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Alternative therapies thrive in Crook County

Local theraputic and intuitive massage therapist talks about her practice in Prineville
Walking into the home of traditional and intuitive massage therapist Josie Forster, you'll be greeted by her faithful black dog Dakota who grins a big smile and wags an enthusiastic `hello'. Putting the client quickly at ease, Forster leads the way to her studio where pleasing surroundings, warm colors and soft music fill the senses.
   A long narrow massage table in the center of the room soon becomes the vehicle for relaxation, rejuvenation and healing as Forster puts to use her many years of training and experience as a licensed massage therapist.
   Although therapists in private practice often have trouble making ends meet, Forster is one who has truly found her niche. Clientele making up the practice are mostly referred through friends and family who have had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of this talented therapist's work.
   Trained and licensed in the Portland area, Forster returned to central Oregon with her family in 1990. Tutor and teacher as well as massage therapist herself, Forster explained she was able to give up a day job with the school district after years of balancing massage practice with `regular' work.
   "Most people who do this kind of work have a passion for this work. And a lot of times there's not a whole lot of money involved. Or, it takes a lot of passion work to make money," she explained. "Most therapists don't work as much as I do at it, and are therefore unable to make a full time living at it. It's hard to do, it's very physical work."
   In addition to operating a private practice out of her home in Prineville, she works during the summer months for health spas at area resorts.
   The ever-growing field of alternative health care is slowly ebbing into the the Crook County area. Where only a few years ago Forster was among the few, and although they may not advertise broadly today, there is an ever growing number of alternative therapists to choose from.
   According to national polls, Americans spent more than $18 billion on alternative health care in 1996 in a bid to discover a more holistic approach to taking care of themselves. In some states HMO's are required to cover costs for visits to licensed practitioners including acupuncturists, massage therapists and naturopaths.
   Once looked upon as an indulgence of the rich or relinquished to more questionable back alley enterprises, the phenomenal rise in popularity for massage therapy practitioners may be evidence of how Americans are taking charge of their own health.
   Recognition for the benefits of the art of deep muscle massage to relieve pain and restore function from injuries has expanded and many chiropractors, naturopaths and even a few traditional physicians are recommending massage therapy for their patients.
   Licensed massage therapists come with a background knowledge of anatomy, science and pathology which allows them to apply such complimentary techniques as myofascial massage, Shiatsu and deep tissue massage.
   Similar to the way a blind person develops increasing sensitivity to touch in order to learn how to `see' with their hands, Forster explained that over the years her ability to sense what is going on in a clients body has expanded.
   "When you work as a therapist the way I have you literally work on hundreds upon hundreds of bodies, and no two are alike. Eventually you begin to feel more than just muscle tissue, more than a muscle spasm, more than heat or inflammation in tissue," she explained. "It's kind of a natural progression for therapists to develop a deeper sensitivity to the physical body."
   Seeking to understand these new sensations, Forster turned to Oriental medicine. "I have a very keen interest in Oriental medicine and I went back to school several years ago to learn how to apply that to what I do here." Adding the art and science of Shiatsu to Swedish and deep tissue techniques already in practice, Forster was able to incorporate an expanded understanding of the human body gained by attending classes at East West College in Portland.
   Shiatsu is based on an Oriental model of the human body. The idea is the life force energy called `Ki' or `Chi' moves through 12 major energy channels located throughout the body. When energy is blocked it is thought that pain and dysfunction result. Shiatsu uses pressure on the `points' of the channels to clear the blockage and bring the body back into balance.
   Although the concepts of Oriental medicine might be a bit far fetched for some clients, Forster explained that having an understanding of the whole human body including physiology, anatomy, pathology and kinesiology, as well as energetic, has given her the ability to serve her clients more effectively.
   Sessions last for up to an hour and half, depending on the results a client is looking for. Cost is modest at $45 per hour and many find that visiting a licensed massage therapist once a month is beneficial.
   People commonly seek out massage therapists for complaints of muscle soreness, stiffness, sports injury and simply as a way to relax and tone the body.
   Forster explained that the most frequently asked for service in her practice is a `full body tuneup' which clients seem to really enjoy. This allows the therapist to incorporate all of the training in one simple process.
   The ever increasing resources spent on alternative medicine in this country combined with the growing trend towards recognizing massage therapy as a valuable tool of recovering and maintaining the health of the body gives therapists more options for their practices.
   With virtually every resort, spa, or upscale hotel, offering massage therapy to their guests as a means of stress-release more and more opportunity is available to licensed therapists. Reportedly, massage therapy is responsible for over 60 percent of spa revenue; therefore as more day spas open, massage therapists are more in demand.
   As popularity for therapy increases across the nation, Prineville practitioners step forward to meet the growing demand.
   "For a few years I was the only person in Prineville, and now there's a hand full of other therapists here as well," Forster said. "I'm happy that as awareness of the work grows, there are more opportunities for therapists in this community."