Where West meets East for better health

March 18, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

As if launching any new business weren't difficult enough, Hazel Chung is offering a service the general public has neither heard about nor can pronounce.

Still, three months after opening, her Ellicott City training center for Ohashiatsu (pronounced O-ha-shee-at-zu), a holistic health practice rooted in Eastern medicine, she has few regrets.

"It's been hard starting the business and being the one who has to do a lot of training, too. I meditated many months about this and felt there was no other answer but to go ahead. The decision to do it felt between laughing and crying," recalled Mrs. Chung, the only certified Ohashiatsu instructor in Maryland. Her studio is one of only five in the U.S.

Mrs. Chung's studio offers beginning and advanced classes in the practice of Ohashiatsu, a healing art developed in the 1970s by Wataru Ohashi, a Japanese-born master of shiatsu, an Oriental massage technique. Shiatsu is based on applying pressure to areas of the body to unlock blocked energy.

Students of Ohashiatsu are taught how to work with a partner, applying gentle pressure to areas of the body while employing stretching movements.

Practitioners of Ohashiatsu believe the pressure and stretching relieve tension and release blocked energy, known as ki. This, they argue, eliminates fatigue and leads to deep relaxation of mind, body and spirit.

Mrs. Chung's interest in Ohashiatsu came after a long career as a student and instructor of dance. That was a natural path for her. As a child growing up in Jamaica, she participated daily in the dance and music webbed of the culture.

She says her interest and knowledge of dance flourished while she was studying and performing at the Julliard School, a dance and drama academy in New York. Later she studied dance and music in Indonesia under Ford Foundation grants, she said.

It was during a trip with a friend to the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, N.Y., that she was exposed to shiatsu.

"A new sensation came into my mind and body. I connected with something, but I didn't know what it was. I felt light and movement was easy. I wasn't pushing anymore. I was allowing."

In launching her center, Mrs. Chung sees herself as providing "an offering" for others to experience that balancing of body, mind and spirit.

To market the business, she's set up training to accommodate the area's strong demographic mix of executives and professionals leading hectic work and social schedules.

Mrs. Chung has decided for now to offer training sessions in weekend courses which run 30 hours each. Course costs range from $380 for a beginner's class to $505 for an sessions for intermediate level students. Practice sessions are also offered on Wednesday evenings. Those are free.

"Many of the people who are coming to us are searching for alternative ways to help themselves. They aren't satisfied with what they are getting from traditional medicine for their problem," said Mrs. Chung, who operated a private Ohashiatsu practice out of her home for about 10 years.

Mrs. Chung believes Eastern health therapies, such as Ohashiatsu, have much to offer Western medicine. "The problem with Western medicine is it's too analytical. There's too much machine between me and you. Oriental medicine is more base on one-to-one contact between two people. That's where the support comes from," she said.

Mrs. Chung said she is seeing strong interest from medical professionals, particularly nurses, as well as from harried executives. Also, professionally trained masseurs are showing interest in broadening their training. Some students are coming from as far as North Carolina, she said.

While generating interest in her venture has been hard work to date, Mrs. Chung can take heart in the fact that her holistic health practice is just one of dozens of alternative medical therapies taking root in the region and nationally.

Mrs. Chung's venture is part of a booming alternative medicine business in the U.S., now estimated to be a $27 billion-a-year industry. And, as is the case with many alternative medical therapies, Ohashiatsu is much more popular in Europe than in the U.S.

For example, when Mr. Ohashi visited her studio in early March, Mrs. Chung had about 40 people turn out for a workshop. But when he shows up for lecture in Europe, 400 sign up to listen, said Mrs. Chung.

"One day I hope to see that kind of interest here," she said.

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