by Sheila Julson
Michael Cheikin, M.D., founder of the Center for Optimal Health, in Plymouth Meeting, had always had a profound curiosity about how things work. While growing up in New York, he attended a hypnosis demonstration, where he realized that the mind has potentials that are typically not accessible. That experience set him on a path of brain research that led him to question conventional models of function and health. He did his first experiments with pyramids, trying to capture “life energy” on the roof of his college dorm.
As a student, Cheikin excelled in school and earned a bachelor’s degree when he was only 20 years old. He studied medicine at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center, initially planning to become a brain researcher. However, he soon realized that he was most interested in human consciousness “in real time.” He designed an internship in psychiatry and family practice at Kings County Hospital, in Brooklyn, seeking to integrate consciousness and family as a part of the health model. However, he needed to explore other areas such as energy and movement.
At age 25, he took a three-year hiatus from the medical profession to develop his ideas about brain function. He explored dance, Feldenkrais, yoga and energy work, which he found refined the mind and strengthened the body. He also worked with the theater and music as a means of exploring emotion and psychology, writing several plays as well as scientific papers.
“I then found out about a specialty called physical medicine and rehabilitation, which is not taught in medical school, but it does what I was trying to achieve with my patients—work with the whole person to improve function,” Cheikin reflects. He trained in that specialty and became a board-certified physiatrist.
He introduced yoga into his approach to treat chronic pain. “But during the mid-1980s, as a medical doctor if I would have said to a patient, ‘I’m going to teach you yoga,’ that would have been a career-limiting move,” he recalls wryly, “So I just incorporated yoga into physical therapy exercises, and people started to get better.” He took a position as medical director of Chestnut Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, in Philadelphia, where he worked for over 15 years. While there, he had the opportunity to teach a class of 30 yoga students; however, Cheikin says the hospital and administrative staff questioned his methods and didn’t understand why he was promoting yoga.
In 2005, Cheikin opened Center for Optimal Health. He added nutritional and toxin testing, coaching, acupuncture and several other modalities to his model of care. He also developed a network of like-minded practitioners both within and outside of conventional care. “We also maintain close relationships with mental health practitioners that specialize in stress, trauma, healing and other psycho-spiritual matters,” he explains. “We’re looking for the root causes of their issues. Often, it’s like a yin-yang—the body has too much of certain things, and too little of others.”
Besides testing for nutritional deficiencies and hormonal imbalances, Cheikin partners with private labs that specialize in testing for toxins, such as lead, mercury, fluoride, bromide, glyphosate, pesticides and petro-toxins.
“Most chronic and obscure conditions can improve using this approach,” he says, noting that he treats problems with pain, the gut, the immune system, hormones and, of course, the brain and nervous system. “There are even wonderful modalities that can help with cancer,” he adds.
Cheikin’s new website will launch in July, and readers can subscribe to it now. It will offer the latest information on nutrition, yoga and health topics, such as leaky gut, biofilms and genetics. “The goal is a lifestyle that is safe, sustainable and simple, in that order,” Cheikin explains. “Making lifestyle changes can be hard, but if you get on the train and ride it for six months, you will see something happen.”
Center for Optimal Health is located at 832 Germantown Pk., Ste. 3, in Plymouth Meeting. For more information, call 610-639-6034 or visit CohLife.org. June 2019
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.