Although I can’t yet admit to being grateful in any way for the serious injury that has required so much attention, time, endurance and resilience, I am recognizing positive outcomes. Being forced to relative stillness has resulted in hearing my own internal noise, and thus to a new skill-set in requesting quiet in an Alexander fashion.
Before injury, I ran most mornings to hear my own noise and to disperse that chatter into motion. I also ran to hear the morning birdsongs, to view trees and foliage through the seasons, and to allow a creative approach to my teaching day. Running balanced my emotional levels and resulted in a calm sense of well-being. Movement provided stillness.
It has been a deeply challenging adjustment to remain emotionally balanced during a year of high pain levels and dramatically reduced mobility. All of my previous coping skills were removed, and I was left with my own noise, as well as with extreme pain and frustrating mobility limitations.
Now I am seeing how this experience has presented an incredible opportunity to respond to my internal chatter with a newly urgent and continuous request for quiet. This has not only augmented my teaching skills, but also made me far more patient and tolerant of students who struggle with doing too much, chattering internally, and coping with the challenges that pain and injury bring to daily life. I know the struggle experientially now, and have a hard won compassion.
I went for my annual physical exam this week. I was thrilled and surprised that my height had increased by half an inch! My PT, Heidi, says that this height increase is due to an expansion and lengthening in my back. So, with all the good work I am doing to recover, old habits existent previous to injury have relinquished their grip. Recovery work has resulted in an overall improvement in springing up from the ground, allowing lengthening and widening.
I have been forced into quieting and learned new coping skills. Recovery from injury has resulted in old structural patterns shifting to a more elastic mode. With the help of many people, and the skills of the Alexander Technique, I have made the best of a deeply difficult year. I can’t run (yet) , but I can walk, and I have new tools to quiet for further possibilities.
A year ago today, I was recovering from surgery to repair my fractured left patella, injured in a sidewalk fall. Two metal pins and a figure 8 wire were installed on my broken patella. I was sent home the same day with a full length splint, crutches, and heavy-duty pain medication. My surgeon told me that it would be “at least a year” before my knee wasn’t a constant problem, and that I shouldn’t expect to walk without a limp, let alone run, ever again.
I have come a very long way in a year, through much travail, dismay and difficulty. I can walk without a limp on a good day, and I fully intend to be able to run sometime in the future. I learned to live life with, initially, a fully extended leg, then with incremental increases in knee flexion. I managed to teach private lessons and to run a teacher training course with a full leg brace for 12 very long weeks just two weeks after surgery. Daily life was challenging in ways that were previously unimaginable. The experience of serious injury changes entire perspective about possibilities.
The lessons of injury have been life-changing, terrifying, informative and deep. My very definition of self, and of my self in the world, have been shaken, questioned and renewed into a form that is still unrecognizable to me. But I survived, which at some points was questionable this past year.
My stubborn determination was not sufficient for recovery, however, nor was my impatience helpful. Assistance was required. The Alexander Technique gave me a means for framing my recovery with dynamic non-interference, direction and inhibition, and the skills of allowing a bigger picture than the distressing sensations of huge pain and limited mobility. The skills of other professionals were essential to proceed toward full recovery.
What has helped me most, thus far in the journey, in renewing mobility independence are the following, all equal in importance: Alexander lessons with John Nicholls for an overall reorganization of self with respiratory support as a key note; Osteopathy to nudge me gently toward a structural balance; Physical Therapy with very attuned and big-picture PT’s, Heidi and Janette to provide intelligently active means of recovery; Gyrotonic exercise guidance with Lindsey for strength in a deep sense; acupuncture to reduce inflammation from Yoshiro; and just teaching Alexander lessons daily, which required me to use myself well, despite physical limitations.
Friends and family have been patient and kind, as well as tolerant of my occasional meltdowns. My cat Carmella, dog friends Ella, Georgie, Oliver, Ruffles have all insisted that I am fine however I am, and can we play now? These critters have also conveyed affection and acceptance that was vital on days when I was deeply discouraged. Paddy the horse and equestrian teacher Eileen gave me hope for intention in recovery. And my dear, dedicated, patient students, who have had the confidence in me to continue learning in tandem with my recovery, have made many levels of recovery possible.
There are many gratitudes implied in the lists above. My recovery to this point is due in huge part to the skills, guidance, kindness, patience, acceptance and confidence of many people and animals.
There is still a long road ahead. Although pain is not such a constant presence, it is still a daily possibility. My mobility is not anywhere near where I hope it will be. The many athletic pursuits that I enjoyed previous to injury, the ease of daily life activities, are currently either impossible or only partially available to me. I still struggle with accepting limitations in movement, still mourn what I can’t do with ease or at all. But, a year has brought progress, much learning and the news of more to also not know.
Thank you to all who have so generously contributed to my recovery this year!! The story continues…
Nearly year has passed since the injury that changed my life by slowing me to a snail’s pace. Pain has been a frequent and relentless teacher, requiring me to acknowledge fear and limitation (as well as fear of limitation) in a new manner. Differentiating between pain as a signal to stop and pain as a necessary transition toward strength has become a continuously evolving skill. Pace and timing take on different complexities and subtleties for a constitutionally speedy person like myself who must embrace the requirements of long-term recovery. Linear progress is an illusion of end-gaining; only the spiraling nature of learning and unlearning, of allowing a balance of determination and acceptance, activity and rest, has yielded demonstrable progress.
This morning, I walked a half mile down very steep hills with constant inhibition of narrowing and shortening myself, as well as refusal to become impatient and irritated by my glacial pace, to a Tai Ji class. Although I studied Tai Ji many years ago, I entered the studio as a mere beginner, with a quiet unknowing, and an eagerness to allow the form to do itself. Our teacher, Derryl Willis, created a welcoming and serene environment, as well as offering clear direction, skilled teaching, and a deeply compassionate attitude.
Tai Ji has myriad possibilities for application of Alexander principles, of course. Dynamic non-interference, elastic response to gravity, invisibility of effort, and moving from intention and attention are some components of this ancient and ageless learning.
At my current condition of self, Tai Ji is an ideal exploration. I was deeply pleased that I could physically manage a 75 minute class with relative ease. The form did itself, and I willingly followed. When my knee signaled for a rest, I rested. A sense of the ground as support increased and deepened as fear of pain quieted. My breath moved my limbs and stillness informed motion. The challenge of allowing was continuous but not defeating, with the skilled guidance of our teacher.
Metaphors for healing abound, and the story continues!
Marty and I travelled to our beloved Kauai for much needed tropical restoration. Star gazing, papaya breakfasts, birdsong listening, naps on the lanai, and ocean access inform our time there quite delightfully. Needless to say, I was curious as to my mobility, use and function in a warm and slow-paced environment, as well as to a new experience of Kauai given my current condition of self.
The long flight to Kauai did my knee no favors. A pressurized cabin combined with long hours of sitting added up to inflammation and rather acute knee pain. I could feel all the hardware in my knee with nauseating clarity. Nonetheless, I hobbled off the plane happily into the warm floral air of Kauai.
Previous to my injury, my typical Kauai morning delight was to walk several miles before dawn on the hard and wet sand of our Waimea beach. The stars are so astonishingly visible in Kauai that they are reflected in the black volcanic sand. Then, I would turn around and sprint barefoot through the surf with stars reflected under my feet. As dawn arrived, the sea would turn blue, and the ocean froth became rose-tinged. I would splash through stars and the dawn’s pink hues until the day glowed. This was all kinds of fun, and an experience I have every intention of enjoying again.
Obviously, I couldn’t run during this visit, but I could walk. I got quite overenthusiastic on my first morning beach walk, and did a weird sort of prance-run through the surf, foolishly attending to my prance rather than to the huge and powerful ocean. A wave knocked me down suddenly and thoroughly. This made me laugh with joy! I have been so very afraid of falling ever since The Fall a year ago. Being knocked by a wave onto sand was safe and awakening (pay attention to the ocean). My fear of falling was washed away. I was unhurt, chastened, wet and very happy.
Despite my conscientious PT’s kindly warning that soft sand might not be the friendliest footing for my knee, I threw caution to the trade winds and walked on soft sand into the water on another beach. After diving into the warm, delicious sea, I found I couldn’t swim with any ease, as the injured knee protested any kicking. No problem, I was happy to float, with blue skies above, tropical fish below, palm trees rimming my view. Bliss! After much floating happiness, I decided to emerge from the water. I stood, knee deep, and found that the soft footing gave less than no support for my wobbly knee. I was stuck, unable to move, it seemed. Hopping, crawling or walking out of the water were not available possibilities. A rescue request from the lifeguard seemed hugely absurd. With every ounce of attention to my use I could muster (refusing to narrow, allowing a new coordination, remaining amused rather than panic-stricken), I finally succeeded in walking the 3 feet to shore. Henceforth, I not only chose water access with firmer sand, but took a driftwood walking stick with me for assistance.
Another of my Kauai joys is taking riding lessons with Eileen Donahue, a superbly gifted and deeply experienced equestrian who trains horses and teaches riders. Despite my status as a mere beginner, Eileen is patient, encouraging, compassionate, wise and very observant, as well as an incredible guide to horse-human interactions. She teaches from a perspective of dynamic non-interference, and has an innate sense of the quiet timing and allowance that can best inform horse-human communication.
Well, I may be able to mount a horse (with help) just now, but I can’t think I would be able to dismount with any ease. (Perhaps I need a construction crane available for beach and equestrian rescue possibilities.) So, Eileen taught me the nuances of grooming, leading, and directing a horse without mounting, as well as very intriguing ground work techniques. Her instruction included being attentive to my own presence, eye contact with the horse, my gestures, internal quiet, timing, and primarily, my intention. My knee pain distracted me, and Paddy the horse always noticed when my attention narrowed. During the few moments when my fear of failure quieted, and my intention and attention widened and clarified, Paddy was interested and very cooperative. Use of the self clearly determines quality of horse-human interaction.
So, I couldn’t swim, but I could float. I couldn’t run, but I could walk. And, I couldn’t ride, but I could learn to communicate otherwise, and most likely with better use and clarity. And, by the time I came home, my knee was pain-quiet, my walking had increased in speed and ease, and my sense of further recovery had deepened in confidence.