Holistic healers flock to Hayward

Massage therapists, herbalists, and yoga masters rush to meet city’s pent-up demand
The Oakland Tribune, Jan. 27, 2003
By Julissa McKinnon – Staff Writer

It smells like aroma therapy in the town that the New Age wave almost forgot.


Slowly, quietly, the tide of holistic health has crept into Hayward, perhaps the only Bay Area city where a new yoga studio still turns heads.

Between the empty store fronts and antique shops in downtown Hayward, holistic health businesses are sprouting, filling the untapped economic niche of alternative healing.

Unlike its more cosmopolitan neighbors, such as Oakland and Berkeley, Hayward is still virgin territory for the holistic health market.

Vivian DeLeon Bias, a practitioner and teacher of massage, acupressure, and herbal therapies since 1988, said Hayward’s reputation as a blue-collar town probably kept it off the natural healers’ radar screen for years.

Now massage therapists, herbalists, and yoga masters are among the entrepreneurs discovering that Hayward residents, too, want alternative health and, more importantly, they’re willing to pay for it.

“I think one of the reasons (natural healers) are choosing Hayward is the competition is not as fierce,” DeLeon Bias said.

“A lot of the schools in Oakland and Berkeley were pumping out graduates who want to work in Oakland and Berkeley,” she said. “Because Hayward is not as hip of a place, they wouldn’t think to come work here.”

Hipness ratings aside, several of the new holistic health businesses of the Hayward area seem happy they came.

Lori Sanati was looking to break out of the San Francisco yoga market, where some neighborhoods are blanketed with studios. All she really knew about this area before opening her new Bikram, or hot yoga studio on Foothill Boulevard, was that there was a dearth of yoga options — just one downtown and another in Castro Valley.

“I knew nothing about Hayward,” she said, adding that friends later told her of the city’s reputation for being a little out of touch.

To her surprise, her studio has been flooded by area residents, who welcomed her arrival.

“They said they have been waiting forever,” Sanati said.

Since her Bikram Yoga College of India opened on Sept. 30, Sanati has met 428 customers and already has a steady clientele.

Bikram yoga is done in a 100-degree room, which Sanati says helps participants focus on breathing, improve flexibility, work cardiovasculars and release toxins, among other things.

“It’s a complete tune-up for the entire body,” Sanati said. It’s a misconception that you have to be flexible to do yoga, she added.

Traditional chiropractors might adjust backs, but the ones at BodyMind Connection on Main Street in downtown Hayward can adjust lives through a process called network spinal analysis.

“This has changed the way I think about my body entirely,” said patient Christina Bercovici, who said the process can bring up a lot of anguish, anger and pain.

Gregory Jeter, a graduate of Hayward’s Life Chiropractic College, and his wife, Patty Jeter, a massage therapist, opened BodyMind Connection about two years ago after restoring and renovating their downtown space, which used to be the lobby of the historic Green Shutter Hotel.

Unlike what some perceive as mainstream “rack and crack” chiropractic care, network care doctors use gentle force to help the body regulate its own tension in the neurological system.

“It’s helping the body get to a point where it can heal itself,” Gregory Jeter said.

Patients, called practice members, are worked on in groups. Much like fish that swim in schools, Jeter says patients work in concert.

“It’s amazing, one person will take a breath, and then you see everyone else take a breath,” he said.

Practice members typically come in for a session three times a week and will stay for about 20 to 45 minutes.

Gregory Jeter’s network care quickly caught on, and about six months ago BodyMind Connection hired chiropractor Gwen Jones to join the team. Patty Jeter does massage and the center offers a hypnotist, as well.

At Sea Angel’s Touch, which has evolved over the past four years into a holistic education center, business has been booming, employees said.

The downtown store front, on B Street, is filled with an array of bath and body products for sale, a passion for owner Peggy Vittoria.

But beyond the front counter, the deep footprint of the 1920s building extends into a wellness center — soon to be renovated — complete with a classroom and treatment rooms.

Some of the offerings include massage, acupressure, facials, yoga and self-mastery classes — even an occasional drum circle.

As Vittoria prepares to change the business’ name to Spherical Reality Life Coaching Institute, it will soon focus even more on self-awareness, using principles she’s developed from the Oregon-based Friends Landing Center for Conscious Living.

“It’s helping people figure out what they want in their life, what they want to do and what makes them happy,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know.”

Vittoria, a certified holistic body worker and health educator, is one of four practitioners at Sea Angel’s touch.

Healing the cause

Jutta Neitzel-Maris, who practices deep tissue and Hawaiian hot-stone massage, came to her current career out of disillusion.

In her native Germany, she worked as a physician’s assistant and began studying natural healing out of her frustration with the modern medical approach. She said the doctor’s pills and prescriptions treated the symptoms of sickness, and she wanted to help people heal the cause.

She came to California in 1999 and shortly after, spotted an ad for the Acupressure Institute of Berkeley and knew it was her chance to chase her dream.

After graduating from the institute, Neitzel-Maris practiced massage on friends for a year before being hired by Chiropractic office on Grove Way in Castro Valley. The chiropractor, Gary Zoffada, kept hearing the same patient rave about Neitzel-Maris’ massages during spinal adjustments.

Neitzel-Maris, 45, now works at Zoffada’s office full-time, administering massage, reflexology, and aroma therapy inside an all-white, noise-reduced cocoon of soft light and soothing music.

Standing in the white glow of her own massage room, Neitzel-Maris says massage therapy is not lucrative work but she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I’m working in a very relaxed environment, no phones, no computers,” she said, her voice calm as the room’s leafy smell. “I’m setting my own schedule more or less. I’m also setting my whole environment how I like it. I come home and I’m physically tired but I’m not stressed.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday January 31, 2003.
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