 hour session focuses on a different part of the body, beginning with the ribcage.

Although Rolfing is based on physical manipulation and realignment of the body, Hellerwork adds the elements of dialogue and movement coaching.

"We work on breathing, but we also focus on why do you breathe the way you do," Hrbek said.

Hellerwork can be a very emotional process. As Hrbek massages, she talks. She says things and asks questions that will evoke memories -- sometimes traumatic memories. As Hrbek works and the client remembers, he or she is able to let go of those things that may have been stored in his or her tissues for years.

Hellerwork deals with the emotional being, but Hrbek also concentrates on the physical. She takes a "before" and "after" photo. She coaches people and their bodies on how to sit, walk and stand.

Most of Hrbek's clients are in their 40s and 50s.

"Gravity starts to take its toll," Hrbek said. "People start to feel achy and stiff, and they want to move like they used to. Hellerwork provides increased flexibility, like Pilates or yoga, but it gets to deeper layers."

Hrbek became a practitioner after going through treatment for pain in her knee.

"During that first session, she taught me how to breathe with and through my pain," Hrbek said. "When I could do that, my knee problem eased up. It never completely went away, but now I'm empowered to deal with it."


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