Although it seems a very long time to me since I was living and moving “normally”, and a discouragingly extended time until I will move and live “normally” again, there is evidence that I am healing and strengthening. Recovery is indeed progressing! Good use, time, expert support, and the kindness of friends are propelling me to the next stage of recovery.
I was very happy to give a Continuing Education workshop for Alexander teachers and serious students of the Technique this past Saturday. It was a confirmation for me, as well as for the participants, that the Alexander Technique is not concerned with perfection in form, but in choosing a response for best possible use of the self whatever the current structural challenges may be. The workshop was not focussed on me or my injury, but on the information and Alexander procedures that I was presenting. Although I was tired and leg-sore by the end, my stamina held up well, and my attention didn’t get over-involved with knee discomfort. I sat and rested when necessary, and certainly didn’t repress pain, but made no fuss about it either as my attention was on entire use of self.
Today, with Marty’s steadying company, I took a bus downtown. Taking a bus is potentially scary as the Metro drivers typically begin moving the bus before I am seated. Also, finding a seat that will accommodate my extended leg without blocking the aisle is a bit of a trick. Suffice to say, we managed, without too much panic or pain involved.
Once downtown, we did various errands that required walking many city blocks, crossing streets with briefly timed “walk” signs, and negotiating crowded sidewalks. All of this would have frightened and exhausted me a few weeks ago. Today I did fine! No muscle spasms, no major worries, no pulling down with fear of falling.
Of course, I am still slower than your average tortoise (as opposed to my previous mythology, which was faster than your average Energizer Bunny). An increase in confidence may have to substitute for speed. I am encouraged by these small victories, and eager to embrace life more fully and fearlessly at any speed once again.
As a typically energetic and very independently mobile person, the situation in which I currently find myself requires that I apply Alexander principles in daily choices for activity in an entirely new way. The activities in which I daily engage demand a constant awareness of my entire use of self.
A question which I often have asked my students is: ”if you truly cannot use yourself well in a vigorous activity, then do you really need to do that activity?”. We bring our current level of use to any activity, and strengthen that level of use with every activity. If our use is pretty good, then a vigorous activity strengthens our pretty good use. If our use is poor, then we strengthen poor use in a vigorous activity. It takes time and attention to change our use so that daily activities, even undemanding ones, strengthen our good use.
Thankfully, I can use myself well in the demanding activity of teaching. Simple daily tasks such as dressing myself, playing with my cat, cooking, now demand every ounce of good use that I can muster. I have perfected getting into and out of a car (a rather balletic project), and I have become a master of stairs, with great attention and care. I have to decide, daily, given levels of pain and strength, which activities are beyond my current use potential, and which I can manage on my own. So much that was formerly very easy is beyond my capability now. Walking to work is not an option, as using myself well for a distance of more than a few city blocks is nearly impossible. Rides to and from my office are a daily necessity. Doing the laundry is possible but far from ideal. I can’t bathe without assistance. These are just three examples that my illustrate daily choices.
It is deeply challenging to be dependent and to ask for help. As Alexander teachers, we need to be aware of this challenge with respect to our injured and recovering students, and to ourselves. I notice myself contracting when I even think of what I can’t do with good use and what help I need. My habit is to push through my limitations and just do the thing, but end-gaining now costs me more than I can pay. I have to consciously choose where I need assistance, and how to gracefully request it, with good use considered for all concerned. Applying the principle of what I can do with good use helps me to choose requests for assistance, and hopefully informs my communication of need with clarity and respect for myself and for my kind helpers.
The following questions currently linger for me without expectation of answers. As I continue to apply Alexander principles as best I can to long-term recovery, a coordination of self may reveal new solutions.
How do I use myself well in the sudden position of vastly increased dependency?
How do I keep depression and despair at bay when my preferred and life-long tools for emotional balance (vigorous activities) are no longer available?
Since my identity was partially based on being independent, mobile and physically strong, who am I now that I am dependent, not fully mobile, and much weakened?
Can I survive several months of only being able to wear the 2 pairs of pants that fit over my brace? This question may seem superficial, but hints at a much deeper issue, which is the shifted self-perception and challenged vanity of being in a physical state and definition that is unfamiliar.
What new coping skills am I learning in this experience?
Following upon my previous posts about use with a compromised elastic structure, I have further observations based on my experience of teaching, now to my full schedule, since March 5. Although this post is primarily directed for the use of my Alexander colleagues, it will hopefully also benefit anyone intending to return to activities while recovering from injury.
Since my surgeon doesn’t understand what I do or how I do what I do (I plan to offer him a lesson, by the way), he was not at all enthusiastic about my plan to return to work. Despite his reluctance, I knew that teaching would enhance my recovery, as I would be required, in teaching, to be newly refined in my entire use of self.
Monkey, in a usual interpretation, is not an option for me. One knee absolutely cannot bend, not even slightly. But a “possible monkey”, meaning that I direct head going up and forward, whole back lengthening and widening, arms undoing out of whole back, and knees directed forward of whole back, allows solutions for coordinated movement. If my student becomes “heavy” (pulls him/her self down), I can accept that weight to enhance my own elastic response through my entire self. I spring up with their weight, and the student gets a new message for response. All proceeds well, despite my stiffened leg. I end up in some version of lunge or “one legged monkey” with ease. Any weight goes through me to the ground. All effort becomes invisible as the available elastic response becomes balanced and available in the moment.
My students have not reported (although perhaps they are being kind!) any reduced direction or support from my hands. In fact, most have been pleased and surprised to report an actual improvement in the clarity of direction that they are getting. I credit this to the increased necessity for awareness that I must bring to the activity of teaching in order to take good care of myself. This is a real demonstration that the skill of teaching the Alexander Technique requires, first, foremost and continuously, the teacher’s refined use of the instrument of self.
This is not to suggest that I don’t get tired. My structure and functioning are hugely compromised, and despite my good use, I am compensating for my fully extended leg in ways I can’t begin to know. I need to do a lie-down between lessons, and do my Gyrokinesis “rehab” routine at my lunch break, just to reduce swelling in my knee and to re-energize my entire self. My back aches from lifting my injured leg to walk, and my neck is not free. None of this means I can’t teach well! My job as an Alexander teacher is not to be perfect, not to end-gain to a specific form, but to consciously choose the best possible response in the moment, with whatever structure and function I have available.
This is all a huge lesson for me, and I hope a beneficial lesson for my students. Injury can potentially enhance good use, as thinking with the whole self takes on a different resonance and necessity. We can make the best possible outcome of whatever condition of self we are currently experiencing.
With any injury, slight or severe, chronic or acute, the typical human reaction is to limit flow of movement and intentional inclusion of the injured area. This limitation spells out a reduction in elastic response, as well as a deadening of muscle and nerve connections. A general diminishing personal energy also becomes a challenge in continuing to heal the whole self.
Obviously, I am applying my tools of attention and intention to use my entire self as an elastic instrument as much as I am capable of doing. However, knowing that I need further guidance and assistance, I asked Master Gyrokinesis Instructor, Mia Munroe, to come by my office and help me energize my entire self in movement that was possible for me in my current condition of self.
Gyrokinesis (and Gyrotonic, which utilizes pulley equipment) apply principles that are wonderfully consistent with Alexander principles. It is an approach that includes the entire thinking muscular self in a joyous, challenging and endlessly interesting manner. I have been exploring and experiencing Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic for 12 years now, and credit the system, in conjunction with my Alexander skills, with my high level of strength and flexibility.
Mia gave me a Gyrokinesis “rehab” routine that I can do on my own to maintain a level of balanced strength and a steady energetic flow, all sourced in good use of respiration. I had a long teaching schedule yesterday, which could easily have been depleting and increased soreness in my injured leg. Instead, using both my Alexander direction and the Gyrokinesis routine between lessons, I was able to have energy, enthusiasm, and confidence through a full day of teaching with a compromised elastic self.
For anyone seeking recovery in a dynamic way, I recommend not only the deep, ongoing learning of the Alexander Technique, but also the intelligence in movement that Gyrokinesis supports. Recovery needs to be active, and involve dynamic participation for injured people to own and direct their return to fullest function possible. I am finding more “passive” forms of treatment such as acupuncture and manual osteopathy extremely important as well, but being the activity enthusiast that I am, more dynamic means are of huge value, and I believe are of value for anyone.
Contact information for Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic:http://www.miamunroe.com / phone: 561 234 9531 (in Seattle area)
http://www.gyrotonicseattle.com/ phone: 206 784 7895
ALL of the instructors at Gyrotonic Seattle are deeply trained and very skilled!
My dear mother has often said that I have one speed: go. Considering currently limited conditions of self, my one speed is: slow.In the marvelous collection of talks by Walter Carrington, Thinking Aloud, one of his lectures is “Taking Time”. He suggests that we always have time to inhibit and direct, and that the very notion of giving ourselves time shifts our use. We have to take the time to give ourselves time, but that allowance of time can change how we respond in the moment.
Suddenly, I have all kinds of time. A walk that previously took me about 10 minutes now requires about 40 minutes. Impatience, emotional dismay, and a sense of needing to go faster only increase my mind chatter and muscular contraction. I have to stop myself, take time to allow coordination and ease, request elasticity and balance, and accept the pace that is inherent with my condition of self. This is not easy for me, but it is what is required.
During a lesson, this need to take time is very useful. The larger field of awareness that putting hands on students and moving them requires is expanded further by the necessity to take time. A new balance of thinking and moving is revealing itself.
I have always moved more quickly than most folks, been more active, and delighted in my speed. Now, I have to value taking time, relinquishing hurry, enjoying the slow lane.
I keep looking for ways to be grateful for this devastating injury. Perhaps I am beginning to find a means of being grateful for having to have just one unfamiliar, very slow and observant pace.
Expressing gratitude is an important aspect of my continuing recovery. The kind thoughtfulness of the folks listed may also provide clues to those seeking to care for injured family members and friends in the future.
Profound and deep thanks to: Marty for patience, love and expert leg-lifting; the caring and skilled people at Group Health, especially surgeon Dr. Mahommed; Yoshiro and Maureen for transformative treatments; Lindsey for daily espresso delivery as well as good company; Robert for a generous gift certificate to Amazon (I am knee deep in books!); Annie, Jeannie, Bobby and Darlene for delicious food deliveries; Ken and Deb for cookies and consistently amusing emails and voice mails; Jean for flowers and farmer’s market shopping delights; Marilyn for cat clicker and trash reading; Magali for quiche, croissants and wonderful company; Diane for books, flowers and intriguing conversation; Darlene for taxi service and love; Ann for patient snail walk company; Dr.Bonehead for absurdist handicap recommendations (let’s all party in the handicap stall!); Megan for magazines, PCC gift certificate and daily cheer; Lorna for home baked bread; Michael for friendship in sickness and in health; Joanne for a gorgeous bouquet; my dear, loyal students for encouragement, supportive emails, and enthusiasm expressed for my return to teaching; Mia and Lindsey for Gyrokinesis rehab guidance; John for teaching me the skills to respond elastically: Carmella for insistence on play as a daily requirement; Ella the dog and Ruffles the dog for being excited to see me again; and all who have expressed sympathy, support and confidence in my recovery via email, snail mail, voice mail or in person. The above list is not in order of importance! Every person’s (or animal’s) contribution has been very important!
I am grateful! Thank you!
Happily, I returned to the work I love yesterday. As stated in a previous post, teaching the Alexander Technique requires me to be aware of my entire self in a refined and ongoing manner. In teaching, I extend the use of myself, through hands- on contact, to my pupils to create a broad field of awareness, elasticity, and dynamic ease.
This required refinement that seems infinite in possibility is one of the reasons that I chose this profession. It is far more than a job to me; it is a way of being, a joyous exploration, and a means of contributing to the world.
Giving lessons with one leg in forced full extension increases the demand for my refined attention, for non-end-gaining, and for active allowance of new solutions, previously unknown to me, to present themselves. There are several protective reactions that I need to actively inhibit. One is the temptation to let my stiffened leg go dead. The immediate clues are that my knee aches, and my torso narrows, especially through the tops of my arms, as support from the ground has been reduced. If I stop, energize through both legs, request a balance of tone with what is available to me, discomfort lessens, and I can re-widen so that my arms are connected to my renewed contact with the ground.
The other protective reaction (which I have noticed in students with knee injuries or pain), is to pull up off my injured leg. This also results in a narrowing through the torso and knee discomfort, as my weight is no longer moving through to the ground, thus reducing overall elasticity. Scary as it may be in the moment, if I direct my weight through my legs into the ground, despite limitations in the injured leg, I then experience an increased volume of support in my torso, and can begin to spring up with more ease. Anxiety also quiets.
I may have to repeat these inhibitions/directions a hundred times, a thousand times as I teach. In this way, I will strengthen new neural pathways of response, which will in turn strengthen the muscular activity that is truly supportive. The Technique is always indirect. We don’t fix the part, we clarify larger intention, which cues the nervous system, which changes muscular tone, which results in a new experience of overall support and coordination.
I have a month of full leg extension during which to unlearn contractive reactions with this condition of self, and to signal new, expansive responses. Then, if all has gone well with bone healing, I will have a brace that allows 30 degrees knee flexion, and a new condition of self for continued direction.
As always, my intention is that these posts convey information that is useful for students and colleagues beyond my specific situation. My hope is to keep the balance tipped toward awareness, and steer clear of the non-productive pitfalls of self absorption which lurk for anyone recovering from injury and pain.
Using oneself well in all activities does not require anything like perfection in structure or functioning. Structure, function and use all influence one another, like a fluidly connected trinity. Use is the aspect where we have dynamic choice.
Use, in Alexander terms, could be defined as a distribution of tone throughout the entire self, especially in response to stimulus. Dynamic non-interference and directed thinking with the whole self change use, which affects functioning, which to some degree can affect structure. Structure and function may well challenge use, yet use remains a dynamic choice.
I had learned in the past two weeks, with determination and creativity, to use myself as well as possible with a leg length splint. Both my structure and functioning were very far from perfect, but I could make the best possible use of myself in the conditions at hand. My use could not heal the shattered patella, but my use could assist how I was accomplishing activities with a shattered patella.
Today, the splint was exchanged for a brace device which takes my leg into even more vigorous extension. The sensations are strange and disturbing, balance and mobility are unfamiliar in a whole new way, and my structure is clearly challenged. The use of myself is the place where I can make a difference. So, with these changed and challenging conditions of self, I have to renew dynamic non-interference and directed thinking in order to have the best possible balance of tone with the structure and function available to me.
Here are my intentions, directed in a continuous and circular fashion:
*Allow the ground to support me as I spring up
*Allow widening so that arms and legs undo from the torso, thus giving more connection to the ground
*Send my head up and forward with the elastic support of my whole self
There, that’s better!
Although I can weight-bear just fine on the injured leg, the immobilization of the knee, which changes my balance, makes a cane a wise accessory. Thus, I have been noticing how to utilize a cane with good use of myself. I have worked with pupils over the years in using their canes. Now, I have direct experience to further inform me in guiding others.
As stated previously, my beautiful maple cane is not necessary for support, but is a reassuring tool for balance as I proceed on daily snail walks. To use myself well, and to continue with my direction of ”on the ground springing up”, I think of the cane as an extension of my arm to the ground. I loop the connection to the ground through the cane all the way through my entire back and to my feet again. An elastic connection is thus created. My leg may be stiff, but I can have an elastic response with what is available to me.
I don’t lean on the cane, just as I wouldn’t lean on a leg. It is a reference point, and a connection, to the ground from which I can spring up. Since the cane is made of wood (maple), I think of it as a lively connection.
If my injured leg goes into sudden spasm (all the muscles are being used is a strange and demanding manner), I can use the cane for needed stability in the moment. The contraction (narrowing, shortening) of fear is eased in this way.
Tomorrow, I graduate to a brace that will allow a slight increase in knee flexion. I am eager to shed the heavy, huge, solid splint, with all gratitude for the protection it offered post surgery. I am hoping to proceed to being a tortoise, having learned from being a snail. The cane may still be a welcome tool, but hopefully with further learning and improved use!