Acupuncturist draws from the East to support the treasure of health

March 14, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

On a street lined with antique stores in Sykesville, the door to "Three Treasures" opens on a shop with no inventory.

Frances Lea Gander, owner of Three Treasures Health Services on Main Street, deals in philosophy and way of life.

"Most people like the name but they don't realize I am dealing with the treasures that help us get through life," said Ms. Gander, a licensed acupuncturist and longtime student of Chinese philosophy. "I am here to support people's treasures, which are important to a well-balanced life and worth taking care of."

Ms. Gander cites "life force, heart spirit and genetic inheritance" as priceless treasures.

Last month, she opened her business, where she offers exercise classes, nutrition counseling and acupuncture.

"I am a coach who creates openings for change," Ms. Gander said. "All of us have treasures. How we cultivate them is the important piece to our life."

A graduate of the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia, Ms. Gander for years has found "good underpinnings in Chinese philosophy."

Traditional Western medicine failed her years ago, she said, when a back injury left her in constant pain, which worsened with age. She tried yoga, but found taiji, a Chinese exercise, to be more active and more helpful to her.

"Taiji is a gentle stretching for the whole body," she said. "It slows down the breathing and is a gentle massage for the internal organs."

After studying the method with Chinese teachers for nearly 20 years, she is a firm believer in the therapeutic power of taiji, which the Chinese revere as the best form of exercise, she said.

"The Chinese teach the movements with the philosophy," Ms. Gander said. "They don't differentiate the mind and body connection the way we do."

Ms. Gander, a film documentary producer with a master of fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago, made a career change four years ago, becoming a taiji instructor. Then she moved to Maryland to study acupuncture.

Ms. Gander, who prefers to use the spelling "taiji" over the more commonly used "tai chi," begins each day with the exercises and teaches taiji at the shop.

"Taiji is different from the buns-of-steel aerobics classes," Ms. Gander said. "You learn to let go of stress and holding patterns."

In the 90-minute sessions, students, who range in age from teens to senior citizens, learn how to get into a relaxed state and use the body efficiently.

"It feels good to let the muscles elongate and relax," she said. "No matter what other benefit you derive, you will keep your muscles supple longer."

Many of the movements rely on lower body strength and allow the upper body to relax. The patterns often take cues from nature.

"We can be a tree in the wind," said Ms. Gander, as she twisted from side to side. "The Chinese classics are full of beautiful metaphors based on an agrarian society."

Many students attend the class in an effort to relieve stress.

"A pain in the neck almost always gets down to stress," she said. "I have managed between acupuncture, exercise and changes in lifestyle to keep stress out of my body."

Ms. Gander receives many referrals to her acupuncture practice. "By the time a person comes here, he has probably already tried Western medicine and realizes there is not going to be a quick fix," she said.

She does not initiate the "thorough and slow" needle treatment, which is covered under some medical plans, until she establishes a rapport through a two-hour interview.

"I look at the person as totality," she said. "For the treatment to take root and last, you must get as close to the root as possible."

She promises no miracles through acupuncture, but offers the possibility of wholeness.

"A sense of wholeness makes life worth living," she said. "If you are put back in touch with wholeness, the pain of separation often goes away."

For Ms. Gander, work is continual learning. "If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned" is her life philosophy.

Her move to Sykesville strikes a balance -- between her youth on a Midwestern farm and careers lived in several major cities, she said. "Sykesville provides a happy balance between rural and urban," she said. "I really like the small town atmosphere here, where we all know each other and it's so friendly."

On March 22, she will begin a six-week course in Qi Gong, an exercise similar to but easier to learn than taiji.

Students learn breathing techniques and movements to help push qi, the Chinese word for vital life energy, throughout the body.

"As we learn to experience our body in a more holistic way, we can more actively participate in our own well-being," she said.

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