The Whole You

Valley doctors and therapists integrate alternative therapies with traditional Western medical treatments to help you feel your best.

The Whole You

Valley doctors and therapists integrate alternative therapies with traditional Western medical treatments to help you feel your best. 

By Joohee Muromcew

Although its effects are unproven in modern scientific studies, acupuncture is a substantial part of traditional Chinese medicine and has been practiced since about 600 B.C. It involves the insertion of very thin needles through the skin at strategic points on the body. Today it is most commonly used to treat pain and increasingly is being used for overall wellness, including stress management. Photo by Jenna Schoenfeld

“I DON’T CALL it alternative medicine,” says Francine Bartlett. “Alternative means ‘instead of,’ and this is really integrative medicine and complementary care.” Bartlett is the founder of Medicine Wheel Wellness, the two-story heart of Jackson’s wellness community, located on Pearl Avenue downtown. 

I thought I knew my way around integrative medicine until I sat down with Bartlett, and she schooled me on the “medicine wheel,” which wholly integrates mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Our family moved here from Marin County, birthplace of many well-deserved wellness stereotypes. The kids did yoga in preschool and we drank kale juice out of mason jars before those pricey juice companies made it look cool and taste like lemonade. Medicinal pot dispensaries? So last century. 

Clearly, much of the work of forward-thinking practitioners is persuading their patients to keep an open mind. 

Also, my primary doctor here in the Valley is Mark Menolascino, who is technically an internist, but highly regarded in the medical community for his holistic command of Western and integrative practices. I used to suffer from chronic sinus infections and exhausted the faculties of many allergists, ear-nose-throat specialists, and family doctors, most of whom resigned to recommending plastic surgery to correct a flawed nasal passage. To be honest, this was the kind of “procedure” I would have preferred to hold off on until, one day in the far future, I could very discreetly combine it with something less medically prescribed (I’m talking about a facelift, people). Dr. Mark, as many of his patients know him, instead took me through an exhaustive and thorough diagnostic check-up, one that included not only allergy testing, but also food sensitivities. He recommended reducing dairy and whole eggs from my diet. He also recommended lymphatic drainage massage, which I’d always considered weird and mysterious because my friend said they massage your armpits, and brush your skin with a dry bristle brush, which just sounded abrasive. Clearly, much of the work of forward-thinking practitioners is persuading their patients to keep an open mind. My chronic sinus infections did eventually subside with Dr. Mark’s guidance. Nevertheless, having been brought up to expect the immediate benefits of antibiotics and pain relievers, ultimately, it required a lot of trust to commit to new practices and slowly see meaningful improvement in my health overall.

Francine Bartlett opened Medicine Wheel Wellness in 2015. Photo by Bradly J. Boner

PERHAPS THE MOST well-known of the integrative practices, acupuncture is still a mystery to most. An acupuncturist studies the body’s meridians like a map, and can decipher where the inner chi is imbalanced. This is particularly useful to relieve pain and stress. Becky Hawkins is the owner of East Meets West Healthcare, and a trusted practitioner of acupuncture and its relative, dry needling, for many in the Jackson area. Rob Hollis, owner of the Frost and Frost2 Salons, swears by Hawkins’ method for relieving his chronic foot pain. Previous to Hawkins, Hollis “mostly just lived with the pain, and lots of Advil, which I wanted to get away from.” 

MANY LOCALS ALSO swear by cupping to relieve pain. Medicine Wheel’s Bartlett explains that cupping is simply lifting the tissue away from its trauma, thereby increasing blood flow. A tempered glass cup is heated, then inverted directly on the skin, drawing blood to the surface. Cristy Liaw Gabel, an administrator at St. John’s Medical Center, relies on cupping to release muscle tension. “Since I work in an office where I type for eight to ten hours a day, my upper body and neck get really tight. I’ve tried regular massage to help release the tension, but I can’t handle too hard of pressure. With cupping, the therapist was able to release the deep tissue tightness and give some relief instantly. I’ve also had scraping that helps me release sinus pressure.” The “scraping” Liaw Gabel is referring to is Gua Sha, a Chinese practice similar to cupping that calls for scraping a hard-edged instrument—like a ceramic spoon—across the skin, again increasing blood flow. The effects can be immediate and of tremendous relief, though both treatments can leave medieval-looking bruising and redness. 

Bio Mats can be used for relaxation, stress relief, and even pain management. Photo by Bradly J. Boner

A BIO MAT treatment at Medicine Wheel greatly appealed to me, mostly because Bartlett gently warned that it could cause deep relaxation resulting in a nap. The Bio Mat combines far-infrared light and negative ion technology in an amethyst-filled mat. Basically, it is a very heavy, heated amethyst-filled mat that a patient lies upon, for 20 to 60 minutes. A mildly heated Bio Mat (94 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) can relieve stress or just provide relaxation. Higher temperatures of 133 degrees and above can address muscle and joint pain, and encourage circulation. The highest temperature settings, above 149 degrees, can treat pain from conditions like arthritis or an athletic injury with its extremely penetrating sauna-like heat.

ACCORDING TO DR. Menolascino, hyperbaric therapy is not new, having been invented in 1662, but it still has a very new-agey vibe. At Menolascino’s office, however, the sleek black chamber looks more space-age and advanced. Oxygen is filtered and compressed into the chamber, allowing the patient’s body to receive 30 percent more oxygen. It is the equivalent to being 11 feet below sea level, though is completely comfortable enough that patients can fall asleep or even read a book. Patients usually come in for sixty minutes sessions, five to ten sessions in a series. Menolascino’s welcoming office in Wilson is the rare practice that offers the hyperbaric chamber outside a hospital or large medical center. 

Dr. Mark Menolascino talks wellness with Jackson Hole Middle School students. Photo by Bradly J. Boner

THERE ARE SO many practices and methods that make up the perpetually evolving world of integrative practices. Bartlett, who first came to the area in 2005, and opened Medicine Wheel in 2015, considers herself a lifelong student of wellness as well as a provider of many services. Medicine Wheel is home to a community of independent providers including acupuncturists, physical therapists, biofeedback therapists, and even crystal singing bowl healers. Bartlett emphasizes that the first visit to Medicine Wheel is about “putting the wheel together for holistic therapy” and includes a tour of the entire facility and a tutorial on “the wheel.” Treating chronic pain or a nagging sports injury often requires an understanding of emotional underpinnings. The emotional trauma from a mountain bike accident can far outlive fractures and breaks. “We want to know what’s going on with them as a human being. We work with Western care practitioners all the time, but it’s just incomplete on its own. It’s just one piece of the pie. We just don’t want to miss the whole person who needs care.”

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