My first experience with Jim Sullivan was light on words and heavy on physical touch. I had heard about Sullivan’s skill with bodywork and went for a massage — a satisfying experience in which he practiced a variety of techniques. But it was after hearing bits of his personal history that my real interest was piqued. How does a former combat pilot end up practicing and teaching a variety of alternative healing techniques?
Sullivan grew up in Joliet. As a child he had aspirations of being an astronaut. At the same time he was spellbound by television’s Kung Fu series, which tracked the adventures of a character named Caine who, as a child, was taught martial arts and mentored by a Buddhist monk. Like the show’s main character, Sullivan says, he “wanted to travel the countryside and have adventures.” He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Eastern Illinois University and was promptly commissioned as an officer in the Army. He flew Black Hawk helicopters during tours in Central America, Asia, and the Middle East and saw action in the first Gulf War. Sullivan lights up as he reminisces about his military adventures: “There was a three-year span that I slept outside every night.” He had realized his childhood dreams of adventure.
When Sullivan began experiencing physical problems consistent with Gulf War syndrome, he left the service. His continuing maladies, including rashes, bowel problems, fatigue, and joint and muscle pain, prompted him to look beyond mainstream medicine for relief. “Western medicine is about a cure,” Sullivan says. “Eastern medicine is about healing.” Take the example of a bacterial infection: Sullivan says that although Western medicine prescribes antibiotics to attack bacteria, the underlining causes that allowed the infection to take hold may persist. Sullivan found that alternative practices — acupuncture, bodywork, and detoxification — did a better job of addressing these root causes. He described his experience several years ago in an article in Massage and Bodywork magazine. It’s available online at www.secretsofisis.com/article/jim/gulf.html.
The profound results Sullivan experienced with the use of these complementary and alternative practices led him to immerse himself in their study. Sullivan harked back to his jujitsu training before the Gulf War — before earning a black belt, he had had to learn to give massages. His recipients thought that he was gifted.
Sullivan shies away from being thought of as solely a massage therapist, and one look at his résumé tells why. Over the past 11 years he has acquired training in many areas, including a master’s degree in acupuncture from the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, massage training from the Alexander School of Natural Therapeutics, and advanced training in areas such as craniosacral therapy, Zen body therapy, Korean hand therapy, somatoemotional release, and Feldenkrais, among them. Sullivan began his practice in Washington but, after 13 years, left Seattle for Springfield.
After Sullivan began practicing his bodywork, one of the nation’s top defensive strategists, Kelly Warden, was referred to him for complications from a motor-vehicle crash. Warden recruited Sullivan to become an assistant combatives instructor, training Green Berets in hand-to-hand, knife, and stick combat. “Ironically,” he says, “I had to get out of the Army to do what I really loved to do for the service.”
Since his arrival here, Sullivan has worked to develop a relationship with the local medical community, apparently with success. Sullivan’s practice is now located within Mind-Body Medicine Services, which is part of the Prairie Heart Institute at St. John’s Hospital. Prospective clients may request a specific service or meet with Sullivan, discuss symptoms, and work with him to develop a plan of treatment. Sullivan is also the incoming president of the Illinois Acupuncture Association and teaches arnis, a Filipino martial art, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in addition to teaching craniosacral therapy for the Upledger Institute.
Sullivan’s personal health practice includes yoga, qi gong, and meditation, which complement his goal for clients — staying healthy and in balance.
To contact Jim Sullivan, call 527-5537 ext. 2.
This is the third in an occasional series of profiles of area holistic and alternative health-care practitioners.