The mere mention of a chiropractor causes some people to cringe from remembered stories they’ve heard about a “friend of a friend” who had to go once a week for the rest of his life to get his neck and back cracked and crunched all for the sake of “proper alignment.” For this guy, a week missed meant a week of agony.
But Dr. Phillip Yoo (or Dr. Phil to his patients), the founder of the ChiroPilates method, is quick to dispel that myth of dependence on chiropractic treatment.
“Some chiropractors focus on pain care, they don’t treat the cause of the pain,” Yoo says. “If I wanted to have people just come in week after week, why would I try to teach them how to prevent the pain and take care of themselves?”
That’s where ChiroPilates comes into play. It’s a combination of chiropractic therapy and Pilates, one of the most popular fitness methods in the United States, which incorporates flexibility training, strength training of the core muscles (the muscles around the midsection) and correction of the posture. One of the main advantages of Pilates is that it can be practiced with very little equipment and, like yoga, has many basic exercises requiring only a mat.
While Yoo believes Pilates is a good system on its own, he notes that many people suffer injuries while practicing Pilates because a lot of instructors don’t understand the human anatomy.
“It’s not like aerobics. Pilates is about technique and body awareness,” Yoo says, which is why he limits his class size.
His Itaewon, Seoul sports medicine clinic has room for about six ChiroPilates students at a time and also offers therapeutic massage, fitness training and, of course, chiropractic care.
He’s even coined a phrase to describe the purpose of ChiroPilates: “To strengthen and flexen.” This, he says, means to workout in order to increase a healthy range of motion for your joints and spine and lengthen core muscles to assist in maintaining a normal posture.
“Only about 20 percent of people have good posture and exercise regularly, while 80 percent suffer from some kind of musculoskeletal disorder or pain.”
The American-born doctor, who is also a certified personal trainer and certified meridian therapy acupuncturist, believes that many conditions can benefit from chiropractic care.
He gives headaches as an example.
“A headache isn’t a brain ache. The brain itself can’t feel pain,” Yoo says. “But it’s the pain-sensitive structures in the skull, such as the web of nerves emanating from the back of the skull and the first few vertebrae of the neck which control things like sinus function and eyesight. When these vertebrae are out of alignment, the nerves are often squeezed, pulled, compressed or otherwise irritated, causing headaches.”
And so it goes down the rest of the spine. When the spine is out of line, things like digestion or strength can be affected. The main purposes of the nerves are to sense pain, temperature and touch, control motor function and reflexes and control organ function.
“Taking an aspirin may help relieve the pain temporarily, but it won’t fix the structural problem and the pain will return,” he says.
According to Yoo, the Chinese belief in chi translates in chiropractic medicine as “the body’s innate ability to heal itself.” It’s about the flow of energy which, Yoo says, is really the messages being sent by the brain via the nerves to the rest of the body. Block the flow of these messages through a misaligned spine and you effectively block your body’s ability to self-heal.
When spring returns, many people hit the trail or the court and find themselves in agony the next day. This is because they’ve failed to maintain a higher level of fitness over the winter months and returned to their warm-weather pursuits without the proper preparation. As a result, Yoo says, spring is his busiest time of year.
“People are afraid of chiropractic therapy because they want a quick fix,” Yoo explains. “But if you want to stay in shape do you go to the gym only one time?” he asks.
After a while, Yoo insists, his clients learn how to prevent their pain and maintain a proper posture. “Follow-up visits are really just for a tune-up.”
His commitment to removing the barrier between himself and his patients can be seen in his insistence on being called “Dr. Phil” and through developing and offering his ChiroPilates method. This leads to better communication and trust, which leads to real healing.
“The word doctor doesn’t mean God, it means teacher,” Yoo says. “A lot of doctors forget that.”
Originally published in Seoul magazine, May 2007
By Tracey Stark