“Don’t let me push. Hold. Deep breath in, hold. Think about feeling too much on your plate, overly sympathetic, taking on other people’s problems. Let your breath out. Deep breath in. Think about letting people deal with their own stuff, hold, healthy boundaries, breathe out.”
“Has this guy been reading my diary?” I think to myself, lying on my back on a chiropractic table while Dr. James Tickel gently presses against my raised left arm with one hand and lightly taps my left side, just below my rib cage, with the other. I’ve been instructed to hold my arm as stable as possible, without letting him push it down.
“Take your hand, put it on your forehead, hold,” he says. “Flip it over, hold. Relax.”
Tickel is walking me through the first test he performs on a new patient coming to him with physical pain. It’s a quick process using what he refers to as energy work, during which he assesses physical and emotional trauma. The idea is that each organ stores a particular type of stress, and as he presses on my raised arm he lightly touches different areas—kidneys, bladder, lungs, etc.—to see which one triggers a weakness in my arm. The bladder holds feelings of general anger (being pissed off, if you will), the heart harbors feelings of romantic distress and the stomach takes on being spread too thin and trying to fix other people’s problems. And that, apparently, is the jackpot for me.
“Feel the difference there?” he asks, putting pressure on my arm after leading me through breathing exercises while focusing on my gut’s stress. “It’s not gone, but I just closed out of it for you, like when you have too many windows open on a computer.”
I can’t say I notice a tremendous difference between one attempt at pushing my arm down and another, but I can say with confidence that his assertion of what type of stress I’m carrying around is pretty spot-on. And it’s easy to embrace the meditative breathing exercises because I can identify with what he’s saying.
Tickel is one of seven chiropractors in his family—the practice is in his blood. Early in his career he practiced as a traditional chiropractor, focused on the ideal curves, he says, “obsessed with getting the spine straight from the front and curved from the side.” Tickel then moved into tonal, light-touch work, which is less concerned with alignment and more focused on “the freeness of your neurology, your spinal cord is able to oscillate free like a guitar string.” Then came the energetic work, “the emotional stuff,” through which he’s able to ask the body what kind of trauma is causing pain and what it needs for relief.
“I just noticed people weren’t getting better,” he says of the traditional, back-cracking chiropractic work. “I see that people get better quicker when the treatment is more integrated, and they stay better longer. Their alignment holds longer, they’re able to process stress better. I’m able to get people better in fewer visits, and they just don’t need it as much anymore.”
Tickel says the body experiences three types of trauma: physical, chemical and emotional. Physical and chemical are straightforward—a broken leg and exposure to the toxins in new paint, for example—but emotional is more nuanced. It can be more intense, yet it gets less attention in the medical world.
“Emotional trauma tends to not get the credit that it’s due as far as how bad it’s tearing us apart,” he says. “A lot of times we don’t think emotions are beating us up physically as much as they are. Sometimes on the table I’ll have patients crying or having some kind of emotional releases, and a lot of times those emotional traumas are actually the things that are causing their physical pains.”
His wife, Kim Sanders, a psychiatrist who’s finishing her residency, will join Tickel in the practice. Tickel held a grand opening April 6 at the office at 409 Eighth St. NE, where he and his wife will offer a holistic approach to not just chiropractic care, but overall health and wellness. The goal is to also bring on a doctor who treats lifestyle disorders such as diabetes and heart disease, a nutritionist and an acupuncturist.
The space in the back room, where patients lie down on tables to have alignment work done, is stocked with some of the classic chiropractor’s tools, like a cervical traction unit for neck and back pain. They’re available for whomever wants them, Tickel says, but aggressive treatment isn’t his first choice.
“I like to work with the body as opposed to forcing the body to do something,” he says.