Jason Elias, LMT, LAc, MA, Dip. OM, Dip. CH
Since I was a boy growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I have spent most of my life in search of healing and in the study of the varieties of healing throughout the world cultures. At first drawn to helping with the healing of the mind, I decided to become a psychologist; in 1969, I graduated from Long Island University with a BA in psychology. Thereafter, I enrolled in the Master’s degree program in psychology in the New School for Social Research in New York City and trained at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, New York. Finding that I was uninspired by traditional psychiatric care, I joined the staff of a newly formed and innovative psychiatric unit at Long Island Jewish Hospital Center, where psychiatric patients were treated more personally and therapeutically than was usual at the time: The so-called “white coat” and locked doors were gone, and we specialized in short-term, intensive therapy, both group and individual, to support the patients in their efforts to heal.
While working at the Hospital Center, I read the book In and Out the Garbage Pail (Lafayette, CA: Real People Press; 1969) by Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt Therapy. Perls was giving a Gestalt Therapy training program at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California; the Hospital Center agreed to help pay the tab, and I was on my way.
At Esalen, after working with Perls, I trained with Frank Rubenfeld, and spent the summer not only learning Gestalt therapy, but being “rolfed,” learning the Alexander technique, and meeting luminaries such as Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, Al Huang, and other renowned innovators in the field of humanistic psychology and spirituality.
While at Esalen that summer, I trained with Ida Rolf, who had been invited by Fritz Perls to teach there. By this time, my perspective on healing had radically changed. As I was being rolfed, I was encouraged to allow sounds to emerge from myself while a bodyworker manually went deep into my muscles to release blockages (what the rolfers call “fascial adhesions”); and feelings and old memories surfaced. My shoulder, when released, revealed the trauma of an old bicycle injury I had when I was seven years old; the back of my thigh released anger (which I apparently had been sitting on); my jaw held on to sadness and grief. Seeing the connection between the emotions and the physical body was very exciting, and it was the motivation for me to stay on at Esalen to learn to be a Rolfer.
A license in massage therapy was a prerequisite to practicing rolfing, so when I returned to New York after the summer at Esalen, I quit my job at the Hospital Center, enrolled in the massage therapy program at the Swedish Institute, and, in 1974, received my New York license in massage therapy. During my studies at the Swedish Institute, I also trained with Ilana Rubenfeld, who had created a practice integrating the Alexander Technique and Gestalt Therapy; I assisted her in some of her group work and trained at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York where, in 1975, I received my certification in the Alexander Technique. Ilana Rubenfeld’s work grew into what is widely known today as the Rubenfeld Synergy Method®.
I finished my studies in psychology at the New School, and received my Master’s degree in psychology, in 1973. I also enrolled in the New School’s PhD program and started a private psychotherapy practice, but I found that my psychotherapeutic perspective began to change as I incorporated more and more of the bodywork techniques I had learned into my practice. Now, rather than the bodywork being adjunctive to the psychotherapy, the psychotherapy was becoming adjunctive to the bodywork. The bodywork kept pulling me deeper into the realms of healing; and beyond the psyche (emotions) and the soma (physical symptoms), a unifying metaphor was bringing it all together for me: energy. This profound awareness drove me increasingly to study other roots of healing.
While I continued with my education and practice in psychology, I went into bioenergetic therapy with John Pierakos, MD, and began training in Bioenergetics with its founders, Alexander Lowen, MD, and Pierakos. Bioenergetics was based on the work of Wilhelm Reich, one of Sigmund Freud’s students and colleagues (as was Fritz Perls), who postulated a life force that he named “bioenergy,” which acknowledged the importance of the body in psychoanalytic practice.
Bioenergetics taught that the life force was trapped by emotional holdings arising from traumas of the past and could be freed by techniques (often painful) that forced energy and breath through contracted muscular areas of the body; emotions would then surface which could be addressed and worked with. Although I never completed this training—I was doing it simultaneously with the Alexander practice—it, too, added to my skills as a therapist.
The Search for Healing Traditions
After several years of private practice in New York City as a psychotherapist and bodyworker, I decided to use part of a small inheritance that my father had left me in to travel around the world and study various indigenous healing traditions. I was particularly interested in the age-old concept of energy healing, for every major world culture other than Western medicine practices a variation of the ancient art of laying-on of hands, using invisible sources of spiritual energy to guide and invigorate the healing process. In my own practice I had witnessed the astonishing effects of the mind and spirit on the body’s ability to fight illness and disease, but because the Western medical world remained skeptical about healing methods other than those that were evidence-based, I knew I had to look elsewhere for answers to my questions.
In Japan, I plunged into studies of Aikido, the art of using your opponent’s energy, known as Chi, to defeat him. Like the Chinese martial art Tai Chi, Aikido taps into the quintessentially “female” power of receptivity and yielding. The Aikido master feels the negative energy approaching him and moves out of its way before it can harm him; he then uses his inner strength to turn the energy back against his attacker, rendering the attacker powerless.
Aikido and Tai Chi seek to emulate the power of water, which is fluid and yielding but over time is capable of wearing down even the highest mountains. The ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao-tzu described the nature of water’s soft power in the beautiful collection of his poems titled Tao Te Ching:
“Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard; the gentle overcomes the rigid. Everyone knows this is true, but few can put it into practice.”
Psychic Surgery in the Philippines
In the Philippines, I trained in psychic surgery, an exotic healing art that finds its roots in the unlikely mixture of fervent Catholicism and tribal superstition. I watched psychic surgeons reach into patients’ bodies, using their hands as instruments to remove blood clots and tumors. Although no anesthetic was used, the patients appeared to feel no pain whatsoever and, after the procedure, would pronounce themselves cured and walk home in blood-stained clothing in a state resembling rapture.
While psychic surgery is unmistakably aggressive and invasive, the healers believe that they are the receptacles for the healing powers of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the ancient tribal spirits. They believe that their faith guides them into the spirit world, where they claim they can tap into a powerful healing energy that can restore health and vitality to the sick and wounded.
After six months in the Philippines, I traveled to Hong Kong, where I apprenticed with a Chinese acupuncturist and herbalist and witnessed firsthand the dramatic effects of these ancient healing arts on disorders ranging from ovarian cysts to arthritis to migraines. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that the human body is covered with a matrix of energy channels flowing along specific meridians; by intervening in the energy system through the use of acupuncture needles, massage, herbs, and various lifestyle changes, imbalances in the Chi, or energy, are corrected, and health is restored.
My final stop was India, where I lived in a spiritual community known as an ashram, and studied Ayurveda, the ancient art of Indian medicine in which the energy of the mind and spirit is thought to balance the life force, called “prana,” that flows through numerous invisible channels in the body. Ayurveda employs diagnostic techniques similar to those used by the Chinese, such as analysis of the pulse and tongue, and relies on the healing action of herbs, yoga, breathing exercises, various ritual purges, diet, meditation, and prayer to keep the prana in balance and harmony.
What the Healing Traditions Taught Me
In all these cultures and healing traditions, I found that the underlying themes were similar: the body, mind and spirit are considered essential parts of the whole, and thus an imbalance in one area necessarily affects the entire system. If the disharmony is not corrected, pain and discomfort result, and if these symptoms are not adequately addressed, illness and disease may occur. Balance is created by living in harmony with nature and with other human beings, remaining flexible and adaptable, and opening the mind and the spirit to the healing energies that flow in, through, and around our being.
The healers with whom I studied and trained approached their patients with humility; they openly acknowledged that they were merely vehicles to assist the body, mind, and spirit in the healing process. They used as their primary interventions the archetypically feminine traits of tender care, gentle touch, massage, close attention to behavior and temperament, sensitivity to the individual’s emotional needs and spiritual longings, and the deep-rooted belief that health and happiness cannot be sustained without a reverence for nature and a willingness to live in harmony with nature in all its forms.
Studies in Healing in the United States
When I returned to the United States, in 1974, I established a private practice using a combination of psychotherapy, acupressure, massage therapy, and the basic philosophical tenets of energy healing. As time went on, I became increasingly drawn to the philosophy and practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which I believed captured most eloquently and effectively the wisdom of the ancient healing arts.
In 1980, I enrolled in a three-year training program in traditional Chinese acupuncture at the Tri-State Institute for Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in New York City. After completing the three-year course, I received my New York State licensure in acupuncture and taught at the Tri-State Institute’s clinic. I also began an intensive training program in the use of herbs with the English master herbalist Simon Mills. As well as studying Western herbal medicine with Mills in New York, I spent three summers apprenticing with him in England.
Herbs were now becoming an essential part of my practice. I did a two-year program in Chinese herbal medicine with Ted Kaptchuk, OMD, (The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. New York: Congdon and Weed; 1983. 2nd US edition, Chicago: Contemporary, McGraw-Hill; 2000) and gradually integrated both Western and Chinese herbal medicine systems into my work. In 1991, I became certified as a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine and Diplomate of Chinese Herbalism by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
Now I felt that I had a fully holistic practice. My role as a participant in treating patients became one of guiding patients to become whole by locating, reclaiming, and reintegrating the lost and broken parts of their self while nurturing them physically and spiritually in a process of self-healing.
Returning to the United States, I married, and from 1985 to 1990, lived in Woodstock, New York. Together with two other psychotherapists I established “The Mind-Body Center” in nearby Kingston, where we practiced acupuncture and Jungian analysis.
In 1990, my wife and I moved to Garrison, New York, where we had a son. With the birth of my son, I sensed a new birth in me: I felt that all the varied and various parts of my life’s experiences had come together and formed into a new Gestalt, a new whole, which I now could share with others through writing. I started first with the book, The A-Z Guide to Healing Herbal Remedies: Over 100 Herbs and Common Ailments [Paperback] (New York, NY: A Dell Book; 1995), which I published with Shelagh Ryan Masline. Soon after, I coauthored with Katherine Ketcham a second book, Feminine Healing: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Body, Mind, and Spirit (New York, NY: Warner Books; 1997).
In 1991, two other holistic practitioners, eye doctor Marc Grossman, OD, LAc, chiropractor Dr. David Lester, and I bought a building and opened a center in New Paltz, New York, called “Integral Health Associates.” The New Paltz center became, and continues to be, the main office for each of us while we also carry on our private practices in other locations. In 1995, my family moved to Croton-on-Hudson, New York, where I set up another practice site and wrote my last book, again with Katherine Ketcham, Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity: Understanding the Five Elemental Types for Health and Well-Being (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press; 1999). In 2010, I established a third office in New York City so as to become more easily accessible to some of my city clients.
What This Web Site Means To Me
The more I write books and interact with my clients, the more I become aware that my healing work has deepened in its effectiveness and that I am feeling a greater visceral energetic connection to the client I am working with than ever before. Acupuncture is about breaking through physical and emotional blockages and “moving the energy” through the physical, mental, and emotional channels. Healing is about transmitting energy; there are various modes in your life that can deepen the practice of healing, whether it be meditation or learning new techniques—whatever makes you feel that you are more effectively in touch with the energy that may bring about self-healing.
For me, this Web site is a vehicle with which we can communicate, not just information, but the empowerment to give you more control over your health and well-being than you might believe you can have. My hope is that the Web site may create and communicate an energy to you and empower you to trust in your sense of the moment instead of in the script. My role is as a guide who will support, reassure, comfort, and help you “unblock” your road as you go—as I have gone—on your journey to the self.