Meet Dr. Kathy Gruver: Wellness Warrior

October 3, 2016

Salonpas® introduces our “Wellness Warriors” series where we connect with people on the forefront of health and wellness.  In our first installment, we speak with Kathy Gruver, PhD, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet, author, licensed massage therapist, Reiki master,
hypnotherapist and leading authority on health and wellness, about her journey.

How did Kathy get into the world of holistic healing?  “I joke and tell people I simply followed the breadcrumbs,” says Dr. Gruver. “I never set out to do this. I was a theatre major and moved to California to pursue an acting career but massage and alternative medicine were always in my periphery. My mom died when I was 18 and because she didn’t really have any options, I think it was always really appealing to me to help people find options for their health.”

“I was pursuing an acting career but I was also studying and practicing massage,” adds Gruver. “When I moved up to Santa Barbara I decided it was time to throw myself full time in to the healing arts so I studied more, started my own massage practice, got my PhD and realized that I loved what I was learning. I realized the more I learned, the more I could help others navigate this confusing world of natural health. So, it’s become my obsession. I continue to take more and more classes. I added hypnotherapy to my practice a few years ago and who knows where the path will lead in the future. As long as I can keep helping people, I’m happy!”

Does stress create/exacerbates pain?  “Yes, absolutely,” says Dr. Gruver.  “Stress incites a cycle that perpetuates pain, stress, pain. Stress tends to tighten our muscles, which will typically make pain worse. And pain is stressful, so the body reacts. Stress can also lead to things like headaches, jaw pain, and muscle tension.”

What is the role of mindfulness and stress reduction? “First mindfulness allows us to stay in the present moment,” says Dr. Gruver.  “It is an immediate stress reducer and, as we said previously, stress exacerbates pain. And if you really work at mindfulness, it trains you to respond rather than react.”

“For example, if you decide to do the dishes mindfully in the present moment by paying attention to all your senses, smells, the feelings on your hands, the sights and the sounds, and other thoughts intrude, rather than judging yourself and thinking it is wrong, you can simply acknowledge that you were thinking and go back to your task,” says Dr. Gruver. “If you practice this type of exercise long enough, soon anytime other things intrude in your life you will be able to take time to respond rather than react. It’s often those reactions that are exaggerated that get us in trouble. And you will be able to take what comes in stride rather than allowing it to have a large effect on you.”

nook headshotWhat type of nutritional plan do you follow and recommend to clients? “I think it’s incredibly important to eat for what YOUR body needs,” says Dr. Gruver.  “I know a lot of people that have tried to be vegetarian and it just isn’t right for their system. I’m a smart meat eater. I’ve tried to avoid animal protein and my body does not react well. Sometimes it’s an experiment to see what is going to work best. But don’t let someone (or a movie) tell you that there is one way to eat. And there are not just four ways to eat either according to some books. Get to know your body and do what works best for you.”

One of your books mentions that you journey toward self-acceptance was furthered by being stranded in a foreign country.  Tell us more!  “ I had the opportunity to have a dream trip – a visit to the country side of England, where I visited Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Avebury, Bath, Stanton Drew and then was on the way to the ultimate spot, the Tor in Glastonbury,” says Dr. Gruver.   “I had a magical day, meditating at the sites and just being in awe of what I was seeing. On my way to Glastonbury (I wanted to climb the Tor and watch the sunset) a truck came around the corner and forced me off the road. My tire hit the low wall and blew. I was stranded. And I was so upset. My highest high went to the lowest low as I realized I was stuck there and was going to miss my sunset.”

“I called the bed and breakfast to tell the owner that I was going to be very late,” adds Dr. Gruver. “I wanted to moan about how my perfect trip was ruined and awful everything was. When I told her what happened, she asked if I was ok. I guessed I was, except I was furious. And then she asked if I was looking at something pretty. WHAT!? Was I looking at something pretty? What the hell does that mean? I mumbled something to her and she said, ‘so, you’ll sit, you’ll wait, you’ll look at something pretty…you’ll get here when you get here.’ And she hung up on me.”

“I was even more furious,” continues Dr. Gruver. ““I wanted her to commiserate with my misery but she didn’t. I sat there stunned that she was no longer on the line and I waited. Then I realized that she was right and I really had no other choice. I turned to look around and behind me was the most beautiful field. The sun was setting over the hill; there were sheep and cows grazing, an amber hue on everything. It was stunning. So, I sat there and stared at that and waited for the tow truck. I was ultimately about 45 minutes behind schedule and though I missed my sunset on the Tor, I realized that the great spiritual quest I was on was about my innkeepers comment. We choose where we put our focus. We can’t control external things. So now, if I’m having a bad time of it, I sit and wait and look at something pretty.”

How did you get into authoring books on health & wellness? “I started out writing articles for local and then regional and then national publications. I realized that though I loved reaching one client at a time in my office, it might be so helpful to write a book and reach a lot of people at once. And, as a speaker, I was encouraged to write a book. So, I started and here I am with five under my belt.”

What book of yours do you recommend to the Salonpas audience? “’Conquer your Stress’ is really a great collection of stress busting techniques,” says Dr. Gruver. “Journey of Healing, my newest is a fabulous combination of text book and autobiography. It gives an overview of dozens of health techniques and also shares some of my personal stories about my own healing and how I’ve helped others heal.

Dr. Kathy Gruver

Dr. Kathy Gruver

Tell me more about meditation, visualization, affirmations and prayer and their role in stress and pain reduction.  “Stress reduction and mind-body medicine is really one of the most customizable systems we can use,” says Dr. Gruver.  “There are as many different ways to meditate as there are people. As we said, stress tends to make pain worse so anytime we can decrease our stress we’re going to be benefits. Using the type of meditation that works for you can be excellent at keeping us in the present moment and decreasing stress. It also allows us to be less reactionary to what is going on.”

“I have led clients through visualization to reduce the pain,” says Dr. Gruver. “You might visualize a control panel where you turn down the dial labeled pain or a ‘pacman’ comes to eat it away or it melts like an ice cube.”

“Affirmations help in the same way,” says Dr. Gruver. “Rather than focusing on the negativity of the pain or focusing all of your energy on the pain, saying something like, ‘my body is relaxed and comfortable. My muscles are supple and relaxed.’ You can create affirmations around anything in your body that is happening that is unpleasant.”

“There has been so much research on the power of prayer,” says Dr. Gruver. “Regardless of your religious affiliation many people pray. It can give comfort and solace at a negative time in one’s life and some people truly believe it can heal. No matter which one of these you choose give them a chance to help you reduce your pain.”

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