Elephant Stories

Healing & Meditation

Yuri shares some stories of him doing healing work on elephants.

We are all sopped in, stuck between two powerful typhoons making their way in the Far East. It has rained biblically for the past three days and more is in store. Anyway, I have a warm cup of coffee in front of me and the internet is connected so I thought I’d plunge into some of the questions you had about my work with elephants for your magazine.

I am a licensed psycho-therapist in California and have practiced there for about 25 years. I studied massage for many years before that and have been interested in health and the body for most of my life. About 12 years ago (about the time I started studying Somatic Experiencing with Peter Levine) I made my way over to Thailand for a holiday when I stumbled into a couple of elephants in a field. I walked over and was awed by their beauty and consciousness. I inquired and was told they offered rides into the jungle. I paid my fare and spent all the time caressing her with my feet. I came back a couple of days later and paid them to let me walk next to her so I could look at her. I was mesmerized. I just could not get enough and knew I had to come back again.

As my skills increased using the body oriented approach of Somatic Experiencing treating trauma locked in the nervous system of people, I wondered if I could do the same with injured or abused elephants. My human clients had very complicated diagnosis that could not be treated with medical interventions alone. Some of those included migraines, Krohn’s disease, chronic fatigue, physical injury and fibromyalgia. I worked with most of them using the touch work developed by Kathy Kain. Would this work with elephants? It seemed like a dream sitting in my home in the States – but adventures really do start with dreams made possible by trying.

It took a few years before I was able to talk my way into an elephant camp that was open to the idea. The managers, two women from Australia, asked me to show them what I do, and try it on one of them. I said, “Sure!” I worked on her bad knee with positive results and I was in. I lived at the camp for two and a half months and was assigned six elephants who had various injuries to work on.

Initially, progress was slow because, although I could feel into the elephants’ bodies, I did not understand how they communicated with me. Long weeks passed where I felt clumsy and absolutely ignorant about what was happening for the elephants. One of my clients, Rotchana, was a beautiful and clever female who suffered a hip injury when the truck she was transported in fell over and she fractured her hip. It healed badly and left her hip girdle fragile and unstable. Her owners feared that she would not be able to stand for stud with the mounting of a bull elephant putting pressure on her hip. She seemed the most patient with me and stood calmly as I tried to learn from my working with her. Slowly I gained her trust and on a single morning, as I stroked her head and murmured reassurances to her that I would be careful with my work, she looked deeply into my eyes and I heard her say “just don’t mess it up!”

Yuri with elephant

Yuri with elephant


Another story: Ply Mun is a majestic 45 year male elephant whose presence is formidable and daunting. They asked me if I could help him because his front left leg is chronically swollen from stepping on a six inch spike. He sustained a massive infection that threatened his life. After repeated treatment with antibiotics, the infection subsided while the inflammation persisted. As I cyphered how to proceed, my eyes kept being drawn to his massive tusks so close to that front leg.

Elephant males are notoriously unpredictable and their weapon of choice is the rooting with the tusks. The tusks are used to dig, gouge the earth (and other males), control the female when mounting her and to attack. Though Ply Mun was a gentleman when his handler (mahout) was present, I did not want to test his patience when he began to experience the injury to his leg. It must be added that, though an elephant appears to move slowly, we humans stand no chance with them because when they move, they move much faster than we can. All defensive postures on our part are useless!

I spent weeks talking to him before I touched him. I brought him food and water and used everything I learned from Rotchana to communicate my intentions. When I started to touch his injured leg, he pulled it away and moved his body away. He did not want it to be touched and I did not push him. Instead, I worked with his other front leg and slowly developed trust with him. I knew that the body, any body, has a reciprocity that is natural and useful in my work. If I touch one part of the body, the whole body feels this and responds to it. I was actually working on the injured leg albeit remotely.

Soon, I bridged across to the injured leg and was able to work more directly on it. I never completely stopped being wary of those tusks looming so close to my head and hands. I saw him last year and the swelling had subsided enough that I had to look closely to differentiate the injured leg from the normal one.

None of this prepared me for the work with my most difficult client. An elephant deformed genetically from birth with one leg a foot longer then the others….


Yuri was born in upstate New York in 1952 to a Ukrainian immigrant family. He went to India in 1976 and took sannyas in 1978. He now lives in Santa Barbara, California, where he is a somatic psychotherapist. He goes to Thailand to apply the hands-on work he does with humans to trauma in elephants.

Read his story how he met Osho: The Face in the Corner of the Room

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