Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Change: 10

(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

I don’t jump into things.

If I absolutely must embark on something new, I do so with a lot of trepidation and (I may as well just say it) angst.

This has been true of almost everything in my life. College, jobs, marriage, motherhood. Almost universally, I pick a path to journey down and not too far in I question my decision. What once seemed clear to me becomes murky and I begin to feel very, very lost. 

My time with AE is no exception.

It will also happen with the writing of this.  It may have already.

This might seem like a story about bodywork, but I’m not sure that’s what it really is.  I think it might be a story about things not going the way you expect them to go. And, if I’m lucky, maybe it’s also a story about healing.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Change: 9

 A Little Bit About AE
(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

AE is tall and lean with soft blonde hair that hangs a little past her shoulders. She has long legs and an ample bosom and, at 59, could probably pass for 45. She’s a pretty ex-California girl who you could imagine being able to stop traffic when she was young.

When she wears a V-neck top, you can see part of the scar from one of her many heart surgeries. She was born with a congenital heart defect – a blue baby – and her mother was told that AE had about a 20 percent chance of surviving.

AE has been a bodyworker for 20 years and for 20 years before that she was a nurse. She discovered this particular type of bodywork through an injury of her own. While working as a massage therapist, she developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and could get no relief from any traditional medical approaches.  For years, she worked on people without having any sensation in her own hand.

I don’t know how AE found the practitioner who started doing this bodywork on her, but it was no instant fix.  She says a lot of things started feeling better – her whole life started feeling better – but her Carpal Tunnel Syndrome hung on for quite a while. And then, finally, it disappeared.

AE says that she and I are very similar (although not in the blonde bombshell way). We are both very sensitive and have a hard time enduring certain types of physical pain. She says both our bodies have endured long-standing trauma and that moving through that trauma is a slow process for both of us. She says that many people can receive a few treatments and all their issues are resolved, but that’s not how she and I roll.

This news was more than a little disheartening to me, since I am not a patient person. Although, it helps to know that she understands how I’m wired; that I’m not just a crybaby.

The one way we are not at all similar is that she is not a skeptic like I am. She seems  more apt to discover and embrace something new rather than questioning the verity of it every step of the way. 

She says of all her many clients, I am her biggest Doubting Thomas.  Though she delivers the news with a big sparkly smile in her eyes.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Change: 8

 Fascia. Pronounced: FASH-ee-uh
(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

Without getting too bogged down in science, here’s how Wikipedia defines fascia:

“A fascia is a structure of connective tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, binding some structures together, while permitting others to slide smoothly over each other. Fasciae [plural] are similar to ligaments and tendons, as they are all made of collagen, except that ligaments join one bone to another bone, tendons join muscle to bone and fasciae surround muscles or other structures.”

It makes me think of a big, complex spider web inside me that keeps all my organs and whatnot from floating around willy-nilly.

AE often talks in metaphor, and this is what she says about fascia:

“Fascia should have the consistency of cotton candy – fluffy and supple – so everything it connects can move about freely.  But sometimes fascia becomes hard and unyielding, like beef jerky. It can get gunky, even brittle. So all the stuff it’s tethering no longer moves freely. It’s like things get glued in one place – often not in the place they should be.”

Here’s how gunked-up fascia creates pain in your body: Imagine a tablecloth. It starts out smooth and hangs gently over the sides of your nice, dining room table. But if someone grabs a little piece of it at the center of the table and they start twisting it, the sides of the cloth will start to rise up toward the middle. If the tablecloth is fascia that starts out expansive and flowing, one area of denseness (twisting up) will start to foreshorten other fascia throughout your body. In this way, neck pain can actually be a result of bound up fascia in your midsection.

What makes fascia get gunky? Say you get a cut. Your body “mends” itself, leaving a scar. The scar is tough skin – hard to the touch. In that same way, fascia can go from fluffy to gunky in your innards.  Surgeries. Injuries. Disease. Places that your body has healed itself now have gunk. 

Like the twisted tablecloth, this gunk can subtly affects other parts of our bodies and over time we start to move differently to accommodate these infinitesimal changes. After a while, we’ve compensated so much for these little tugs and pulls, that we’ve created big problems in other areas of our bodies.  The process is like tectonic plates shifting over millennia.  We don’t notice it’s happening until suddenly there’s an earthquake.

When AE “releases fascia,” she’s basically just finding the gooey, gunked-up, beef jerky and coaxing it into dissolving back into soft, fluffy cotton candy. 

When AE describes these phenomena, I mostly have no idea what she’s talking about.  But at the same time, she makes perfect sense to me. She talks about melting fascia and I’m nodding like it’s the most reasonable prescription for pain relief that I’ve ever heard in my life. 

It makes me wonder if she’s a witch.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Change: 7

(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

The next thing that happened during that first session was a little weirder.

Even though Scott had told me he had cried when he was with AE, I was completely unprepared for how it came about.

AE spent a lot of time “releasing fascia” in my midsection and, other than now being able to breathe fully and deeply, her work there didn’t seem to have any effect. Nothing felt better, nothing felt worse. It wasn’t like a massage, where someone is working on a part of you that becomes loose and relaxed and then they move to another part of you. AE concentrated on my torso for nearly an hour, gently pressing here and then there, with seemingly no rhyme or reason.

Then she was done and she moved up to my right shoulder.

Aside from my “non-painful” knee pain, I have had two other structural issues that have given me grief for the past several years: right hip and right shoulder.

I call it my “right hip” but probably more accurate is my “right glutes” – in other words, my butt.  I have “pulled” this muscle many times playing tennis, and it’s usually a mystery how it happens. It’s not like I would lunge or twist or leap like a superhero to make a particular shot. I would just step a certain way and, boom, something would seize up and I would be out of commission for weeks.

I am a big believer in Dr. John Sarno’s theory that this kind of pain is mentally (not physically) induced.  Sarno says (in an oversimplified nutshell) that chronic, debilitating pain like this is often the result of your mind trying to distract you from intense, repressed feelings.  There’s so much to say about Sarno’s theory, I could write a book about it, but that is totally unnecessary, as he’s already written three or four on the subject. The point is, I completely buy what he says.  Especially when it comes to this kind of recurrent injury, where no doctors (not even “real orthopedists”) can seem to explain why this keeps happening or how to make it never happen again.

My shoulder pain was similar.  The first time it happened, I was playing tennis outdoors on a beautiful summer day. I was serving a lot, maybe a bit more than usual, and suddenly I felt kind of “done”.  I never feel this way playing tennis. I’m always the last to leave – like the one with the lampshade on her head at the party. But my arm felt weak so I stopped playing and then was in pain for nearly a year.

It was awful at first – it had me in tears a few times.  And then it was downgraded to “bad,” which is where it stayed indefinitely.  I couldn’t play tennis for a while and when I came back on the court I couldn’t serve or hit overheads for months and months. I probably tore something but I never got an MRI. Eventually it healed and I resumed regular tennis play.

Then, a few years later, it happened again, this time off of one serve. “I’m done,” I remember saying, and I walked off the court.

Again, I couldn’t play proper tennis for months. I got acupuncture and went to physical therapy and after about eight months it had gotten to a place where I could function almost normally again. But even “healed,” I had a lot of restriction in my movements. I couldn’t position my arm in certain ways – it simply wouldn’t go where it used to.

When AE moved to my right shoulder, I was nervous. Even though it had been two years since my last injury there, it still felt vulnerable. She “cupped” my shoulder with both hands, and as she did, I started to cry. It did not hurt physically, it was more like the crying of grief. It lasted for several minutes and then ended as mysteriously as it began. And in that instant I knew my shoulder was healed.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Change: 6

 Deep Breath

(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

The first change I noticed during my first session was that my breathing shifted.

I used to go to a spinning class (a group exercise class that takes place on stationary bikes) and at the end of each class the instructor did a short cool-down that involved reconnecting with your breath. We were all on bikes, now peddling slowly, and he’d ask us to raise our arms out to the sides and up, the way a ballet dancer might ready herself for a pirouette.  He told us to breathe in through our nose to a slow count of four while we raised our arms, and then slowly count four as we lowered them back down to our sides.  Then, do the same thing but on a count of five.  And then on a count of six.  And finally, on a count of seven.

I could never do seven.  In fact, I ran out of breath on “5” –– my lungs full to capacity.  So I would just hold my breath for the extra one or two seconds and then slowly release.

No one actually cared about your breath count numbers.  The instructor’s point was simply to have us slow down our breathing after a crazy-ass hour of peddling.  I didn’t feel inadequate not being able to take in breath to a count a seven.  Well, not very inadequate.  Certainly not any more than usual.

AE had been touching me for maybe 10 minutes that first session when I felt my breath change.

I was lying on her table in my underwear and sports bra. It was warm – the beginning of summer – so I didn’t have any blanket over me and the ceiling fan hummed slowly overhead. She was standing next to my left hip and she’d been touching me lightly around my midsection, holding her fingers down until she felt something release.

My eyes were closed and I started to breathe more deeply (as you might when you become relaxed) and I began to notice that I could take in air for a long, long time before my lungs felt “full.”  Such a long time that I felt the urge to measure it. I started to count, slowly, as I would if I were at the end of my spin class.  Five, six, seven…I’m still inhaling…eight, nine…still inhaling…ten, eleven, twelve.  Full. 

I was sure that was a fluke, so I did it again. 

I filled my lungs over and over again and they were never full before a slow count of ten.

This was the first little inkling I got of what AE was about to do to my body. She said it was about releasing fascia, a concept that I didn’t understand at all. But it felt real and profound and it was only the beginning of the changes that came about in that very first session.

So I lay back and enjoyed it.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Change: 5

Am I Being Rolfed?

(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

Before I’d ever met her, I decided that AE was a Reiki healer. This seemed totally reasonable to me even though it was based on very little information and I wasn’t even sure what a Reiki healer was.

The information I used was this:  My husband said that when AE’s hand hovered over his ankle, he could feel the energy coming from it and he began to sob uncontrollably. He said he felt something shift in his body – something he couldn’t describe –and when he walked out of his session, he said his body felt unmistakably different.

Everything about what he described appealed to me, especially the sobbing part.  Because I love things that seem deep and mystical and difficult to comprehend. As long as they’re not too scary.

Reiki is a type of energy healing where the practitioner transfers or stimulates your life force to heal what ails you. They may lay their hands on you, or they may hover their hands over you, but in either case, it couldn’t be more gentle.

In fact, AE does use energy healing as part of her repertoire, but she doesn’t refer to herself as a Reiki healer.  She calls herself an Intelligent Body Worker and that includes a few different modalities.

One, it seems, is Rolfing.

I don’t know why I know anything about Rolfing, except I feel like I may have learned about it when I was a Psych major a hundred years ago.  When I think of Rolfing, I think of pain.  People touching me in such a way that I would start screaming and crying, and the process would be a catharsis (a very popular Psych major term back in the day).

I studied a lot of different “therapy” models as a Psych major and I remember thinking that any one of them would be fascinating to delve further into.  Except Rolfing.

Why? Because I am adamantly opposed to pain on almost every level.  I don’t like physical pain. I don’t like emotional pain.

I don’t even get pedicures because the act of someone handling my feet is far too intense for me.  It tickles to the degree that it hurts.  Not. For. Me.

AE says that “soft Rolfing” is part of her bag of tricks. If I had known that before I started with her, I may not have ever shown up.

Rolfing is a form of bodywork that is also referred to as Structural Integration.  The practitioner manipulates the deep connective tissue in the body – the fascia (more on this later) – and in so doing, frees up a lot of stuff going on in the musculoskeletal system. I could only surmise that a self-described “soft rolfer” would embark on this work in a gentler way, although even containing the word “rolfing” in the description, it didn’t seem like it could ever be gentle enough for me.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Change: 4

I'm Giving Up Gluten

(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

There were a couple of other things going on right around the time I first saw AE.

One was I started working for a new client and the work did not come easy. I began writing for a non-profit that does good works internationally and my ignorance about geography and world politics required me to look up everything I was writing about. That. Makes. Work. Go. Very. Slow.

Another was that I joined a Buddhist chanting group last spring, so besides learning about the geopolitical affairs of Africa, I had to learn the (also foreign) ritual of chanting for an hour in another language. This kind of learning can be very invigorating, but in the beginning it just makes you feel like a big loser.

It was also around this time that I learned that three friends had been diagnosed with cancer.  Nine months later, one is in remission; one is still fighting her battle; and one just passed away.

Early in the spring, before I ever considered seeing AE, I had gone for a walk with my friend Jillian, a yoga teacher who is wise beyond her years. Jillian has historically popped into my life at precisely the moments I need her most.

I told her about my knee pain and about my theory that maybe gluten had something to do with it. 

“I’m giving up wheat to see if I can make my knee better,” I said.

“It doesn’t sound like a wheat problem,” she said.

“I think it’s inflammation,” I said.

“When you say ‘knee’ problem, I don’t think ‘wheat’, I think ‘foot’,” she said.

This is not at all what I wanted to hear. I wanted her to corroborate my theory that wheat was creating inflammation in my joints and a few weeks without it would make me good as new.

Instead, she started talking about our base, our foundation, our center. She said when you have problems with how you stand, it can, over time, affect everything in your body. And when she said “everything,” she was including our psyches, our cognition, the ways we relate to the world.

“If your feet are not planted solidly on the ground, you’re out of balance. The relationship of our feet to the ground is at the core of everything,” she said. She thought I should go get private yoga lessons to learn how to stand more solidly.

I nodded and smiled and gave no credence to a word of what she said. I felt certain that giving up wheat would clear up what ailed me and I went home and threw away all our bread.


Friday, February 15, 2013

The Change: 3

The End Of Tennis Season

 (This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

I made my first call to AE after a long winter that never seemed to get cold, in the middle of a long spring that never seemed to warm up.

From September through April, I usually play tennis two or three times a week, in an indoor court with a few different groups.  Monday Tennis is a group lesson. My long-time instructor brought us together based on ability and temperament and we’ve been together for many years.  I don’t know how or why this group gelled like it did, but it's like therapy for me. Starting on Friday afternoon, I begin counting the hours until Monday Tennis.

Thursday Tennis began as a practice game for a country club team. I wasn’t part of the team, but they were looking for another person to join the group and someone suggested me.  There were seven of us in total and every week four were scheduled to play. I didn’t know most of the women when I started, but I’ve played with them every other week for a few years and it’s a really nice game.

Friday Tennis is a group of women, hand-picked by me, that all have one thing in common: they’re fun. Our Friday Tennis games are severe, silly, bawdy, tearful, and sheer bliss. As women’s gatherings go, they fall somewhere between a knitting circle and a Fuckerware Party. It’s a place where we learn how to rear our teenagers and weather our diagnoses. I’m not even really a good enough player to play in this game – I lose all the time. But we all depend on each other emotionally, so they let me stay.

When I made my first call to AE, these groups were all ending for the season. From that point on we would start to play outside once a week, a big group comprised of many people from each of my three winter groups. I’ve organized summer tennis for several years now. For me, playing with the same women over the summer makes the change in my regular tennis routine less upsetting.

Apparently AE was on a long trip over the spring and that’s why she didn't called me back right away. I called her again a month later and then again and finally got an appointment in early June.

My knee hadn’t gotten any worse, but over the spring there were a few old injuries that were starting to bother me. I refrained from visiting any of my regular team of healers. I wanted to hold out and wait for my AE session. I hadn’t even met her yet and I’d already decided she was going to fix everything.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Change: 2

Where Did AE Come From?

 (This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

I found AE through my husband. Three years ago, he slipped on an icy sidewalk and suffered a dislocated fracture. He needed emergency surgery and they had to put his ankle back together with plates and pins. After two years and an arduous rehab, he still wasn’t entirely happy with how his ankle performed.

Scott doesn’t drive and his main mode of transportation is walking, so he needed his ankle mobility back 100 percent. In addition to physical therapy, he started working with an Iyengar Yoga instructor who helped him bring his ankle back almost to its original state. But he hit a plateau and that brought him to AE.

Others in his yoga classes had seen AE and swore by her. These were men and women who did rigorous yoga, 5-7 days per week, and when they hit a place where their bodies were “stuck” – unable to bend or stretch to the degree that they should be able to, given their training and practice – they’d go to AE and her body work would help them.

After a few sessions with AE, they all were better.  One guy even passed a kidney stone the day after his first session with her. For the record, this was kind of a deterrent for me; I didn’t want to pass any kidney stones of my own. But I’d been having several inexplicable physical problems for the last many years, the most recent of which was a pain in my knee that no one could really make heads or tails of.

Of course, when I say “no one,” I mean those in my small cadre of healers.  My beloved chiropractor/acupuncturist.  My internist. My physical therapist.

I could have gone to an orthopedist (what some of my friends would call “a real doctor”) but I was afraid that he’d say I needed surgery and I wasn’t willing to do that.

Also, when I say “pain,” that’s a bit of an overstatement. This particular malady was more of an annoyance than a pain. I couldn’t sit cross-legged on the floor. And if I dropped down into a full squat, I would have a hard time getting back up again. These are two activities that a middle-aged woman should probably consider foregoing anyway.
In fact, the only time my knee actually “hurt” was when I put on a pair of pants. There was something about that movement – bending my leg with my knee pointing outward – that my body did not like.  The “pain” would last for only a few seconds. It wasn’t debilitating, and as soon as my pants were on, I felt fine.

I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to address my knee problem. Maybe because I felt nervous playing tennis with it feeling so vulnerable. Maybe because it seemed like a harbinger of growing old. Whatever the reason, I got it firmly planted in my head that AE would be the one to fix it.

“Do you think I should see AE about my knee?” I said to Scott one day last spring.

“Definitely,” he said. “She says she can fix anything except broken bones and death.”

So I called and made an appointment.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Change: 1

Today’s session ended exactly as it started.  With me sobbing.  Although the sobbing at the end was of an entirely different quality than the sobbing at the beginning.

The beginning sobbing was fueled, at least in part, by thought.  And the thought was: “I need to say things to you that I think are going to make you not like me.”

The sobbing at the end was just a full and effortless release of grief.  She calls it Grief On The Cellular Level.  It is unencumbered by thought or reason and has a life of its own.  It comes on instantly, without much warning and might go on for 10 minutes or more.  It’s not sadness – it’s just crying. She told me that once when it happened to her, she rolled off the table and lay on the floor in the fetal position, crying for two hours straight, unable to stop even if someone offered her a million dollars.

When I say “she,” I’m talking about AE, the woman who is trying to change my body.

Between bouts of sobbing, the two hours I spent on the table was mostly relaxing. It’s not always that way, but today I drifted in and out of an almost dreamy state. It was during that time that I realized I need to be writing about this experience – this long, confusing process that began almost 9 months ago, when I decided to seek out an alternative approach to address my inexplicable knee pain.

It’s a process that is all about change.  The one thing that I dread the most.