Feet & The Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing: Part III

I feel a little like one of those serial shows on HBO: “Previously on Focus Pocus…”  But for those just joining us, I’m a Nia instructor.  Last fall, my feet started to hurt, which is a problem for anybody and perhaps particularly for someone who dances barefoot every day.  After listening to my body, ignoring my body, panicking, asking for help and listening to the help, I listened to my intuition about what healing path to follow.  And this felt pretty exciting to someone who tends to medicate or defer completely to medical authority.

In the process of gathering information, I spoke to my friend and colleague, Antje Kohrs Waxman.  (You can find Antje at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Re-Align-Postural-Alignment-Therapy-EgoscueR-certified/267233839958226 and she’s offering a series at ACAC this month http://www.acac.com/2012/01/05/postural-alignment-therapy/.)  In addition to being a Nia teacher (and the creator of Nia Lite and Aqua Nia), Antje is an Egoscue Certified Postural Alignment Specialist.  The Egoscue Method works on the premise that pain happens when the body is out of alignment.  Almost all of us, through patterns of use or habit or emotion are out of alignment.  The idea is that through the use of specific exercises for particular misalignments, pain will be eliminated, and more than that, the body will function with much more ease and pleasure.

Step 6 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing:  Follow your Intuition

This approach of reestablishing alignment appealed to the Nia teacher in me.  I understand the importance of using the body according to its design.  While other approaches seemed mainly to address the symptoms of the pain in my feet, Egoscue offered an opportunity to address the underlying causes.  I liked the idea of taking responsibility for my health for now and the future.

So I arranged to meet with Antje.  She took pictures of me from all angles (a humbling experience, I’ll tell you what) and analyzed my gait and stance.  What she showed me was that my body tends to pitch forward, my right shoulder is twisted forward and my left hip is lifted.  Amazing that beyond knowing in a general sense that my shoulders tend to round forward, I never really noticed these deviations.  And yet, when I looked at it, it made sense that my feet were hurting.  They were constantly holding on and holding me up!  I had heard it thousands of times:  the body is a system, it’s all connected.  What’s happening in one place affects everything else.  And now I really got it.  When my hip lifts on the left, the outside of my right foot hurts.  Of course it does.

She then set me up with a menu of exercises to do every day.  Some were stretches for my shoulders and upper spine.  “Um, Antje,” I said a couple of times, “it’s my FEET that are hurting.”  She patiently reminded me that Egoscue treats the whole body and that the alignments need to be addressed from the top down.  Some of the exercises feel like delicious stretches, others as if I am my own chiropractor – complete with satisfying pops and releases.  A couple were intensely challenging (I should have known with the series affectionately called “Ankle Burners”).  I was down with the whole take-responsibility-go-to-the-root philosophy, though, and there are few things I want more than to be able to dance until my final days – so I was in.

As I mentioned, the obsessive compulsive in me loves something to throw myself into.  Even so, it was daunting to figure out how to find an hour to an hour-and-a-half every day for these exercises.  So here’s where really following my intuition was key.  A bunch of resistance came up around doing all the exercises every day, but I realized that if I was going to listen to my intuition, it wouldn’t do me much good unless I actually followed where that intuition led.  Even if it was inconvenient.  Which brings me to…

Step 7 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing:  Be patient

Antje is great.  She is encouraging and makes it as easy for me as she can.  She offers me the “short version” of my menu and encourages me to do the long version as often as I can.  She follows up to make sure that I’m doing the exercises correctly and cheers me on to keep doing them consistently.

I’ve been doing the exercises for three months and a lot has happened.  First of all, in just a couple of days, the pain in my feet was gone.  In the course of a few weeks, I was teaching barefoot again.  The Ankle Burners don’t burn so much anymore.

And I noticed things.  I noticed that when I sit in a chair, I tend to lift my heels and contract my lower legs.  When I’m driving even sitting on the couch, I tend to hold tension in my feet.  These habits contribute to the pain in my feet and yet I’d never noticed I did them.  I noticed that even though I have a high level of flexibility, my calves and hamstrings were tight.  Tightightightightight.  In yoga class, I noticed that in my forward bend, I tend to bend my knees slightly to compensate for that tightness.  And when moving from Down Dog to a lunge, I can do it much more easily on my right than my left.

I also noticed that when I didn’t do the exercises for a couple of days, the pain started to come back into my feet.  Healing, it turns out, is a non-linear process.  It took my body a long time to get where it is, to find it’s patterns and holdings and compensations.  It’s going to take some time to change it.  Patience, grasshopper, patience.

I don’t know how exactly where this intuitive choice is taking me.  I don’t know how long I’ll be doing the exercises or how long it will take to re-align my body or even if I’ll be able to.  And it feels right to keep following the path it until it doesn’t feel right anymore.  For now, it feels right.

Step 8 of the Sort-of-Enlightened Approach to Healing:  Repeat.

Which finally (finally, finally) brings me to the idea that healing is a constant process.  We are all healing all the time.  I remind myself to keep listening to the body and its own particular wisdom.  What worked well today may not work tomorrow, and vice versa.  I remind myself that ignoring the body and panicking are optional, and yet if they happen, to be present with them, notice it and move on.  Ask for help.  Listen to the help and then listen to the particular wisdom of intuition.  Follow it and see where it leads.

I would love to know about your healing path and if you recognize any of the steps on mine or not.  Make a comment, make yourself known.  I’d love to hear it.

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