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Back to Basics

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Back to the Basics:
Naturopathic doctor helps people adjust
posture with proper body mechanics

Staff Reporter

In Tim Binder's view, if you want to know how to walk properly, watch a baby.

"When a baby crawls, it's like this," said the Hamilton naturopath to his students, demonstrating by crawling on all fours, head up and shoulders thrust back. "But now when we stand, we do this," he said — head falling forward, shoulders drooping and back slumping.

Binder hopes to get people walking tall with his pioneering "Position Technic" seminars — three-day clinics focused on teaching clients how to walk, sit and stand using internal muscles to achieve a straight spine.

Using a machine he calls the tri transitor, naturopathic doctor Tim Binder works with the posture of William Moffitt during a three-day workshop.
Photo by JEREMY LURGIO - Ravalli Republic

Babies instinctively know which muscles to use for balance, according to Binder. But as adults, many people suffer from back problems — and Binder argues that most of them have never learned proper body mechanics.

"This should be in our schools as basic physical education," Binder said. "That's what P.E. should be — knowing how to use our bodies properly."

Binder, a trained naturopath, acupuncturist and chiropractor, has been seeing clients in the Bitterroot for 25 years, since he first moved to the valley from Boulder, Colo., in 1979. Splitting time between his Bitterroot practice and his clinic in Boulder, Binder has primarily focused on his medical practice. But now he is hoping to spend more time teaching clinicians and patients his techniques for balanced body mechanics.

Binder came by his interest in proper posture through personal hardship: at 17, he was diagnosed with kyphoscoliosis, a spinal deformity that limited his mobility and forced him to wear a brace.

A Denver chiropractor taught him the basic techniques that alleviated his condition and which, after three decades of practice, he has refined and honed into his Position Technic course.

The unusual name comes from the word "technical" — and Binder believes the class offers a scientific, systematic way to stand correctly, rather than the stretching emphasized by yoga, Pilates, and other disciplines.

"All these different systems are useful — I have used things from all of them," Binder said. "But this is neuro-muscular re-training. It could help you do Pilates in a better way."

Held at his home clinic — a striking, custom-built geodesic dome on Blodgett Camp Road in Hamilton — the first day of the class focuses on how to fight poor posture habits — and learn new healthy ones.

When we begin to rely on external muscles for support, Binder says, then it's like a suspension bridge without the cables — we're "just bracing ourselves up."

"When we use the deepest muscles, then our external muscles can let go," he said.

On charts, he points to the deep muscles: the psoas muscles bracing the pelvis; the serratus magnus lying beneath the shoulder blades; and the rectus capitus, anchoring the skull to the vertebrae.

Corvallis resident Evelyn Peterson, who is taking the course with her sister-in-law, Jan St. George, joked that she is hoping the class will help her line-dancing.

With Binder's help, Peterson readjusted her posture according to his instructions — head back, shoulders out — and soon was walking like a pageant finalist.

"Miss America," Binder said, clapping in appreciation.

Binder is also planning classes on eating for optimum health and mind-body medicine — but believes proper posture is an often ignored but vital cornerstone to a healthy body and mind.

"Back trouble is the curse of civilization," Binder said. "In 33 years of practice, I'm amazed at the decline in people's health. This is rigorous — it requires concentration and body awareness. But it also delivers a real benefit. People have had years of back trouble, and then it's gone."

The class also encourages individuals to take control of their own health, instead of relying on medical practitioners, according to Binder.

"I want to teach people to stay well — to be able to avoid all us doctors," he said.

Binder's own posture is testimony to his Position Technic exercises: whether sitting, standing or walking, his posture is ramrod straight. At 62, his regal bearing belies his age.

"Some people say I look stiff," Binder said with a laugh. "I just say that you're not used to seeing someone really standing erect. When I'm 100, I'm not going be a bent-over, hunched person, because I'm not going to quit doing what I'm teaching people to do — how to be healthy."

"That's what P.E. should be — knowing how to use our bodies properly."

... a scientific, systematic way to stand correctly ...

"When we use the deepest muscles, then our external muscles can let go."

... proper posture is an often ignored but vital cornerstone to a healthy body and mind ...

... take control of [your] own health, instead of relying on medical practitioners.

John Denver


HAMILTON — Watch John Denver in a televised romp with the Muppets, and you won’t learn much about the inner man. Catch one of his songs on the radio, and you’ll get a hint. But there’s more.

John Denver is concerned about the quality of life; not just his, but everyones’. He’s found a mentor in Tim Binder, Bitterroot “physician of the natural healing arts,” as Binder says.

In a recent and unexpectedly earnest interview at Binder’s, Denver said he has found a purpose.

He has come to terms with “the spiritual – not to say religious – aspect of life,” and he aims to share it through his work and his music.

Denver sings of things natural, like the inspiration of his Colorado home and the organic flux of human relationships. He considers his music “very environmental” in a broad sense and says that’s the core of it all.

“There really is a thread; there really is a connection,” he said, turning from a twilight view of the cloud-shrouded Bitterroots. “It’s more than just survive; we want to live. We need to bring about a world that includes all of us.”

Denver served on an advisory council on world and domestic hunger to former president Jimmy Carter. He’s on the board of directors of the Hunger Project, a non-profit educational corporation. The project also works with the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

He’s a director of the Kushi Foundation, which publishes East West Journal and whose founder Denver called “the foremost expert on macrobiotics.”

Denver started the Windstar Project, a facility near his hometown of Aspen that teaches a wiser use of energy resources, “politics of harmony” and better ways to grow food, he said.

For Denver, the path toward such lofty ideals starts with more personal concerns. Eating right and taking care of yourself, for example. Which is what brings him to Hamilton.

Denver is a friend and patient of Binder, a chiropractor, naturopath and acupuncturist.

Denver, the popular artist of 21 albums and star of one movie and a good dozen TV specials, isn’t visiting Binder because of a specific ailment. He said he is simply learning to get more out of life.

Denver and Binder met through a mutual friend about three years ago. To maintain his energy and health during strenuous concert tours, Denver sought a chef that could dish up healthful meals. The cook he hired, Ron Lemire, had been a student of Binder’s.

Denver said he noticed he felt better on the tours than he did at home, where his meals too often included ice cream and cookies. He questioned Lemire about his techniques, and a macrobiotic diet quickly became the rule both at home and on the road, he said.

“All of a sudden, it connects,” Denver said. “Here’s something that makes sense. It just feels right, and I thought, well, that’s pretty far out.”

Macrobiotics – a vegetarian diet with an emphasis on grains, legumes and beans – led to other alternative practices. Denver is a devotee of homeopathy, an old and enduring form of treating maladies based on the use of naturally occurring substances.

From Binder, he’s learning “position technic,” a series of stretching exercises that manipulates muscles used in crawling, muscles people seldom use once they learn to walk. Working them leads to a flexible and erect frame, even at advanced age, Binder said.

Denver is convinced. Under Binder’s tutoring, he’s taller than he used to be, Denver said. Two weeks ago in Europe, he caught the flu, the first time he’d been sick that he could remember.

He said on tours that typically included 125 concerts in 100 cities in five months, “I was working hard and feeling great.”

“I want Tim to be my doctor.” Denver said.

Not surprising. By preventing degenerative ailments, Binder is making the 39-year-old singer younger, Denver said.

And if that sounds, well, far out, you can soon judge for yourself. For the fourth time, Denver is a host for the annual Grammy Awards presentations, which air on network television Wednesday. He expects people to notice the difference.

“I know I look younger than I did a year ago,” he said over a cup of twig tea. “It truly has to do with this holistic aspect of my life.”

But the most important thing to Denver is how his lifestyle affects his music. When he feels better, he performs better. And, he said, an entertaining, uplifting performance is his service to others.

“I think that we all on this planet have a responsibility – more than a desire – to serve one another,” he said. “You want to do a good job, to the best of your ability, and you do those things that promote your abilities.”

Denver knows he’s onto something good, and he wants the word to get around. Constantly in the limelight, he admitted the reason he granted an interview during his weekend of rest and therapy was to further Binder’s work.

He tailored his message to Bitterroot residents.

“You take a look at what you want to do, how you want to live, whether you want to enjoy this beautiful valley and mountains when you’re older,” he said.

“You can learn you don’t have to grow old... you can ski forever. You don’t have to assume that one of these days you’ll have to retire... to Arizona. Life can be more than that. Now’s the time to make that choice.”

Denver, at the home of Bitterroot naturopath Tim Binder, says he wants to spread the word about healthful living.

Dr. Tim and John Denver

Natural Healing

Monday, December 14, 1981


Tim Binder hesitates to talk about the people he has cured.

The naturopath doesn’t want to sound boastful, and he doesn’t want to provoke the skeptics who don’t respect his profession anyway.

Still, he says, the facts speak for themselves: Since Binder moved to Hamilton 2 years ago [25 years ago as of 2004], patients have come to him from the Bitterroot, Missoula, Colorado, California, even the East coast – with complaints ranging from backaches to strep throat, from asthma to epilepsy.

They come, he said, because they have heard what he can do.

“You start getting people well, and the talk a lot,” he said

Binder, a naturopath, is one of maybe a dozen such “natural” healers in the state. He shuns the drugs and surgeries of modern medicine, concentrating instead on nutritional counseling, age-old herbal and mineral remedies and bone and muscle manipulation.


“In this profession, you have to be especially good. M.D.s can bury their mistakes, but I can’t. People would just call me a quack.”

He analyzes his patients’ blood and hair for clues to overall mental and physical health.

He embraces the philosophy of naturopathy: The body will heal itself if given the chance.

“Modern drugs don’t always cure, but can drive the disease further into the body,” Binder said.

Binder is also licensed in Montana as a chiropractor and acupuncturist. His office-study – with handsome desk and diploma-studded walls – resembles that of an ordinary M.D., until you look closely.

Along with the standard anatomy and physiology texts, there is the People’s Desk Reference, subtitled “Traditional Herbal Formulas.” Perched on his desk is a model of a male figure, crisscrossed with lines and dots and labeled with Chinese characters.

The office paraphernalia, however, is not as striking as the doctor himself. Binder is informal, talkative, quick to smile. He is 39 years old, but looks 29. If that.

He attributes his youthful vigor to an ascetic diet – no red meat, sugar, coffee or alcohol – and to the way he carries his body.

“Part of the aging process is not knowing how to use your body properly, being a salve to gravity, rather than gravity being your servant,” he explained.

Twenty years ago, as a teen-ager in Colorado, Binder was a slave to a crippling back condition called kyphoscoliosis – a twisted spine. “I was told, ‘learn to live with it, there’s nothing you can do about it. Put it in a brace.’”

Then he met an innovative Denver chiropractor, who not only straightened Binder’s back, but inspired him to develop his own physical education system “designed to give people the tools to take care of musculo-skeletal problems themselves.”

Now, Binder teaches four-day “Position Technic” seminars, in which participants cast off their slumped postures and learn to move easier.

“I’ve had all kinds of people with back problems, who, once they took my seminar, their problems vanished, “he said.

One of Binder’s enthusiastic patients is Vic Douglas, 54 a former construction worker from Victor who suffered 10 years from a back injury he received in a ditch cave-in. After other chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons failed him. Douglas said he went to Binder for acupuncture treatments and a “different “kind of back manipulation.

“That was the first time I hadn’t had the pain in my back since the accident in 1971,” Douglas said. “I thought it was all hocus pocus – until a few hours later, I was still feeling good. And several days later, I was still felling good. No pain, no pain! I could saw wood, carry blocks.”

Douglas now attends Position Technic seminars to learn how to keep his back health.

Binder’s keen interest in body mechanics led him to pursue what he calls the natural healing arts.

He spent two years at the University of Colorado, and later graduated from the Western States Chiropractic College and the National college of Naturopathic Medicine, both in Portland, Ore., and the North American College of Acupuncture in Vancouver, British Columbia. He practiced one year in Oregon and six years in Boulder, Colo.

When Binder started his 10 year training program there was one naturopathic college in North American, Now there are four. This is evidence, he said, that the natural healing arts are growing in popularity and acceptance.

Binder hopes Montana will follow the example of 10 other states in requiring naturopaths to be licensed, until then, he will not perform services he was authorized to do in Oregon, such as assisting in home births.

“I could do it on the basis of my training and constitutional rights, but I don’t have a state law for naturopathy behind me,” Binder said. One this is clear “I can’t tell people I’m and M.D., or use prescription drugs or do their surgery.”

According to a spokesman at the Professional and Occupation Licensing Bureau in Helena, naturopaths are in the same category of unregulated occupation as opticians it is up to the Legislature to decide if the should be licensed.

However, the spokesman pointed out, the state Board of Medical Examiners will follow up complaints that a naturopath is practicing medicine, for instance, if he tells a diabetic patient to abandon insulin and substitute an herbal remedy. No such complaints have come in on Binder.

Binder says he simply practices what he was trained to do. “I have patients that come in that tell me they’re taking such and such medicine, for their high blood pressure or any problem, and it’s working for then. I say “that’s great, keep taking it.” Unless they want another approach. Then I’d say I do have an alternative.”

The alternative is often a “homeopathic” remedy like sulphur or the belladonna herb, which Binder said is toxic in full strength, but curative when diluted.

Homeopathy was developed in the 19th century and “has stood the test of time,” Binder said. He noted that he recently used homeopathic therapies, as well as diet, acupuncture and cranial manipulation, to cure and 8-year-old boy who had suffered from epilepsy for five years.

The boy’s parents, according to Binder, said conventional anti-seizure drugs were interfering with their son’s memory and concentration.

Binder said he rarely needs to refer a patient to a regular doctor, but will do so if his own treatments are failing. “I’d rather have a live chronic than a dead acute, ‘he explained. “I reserve a place in my mind for judicious use of antibiotics.’”

One of the medical profession’s standard criticisms of the natural healing arts is that they are based an anecdotal evidence – individual case histories – instead of scientific studies supported by controlled, clinical trials.

Binder said he is satisfied that naturopathy is backed up with scientific evidence.

Medical doctors also point to the “placebo effect” in acupuncture and homeopathy, suggesting that those treatments succeed in the same way a sugar pill “cures” a patient who has high expectations and believes he is taking an effective remedy.

Binder bristles at the notion.

“I have helped patients with skin problems, mononucleosis, viral hepatitis, gastro-intestinal problems, uterine bleeding, and ovarian cysts. If you do that repeatedly, are you going to call that placebo?”

“Most people who see me, they have tried the other way, and it hasn’t worked.”

He continued “If what I was doing was all wrong or fraudulent I couldn’t have survived. I wouldn’t have been successful, especially in a small community.”

“Everyone has their failures, and I do too. But my batting average is very good. I would guess I have a 90 percent success in treatment. A lot of my cases where I don’t succeed, they (the Patients) didn’t give me a chance.”

Binder said he has never been sued “In this profession, you have to be especially good. M.D.s can bury their mistakes, but I can’t. People would just call me a quack.”

Binder, his wife Sharon and two children live in a spacious, geodesic-dome house that was custom-built for them on a hilltop west on Hamilton. The family left Boulder in 1979 because the city was “unsafe to raise my children and myself” Binder said. “On one side of Boulder is the Rocky Flats nuclear warhead manufacturing plant, and on the other is the St. Vrain nuclear power generating plant.”

His son, 14 and daughter 10 have “never been to and M.D.” Binder said. “they haven’t needed it” he has treated his son three times for appendicitis, using acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, fasts and the careful application of enemas.

Binder has little contact with the medical community in Hamilton. In Colorado, he noted, local doctors would occasionally refer patients to him. But he never gets such referrals in the Bitterroot.

“Montana is about 20 years behind in terms of alternatives to medicine,” Binder declared. “People needed help and they will get it where they can. I think they should be allowed to seek the services of anybody they want as long as the person honestly represents himself as what he is.”

Binder stresses, however, that he wants to cooperate with the medical profession not fight it. “Medicine doesn’t have all the answers I don’t either. Eventually, there will be just one healing profession, when all the health professionals realize there is good in any of the approaches.”

Naturopaths, he said focus on keeping people health through diet and balanced living. “I don’t deny that a germ exists and can cause disease. I would just put more emphasis on the field that it lands on, and if the field isn’t fertile, it won’t grow.”

Someday, Binder said, he hopes to be out of a job. “If people know how to avoid getting sick, they wouldn’t need doctors. Can you imagine what kind of a world that would be? If every one were healthy? You have to strive for it. I think it’s possible, or I wouldn’t try.”



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