Martha Carter Talks About Her Healing Journey - Part 8
Exploring Different Healing Modalities: Alexander technique and Taoist meditation
This is Part 8 of a serial blog post. In Part 7, I take the leap into emotional counselling thanks to a bonus twist of getting a massage at the same time. In Part 6, I list every treatment, healing modality, and technique I've explored over a 20 year period. Missed the earlier posts? Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
I never expected to go down this road, but exploring the myriad Supportive Care options out there has become an ongoing educational journey that I continue to find not only self-empowering, but endlessly fascinating.
At first, my focus was on finding more mobility, increased strength and less pain. Massage and the gym were a fantastic starting point, but over time I found I needed more. As I gained more awareness of my back, I became more attuned to all my other body issues. For instance, I had chronic headaches and stomach aches. I had recurring muscle spasms. My shoulders were so tight that my jaw felt constricted. One arm would go numb on a regular basis. I had so many little problems that it had been easier to just ignore them rather than to face them. But one thing led to another; one healer led to the next - and before I knew it, I was slowly conquering each issue, one healing session at a time, which, in turn, made me want to explore more.
I remember being completely overwhelmed by the wide array of practitioners and the names of different techniques. How was one supposed to choose? Which technique would help me the most? I knew I needed help, but what was I really looking for?
My dance background gave me all kinds of connections with different movement specialists, so I started there. One person would recommend another, and similarly, one technique would make me curious about another technique. Before I knew it, I was exploring all kinds of creative healing approaches.
Two that stand out are Alexander technique and Taoist self-healing techniques. I was not at all familiar with either of these approaches and did not know what to expect, but I headed towards each with curiosity and enthusiasm.
Alexander technique was developed to help change habits of accumulated tension which interfere with our natural ability to move easily. Since I had so much tension in my back, this sounded like a good fit for me, plus, the practitioner, Simon, had been a dancer, so I trusted his sense of movement.
At the start of the session, I stood in front of him, and he gently put his hand on my upper back. Immediately, the room started to spin and I felt like I was going to faint! He had hardly done anything, but my body did NOT like it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I was relieved when he suggested I lie down on the massage table.
This was a profound moment for me; it gave me an important insight: I needed to go slowly.
My body was so used to standing in a certain (unhelpful) way that even the slightest shift of alignment caused my whole system to react. The tension I was holding on to was my armour, my resistance; my safety net. I needed to learn to relax and let go. And then I needed to learn to hold myself up with new alignment awareness.
The Alexander technique helped me realize this. The treatment did not immediately ‘fix’ anything, nor did it immediately make me relax. Instead, it showed me that even the smallest adjustments can have a profound affect on the whole body - and on the mind as well. In fact, it made me aware of the importance of the mind-body connection and how every little reaction - from feeling dizzy or nauseous or sleepy or emotional - is part of what I now call ‘the healing process’. I learned that the body knows what to do - it just needs a little coaxing, and it also needs cooperation.
After several sessions with Simon, it was recommended that I try meditation. That is when I met Daniel, a massage therapist who was studying Taoist self-healing techniques.
Taoist self-healing techniques are based on Taoism, an ancient Chinese system developed to help people achieve physical, emotional, and spiritual harmony. Daniel was teaching a meditation class, so he encouraged me to try it as a way to find calmness in my mind and body. I had always been intimidated by the idea of sitting quietly in meditation. I was a dancer; I preferred to move! But with new healing goals, I decided to give it a try.
It was a group class of about 20 people. The class started with each of us sitting in a chair and breathing with our eyes closed. It seemed easy enough, but, within seconds, my back started to burn. I needed to shift my position to get comfortable, but after a few minutes, the burning sensation came back even stronger. The area around my convex curve (the area of my scoliosis ‘hump’) felt like it was on fire. I shifted again. The teacher told me to stop moving, but I couldn’t stay still. It was too painful to stay still. I felt embarrassed, then humiliated, and then I started to get very angry. I wanted to scream out, “You don’t know what it’s like!” or, “Just give me a few minutes and I will figure it out!”.
Actually, what I really wanted to do was get up and leave. Or faint, or vomit, or lie down and go to sleep. I felt like a bad student; a loser. I was in pain, totally frustrated, and confused. I looked around the room and everyone else seemed so comfortable, sitting in silence, looks of contentment on their faces. I had relaxed into the Alexander technique and also undergone emotional counseling. Why was it was so hard for me to just sit still? And why was I so angry...?
Another ‘ah-ha’ moment: I had to face the fact that my body was still in trauma. It was still fragile. And trying hard to get better was not enough. In fact, trying ‘hard’ was the opposite of what I needed. The Harrington rods were gone, but the trauma they caused - both physically and emotionally - had been imprinted for 21 years. The scar tissue could be massaged away, but the emotional healing was just beginning. Along with the strengthening and repatterning of my muscles, I also had to re-align my ego from a place of being strong and stoic (or pretending to be strong and stoic!) to being open and receptive. I had to learn how to ‘feel’ differently; to let go of fear and trust my body; to listen to my body and respond with compassion towards myself. Everything was intertwined, and I started to notice that if my back was hurting my mood would change. And conversely, if I became emotionally stressed, my back would hurt, or my stomach would get upset, or I would get a headache. I had lived with so much body discomfort for so long that it took me a while to even notice these patterns. When I started to realize all of this, things started to get every interesting... AH-HA.
In general, the many healing techniques available out there ultimately all aim for a similar result: to help people find comfort in their bodies through some combination of shifting energy, promoting relaxation, increasing awareness, and developing mindfulness.
I was no longer overwhelmed by what to choose - I wanted to try them all!
After years of feeling powerless over my spine, trying different healing techniques - in this case Alexander and Taoist meditation - awakened me to a whole new world of hope and possibility, rather than fear and limitations.
As I got stronger and my confidence grew, I felt ready to move even more. A dancer friend was teaching a yoga class for dancers, so I decided to give it a try. Just like the meditation class, it started off easily, but before I knew it, the positions became more difficult. My dancer ego took over and I tried to keep up. Suddenly something went “pop”, my back went into spasm, and I could hardly move.
AH-HA turned into UH-OH...
In my next post, I will talk about what I learned from trying yoga and getting hurt, how I overcame that humbling spasm, and how that injury eventually led me to discover Yoga for Scoliosis… I also share how learning to “sit” properly would still take another 20 years, representing one of the hardest lessons of my life - a metaphor for the fact that what we think seems easiest is actually the hardest, how sometimes less is more, and that letting go can be harder than holding on.