“The Island called me back,” Dr. Kay Sunakawa told an attentive audience at the West Tisbury library last week. Sunakawa explained why she had left Boston to set up a private chiropractic practice on Martha’s Vineyard, a place she has loved since childhood.
Sunakawa, who goes by the more familiar “Dr. Kay,” specializes in Network Spinal, a gentle form of chiropractic developed about 40 years ago focused on freeing patients from the ravages of built-up stress. It’s a more holistic-based form of chiropractic care, with a gentle touch applied at certain contact points on the body, generally along the spine. This, according to some research, helps to assist the brain to connect more effectively with the spine and body.
Sunakawa related how her personal experience with conventional chiropractic treatments inspired her to pursue a career in that field. Later, experiencing Network Spinal treatments won her over to specialize in this relatively new technique.
Growing up in a small Hudson River Valley town, Sunakawa visited the Vineyard often with family friends, and fell in love with it when she was only 8 years old. But years of study, stress, exploration, and work would go by before she returned to settle here last summer.
A young high school graduate, Sunakawa headed to Boston University intending to prepare for a teaching career. Moving to the city from her small town background was “shocking,” and the stress of studies and some traumatic losses caused her to develop anxiety and depression. Still, she graduated, and found work in a school for autistic youngsters. Frequently receiving chiropractic care for painful back, shoulder, and other injuries, Sunakawa shifted gears: She decided to become a chiropractor.
Immersed in a demanding four-year doctorate program in chiropractic medicine at Life University in Marietta, Ga., Sunakawa found her stress levels, anxiety, and depression returning. Then she discovered Network Spinal, joining a club focused on the technique and receiving treatments. She experienced dramatic improvement in both her physical and mental/emotional states. “I knew from that point on that this is absolutely the work I have to share with others,” she recalled.
She decided Network Spinal would be her specialty, and never looked back. The technique is also known as Network Spinal Analysis, and is sometimes referred to as Light Touch Chiropractic.
Sunakawa continued her training and graduated in 2016, but Life University offered scarce opportunity to study Network Spinal. Determined to learn all she could about the revolutionary technique, Sunakawa traveled extensively, flying around the country to attend whatever classes and workshops she could find to reach her goal.
Sunakawa joined a practice in the Boston area where she was able to utilize her skills and training, and treated patients of all ages. After a few years she found herself drawn to Martha’s Vineyard.
As Sunakawa set out to move and establish a practice on the Island, details fell into place quickly. “It was incredible! Everything lined up perfectly,” she said.
Finding “the perfect office” and a comfortable living situation, Sunakawa was even more convinced the move was meant to be.
Since establishing the Martha’s Vineyard Wellness Studio and launching her Vineyard Haven practice in July, Sunakawa has built a substantial and growing clientele, which she attributes to word-of-mouth recommendations. Along with providing conventional chiropractic care to address painful physical conditions, Sunakawa frequently uses the Network Spinal technique with her patients.
Sunakawa detailed how stress builds up from pressures including work, traffic, family, and relationship tensions, world news, financial concerns, and countless others. Stressors may be chemical too, or physical, as from an injury. All trigger the “fight or flight” reflex, which must be released to return to a calm state. She said that this stress with physical and emotional impact is held in the spine, which connects intricately to the nervous system. Because of this connection, working on the spine can affect the nervous system and brain.
Network Spinal Analysis was developed in the early 1980s by Dr. Donald Epstein. According to several websites, the technique is used by practitioners internationally, and has been studied in several major universities here and abroad “for its dramatic and impressive health and wellness contributions.”
Based in Colorado, Epstein treats clients worldwide, including celebrities and luminaries and in the health, spiritual, and human growth fields, and “seekers looking to attain a high level of wellness,” according to Sunakawa. She said the technique is becoming well-known and popular as a way to address the many stresses in our demanding world. It has even been featured in a Netflix video segment on healing.
Sunakawa said the benefits of Network Spinal are many, bringing the body to a place of rest and relaxation. Patients often experience a sense of freedom and ease in body and mind, she said.
“It brings your body to relaxation mode from fight or flight mode,” Sunakawa said. “It’s teaching the body how to unwind from built-up stress. We’re allowing the body to know it’s safe and it’s OK to let the walls of armor down, let the body unwind.”
According to one website, treatments enable the brain to better adapt to stress, connect with the body’s natural rhythms, dissipate tension from spine and nerves, experience greater wellbeing, and make healthier choices.
In her Vineyard Haven office, Sunakawa treats patients for a variety of conditions. “I love helping people looking for relief with back or neck or similar pain,” said Sunakawa. “I also see amazing results with people suffering from PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression.”
She said that unlike conventional chiropractic therapies that use “adjustments,” moving bones for healing and relief, Network Spinal practitioners employ extremely light touches along the spine. These aim to identify and allow the client to experience places where the body is stress-free and at rest, enabling other parts of the spine to release held tensions.
“It’s all about helping people find the ease in their lives, even when other things are screaming loudly,” Sunakawa said. “I see miracles every day.”