James BalazsMATm, MATrx, IFNCP
If I had to describe my practice in one sentence it would be an ability to understand and solve problems. The experience of working with hundreds of people in various capacities over the last 15 years has provided me with an extensive set of unique challenges.
These challenges ultimately served as critical opportunities to witness firsthand just how dynamic and complex the human body and mind are. The early result from working so intimately with my clients was a profound desire to assist in any way I could in the remodeling of their health and wellness. This, coupled with the hunger for knowledge and education to advance my skillset, led me on a journey to fulfill that desire. A deep calling is how I would choose to sum it up. Interestingly enough, cultivating this unique ability to solve problems was expedited by my own set of debilitating health issues. Issues that would set the stage for what I do now.
Reflecting back on my life growing up in Connecticut I can still vividly recall my early childhood experiences with injury and illness. My first injury occurred at 13 years old when I incurred a serious elbow injury throwing out my arm pitching. My elbow was unable to fully extend for several months as I was relegated to a sling for an entire summer with no follow up rehab. My first bout with a back spasm (these, along with neck spasms, would be a reoccurring theme for most of my adult life) occurred at 14 while jumping on a trampoline. Unable to stand erect because my body was locked into a full 90 degree hip hinge, I was terrified to inform my parents for fear of finding out something horrible went wrong. So, in the middle of the afternoon while all my friends were playing in my back yard, I went to sleep hoping it would go away on its own, which thankfully it did. At age 17, during my first year attending Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, I experienced my first case of eczema. The breakout ended up occurring all over my face and neck. Having chosen to attend the academy because I was a football player combined with the school’s rich history of getting players highly recruited, I was desperate to make a solid first impression. Eight hours away from home and being brand new to the program I felt an enormous amount of pressure to stand out. Looking back, I can see how stress played an integral role in what was an extremely painful yet equally embarrassing and humiliating experience.
It was the very next year at the academy that an illness during training camp triggered an impulse to try and understand how to take my health into my own hands. This event proved to be a major catalyst for what I can best describe as an adventure in learning. Researching basic information regarding vitamins and minerals and their role in health got the ball rolling and it’s a ball that hasn’t quit rolling ever since. I quickly began writing training programs and dialing in my nutrition using whatever information I could get my hands on. This translated into putting on 30 lbs. of muscle in 10 months at age 18 and into writing training and nutrition programs for other cadets at the academy who had noticed. I quickly realized how much I truly enjoyed helping others achieve their goals, I also found out how rewarding it was to be in a position to do so. These experiences became driving forces to decide to study exercise science and nutrition in college.
Upon graduating Fork Union Military Academy and entering early adulthood, a brief career playing safety at Appalachian State University led to a series of undiagnosed concussions, deep bone bruises, sprains, and strains. These injuries combined with other factors ultimately forced me into the decision to hang the cleats up. With my dreams of being an NFL Football Player now gone, I could shift my focus to my education and attending this particular University proved to be fertile soil to continue my growth as a professional in the field of exercise, health, and performance. This was where I understood what my path would become. I felt this sense of direction I had within me was a unique situation to be in. One that I was exceptionally enthusiastic about but also felt needed to be met with equal amounts of responsibility.
Within 9 months of graduating from ASU I decided to move out to Los Angeles California and landed in Santa Monica. This proved to be a wise decision as it quickly revealed itself to be the mecca for all things health and wellness. However, at the same time my career was taking off as a trainer I began to encounter chronic back stiffness that turned into frequent and ongoing back spasms. These back spasms would also travel up to my cervical spine and leave me with debilitating neck pain. Training through the discomfort didn’t help matters as the imbalances that led to the original back and neck pain led to imbalances in other areas of my body leaving me with issues all over the map including my hips and both shoulders. Finding an answer to my problems was equally frustrating as most of the practitioners I saw for aid were only able to offer temporary relief or no relief at all. I invested years into massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractors, foam rolling/stretching, and mobility drills with minimal results. I realized what I was dealing with went beyond the scope of what most of the practitioners I was seeing were capable of. In the midst of this I decided to pursue courses in neurophysiology per the recommendation from a colleague whom I trusted. I also relocated gyms during this time and having some knowledge of the nervous system I was able to connect with an MAT practitioner who shared a similar educational background. After several months of him watching me take upwards of 45-60 min to simply “prepare” to train, he approached me and asked “yo dude, why don’t we just get you on the table?” After that single session I was hooked. It was the modality I had been searching for, not only to help address the imbalances I possessed, but to become a practitioner myself so I could offer the same help and assistance to people from all over who were dealing with similar issues and frustrations. Needless to say, I no longer suffer with the imbalances, pain, or frustration that I endured most of my adult life. That isn’t to say that I don’t have things that “pop” up once in a while. We all do and we all will. It just means that I have a means to deal with them now. The peace of mind that that offers has proven priceless and I believe the knowledge that I’m a treatment or two away from being back at it is a major component to the healing process.
At age 32 I felt like I had my life back and was excited to enjoy my newfound health and fitness as well as incorporate MAT into my practice. However, just as I began to celebrate this new sense of movement and function I was feeling and the accompanying lack of pain, tightness, and discomfort, a whole other set of issues were manifesting themselves. One in particular I was already familiar with. Eczema. But this time the eczema was all over my right hand and brought along with it digestive issues related to IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease), weight gain, and joint pain in my right foot that seemed odd and not related to any previous injuries or imbalances. For several years I endured this state of dysfunction. This, in the midst of running my business full time while simultaneously a student and newly engaged, I was spread thin. I had developed a tolerance regarding my state of health and had learned to “just deal with it.” However, after years of living in this condition and with a background in nutrition and some exposure to functional nutrition I was determined to resolve my health issues. I was able to comprise a lifestyle and diet plan to combat what I now know were matters related to autoimmune/auto-inflammatory conditions. Within a week or two of implementing the plan the symptoms began subsiding and within 2 months they were gone. I was astonished! Astonished and determined to learn more, get licensed or certified and begin helping, similar to MAT, people who were suffering from similar ailments. This led to an acceptance into the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy and the IFNCP (Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner) Credential.
All of my life I have been drawn to helping people and the bottom line is I know what it is like to suffer, not only physically but mentally as well. The toll being in pain takes on the mind is hard to describe unless you’ve been there. I also know the agony and frustration that can occur when you feel hopeless about your situation, feeling stuck and scrambling for answers, or when the doctor tells you you’re fine and hands you a bottle of anti-inflammatories. One of the greatest gifts I can offer people is hope. That there is a solution to what you’re having to endure right now. My ability to relate towards the people I work with and come in contact with has proven invaluable. It is something I am incredibly grateful and thankful for. Looking back at all the trials and tribulations I went through regarding my health, I wouldn’t trade any of it in. I wouldn’t choose the life of perfect health. It was that journey and fight I had to go through to end up in the position I am now, the position to do exactly what I was called to do on this planet. To act as a facilitator for those who want to thrive again. To participate and embrace a process that helps people experience and rediscover the vitality that they once knew. It has been the honor of a lifetime to establish these types of partnerships with people from all over and I look forward to serving others in this capacity for the rest of my life.