Being thrust into the challenging situations inherent in the military, many veterans come out needing mental health services. Dr. Frank Yurasek zeroes in on the plight of veterans in areas around post-traumatic stress disorder, the silent suicide epidemic, and the pain afflicting them as well as non-veterans. However, different from what has been usually done, Dr. Yurasek adds to the field Eastern Medicine, and in this episode, he joins Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D., to tell us all about it. He shares how he incorporates East to West in helping veterans combating PTSD and other mental health conditions with acupuncture, self-help, and more. Dr. Yurasek also lets us in on the work he is doing with Healer Warrior, his thoughts on the current pandemic, and our brains’ role in our bodies’ functions and its healing.
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Finding Healing In Eastern Medicine: Helping Veterans’ Mental Health With Dr. Frank Yurasek
Dr. Frank Yurasek has completed 28 years of experience in practicing Oriental Medicine and delivering highly effective patient outcome results through these methods. Dr. Yurasek has been President of the Eastern Medicine Group since 1988. He has published the Oriental Medicine Journal for more than a decade. In recent years, Dr. Yurasek has zeroed in on the plight of veterans, particularly the following areas, post-traumatic stress disorder, silent suicide epidemic among veterans, and pain afflicting veterans and non-veterans.
Thank you so much for joining us. It’s an honor to finally meet you face to face. I’m hoping that you’ll share a little bit with us about what got you started on your journey and what drives your passion for it.
It’s interesting because I spent 25 years thinking that my career was going to be marketing and advertising. Suddenly, I took a sharp right turn and discovered acupuncture because my wife was in need of it, and nothing else was working. I thought I’d try this. They wanted to cut the nerves in her face because she had TMJ and take the other route. It would paralyze and scar her, and had about a 50% chance of working. I said, “Let’s try something else.” It so happened we lived about two blocks from this acupuncture school that had a clinic, and 6 needles, 20 minutes, $20 later, she had no pain. That got my attention. I started in premedicine and decided I didn’t want to do that. I went on and got a scholarship teaching fellowship in lit. I did that for a couple of years. I got into advertising because that seemed to be the thing to do. It was only after 25 years of that when I was desperate for something other than surgery and drugs, I discovered this medicine that I had only been mildly curious about.
A couple of weeks after that experience, a little ad appeared in The Reader newspaper that said this doctor from China with 40 years of experience, third-generation, was going to have a class above a bar at Rogers Park called Bitty Oregon’s bar. I said, “This must be providential.” I started showing up, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. A year later, he asked me to be his assistant, which I did. At that time, acupuncture was a Class 4 felony because they wouldn’t license it. You could do it if you didn’t know anything about it, but if you were an MD or if you knew a little bit about it, and you were a chiropractor, but other than that, you could not use it.
I was so impressed with how it treated my wife’s condition that I did this internship and then started practicing. After a year of studying, six months of internship, I started practicing with Dr. Hahn in Chinatown. I did that for about six months, and then broke out on my own and decided I wanted to get a little more formal education. This was back in ‘85. I went in for a three-year program while I was working full-time in marketing and advertising, and doing acupuncture part-time. From there, I went on for a doctorate and never looked back.[bctt tweet=”People with PTSD or who are in pain are usually in fight or flight mode, which dumps cortisol under the system, increasing inflammation. ” via=”no”]
When you say you went on for a doctorate, what did you get your doctorate in?
It was in traditional Chinese medicine. That included herbs and Tui Na, which is the manual therapy, and Qi Gong, which is the energetic exercises. Acupuncture, herbs, Tui Na, and the Qi Gong exercise that we have people do. It’s a lot like yoga and it’s very specific for different conditions, so those four studies. I’ve been back and forth to China fifteen times. I did my doctorate on drug and alcohol treatment using acupuncture for sixteen years with the state’s largest drug and alcohol treatment center up in Waukegan. I had a private practice at the same time. That was the early years, and for the last sixteen years, I’ve been working in a hospital-based practice as the Director of Acupuncture with a Cook County hospital, the Stroger Hospital.
How did you get connected with the Healer Warrior group?
Jim Dolan, somehow, we hooked up. I was a Chair of the program over at National. I decided I wanted to spend one day a week treating veterans because my son is a Marine veteran. My brother is an Air Force veteran, my father-in-law was a World War II veteran. I tried to get into Marine Aviation when I was in college and flunked the eye exam, and then went on to law school. I never served, but I had a lot of buddies of mine that did that did not come back. I decided that my service would be working with veterans who are primarily suffering from pain and PTSD. In that process of making some noise about that over at the clinic at National University in Lombard, I ran into Jim. He started being my front man and bringing veterans over there. He was involved with joining forces. It just grew like topsy to the point where we were seeing 45 veterans a day, and then also doing 4, 5, 6 stand downs a year where we would see up to 400 veterans on a weekend.
How much of your time is spent with the Healer Warrior Project?
I backed off a lot from that because of COVID. I was doing regular classes, monthly classes, online, and had a pretty robust veteran clinic at my clinic in Oak Park. We had an arrangement where we signed an agreement at Stroger Hospital between Stroger and the VA specifically with Jesse Brown. We were doing that and things went a little sideways on our side, and on Jesse Brown’s side. They stopped opening up their facility and ours as well to people other than the essential services and emergency services. We backed away from that. There haven’t been any stand downs. There had been virtual stand downs, but there haven’t been any of those lately as well. We went into hibernation for 2020.
When you’re working with veterans, one of the things that are talked about in the bio you have or the write-up you have for the Healer Warrior Project is working with PTSD, working with people who are depressed or have tendencies towards suicidal thoughts. Can you tell us a little bit about how what you do is positively impacting those veterans?
It could be subjective. There is a sixteen-question questionnaire that we would have veterans fill out before their series of treatments and 6 to 8 weeks after. We’ll compare the scores. I found that the most accurate way to see if there’s change is something called heart rate variability, which measures the balance between their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, between their flight response and their rest and relaxation response. Usually, people with PTSD or in pain, or both, their way into the fight or flight mode, which dumps cortisol under the system that increases inflammation. It keeps their pain and trauma at a high level from a body-mind emotional point of view. A classmate of mine and I did a study at one of the stand downs. We did real-time before, during, and after auricular acupuncture using five points on the ear.
We tracked parasympathetic balance. We also did the electrical stim and these little tiny vaccaria seeds on the same five points, depending on which stand down we were working at and how many people we had in line. We found that the majority of the veterans that we were treating went into that autonomic balance, where the sympathetic, parasympathetic nervous systems were in a state of balance, which was a significant prerunner to the fact that they started being able to sleep better. They have less anxiety. They would heal faster because all those things are linked to that balanced autonomic nervous system.
Is that heart rate variability that you’re talking about the same thing that they mention if they’re registering with the HeartMath work? How is it that you measure that?
We put a strap on their chest, and we have special software that was designed by this Russian scientist, Dr. Alex Rivkin, who pioneered this software with 100,000 Russian sailors to see if they were fit for duty. Over that period of time, he refined this software and brought it over to this country, and started using it in the hospitals to help with trauma, heart disease, and with fitness. The other application of that is now he’s got a fitness system. You can put on your Apple phone, and it’s telling you what shape your heart is in as you exercise. That’s another variation of that.
Have you done follow-ups with people that you’ve been treating in terms of the dynamic impact on their depression or their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or their suicidal ideation?
That was pretty much part of our questionnaire that we would do before they started therapy and six weeks later. Those were key questions designed by the VA that would put a scale in place in terms of those conditions. The HRV, Heart Rate Variability, is a lot more precise than that. It’s specifically measuring that autonomic balance. As that balance, there’s a direct indication that a lot of those symptoms are going away.
Does the Heart Rate Variability stay in that healthier balanced state even after the needles are removed, even after the treatment with you?
We were seeing them once a week at the clinic in Lombard and that was staying in place.
You mentioned in this write-up for Healer Warrior that there is this silent epidemic of suicides among veterans. As we know, there’s a complex set of factors that contribute to that. Can you say a little bit more about this package that you do? It’s not just the acupuncture or the regular acupuncture, it’s also herbs and Qi Gong.
The whole idea about Healer Warrior was self-care. Qi Gong is something that the individual could do. We have a system with either the auricular where the wife can get involved. These are all called homunculus based or little man base. There’s this upside-down fetus on the ear, which it’s very easy to get the idea of what part of the ear relates to either what organ or what part of the musculoskeletal system. We have the same thing with the ant system, which came along a little later, the auricular system was discovered by Dr. Nogier who was a neurologist. The hand system was discovered by Dr. Tae Woo Yoo, who’s a Korean acupuncturist. You can treat the whole body from a part of the body, the part that contains the whole, just like with the hologram. It doesn’t matter where you snip the film. If you shine a laser through it, you get the whole image. We have the same property with these holographic areas, it could be the scalp. There’s a scalp microsystem, an ear microsystem, a hand microsystem, and there’s even an abdominal one where the ancient drawing was of a turtle. It’s called Sacred Turtle.[bctt tweet=”The latest mantra for neuroplasticity is Attention, Intention, Rehearsal,” via=”no”]
I went to the World Congress of Acupuncture Federations from all over the country. They have 250,000 members and they had a convention in Houston a few years back. There are these two Italian orthopedic surgeons, and they’re giving a lecture on the Sacred Turtle area of the body that you can treat the whole body from. They have video clips of one guy had neck surgery and could barely move his neck. He was in extraordinary pain. The other guy had knee surgery, an older gentleman. He could barely move his knee. He was within hours out of surgery.
In both cases, they went to the area of the body that relates to that area of the abdomen, and got immediate pain relief and more flexibility. What I have put together based on this happening, whether it’s from the ear, from the hand, from the scalp, from the abdomen is that is a neuroplastic response. What you’re doing is waking up another part of the brain that takes over function. By going remote rather than to the area of pain, you go to another area of the body. The latest mantra for neuroplasticity is Attention, Intention, Rehearsal, AIR. That was developed by this psychologist from Nepal who had a traumatic brain injury from an auto accident. He spent ten years trying to get control of his body back.
With the help of this doctor, she was an ophthalmologist and she worked with him to use sight. This idea of paying attention to what is missing and what is there, and having an intention to put what’s there that isn’t there. Take away what is there that you don’t want, and rehearse that. After ten years of suffering, he was about 80% recovered. I’ve used this technique using these microsystems of the hand, the ear, the scalp, and the abdomen. They all have the same common denominator in that as you stimulate that area of the body that connects to the brain, and you have that person go through a movement that they haven’t been able to go through, somehow that kicks in to have that function restored. Not necessarily instantly, although sometimes instantly.
The best example of that is if you ever go on YouTube, and look under Dr. Zhu. He is a scalp acupuncturist that you’ll see pictures of people in wheelchairs, or dysfunctional and haven’t walked or stood for years, get up and immediately start to being able to function. I’ve seen that in my own practice. I’ve had people walk out with their walkers under their arm, stand up from wheelchairs. I’ve had a young girl with a through and through drive-by shooting where her shoulder was paralyzed. You go to these areas of the body that have been mapped out by a famous acupuncturist, either recent or ancient, and you have this immediate recorrection of function. The best example of that that I gave at the pediatric department at Stroger Hospital is this point on a little toe of the mother that when you stimulate it, the baby flips from a feet first to a head first position. The only way I can explain that is neuroplasticity.
It sounds a lot like the thing that Moshe Feldenkrais was developing in his work to get one part of the brain to take over functions that another part had ceased.
He’s a favorite of mine. He was in the same building in Tel Aviv as Dr. Ida Rolf. Ida Rolf and Feldenkrais didn’t know each other well, but they did pass by each other there. They were peers at the same time in this bodywork business from different spectrums and different areas that help people recover from paralysis and dysfunction. There’s a Japanese counterpart whose technique I use. He is Dr. Hashimoto who was captured by the Russians during the Russian-Japanese war and prisoner of war for six years. He had a lot of time to think. He came home back to Japan and put together this exercise therapy called Sotai, which means puppeteer. It means getting hold of your own strings to control your body movement to restore function, which is very much like this paradigm of neuroplasticity.
He would find out that every joint moves in eight directions. He would compare one side of the body to another, whether it was an arm, a shoulder, an elbow, and plot that out. Here’s the kicker, he would take the body the way it wants to go as opposed to physical therapy or trying to force it and make it work where it doesn’t. He went in the exact opposite direction. He takes the body in the direction of ease on the exhale slowly, and that would reboot the body. I do that a lot while the needles are engaged, whether they’re engaged in the scalp or the ear. I get this synchronicity. I get this synchronous movement restored as I tease the body. It can be either electrical stimulation, laser stimulation, needle stimulation, pressure stimulation, any of these will work to signal that pathway, whether you call it a nerve pathway or an acupuncture pathway. In fact, there’s an English physician who wrote a wonderful book, the Spark in the Machine, who talks about the acupuncture vessels or meridians being these pathways that are a fascia, and that the Qi is a piezo or electrical spark or stimulation that goes along these fascia planes in the body. He’s done a good job of trying to put it into more of a Western vernacular.
It reminds me of something I heard about orthomolecular bionomy. Have you heard about that?
It’s the same thing you’re talking about where every joint will move in eight directions. You do this very gentle breathing, and you ask the person to let you know what feels best out of the two pairs or the four different pairs. You hold that and breathe until you feel the pulse, and then you move to the next direction. By the time you’re done, there have been a lot of times that I’ve used that, and I’ve seen other people use that where they’re amazed at the release that happens. Assuming that all of these Coronavirus restrictions and things are going to pass some time, if people go to HealerWarrior.us, that’s one good way to find out a little bit more about you and what you do. If people wanted to contact you after this, whether they’re veterans or there are other people who’ve been through issues that the traditional or the conventional medical model will not assist them with, how would you prefer people try and contact you?
Before you say after COVID, I’d like to say two things about COVID. One thing, The New York Times had an eight-page article on people called long haulers. These are COVID survivors that still have symptoms. Some have gotten worse or new symptoms that are open-ended and are still a considerable challenge to them. What they found out, and this goes back to Heart Rate Variability, is that the majority of the time, one of the main things in common with all these people is their autonomic nervous system is out of balance. They are stuck in the fight or flight response. I go back to these points on the ear that can tip you back into a more balanced autonomic nervous system, and allow you to reboot and reheal.
No one’s done that with acupuncture as it relates to the COVID long haulers, but there’s a lot of money that’s going to put aside by NIH. I’m in the process of putting together a proposal to see if I can do research to test it. I may also do a pilot where comparing people that are using conventional therapy versus people that are using auricular, that’s going to rebalance their autonomic nervous system, and see how those symptoms may dissipate or not following that therapy over a course of weeks of therapy.
The other piece is that most people who suffer from COVID are comorbid. They have diabetes, cardiac issues, pulmonary issues, or kidney issues. All those can be addressed by acupuncture, herbs, and Qi Gong. It’s the old story that by getting someone healthier in general, that the best offense is a good defense. You can protect yourself by moving into better health away from these issues that you’ve been trapped in with a conventional therapy that hasn’t improved. You’re just treading water there. Whereas, we very much look at causes as opposed to symptoms. We treat causally in terms of these conditions and seemed to be able to get people out of the woods, and back into a more normal function. When you’re talking about functioning, you’re talking about when you restore function about this neuroplastic ability of the brain to heal itself. As Doidge says in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, “The way we are programmed, the mind controls the brain and the brain controls the body.” If you want to change what’s going on with the body, you start with the mind.
It’s certainly been so many different modalities that I’ve been exposed to over the years prove that out. The physical aches and pains that people have come into our offices with, and they walk out without them. Oftentimes, it’s been 8, 10, 12 years or more. They’re in tears, not from the pain, but from the idea that they’re no longer in that pain.
When you’re drug dependent, the only relief you get is temporary and it’s through sedation of the brain, which is antithetical to neuroplasticity. We want to wake up the brain to kick in. You can’t do that very well if you’re drugged. It’s so interesting because the VA in Detroit has required that all patients going into surgery get this battlefield acupuncture which is five points on the ear. They found that there is a 50% reduction in following surgery and the use of this battlefield model, which I trained in with John Howard out of Maryland and used with shocking effectiveness on Marine amputees with phantom pain.
It reminds me of Peter Levine’s book, In an Unspoken Voice. He’s mapped out quite a bit from his personal and clinical experience that whole process that so many of us go through, even if it’s just for an orthopedic issue. Even if it’s not battlefield, but any kind of surgery or any kind of an orthopedic procedure where we have to be restrained. He calls that tonic immobility. If that is paired with fear, how much that gets rooted in the brain’s response system, and how it can be mitigated like you’re talking about going in using your auricular technique prior to it, calming everything, getting that balance going, separating the immobilization from the fear or terror. How it can be resolved even after the fact with this awareness of the balance in the brain, and the connection between what the body has learned about the tonic immobility and the fear.[bctt tweet=”The best offense is a good defense. You can actually protect yourself by moving into better health.” via=”no”]
As you’re mentioning that, it brings back a Qi Gong exercise called the Six Healing Sounds, where you make a sound as it relates to one of the meridians. The kidney meridian which goes through the kidneys, that’s the only reason it’s called the kidney meridian, starts on the sole of the foot and goes upward along the front of the body. That’s an area where I was told in China to use this tapping therapy on kids that had cerebral palsy. I used it on a little girl with Rett Syndrome and watch to my amazement as she was able to walk again. Once that degeneration starts, there’s no going back in terms of improvement. With this tapping on the kidney meridian, it’s not about me. It’s about how the body has the ability to reboot. The thing is that we have this ability to restore ourselves.
The healing sounds, there is a sound that you resonate throughout your body using your mouth as a resonating chamber and breath. That resonates with the kidney meridian. The kidney meridian controls the bones, the reproductive system, fear, hair, immunity. It is a fundamental source of energy and starting energy. It’s very important for kids. That’s why you hit these kidney points on the back, just above the buttocks because that’s where the masterpoints for the kidney is. The kidney also brings down long energy. That’s why that breath starts. This sound, think of Chewbacca, which his nickname was Chewy. That’s the sound you make. You fill up your lungs. That vibration stimulates and harmonizes the kidney meridian and the body and all those things that relate to that. The ear is the external opening of the kidney. That’s why auricular medicine works so well. There are all of these overlapping connections that are so multi-dimensional. It’s amazing.
It’s a delight to hear about some of this. We mentioned the HealerWarrior.us is one place people can connect with you. Is there another?
Acuwerks is my Gmail. I’m pretty covered up at Stroger. I have this school that I’m working at. It’s a new acupuncture school that has me pretty covered up. I do see patients on Saturdays and a couple of evenings a week, but with COVID, I pretty much let that go and just concentrated on my practice at county and getting the new school, a student clinic up and going as well. That’s on Michigan Avenue. If people want to text me, they can text me through my cell phone, which is (708) 466-7501. That’s the best way or they can email me at Acuwerks@Gmail.com Those are the two conduits to get me connected with their questions and hopefully, some of their answers.
Before I let you go, let’s just be clear. Are you talking about a school where you’re going to teach people to do what you do?
Yes. In fact, I have Qi Gong class there on Thursdays through our class that will be going through May 2021. We’ll have a lot of online courses. That’s where I’ll be also teaching this battlefield acupuncture at that school. I’ve got a couple of surgeons that are interested, and some chiropractors because you can use laser therapy or electrotherapy that’s not invasive. I’m hoping that we can bring in massage therapists and other folks that would normally be prohibited from using acupuncture needles.
I greatly appreciate your taking the time out of your busy day to share this knowledge with us. I look forward to following your work and I’m in awe. People can find you at HealerWarrior.us, or they can reach out to you in any of the other two ways you mentioned. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
My pleasure, Tim. Thank you for your work as well.
Dr. Yurasek began studies and practice of Eastern Medicine in 1985 to seek relief for his wife’s intense pain. He attended Midwest College of Oriental Medicine, where he received a MS in Oriental Medicine, and his PhD in Oriental Medicine in 2002. He was a Professor of Tui Na and a clinic supervisor since 1996. He has interned in China and Japan, and has lectured across the United States. Dr. Yurasek is the Chief Clinician of Accupuncture and Oriental Medicine at National University of Health Sciences. He also serves as Vice President of the Board of the Illinois Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
As an author, clinician, martial artist, mentor, and teacher, Dr. Yurasek uniquely ties together his various disciplines and experiences to present Oriental Medicine as a powerful problem-solving tool and a restorative health modality. By demonstrating how acutherapy is applicable to relieving pain and other chronic conditions that are characteristic of our American culture, he is demystifying Oriental Medicine. By placing an emphasis on self-help, Dr. Yurasek is making Oriental Medicine more accessible and empowering people to take control of their own health.
- Dr. Frank Yurasek
- Spark in the Machine
- The Brain That Changes Itself
- In an Unspoken Voice
About Dr. Frank Yurasek
Dr. Frank Yurasek has compiled 28 years of experience in practicing Oriental Medicine and delivering highly effective patient outcome results through these methods. Dr. Yurasek has been President of the Eastern Medicine Group since 1988. He has published the Oriental Medicine Journal for more than a decade.
Dr. Yurasek began studies and practice of Eastern Medicine in 1985 to seek relief for his wife’s intense pain. He attended Midwest College of Oriental Medicine, where he received a MS in Oriental Medicine, and his PhD in 2002. Dr. Yurasek was a Professor of Tui Na and clinic supervisor since 1996. He has interned in China and Japan, and has lectured across the United States.
Dr. Yurasek is currently Chief Clinician of Accupuncture and Oriental Medicine at National University of Health Sciences. He also serves as Vice President of the Board of the Illinois Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
In recent years, Dr. Yurasek has zeroed in on the plight of veterans, particularly among the following issues:
· Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
· Silent Suicide Epidemic among Veterans
· Pain Afflicting Veterans and Non-Veterans
As an author, clinician, Martial artist, mentor, and teacher, Dr. Yurasek uniquely ties together his various disciplines and experiences to present Oriental medicine as a powerful problem-solving tool and restorative health modality.
By demonstrating how acutherapy is applicable to relieving pain and other chronic conditions characteristic of our American culture, Dr. Yurasek is demystifying Oriental medicine. By placing an emphasis on self-help, Dr. Yurasek is making Oriental medicine more accessible and empowering people to take control of their own health.
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