Rheumatoid Arthritis was the cataclysmic event that shattered my structural geography. Whereas before my body had been one smooth young continent – I was only twenty-one when I got sick, after all – illness and pain broke me apart. Unless you have a chronic condition, especially one involving pain, you can’t understand how it changes you, and how it affects your life. There is a constant compromise between the life you want, and what your body is capable of allowing you to have. During periods of wellness, I have been able to work and contemplate school and other self-improvements but during periods of illness, upheaval was common and stability difficult; management was all I could achieve, not advancement. Energy is my currency, and I am often overdrawn.
I am fortunate in that I don’t live with active disease so much as the pain of twenty-four years of structural damage, although there is still some inflammation and friction that continue to cause continental shift, bone rubbing against bone. Angry joints become subduction zones, one part folding under another, tissue disintegrating and absorbed back into the body. A painful spot – a hot zone – makes itself known one week, only to disappear the next. My blood has cooled, flesh and fascia stiffened, and yet my mind still moves so fast! I’m an old volcano now; little chance of eruption but a lot of erosion on the surface. Given the choice between total immobility and some mobility, however, I decided to choose mobility – difficult and frustrating as that could be – and picked my path carefully.
When you have any type illness – chronic or not – it can sometimes seem like you become only a collection of your parts – to yourself and to your medical team. One doctor treats your immune system, another may address only your knees or feet, another your pain. When something is hurting, it makes sense to dissociate yourself from it, even if you can only get away mentally and emotionally. The problem becomes the knees, or a stiff neck – segregated and apart. I needed a practice that would use my whole body – pulling me back together. I turned to Pilates® (gentle, low impact) for years, and began the reassembly, finding strength and structure, elasticity and stability.
Pilates works to strengthen core muscles, and the back and legs, engaging them in a strong but gentle way. But I could only reach forward or back, up or down, working what parts of myself that I could within the linear two-dimensionality allowed by the movements. I found that it compressed my spine and neck in an uncomfortable way. I turned to the Gyrotonic Expansion Method®, which shares some similarities with Pilates but differs in the spherical, three-dimensional nature of its action. Gyrotonics® uses spiraling, circular movements, in addition to breath training, that stretch and strengthen the whole body simultaneously. The work helps develop stability, and flexibility, while encouraging joint lubrication and release of movement-inhibiting muscle and tissue tension.
What I find particularly helpful, given the state of all of my systems, is how it balances and promotes flow in the organs, nervous system, and musculoskeletal organization. The nervous system branches out from the spine, travelling to the extremities, and the work echoes that – allowing for clear movement forward and back along those nerves. It becomes clearer where the blockages and stuck places are. Like any good geologist, I continue to poke beneath my surface, learning as much as I can about the strata in my body caused by ancient trauma, actions by my family of origin, religious dogma, and old decisions. All these things carved their way through my body like antediluvian rivers, leaving sedimentary deposits, and creating stress points. The work helps me access these things, feel the emotions behind them, and assimilate all of it into my structure in a new way. I am lucky enough to have a really good guide to help me with my crazy geography – a gyrographer, if you will.
Andrea understands the three-dimensionality of time, trauma and injury and how those things can rest in the tissues, and uses the multi-dimensionality of the work to support and help me move through those injuries – those stiff and held places that have existed for so long. Using the work, I am learning the territory of my body – topography, geology, fault lines – and it amazes me what is connected. Stretching my wrists and arms eases my compressed neck; unwinding the twist in my ribcage improves balance and clarity; lengthening the backs of my legs eases my painful knees. Every session, I feel like I’ve pulled more of my pieces back together, reclaimed a limb I thought lost, gotten something to move further and better than it used to.
I may have been broken into pieces that swam away from each other, but I am finding and collecting what I can, and reassembling my world. Every time I reclaim a limb, bring movement to a stuck place, or cool a fiery spot, I am grateful. And this is not just good for those with chronic illnesses and injuries; we all have childhood body-trauma, and ways that life has affected our structures, and injuries that have forced us to compensate and overuse parts of our body. I encourage everyone to find a good movement therapist who knows how to work with injury and chronic pain– whether it’s in Gyrotonics, Pilates, physical therapy, Feldenkrais®, whatever. You might find that, with help, it is possible to pull your pieces back together – even after geography-altering trauma – ease your pain and tension, and assemble a whole new you.