By Len Lear
Jolie Bookspan, MEd, PhD, who has taught several courses for the Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT), is a research scientist with a list of accomplishments that is longer than some menus. She is a 4th degree black belt in Shotokan karate and teacher of martial arts, a former Muay Thai fighter (a combat sport that features the use of fists, elbows, knees, shins, etc.) in the Netherlands and Thailand, a scuba instructor and dive guide, swimming instructor and former national-class middle-distance swimmer, teacher of juggling, fire-sticks and other movement arts at MALT and former construction assistant to her husband. “We lifted, hauled, cut, sawed, squatted and reached more than a gym workout,” she recalled.
But Dr. Bookspan is perhaps best known for her work with pain reduction that does not involve pharmaceuticals. She is the director of the Neck and Back Pain Sports Medicine Academy of Functional Exercise Medicine (AFEM).
“My work means people don’t need opioids in the first place,” she insists. “My professional and life work is to understand and study the coldest, hottest, fastest, highest, deepest, quickest, bravest, strongest in human physiology. My career as a research physiologist took me to military, university and training centers from undersea to mountaintop to jet cockpit to outer space.
“Doctors and fitness instructors come to me as patients to find out why they have back pain, blown discs and other pain and what to do about it. Methods I developed are learned in school by doctors, trainers, physical therapists, combat swimmers, hyperbaric chamber operators, police and military and top athletes. I was the first to develop fitness and adventure programs aboard cruise ships, and I was told it would ‘never catch on.’”
Of course journalists (and others) tend to be skeptical about grandiose claims by anyone, but the internet is full of testimonials from people who have come to Dr. Bookspan with pain and who then found relief. For example, Jennifer Semchuk wrote, “Thanks to a few simple moves and a ton of encouragement, patience and humor, Dr. Bookspan airlifted me out of a mess of pain.”
An equestrian, Kaethe Ellis Williams, wrote, “With your posture in place and your exercises in practice, I was in the ribbons last weekend, the first time I’ve been able to show my Arabian horse in two seasons. At age 66 I was in four classes competing against 18-year-olds (youngest) to the 45-and-Over Division, which always makes me the class doyenne. I ribboned in all four classes and qualified for our big regional show next month in Denver… I cannot thank you enough for helping me get my life back; I live to ride.”
Steve Kramer, who “had already resigned myself to a life of surgery followed by chronic pain, limited physical activity, and lots of medication,” said that “from working with Dr. Bookspan, I learned about obvious pressure I was putting on my back by bending, standing and sitting in all the ways we already know you shouldn’t do…” Kramer, a competitive fencer, had been suffering from severe knee pain but now says that Dr. Bookspan is “95% of the reason I can even get through my day without needing a wheelchair.” And remarkably, in June of this year Kramer won a gold medal at an international fencing tournament in Bangkok, Thailand. According to Steve, “I’m so proud of my gold medal that I’m going to have it bronzed.” He wrote on Dr. Bookspan’s website that “You share the credit for it; right? I couldn’t have done it without you!”
Dr. Bookspan is also the author of several books, including “Healthy Martial Arts — For All Life and Exercise,” a Reader’s Choice Award Winner from the International Martial Arts Association (Dr. Bookspan was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame of the International Martial Arts Association); “Health & Fitness in Plain English; How To Be Healthy Happy and Fit For The Rest of Your Life;” “The Ab Revolution™, Fourth Edition — No More Crunches, No More Back Pain;” “Stretching Smarter Stretching Healthier” and “Fix Your Own Pain Without Drugs or Surgery.”
Since she was a small child, Dr. Bookspan wanted to be a scientist. “I read accounts of survival,” she said, “crashes and strandings in remote and austere environments, prisoners of war, shipwrecks, accidental immersions in freezing water, injuries, near-drownings, races in the Arctic, the different bones that children develop who learned different trades and movement patterns, and all the rest.
“I wanted to find out physical characteristics and training that made the difference between succumbing and surviving. I studied different languages so I could read the research journals of different countries. I wanted to live under the sea, and for a time, I did in underwater labs called habitats. As a research scientist, I did the ‘get-your-hands-cold-and-dirty’ work to distinguish what actually happens and how it comes to be that way. I put some of the interesting stories of this work on my webpage and in my books.”
Dr. Bookspan has developed methods that people use during their real daily lives — from standing and walking to sitting, cleaning the house, taking the stairs, bending for things, etc. “We stop causes of pain and limited movement,” she insists. “Then, injuries from previous unhealthful movement habits can heal. You get healthy biomechanics built-in to all you do.”
Ed. Note: We did ask Dr. Bookspan, as we do for all subjects of feature profiles, where she grew up, went to school, earned degrees, etc., but she declined to answer “anything containing any personal info. It is an unwarranted intrusion into my own privacy.” For more information, visit www.DrBookspan.com