Our bodies are designed for movement and continuous renewal. When injury or illness occurs, the body seeks to heal. We can help expand or limit the scope of that recovery, and it all begins with the expectations that we set. For me this is undeniable. When I was in a coma, the stark disconnect from my physical body showed me a new connection to it. My brain was no longer directing physical movement, so I learned to talk to my body in a different way – one that freed me from the coma and fueled my healing journey. (For more about my story, please read Part One of this article.)
At first, I didn’t know how to talk about what I had experienced and discovered. So, I sought out scientific studies to help others accept my approach, and I found many. There are laboratory research and MRI studies that show the effect of emotional state on cellular activity and on the neural activation and patterning that directs the brain’s response to injury and illness.1 Ultimately, as I became comfortable sharing what is real and true for me, scientific support was no longer a necessary part of the conversation. As I earn my clients’ trust and they feel healing and renewal, opening these pathways becomes real for them, too.
The Chronic Cycle
The chronic cycle is a systemic issue. We can become comfortable with known discomfort and retain compensatory patterns. These imbalances block true healing and create new chronic conditions (e.g., a foot surgery leading to knee, hip, back and shoulder issues). The cycle must be broken for true healing to emerge, and it can begin with a word.
If you knew your body was listening, what would you say?
If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Find Something Nice to Say
Referring to body parts as “bad” does not leave much room for positive change. When my clients make changes in how they communicate, expectations adjust as well, opening pathways that foster healing. Instead of saying “a bad hip” we say “a hip that needs strengthening,” and “that’s just my genetics” becomes something one “would like to release”. Hopefulness replaces resignation, and this a potent shift. Some of my clients don’t initially believe this, but they humor me by making verbal adjustments. Once they feel release and recovery in their bodies, they internalize the possibility for real changes.
Leave the Past in the Past
The unknown is a leap of faith, and so is the future version of ourselves. After trauma from injury, illness or loss, it can feel safer to hold onto a past image. I felt this happen to me. I was afraid to test limitations I believed my stage-four kidney disease still imposed. When we become fearful and/or accustomed to the life created around our condition, it can become part of our identity. There is a point with every condition where limitations are necessary and medical contraindications should always be respected. But slowly, safely, and with great care, the body can be eased into release and renewal, and it can do so in partnership with medical and movement therapy.
Erase the Scars that Bind
Scar tissue is formed when there has been trauma, and it is a roadblock to healing that reinforces the chronic cycle. Emotional scar tissue can block the release of the physical. This physical tissue can be responsible for pain, decreased circulation, restriction of normal nerve and muscular function, and creation of neuropathy and degenerative conditions such as arthritis – making the body vulnerable to future injury. I think of scar tissue as unhappy fascia that no longer encases the body with hydration and positive stimulation. It can be revitalized both on the surface and deep within the body. 2 Surface layer tissues respond to a gentle touch. Once eased, trigger points dissipate, and the body is ready for improved mobility.
Moving from “I Can’t” to “Please Show Me How”
I ask clients to set goals, “Where do you want to go in this process and what do you want to be able to do”. I encourage lofty goals and then I set phases of recovery that are quantifiable and palpable. Each stage is a balance of safe, thoughtful functional movement to develop mobility, stability and flexibility. I keep track of clients’ initial abilities with an exercise both in terms of mobility and stability and then show them progress in ways they can measure. Pilates provides the perfect way to do this. People tend to quickly adjust to feeling better, forget past limitations and accept where they then are. These milestones help maintain positivity throughout the longer-term recovery process.
Feel Your Independence
After trauma, parts of the body can get locked together and become afraid to separate. The leg doesn’t swing independent of the hip; the arm cannot move without lifting the shoulder; gait cannot happen without the upper and lower torso moving as one. Pilates can release these sticky points, and I find tactile cueing to be very helpful in this process. Once freedom is felt, the body is ready to trust itself for balanced strength and stability training to move along the pathway to recovery and renewal.
Be Strong But Work as a Team
Each part of the body has its purpose and its teammates. Compensations from trauma shift muscular roles and can dismantle healthy muscular and fascial partnerships. Where there is weakness, improper load is placed on other areas of the body. But rehabilitative focus on regaining that strength alone does not address the instability created from a loss of teamwork. The body must be reminded, or taught, how things are meant to be with introduction, or reintegration, of the muscular and fascial partnerships that support functional movement. For example: (1) Overworked hip flexors take over from abdominal focus, thereby restricting core strength. Training a partnership between TVA and hamstrings helps develop abdominals and release tight hip flexors. (2) Cross patterning partnerships lift stress from joints throughout the body and an overworked IT band, helping with balance, overall stability and improved gait. These are both fascial (posterior and anterior oblique fasical slings) and muscular (e.g., the lateral chain from gluteus medius, obliques to serratus anterior, and the medial chain from foot arch up to pelvic floor).
Setting hopeful goals does not mean being reckless. Healing cannot be rushed – it requires as much patience as it does effort. Although healing often exceeds doctors’ prognoses, I adhere to medical guidelines and recommendations. It is a partnership of medical care and encouraging its success. For example, when working with a client with joint replacements or osteoporosis, I follow medical guidelines and abide by contraindications until the doctor makes adjustments. As the doctor eases restrictions, healing is taken to a next level. However, I encourage clients to take internal steps and not wait for permission or direction to reach for deeper healing.
“Unrealistically optimistic beliefs about the future may be health protective.” 3. I found this quote in a medical study about the power of hopefulness in combating disease and injury. The body is continually regenerating and it takes its cue from our expectations. Don’t be afraid to set a different course, a new expectation of renewal. See it in your mind’s eye. Visualize yourself doing things you no longer thought possible. These are not just nice words. This understanding helped me to survive a fatal disease, and I have witnessed clients no longer having effects from chronic conditions and pain, autoimmune illness, arthritis, and recovering natural mobility after multiple joint replacements Anything is possible.
And thank you to my beautiful client Julia Danecker for allowing me to share these photos. It’s been a blessing and honor to work with her through her journey to release chronic conditions from multiple joint replacements. Her inspiring healing journey has led her to become a Pilates teacher.”
- Studies by M. Catherine Bushnell, Marta Čeko, and Lucie A. Low; George Freeman, Robert Adler, and others.
- My future surgeries revealed the complete disappearance of internal scar tissue from prior surgeries. I had been taking herbs for scar tissue prescribed by my doctor of Chinese medicine.
- AM Psychol, 2000 January; Taylor SE, Kemeny ME, Reed GM, Bower JE, Gruenewald TL.