My personal journey with chronic pain.
by, Barbara Anderson
As is so often the case, my journey into body awareness began with a personal injury.
I began studying dance at the ripe, old age of twenty-six. That is an advanced age to begin dance but I loved it and soon I was organizing my life around my interest in taking dance classes. I found a job as a house parent at a home for disturbed kids so that I could work from Friday through Sunday evenings and then be free to take classes all week. I wasn’t particularly good or athletic but that didn’t phase me. Dance was what I wanted to be doing and I didn’t think beyond that.
My injury happened after a couple of years of study. I was in a modern dance class in an old, unheated building in Chicago. Chicago winters are always rough and that day there was a foot of snow on the ground. In spite of the lack of heat we were keeping warm by moving. I remember that I had broken a sweat. Then the teacher decided we should take it down a notch and do some floor stretching. He opened the window right behind me. Now I know enough to realize that was a bad idea but at the time I didn’t question his judgement. That night I was in the emergency room receiving a cortisone injection for a severe lower back muscle spasm. Now I would question the cortisone shot but again I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to do anything but trust and the shot did help. But the spasm returned about every 6 months from then on.
A few years later I started the Dance Masters Degree program at George Washington University. Whenever I was tired or overworked the back spasm returned with a vengeance . I became a pretzel shaped woman. When the lower back spasms hit I could barely stand. This was not a good situation for a dancer.
One university doctor suggested operating and fusing my lower back vertebrae.
I am very glad I didn’t go that route.
My lower back muscle spasms continued for another seven years.
This included one year with constant sciatic pain.
At that time I was waitressing, dancing and teaching dance in Boulder, Colorado. Sciatic pain made all of that very difficult. I didn’t have health insurance so I lived with the situation and kept going until I just couldn’t.
In retrospect I wonder that I didn’t try to understand what was happening. But,like so many of my Feldenkrais clients now, I didn’t have much knowledge or information about my body. Often the people who come to see me are still in pain after surgeries and they can’t tell me what the surgeon did. To them I say,
“It’s your body. Knowledge and awareness are power. Learn about your physical being and be amazed at what you can do to help yourself.”
Back to my story. It has a happy ending. I finally realized that my posture was putting an on-going strain on my back. My posture was responsible for my back problem. I stood like a poorly-trained ballerina: toes pointed out, tail pulled back, Ribs hyperextended. This is called lordotic posture. It means I walked like a duck. Get the picture.
My lower back muscles were chronically shortened. They were overworking all the time. I put an extra load on them by dancing. When they couldn’t take it anymore they spasmed.
(Watch the video for a further explanation of what happens to chronically overworked and overstressed muscles.)
The solution was to learn to stand and move differently. I used a simple, gentle exercise that I called the tailbone rock. It relieved the spasm. With continued practice of the tailbone rock, my habitual postural pattern changed. My pelvis moved freely and in better balance.
The answer was within me all that time.
I am so glad that I didn’t have my spine fused.
This started me down a path that recognized the power of awareness when applied to the human body and to movement.
The Feldenkrais method has been a thirty year journey for me. It forms the basis of how I teach yoga, Pilates –well, everything.
We can grow because of pain but we can also grow way, way beyond the pain. Awareness applied to movement continues to be a fascinating journey. If it rouses your interest, come and join me in being connected to the body.
I offer on-line Feldenkrais Awareness through Movement classes twice a week as well as individual Feldenkrais appointments. Contact me at bodyandsoulkc.com