TOWNSEND -- With the turn of the new year, as is tradition, once again comes the beginning of new resolve across the nation to live healthier lifestyles-- promises to exercise more, to eat organic or just to live a less stressful existence hang in the air, often forgotten by the time the work week starts. Well, for the residents of Townsend, the Natural Path on 370 Main Street offers services to help de-stress and detoxify the natural way, said owners Susan Bolden and Jeff Coté.
The shop specializes in holistic treatments that includes Chinese body therapy, specifically Tuina, and an herbal apothecary. Bolden handles the herbs and Coté conducts the body work. He also instructs in Tai Chi and Chigong, physical exercises that are designed to reduce stress. Coté and Bolden opened up shop in Townsend in April. Since then, the community has welcomed them with open arms. Coté's students have nearly quadrupled since he opened and Bolden's herbal business has expanded to include dozens of products from body butter to perfume to herbal supplements. Coté also instructs at eight Councils on Aging, including Townsend.
"The classes have been very popular," said Senior Center Director Chris Clish. "A friend of mine is in the class and she loves it and says it makes her feel better. She doesn't like to miss it."
The biggest problem, said Bolden, is getting people to realize that they are there. Still, she added, "The word of mouth is spreading. Everyone that comes in has said, 'I'm so glad you're here, we need something this in this area."
Bolden has been studying Chinese herbs for five years and began her herbal business out of her home two years ago when she was pregnant with her youngest son, creating her own all-natural body butter to reduce stretch marks. Since then, her inventory has grown from 20 herbs to well into the hundreds.
The benefit of using herbal remedies, she said, is knowing what you're using is all-natural.
"Skin is the largest organ on your body. If you're putting toxins on your skin, it can be really bad for you," said Bolden. "You have to be aware. You really need to read your labels and know what you're using."
A number of well-known herbs have surprising uses, said Bolden. For example, she said, "Rosemary, when you steam it, can open up the nasal passages and relieve congestion."
Still, there's a required distinction by the American Medical Association between health care professionals and holistic wellness specialists, said Bolden and Coté.
"In this country, we're not medical doctors. We're not here to treat diseases. Our job is prevention and restoration of wellness. We're about building a positive condition as opposed to treating a negative condition," said Coté.
Coté and Bolden advise all of their customers and students to consult with their medical practitioners for medical conditions.
"Western medicine is very good at what they do. If someone is having a heart attack, in that moment, Tuina is not going to be terribly helpful for them," said Coté. "However, to prevent or recover from something like heart attack, then Asian therapies can be very helpful."
Coté began his training 20 years ago at the Tai Institute of Oriental Medicine in Florida after leaving a career in software engineering. It was at that time that his then-wife broke her spine. Doctors told her she wouldn't be able to get out of bed for six months. After applying Tuina, said Coté, she was out of bed in a month, and practicing kung fu again in six months.
He later continued his studies at Nanjing University in China.
Coté says that although Tuina is often characterized as massage work, it's remarkably different in the intensity with which it the technique is learned, including an understanding of how bodily functions are connected.
"An average massage therapy program is between 500 to 700 hours," said Coté. "I have somewhere around 8,000."
In China, where Coté completed eight years of training, holistic healing is tied in closely with medical practice.
"In China, they're not called therapists; they're called doctors," said Coté. "In fact, Tuina doctors are often triage doctors because they have a complete understanding of the trauma as well as the Chinese medical side."
When someone comes in to Coté for Tuina therapy, he will ask them a variety of questions that could range from whether they like their job to how their digestion is; once he gathers a sense of the stress factors, he completes the body therapy.
"The Chinese model is nothing is separate from anything else," he said.