Accommodation for courses and treatments

Claire Bourke tries out the ancient healing massage technique, Tui Na

Pressing away the pain
Limited Edition, September 2001

I have never been a great believer in alternative medicine and can be classed as one of the sceptics. But after suffering for three weeks with a neck and back injury caused by a rogue backhand while playing tennis, I jumped at the chance to try anything that might help.

Enter into the equation Bodyharmonics. At the beginning of the year, Graham Mercarti and partner Susan Chandler set up a branch of Bodyharmonics in Naphill from where they offer a whole range of alternative treatments and oriental techniques blended together, including Indonesian Massage, Thai Massage and acupuncture, all purporting to offer powerful healing benifits.

Not being brave enough to even contemplate acupuncture (even if it doesn't hurt, I still have an aversion to needles), I took Graham up on his offer of showing me the benefits of alternative therapies by trying out Tui Na.

Tui Na (pronounced Twee Nar) is not just about curing an injury or condition but about rebalancing the body's energy levels. Tui Na actually means to 'push and grasp' and goes back more than 4,000 years. It is a deep massage which works on the 12 meridians running through the body, each linked to a major organ, and along which there are 365 pressure points. By working on these points, flow of Qi (energy) is stimulated and a total sense of well-being is established.

It sounds like a tall order to me, but Graham was very convincing and he certainly knows what he is talking about. He has been treating people for nine years now and picked up his talents from his mother Maria Mercarti who has built herself quite a following and is the author of several books on alternative therapies.

Graham explained: "We originally got into it when living in Indonesia where I was brought up. If we got ill it was alternative treatments that we used, such as herbs. My mother set up a practice doing Indonesian massage treatments but realised it had its limitations so she started acupuncture and then discovered Tui Na."

Graham found himself facinated by his mother's work and when he left school he studied the treatment himself in the Far East. A few years ago he also qualified in acupuncture which has enhanced the treatments he can offer. "A lot of people don't like acupuncture but it depends on how bad they are. Sometimes the lightest touch can be so painful and we have no choice but to use acupuncture. You can treat a condition much faster."

Maria runs the Bodyharmonics training centre in CHeltenham as well as a practice in London and Graham divides his time between his practice and the Cheltenham centre. Graham's three sisters are alsofully qualified so it is a real family affair.

Before setting up his practice in January, Graham worked in the Caribbean where he treated a number of celebrities. He also teaches reflexology and recommends techniques couples and friends can use on each other. He and Susan now work a few days a week out of The Oasis in Marlow and the Odyssey Leisure Centre in Wooburn Green.

There is still a lot of scepticism about alternative medicine and most of those who visit Graham go because he has been recommended by someone who has had treatment from him. "It can be great when they find out how much the treatment can help them with just one session," he said. "Tui Na can be used to treat some very serious conditions. Chinese medicine is very strong and there are certain forms of treatment for certain conditions such as ME which cannot be treated with Western medicine. For someone with chronic ME they can be treated with massage and acupuncture over a series of sessions."

As well as offering treatments Graham suggests self-help such as dietry changes, change in exercise patterns and self massage which all wok alongside any treatment he can offer.

Bodyharmonics can treat a whole range of conditions including allergies, headaches, migraines, insomnia, tension, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach problems, heart conditions and eating disorders. It is claimed that Tui Na itself can treat many common chronic conditions such as headaches of migraine.

Graham spends time talking to his patients and assessing them before discussing with them which treatment or combination of treatments would be best. Often it will not be just one session but a course of sessions tailored to the individual need. "I decide what treatments would be best for them unless they particularly ask for one of them."

I arrived at Graham's practice in Main Road, Naphill at the end of a tiring day at work. After chatting with Graham at length about the treatments he offered and about my injury, I changed out of my work suit into a loose pair of jogging trousers and a T-shirt and sat in a chair so Graham could start working his magic.

He started by working on my neck, shoulders and upper back. It was not gentle massage but rather a very deep treatment and involved much pushing and squeezing of my body, kneading the skin. I then lay down on my front and Graham continued with giving me a full body massage, working on my back, shoulders, arms, buttocks. thighs and calves. It was not a light massage and those who have a low pain threshold would best steer clear as this is not the kind of massage where you can drift off to sleep.

I could feel myself begin to relax incredibly quickly and felt like I was sinking into the couch as the tension started to leave me. I asked if my back felt particularly tense and Graham said on the right hand side, not the injured side, the muscles were particularly bunched up. He told me that Tui Na would speed up the healing process and also suggested other ways I could combat my injury such as massaging and manipulating the muscles myself, simply by moving my head, and suggested I take up yoga to make my muscles more flexible.

The session finished off with a head and facial massage and when I left, I was the most relaxed I could remember but also the most invigorated. I was very alert and felt as though I had bags of energy which lasted for several days.

As for the injury, it was not just a case of the pain simply disppearing but I did notice it start to subside and it was no longer the constant pain it had been for the previous three weeks.

I have taken Graham's advice and now know how to treat myself if I suffer again at the hands of my poor tennis game. To get the full benifit of Tui Na, Graham suggested it would be best to go for several sessions and if it makes me feel as good as that each time then it is definitely worth it.