Why I Do What I Do: Irit Schaffer

Believe In Your Body
Irit Schaffer says that when you are rehabilitating an injury, only one thing is certain: "If you don't try to improve, you're guaranteed to stay where you are." Schaffer is a San Francisco-based physical therapist specializing in manual techniques—methods in which the practitioner uses her hands to gently press problem areas, promoting movement of bodily fluids, eliminating dysfunction in the motion of the tissues, and creating normal movement. She is unique in that she refuses to restrict her thinking to conventional medical theory or even to her own experience. "I believe healing is always possible," she says.

The daughter of Czechoslovakian parents, Schaffer was born in Israel and raised in Montreal. Her father, who survived six gunshot wounds and a Russian labor camp during World War II, instilled in her a strong belief in the body's resilience and the advantage of keeping an open mind.

In 1992, those beliefs were put to the test. Schaffer suffered two car accidents within six weeks; the second left her with debilitating headaches and spinal problems. A former physical education teacher and avid athlete, Schaffer was no longer able to ski or play tennis. One co-worker suggested that she might just have to live with the pain.

Hope came five months later, when Schaffer tried osteopathic, or manual, therapy. Eventually the pain from her injuries subsided. "For the first time, I could actually feel a difference," she remembers.

Eager to share these techniques with her own patients, Schaffer took courses on myofascial release, muscle energy, and craniosacral therapy. She also began a daily practice of Qigong, which she credits with further developing her sense of touch and her ability to relax and focus.

Although Schaffer knew osteopathy worked for her, it wasn't until she incorporated the methods into her own practice that she realized its reach. "A lot of patients got much better than even I expected," she says. The discovery cemented her belief that it's possible for the body to recover from anything. "I love that I have no preconceived notion of what should happen," says Schaffer. "I'm always learning."

—Tami Anderson