When first meeting Shmuel Tatz at his office near Columbus Circle, I was a little nervous. As a practicing physical therapist for 40 years, Lithuanian-born Tatz has worked with Soviet Olympic athletes, the critically injured in Jerusalem and the Israeli soccer team- and that was just the first half of his career.
Since moving to New York in 1984, he has worked with musicians and prima ballerinas in Carnegie Hall along with rockers, actors and a handful of yogis, like Glenn Black who apprenticed with Tatz for 7 years. With such an impressive client list, Tatz felt to me like a bit of a celebrity in his own right. Was I qualified to interview him?
Entering his office is like stepping into the pages of a scrapbook about his career. The walls are lined with pictures of a smiling and jovial looking Tatz with various clients, some recognizable such as actress Kathleen Turner and musician Lou Reed, and some not. The three waiting chairs in the lobby are vintage Carnegie Hall auditorium seats, a nod to his previous office space in the historic building, and also an indication that clients don't spend much time waiting to see him.
The classical music playing from the piano in the next room helped put me at ease. His system, which he refers to as Body Tuning, is an art form in itself. He thinks of each body as a car and his hands as the tools of his trade. With each asana we perform or bag we sling over our shoulder, we are adding mileage to our bodies. Just as cars need tune-ups; so does the body. The faster you add "miles," the sooner you need a tune up.
Charles Matkin, who has worked with Tatz for over a decade, calls him a true craftsman. "He is constantly reading books and learning new techniques." He has studied numerous modalities of bodywork like Auriculo therapy, tai chi and reflex therapy, to name a few. For Tatz it isn't about getting his patients on a set regime of exercises, but about finding out what each body really needs and then giving that to them. That's what makes him so unique."
Tatz prides himself on the hard work that he puts into his craft. "When I look at you, what I can see with my eyes and feel with my hands tells me everything I need to know. Your words can often lead me down the wrong path, but your body always tells me the truth".
When he says this, my heart jumps a bit and I realize that this is what I'm really nervous about. Tatz has agreed to give me a mini-session and honestly, I'm afraid of what he might find.
As I sit in the chair across from him, he begins reading my body with his eyes. "I can see that your right elbow is swollen and larger than your left, but it's not the elbow that is the problem, it's coming from your shoulder. Your right shoulder is higher than your left". He then proceeded to gently manipulate my arms showing me the limits in my range of motion in my right shoulder and right wrist. He then used a small computer gadget about twice the length and width of an iPhone, to send electrical vibrations into the muscles and ligaments around my elbow.
Without hesitation, he then asked what else I would like him to look at. For a man who works from 8am-7pm 5-days a week, I felt a little guilty taking up his break time, but he didn't seem the least bit concerned. A lengthy 2-year tale of woe began running through my head, but I knew it was just the kind of wordy explanation he would find unnecessary so I simply said, "IT bands"
Tatz pointed me to the table and light-heartedly joked, "Everyone in NYC has IT band issues. If I could give $100 for everyone who didn't have them..." He checked the range of motion from my hips to my knees to my ankles and indicated there was some limited motion in my left metatarsals causing pain in the left arch. It occurred to me that the left arch was the exact spot where my tale of woe had started.
He began palpating my lower abdomen, which I know from experience, meant he was checking my psoas. They are almost always tight, but even I was surprised to find how tight the right one felt. Even he winced in pain as he pressed down feeling how taut and resistant the muscle was. He showed me that the left leg was shorter than the right by about a half inch, but since he was quickly able to even them out with a few simple movements and saw that the range of motion wasn't terribly different from one leg to the other, he prophesized that the problem was coming from the back.
I had heard this before so was pretty sure he was correct, but everything was moving so fast and I was still trying to incorporate this flood of knowledge he was sending my way, so it was hard to keep up.
Tatz then had me stand and fold forward while he watched my spine. He ascertained that the problem came from a lack of flexibility in the L4 and L5 vertebra. It seemed unbelievable that this man could pinpoint in 15 minutes what I've spent 2 years with countless doctors trying to figure out. "Tatz has a gift of being able to discern very quickly what an issue is and what to do to take care of it," Glenn Black later explained. In that moment, I felt like I was getting to see genius at work.
To help me understand his diagnosis, Tatz crawled down on the floor next to his table and hugged his knees to his chest rocking from front to back along the length of his spine. He pointed to the floor next to him and said; "you try". As I did so I discovered that I could not roll in one fluid motion, as my lower back didn't actually make contact with the floor as it should have.
Before I could stand up, Tatz was kneeling down next to me engrossed in questioning me about my past treatments. As he continued to hover over me, I tried incredibly hard to focus on what he was saying, but all I could think was, "I hope to be as limber as this guy when I'm 66!"
If working with Tatz will keep me that limber, I'm in!
Tatz's office is at 30 West 60 Street. They do accept insurance. For more information or to make an appointment call 212.246.7308 or email email@example.com.
Allison Richard is a freelance health and wellness writer, kids yoga instructor and teaches alignment-inspired flow yoga in private and corporate settings. She is currently studying to be a holistic health counselor.