Negotiating travel while in long term recovery from a major injury (patella fracture, in my case) is a tricky business. The question of how much I can do with good use of myself informs decisions about travel. We all know that airline travel and being away from familiar circumstances imply challenges on many levels. Traveling with physical limitations amplifies these challenges.
Happily, I was able to handle airports and outgoing flight with surprising ease. And, while in my beloved city of New York, I walked an average of 9 miles (!!) daily with ease, speed and joy. I could pay attention to my surroundings beyond the walking surfaces, and even step down from lower curbs with my non-injured leg leading. This indicates that the injured knee has improved stability, strength and flexion for weight bearing.
While I was in NYC, I enjoyed lessons with John Nicholls, my primary Alexander teacher for the past 20 years. These lessons improved my overall use, resulting in increased confidence in my elastic condition of Self. Lessons with John enhanced respiratory support, improved connection with the ground, and decreased knee pain significantly, as my overall use shifted to a bigger picture. My brain state eased, anxieties and fears softened, and I enjoyed the experience of being larger than my sensations.
However, I overestimated my strength once I proceeded toward departure from NYC. Arrival involved going up stairs with luggage on public transport, which I could do easily as I can use both legs relatively equally in ascending stairs. Descending stairs with the weight of luggage was not so easy, and did not involve good use as a possibility, as I still have to go down stairs in a very asymmetrical fashion. Once I got to my flight gate, my lower back was in serious spasm. Sitting for 6 hours in a less than ideal seat (your typical airline seat, which is nearly diabolical) only increased discomfort. By the time I arrived in Seattle, I had to ask for assistance to get my carry-on bags off the plane. I hobbled off the plane with stiffness and disconcerting pain.
The spasms calmed with the activity of teaching (this activity requires good use), rest, acupuncture and careful exploration of monkey (elastic relationship of head/back/legs). The lesson in this is obvious: be conscious of what is possible with good use, and refuse to challenge myself with activities that make good use impossible. In other words, take a car to the airport if that involves better use of the Self!
Regardless of the back spasms resulting from over-challenging myself on the way home, I am thrilled to have managed travel mostly with ease, to have enjoyed increased mobility in my favorite city, and to have, until now, avoided back pain during my entire 8+ months of recovery from injury.
Eight months of recovery has yielded many insights and instructive experiential information on applying Alexander principles to injury, rehabilitation and overall survival as a whole person, as well as a new knowledge of other disciplines that are effective in recovery from a major injury.
Tangible results as to my progress are clearly indicated by much reduced pain and far improved mobility. Eight months seems an awfully long time to be less than fully functional as a constitutionally active person, but recovery takes the time it takes. End-gaining has been clearly shown to impede my progress toward full recovery.
With my trusty pedometer, I can track my daily mileage in walking to an average of 5 miles! Much of this distance involves moving with near pre-injury speed and ease, which is a great joy for me. Sleep is no longer disrupted by excruciating pain. My knee is a bit stiff during my morning walk to work, but improves as I think my Alexander directions, and also attend to the wider world beyond my sensations and fears.
There are activities I look forward to experiencing, such as walking down stairs like a non-injured person, or going down hills with ease and confidence. Sitting for more than about 20 minutes results in stiffness and discomfort, so attending live performances or seeing films on the big screen are challenging. I can’t (yet) kneel for any length of time, sit cross-legged, or go back on my heels from kneeling into “child’s pose”. Forget about running. I may have to wait many months to even consider moving into my previously favorite activity. Mounting a horse, something I previously did with ease and joy, seems quite impossible for me just now.
My intention is to allow continuing refinement of the coordination of my entire self to reveal solutions that will make all of the above activities and hopes possible once again. Proceeding with patience and determination is a challenging mix, but I hope to learn that specific and general refinement as I carry onward with dynamic non-interference in mind.
Although daily pain is less and less of an issue for me, thankfully, the fear of pain as well as sudden unexpected pain continues. We strengthen the nerve fibers to pain by checking for pain. Ignoring or suppressing pain is not my intention, but allowing sensation to register from my larger picture is my intention. Fearing pain is a response post-injury that potentially limits exploring movement that may not indeed cause pain. There is a fine line that must be discovered by the whole self between fearing pain and reacting to that fear, and sensing with accuracy what is truly happening,
Most of us have what F.M. Alexander termed “faulty sensory appreciation” that is based on our habitual way of being. He emphasized that we cannot trust our interpretation of sensation, as our habitual responses have flawed our entire systems. We can’t know what has not been previously experienced with any accuracy. The instrument of our self is not reliable until we have the guidance of people more intelligently organized than ourselves.
So now, back to pain: I have accepted as a given that my knee hurts fairly constantly, with varying degrees of intensity. When I am afraid of pain’s increase, I narrow, shorten, and generally contract. If, instead, I allow my thoughts to rise up, see the bigger picture of myself, view with curiosity the world outside my sensations, fear diminishes, pain lessens, and I can see pain as a tool for response, rather than allowing pain to dominate my experience.
Although this may sound simple, it is not easy. People who endure continued pain struggle daily, hourly with finding a larger view than the sensation of pain. Life can so easily slip into pain as a dominating factor. Depression, despair, and helplessness are very possible life results. All the nerve connections for checking on potential pain become strong, and any accurate assessment shrinks.
Applying Alexander principles of attending to the whole self may bring hope and possibility. Pain may still continue, but may not be dominant as sensation. We learn, as Alexander students, to attend to a wider, deeper, more expanded view of ourselves, and to engage in daily activities with more choices in response, and an intention to dynamically allow the activity to do itself. We revel in exploring physicality in a conscious manner.
An intention to grow, change, learn and welcome new information is key for me in order to endure the difficulties and challenges of a lengthy recovery. Although I am still in the midst of this story, I can observe that some small changes have occurred in myself, and some lessons learned. As always, I write in hopes of learning for others.
I am continuously grateful for the kindness and patience of family, friends and students, and for the expertise of professionals who assist me in recovery. Accepting help is not easy for a fiercely independent person like myself, but I have learned to be appropriately dependent upon the kindness and skills of carefully selected humans.
A basic restlessness has been an aspect of my nature since birth. Impatience has often been a stumbling block to experiencing life in the moment. With the necessities imposed by injury, I have slowed, calmed and quieted. The surprise for me is that a slower, quieter pace can be both rich and dynamic. I miss moving with speed, and long for that option, but it is a hopeful future choice now rather than a habitual reaction.
The gifts of the Alexander Technique inform me in a totally new and deeper manner. Being able to think with my whole self, and to creatively cope with physical limitation has strengthened my confidence in Alexander principles. I am a much better teacher than previous to injury, and also humbled but much more I need to not know. Injury has required me to enthusiastically not know.
I can’t in any way say I am grateful for this life changing injury. No, I am not! I daily wish I had never fallen, and am wakened by nightmares of falling. Each morning, I come to consciousness wanting to go for a run in the new light, and to be informed by my morning run throughout the day. My restlessness is not gone, just reconfigured. Without the access of physical activity, I am forced to rest and quiet, and have had to learn to be at ease until I can be wildly active in a new way once again.
My limp had nearly disappeared prior to the recovery-disruption of recent massage. Now, my limp is once again often pronounced to the point of lurching when I am tired, in any pain, or (unconsciously) wanting surrounding humans to allow me a little more time and space.
Today, as I walked from my office to my Gyrotonic workout (a bit over 2 miles), I attended much more to my attention and intention in an Alexander fashion. Once again, I observe that my choices in response have an effect on overall experience and coordination.
When I focus on my (rather constant) knee discomfort, I pull down, and then experience more pain, fear, and fear of pain. (The fear of pain is probably the worst for my use) When I allow my thoughts to rise up, and I begin to see the lovely Autumnal world outside myself, fear and pain quiet, and the dreaded limp diminishes to a wisp of a limp. The soft tissue around my injured knee may suddenly spasm, which frightens me, but if I slow down in my thinking, allow my thoughts to rise, fear and even spasm quiet again.
Overall directions to widen are included in dynamically rising up in my attention. I include the ground as my source of support. Effort becomes much more invisible.
There is a difference between hurrying and moving quickly. If I hurry, I typically lose the bigger picture, as I am focussed on pace rather than process. Fixed determination only fixes me rather than frees me. If, instead, I intend to spring from the ground with a happy curiosity, I am much more free to move with speed and ease.
Acknowledging limits, however, becomes essential. Even with my best Alexander thinking, it is important to not push beyond pain. Respecting pain with a happy curiosity about choices in response is the balance I am exploring now.