Ida Rolf, the founder of the Rolfing Technique, said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If you want to know what’s going on in the body, go to the feet.” Reflexology and Ayurvedic medicine attest that the entire body is reflected in the feet. My personal experience is that if my feet don’t feel good, I don’t feel good. And lucky for me, that has rarely been the case (except for that winter in the late 90s when I was hypnotized by a pair of gorgeous, 3-inch, purple suede heels, but such are the sacrifices that must be made now and again.).
Occasionally in my Nia career, I have had twinges of pain or short-term discomfort in various body parts (nothing that some mindfulness, arnica and a few well-placed ibuprofens couldn’t handle) but never my feet. My feet always felt great.
Until this fall. At the end of a week of teaching, on Saturday afternoon, my feet hurt. They felt tender and uncomfortable and just walking across the room or standing in line was painful. And so it begins…
Step 1 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing: Listen to the Body.
And what did this Black Belt Nia instructor of 11 years do when presented with clear information from her body? She ignored it. Yes, all my years of Nia training about listening to sensation and listening to the body, listening to the wisdom of the body and what was first thing I did when something really hurt? I pretend it didn’t.
Step 2 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing: Ignore the Body (optional).
To be fair, I only ignored it for the rest of the weekend. On Monday morning, I wore elastic arch supports to class and calmly admitted to the group that my feet weren’t 100%. I was sure that the whole arnica and ibuprofen thing would kick in and my feet would be right as rain in no time. After a couple of days though, my feet still hurt. And that’s when I slid right into…
Step 3 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing: Panic (Optional).
I decided (based on hearsay from friends and Google searches) that I had plantar fasciitis: an inflammation of the connective tissue in the sole of the foot that causes chronic and often stabbing pain especially upon getting out of bed in the morning. My symptoms did not follow what was described on the various medical Web sites that I scoured, but no matter: I was terrified and embarrassed. How could I be a Nia teacher and develop this condition? How could I represent the barefoot movement of Nia while in pain or teaching in shoes? And heaven help me, how in the world would I manage if I couldn’t dance?
I would wake up at 3am, feel my sore and tender feet pulsing under the covers and would spiral into stories of how my life was pretty much over. I wouldn’t be able to teach or move, I would gain weight, get depressed, be impossible to live with. My family and friends would abandon me and, destitute and poor, I would take up residence in a Frigidaire box under the 250 bypass.
My kind and patient husband consistently reassured me otherwise (often at 3am, poor boo), but I couldn’t or wouldn’t hear it: everything I loved was now going to be over.
Have you ever done this? Allow fear to drag you from your life into a distorted, twisted future in which absolutely, positively nothing is good? At some point, we all have. Next week, we’ll talk more about fear (The Joy of Fear, even) but for now suffice it to say that when fear jumps in your car, as soon as you can, ask her to ride shotgun not behind the wheel.
In an effort to at least slow the horrifying conflagration which my life was inevitably to become, I decided I needed to know more (ah, the strategies of the liberal arts educated!). So I asked for help. I got appointments with a couple of medical professionals to get their thoughts. They agreed with my amateur diagnosis of plantar fasciitis (even though I didn’t present all the classic symptoms).
Then, I asked people I knew who had had plantar fasciitis about their experience and what treatments worked for them. I connected with dozens of people and even without getting any advice from anyone, just noticing that all of them were relatively happy and healthy and none were living in a box on the street seemed like a good sign.
Step 4 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing: Ask for Help and Listen to the Help.
So I gathered information from everybody: doctor folk and regular folk: information about the physiology and the symptoms and treatments. I heard about connective tissue and inflammation and frozen golf balls and calf stretches. I learned three ways to tape my feet, about myofascial release and boots to wear at night to keep the foot in the best position for pain relief. Everybody generously told me what worked for them and what they’d experienced and I gratefully listened to it all. I did my best to simply be open to everything everybody had to say.
For me, this openness runs a certain risk. Anybody who knows me is aware that I am just the teeny tiniest bit obsessive about certain things. Okay, most things. And when presented with all this information and all these things that worked for SOMEbody, my tendency can be to do it all. I mean everything. Every, single, last stretch, treatment, exercise and contraption. But here’s where my Sort-of-EnlightenedApproach to Healing actually got a little bit enlightened. I took in all the information from all these different sources and did what felt right to me.
Step 5 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing: Listen to your Intuition.
Instead of ignoring or medicating or blindly following medical advice, I followed my intuition. I listened to all the advice and I chose to do the things that felt right. There was something empowering in that. To trust my own wisdom, the idea that I really might know what is best for me and my body. Better than anyone else.
Tomorrow, I’ll finish the story: explain what I did and what I learned and am still learning in the process. About my feet (and my body), about healing (both body and mind), and about myself.