The continuing challenge of recovering to full function after a serious injury presents numerous opportunities to shift old habits of response. As a former student of mine told me, after enduring many illnesses, injuries and tragedies, “it’s not what happens, it’s what you do with it”.
Injury typically exacerbates imbalances in elastic tone with all the accommodations and compensations required in moving with partial mobility toward full function. In addition, the signals for pain usually become overactive, so that necessary strengthening is short circuited by anxiety. Fear of further pain interferes with recovery modes.
My condition of self was far from ideal previous to injury. From birth, an internal rotation of one hip made my leg/torso relationship distinctly asymmetrical. Clumsy medical attempts to change my condition by force (braces, casts, orthopedic shoes) and in a direct manner only increased overall distortions. Only by approaching change through the indirect means of the Alexander Technique, addressing the whole rather than fixing the parts, was I able to learn to function well with a compromised condition of self. Still, injury and resulting accommodations brought all the original imbalance back into dramatic play.
The injury has continuously offered me the opportunity to address old patterns of response in a new manner of more conscious choice. Yesterday, my Gyrotonic instructor, Lindsey, and Gyrotonic instructor and Physical Therapist Janette guided me through very refined exercises to strengthen the balance of leg/torso relationship. It was a huge brain challenge for me to shift how I was connecting to the ground and thus initiating movement. My current strength is in a very twisted form that prevents my knee from becoming stable, and results in pain, thus signaling fear and a reduction in confidence for moving through daily activities. Lindsey and Janette helped me to think about support differently, in a very Alexander-consistent whole person fashion. I was able to challenge knee and leg strength with safety, and to experience means of strengthening that were difficult but not scary or painful. This required me to think with my whole self, to have a clear intention, and to refuse to force (interfere) and yet still activate very dynamically. Going from undoing to doing without doing too much is how I describe this in Alexander terms.
I found myself exhausted, thrilled, weepy, and happy after this refined workout. As signaling and response changes, the sense of self allowing rather than controlling shifts. Dynamic non-interference is key. The work becomes more about relinquishing effort in a familiar sense and allowing new solutions in a wholly balanced experience. Refining response to what seems like dangerous pain is an aspect of allowing more, pushing less, remaining active, and being open to a new experience.
As a result of this work, my knee felt much more stable, stronger and far less painful this morning as I enjoyed my morning “faux run”. Learning continues, and the self finds a continuing new balance in response that is hopefully even better than previous to injury. There is always more!
Although I would not wish a devastating injury like mine upon anyone, I have come, at last, to a sense of deep gratitude for the learning and opportunity offered by this unexpected, unwelcome and often hellish life changing injury. Adversity is never welcome. Who wants to break their knee, for god’s sake? Not any sane person. And while my sanity has often been questionable, I don’t seek pain as a means of learning. But, pain arrived, life happened, and all I could do was learn. The Alexander Technique offers the possibility of using the Self consciously, whatever the conditions of the Self might be.
As I have frequently stated, this injury changed my life, and thus changed me. I have had to endure and survive the deep dismay of not being who I defined myself to be (a mobile and active person), and to embrace the not-knowing of how to be without previous definition. My edges have softened. In being forced to stillness and slowness, in enduring my own noise, in accepting, after much struggle, my limitations, I have found a freedom in less defined being that is a great surprise and a deep gift. Of course, I want to recover fully, but I have relinquished the urgency of ever being the same person as my pre-injury self. I would never give away all that I have learned for the predictability of being my pre-injury self. My comprehension of pain, immobility and long recovery, and my understanding of that process, could only be informed by experience. Conceptual recovery is an illusion and a set of assumptions. Applying Alexander principles to the many-layered sequence of injury recovery is a reality that I live and can convey to my students with hard won experience.
Without this experience, I would not have worked so deeply and attentively with professionals of other disciplines, and thus understood how Physical Therapy, Osteopathy, Gyrotonics can assist in effective whole person recovery. I have learned of the kindness and skill of professionals that is available once intention is clear and end-gaining is set aside. The struggle of continuing means-where-by in recovery has taken on entirely new meaning.
I have relinquished the tiller a bit, learned to allow the boat’s drift, become more open to currents, and let wisdom be other than mine.
As has been frequently expressed in these blog posts, I miss my morning runs with a passion. The stillness I found in movement, the morning sounds, scents, views, light, the rhythm of timelessness, and the ensuing balance of self in the world all provided many joys previous to immobilizing injury.
So, I can’t run yet, but I can walk. I decided to experience “running” from whatever condition of self is available to me. Perhaps my neural and muscular self would recognize new options from a partial re-enactment.
I donned my running gear and simply walked my running route of several miles through the neighborhood. The morning air, with breezes from Puget Sound, the Spring foliage, and the many songs of migrating birds, as well as seagull calls and crow chatter, drifted happily through me. Expanding my picture beyond what I can’t do brought the joys of what I can do to awareness. I can attend to my use without fear of pain or potential falls, and experience the possibility of running again. Quieting myself, hearing my own noise and not reacting to that incessant noise, refusing to narrow or shorten, and welcoming the wide world resulted in a very happy faux run.
The only detail missing was actually running, which may well occur in time, with faux runs as my new means-whereby. Attend to overall use and the thing will do itself is my constant theme. Progress toward full recovery proceeds incrementally, but it does proceed.