This past week, I travelled to, and deeply enjoyed, a visit to NYC, a city where I lived for many happy years. One of the myriad reasons that I love NYC is the experience of easy, independent mobility in a pedestrian-friendly city. Previous to my trip, I had some minor trepidation about how my reduced mobility would affect my daily functioning and enjoyment. And, very happily, I can report an experience of joyous ease!
I did have to keep an alert eye for uneven cobblestone streets and slate sidewalk irregularities, but I walked with surprising ease, and even found a “passing gear”. There is a rhythm to NYC, and it is a rhythm that I entered happily. My pace was slower than previously, but I could enter the wave with newly found patience and inner quiet. I couldn’t run for the train or beat the “don’t walk” light. I could allow the wave and rhythm to move around me and find the moment that carried me with the heartbeat of the city. Five months of reduced pace and mobility have indeed changed me. Patience is a new experience for me, especially patience with myself. There is a difference between hurrying and going quickly. And, I don’t have to be the fastest, I just need to move well.
Much of the increased ease that I experienced was due not only to my association of being in NYC with joy in mobility, but also to frequent Alexander lessons, while there, with John Nicholls. I have been teaching the Alexander Technique for 22 years, and studying with John for 19 of those years. His work is nothing short of sublime. He is skilled in restoring an overall elastic response, encouraging respiratory support, and finding a coherent organization of the whole self. I left every lesson with a renewed sense of my entire coordination and support, the ground as support for going up. My knee hurt far less, flexion increased, and mobility improved.
In NY, I was able to climb and descend subway stairs, to walk many blocks in my daily routines, and to wander museums extensively without undue pain or exhaustion. There were some subway stations that I found to be taxing and tiring, so I simply avoided them. I did everything that I wanted to do with surprising ease.
Although I must continue with Physical Therapy to recover full flexion, knee stability and leg strength, the experience of Alexander lessons enhancing my overall use was wonderful. The Alexander Technique never promises to heal or to address a specific part of the body. It is always indirect and involves the entire elastic response of the self. For those recovering from injury, serious or slight, a combination of intelligent PT and Alexander lessons could be key to opening a window to full and lifelong recovery. As the use of the self improves, the conditions which may have caused or increased injury diminish.
I go to NY to observe components of my personal use, growth and change against the background of my familiar and much loved NYC. Ease in movement is an important indication of my overall use of self. Newly found patience indicates some personal growth. My trip demonstrated that I can be happy again, that I can move with more ease, and that there is even more ease in movement to come.
Many humans and non-humans have provided essential assistance during my recovery journey. As I proceed through this long haul, it is important for me to express deep gratitude to the following kind and/or expert folks:
All of my dedicated students, who have been willing to learn with me in my journey to full recovery; Yoshiro for transformative acupuncture treatment; Maureen for many-leveled osteopathy; Lindsey for being wisely willing to explore recovery with me via Gyrotonic exercise; all the folks at Lighthouse Coffee who daily note and cheer my slow but steady progress; dogs Ella, Ruffles, Georgie and Oliver for their enthusiasm to see me; my nephew Gabe for teaching me to moonwalk; Physical Therapists Heather and Barb for guiding me in necessary daily pursuits toward recovery; my dear and patient friends for being willing to listen to me when I am in much dismay; my sweet and loving parents and siblings who have fed me, transported me, and understood how very hard it is for a Barrett to be less than fully mobile; Carmella, the cat who runs my home life, for insisting on play and affection daily; and Marty, most emphatically, who has lifted my leg, rubbed my back in the wee hours, done all the household chores, endured my outbursts of frustration, and loved me even in my temporarily reduced state. He deserves a medal for endurance with grace!
Also thanks to local birds who brighten my days with song and flight, the lush views of foliage from home and office windows, the summer light and warmth that defeats depression, and the Alexander Technique, without which I may be wallowing and adrift.
My thanks to all!
During the five months since I fractured my patella, there have been many notable steps of recovery. I no longer wear a full-leg splint or brace. A cane is not necessary. I can get into a car without extraordinary acrobatics. Bathing no longer requires assistance. Walking to work and home again (nearly a mile each way) is challenging (especially the downhill portions) but possible. I even sleep comfortably now and again.
During the months long initial stages of recovery, my awareness narrowed to pain management and moment by moment choices in balance. My entire life seemed to become focussed on how best to use myself in basic activity. Despite my intentions to “see the big picture”, pain and/or the possibility of pain dominated every moment.
In the past week, most likely due to my new Physical Therapist, Barb, reducing and refining my daily PT exercises, and thus reducing some measure of knee inflammation, I have experienced long moments, even into chunks of time, when I don’t have to think about every step as I walk. I can enjoy, once again, the flow of thought, and the widening of perception, that occurs when I am moving with ease and rhythm. This is what I have missed so dearly, and I nearly weep with delight at being able to “let the walk do itself” in a dynamic and quiet fashion.
Time shifts and perception changes when pain lessens and joy of movement resumes.
With this slow, tedious and often painful recovery, you’d think I would be learning something important. Given that my preferred way of being is one of ease in vigorous activity, the removal of activity seems like some sort of learning. Mostly, I am learning to deal with deep frustration, dismay, depression and pain.
The Alexander Technique, on many levels, is about choosing a conscious response to stimuli. F.M. Alexander explored a stimulus (speaking) that made him go wrong, and then discovered a means of response that was much more productive and expansive. Rather than attending to the specific of speaking, he attended to the whole co-ordination of himself, including his intention and attention. He decided to not make the outcome (speaking) his priority, and instead to choose an entire co-ordination of self.
Applying this principle to my current situation of severely limited mobility involves complex direction of my entire self. F.M. wanted to speak, but had to relinquish that goal to an overall dynamic non-interference (inhibition). I want to be able to move with the grace, ease and delight that I formerly enjoyed. It is a huge challenge for me to relinquish my goal of full mobility and attend, instead, to how I am directing my entire self.
The temptations of despair and depression are very strong, but these involve collapse through my entire psycho-physical being. Then, once I have collapsed, my knee hurts more keenly, and my entire self diminishes. When I choose instead to widen onto the ground so that I can spring up, my knee hurts less and I have an improved emotional experience. The dismay and despair may continue, but in a less dramatic fashion.
I grapple and fight to relinquish the urgency for ease in movement. And, in moments, after many hard lessons, I go up again.