I lay in the dark, kept awake by the throbbing ache in my right hip. Exhausted from a long day, I begrudgingly got out of bed.
I rolled out my yoga mat in the living room and lay down on my back. With a cotton strap looped under my right foot, I slowly moved my leg through space, stretching and working to “open” and release my hip.
Middle-of-the-night stretching was becoming a ritual, as it seemed this was the one thing that brought enough relief so maybe I could get back to sleep.
It wasn’t long before I developed a new, equally aggravating problem: sciatica, an almost constant ache in my right buttock that sometimes traveled all the way down my leg and into my tingling foot.
My story is just one variation of uncountable scenarios where physical pain intrudes on our daily (and nightly) lives. Chronic pain is a growing epidemic in our society, often described by doctors as being idiopathic or of “unknown cause,” leaving patients feeling abandoned, without the therapeutic support they are seeking.
I was only in my mid-40s, but already my body seemed to be breaking down. I was at a loss to understand why this was happening, while feeling more than a little hypocritical.
I was a yoga teacher and massage therapist, after all. People came to me seeking relief from the same sorts of aches and pains that I was now experiencing. That made it hard for me to admit, except to my doctor, that I, too, was in pain.
So, instead, I soldiered on, maintaining the facade of perfection I so often held in front of me like a shield. However, there came a point when pretending I didn’t hurt became too difficult, and thus began a parade to a physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, and other massage therapists.
Unfortunately, what relief I did find, never lasted for long. I’d heard this same story many times before, realizing that every day that I struggled with pain, I gained new insights into the lives and frustrations of my students and clients.
Eventually, I came across the work of Jean Couch, who taught an approach to inhabiting the body that explained why some people in the world could easily carry heavy loads on their heads without strain. I was more than a little intrigued – not that I wanted to carry heavy loads on my head.
I made an appointment to meet with Jean and bought a plane ticket to California. Nothing could have prepared me for how much this first visit would turn so many of my beliefs upside down.
Jean began our session by pointing out the many ways that I held tension in my muscles.
Although I had studied anatomy of the musculoskeletal system in massage school and during my lengthy yoga training, I had never been taught that the alignment of our bones, in relationship to each other, determines whether the muscles attached to those bones (via tendons) are in a state of contraction or weakness, or if they are naturally elastic, as intended by the human design.
By the time the first session came to an end, both the chronic hip pain and sciatica had all but disappeared, simply by changing the way I sat on my pelvis.
I was both stunned and hugely relieved – and determined to continue learning everything else I could about this amazing approach that Jean called “balance.”
So in my 50s, I spent as much time as I could studying with Jean. While I was free of pain and feeling much more comfortable, I could sense my life was being turned upside down.
For starters, almost everything I was learning from Jean was at odds with what I – and our entire modern society – had been taught to believe about “good” posture. I wanted to help the people in my yoga classes to experience the same relief I had. Instead, my once-full classes were shrinking drastically.
The new instructions I was giving, such as releasing the chest down, rather than “holding it up” with tension, were just too much of a departure from what our culture-wide beliefs about posture required.
Note: Yoga is chock-full of wonderful benefits for almost anyone – especially when it is practiced in conformance with the foundational principles of the human body’s natural design.
By then I had discovered that many women my age were making their way through the transition from mid-life to more mature aging while navigating the choppy waters of such events as menopause, divorce, and children leaving home. We were presented with a “SHEro’s journey.”
I was at a loss to know how to make my way through all the upheaval I was experiencing – the grief I felt to have my last child leaving home, my search for how to be a woman alone in the world, and the fear I was facing that I would not be able to keep my business alive and thriving as I struggled to know how to successfully teach this “new” way of inhabiting a human body.
The irony, of course, was that this wasn’t new; it was as old as the hills. After all, babies and toddlers throughout the world have always discovered, entirely on their own, how to sit and then stand and walk, guided by these same rules set out by Nature – and physics.
By the time I entered my 60s, the transformation in me was dramatic. In the process of surviving what I had feared most, I had discovered that personal empowerment resided as much in my physical body as in my mind.
I found that as long as I could sense myself anchored within my abdominal core, while resting my mind on a quiet peaceful breath, I could handle almost anything. This fueled a desire to want to share this information with others, which has shaped the course of my life ever since.
It’s been 24 years since I was first introduced to the concepts of natural alignment. I’m 73 years old now and beyond grateful that the physical pain of earlier years gave me the opportunity to discover passion and purpose that would serve as a beacon to guide me forward.
This beacon has pushed me to travel solo to remote places in the world, where I was able to photograph and interview women who not only carry heavy loads on their heads with ease, but who age with elongated, supple spines, and enjoy easy flexibility and enduring strength and vitality.
Does this mean that natural alignment is a quick fix for pain problems and issues related to poor posture? No, because, of course, there is no such thing as a quick fix.
Some people may find immediate relief of a particular problem, as I did, but for enduring change to continue to unfold, one has to learn a few fundamental details, and then be willing to put them into practice with conscious, mindful intent.
I’ve made it my mission to spread my knowledge and experience to anyone who would listen. So, I’ve created a podcast.
Except for the joy we have in loving relationships with family and friends (and grandbabies!), I can think of nothing more gratifying than to have a passion for something – it can be almost anything at all, as long as it stirs genuine interest and excitement. It can be writing or painting or gardening or volunteering – fill in the blank.
Even in our 60s and beyond, it’s not too late to take stock of what makes our hearts soar and follow its flight in the direction to the discovery of who we might still want to become – despite all the hardships we may face on the way. As the saying goes, we don’t grow and evolve during the good times.
When was the last time you watched yourself gain new understanding through the more difficult periods in your past? How have you kept the fires of passion burning in your own life? Is there something that still stirs your heart, something you wish you could take on? Perhaps you still can. Let’s chat about it!
Tags Healthy Aging