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Entrance swipe card poised in my hand, dressed in perfunctory work out gear, terrified, heart thumping, on the edge of the abyss…I swiped! It didn’t work! Failed at the first hurdle. Panic now rising because I couldn’t even get through the door. If that was difficult then how would I manage whatever awaited me in the gym?
I did get in when someone else came out. I felt helpless, floundering like a fish out of water and yet gyms, just like this one, had been my working environment (my pond) for many years as a Physiotherapist. On this day, I was attending the gym (and still am attending regularly) because I had developed a persistent problem with my right knee and had requested an “exercise on prescription” course which my GP had agreed to.
I was met by a lovely gym instructor, and we chatted about my knee problem and what I was hoping for. The instructor set me up on an inclined bike so it wouldn’t be so painful on my knee, and I reluctantly cycled for three minutes. It was a big deal for me. My world had become very restricted by the repeated swelling of my knee which often flared up with exercise. I continued to feel very shaky inside and cautious about everything I was asked to do, but I felt supported and confident in the gym instructor’s ability. I began to enjoy the workout.
About half way through the session the gym instructor said “Do you know you lift your shoulders up when you do some of the exercises?” I thought ” R-e-a-l-l-y? What on earth…?” and then I remembered habits don’t go away. And, that everything I do during the day, every thought, every action, has the potential to trigger that habit. However, the gym session was a stronger stimulus than normal. I was also nervous, and I wasn’t applying the Alexander Technique to what I was doing. I was trying to speedily comply with the instructor’s requests (to please, to end gain). I was well ahead of myself.
What have I learned from that?
1. Habits do not go away. With all movement, the body prepares outside of conscious awareness, before we move. My habit is there outside of my conscious awareness, in its lifelong way, unless I do something different, which is where the Alexander Technique comes in. It is a conscious process.
2. My pre-gym attempts to push my knee (also a habit) and return to running and dancing were not what it needed. I know improving tissue health is essential and the regular gym attendance has helped this to happen. My knee pain has reduced, strength and balance improved, and I feel more confident and can rely on my knee more. I also know my knee responds to a steady, gentle, paced increase in activity. My knee is not yet ready to run, but I am much more confident that, in time, I can run again without it swelling up.
3. Don’t get complacent, stay present and conscious. Recently the gym instructor suggested I try to stand up, off a bench, using one leg (instead of two). Immediately, all I thought was that I couldn’t do it. I worried about being unable to get my bum off the seat. I could also see, in the mirror, that my shoulders were already trying to help, so I applied the Alexander Technique. I decided not to do the exercise and invited my shoulders to rest. Then I thought “up” and the movement happened smoothly and easily.
4. Be patient with swipe cards
To wonderful gym instructors everywhere (but especially at Francis Scaife Sports Centre in Pocklington, E. Yorks, UK)
Pain spreads the longer it lasts. Has that happened to you? It starts with a pain in a small area, like the inside of the knee for instance, and then seems to spread to the whole knee, and up and down the leg. It’s called smudging! The scientific term is disinhibited. It’s something I have known academically for quite a while. I am now observing it in my swollen right knee which has been a problem since February.
The science is there to explain why the pain seems to spread. It’s why my knee often feels “odd” and like it’s much bigger than its neighbour. It explains why I might be tempted to walk with a stiff leg.
Smudging can happen anywhere in the body. A common problem is back or neck pain which often starts in a small area and then spreads up and down, or across the back. It’s a remarkable “extra protection” mechanism that can be great in the short term to reduce movement but most unhelpful in the long term.
So, what can I do about it? What can you do about it if you think you have “smudging” too? According to David Butler in his YouTube video there’s 3 things to do. One is education and I would recommend watching his video.
The other two are graded exposure and exploring the “part” in a different context. The Alexander Technique is a fabulous way to help with these two elements and “unsmudge” or re-embody that part that has become smudged.
I am supporting my knee healing by body mapping, thinking about moving, thinking into movement, exploring movement in different ways which are all parts of The Alexander Technique. These all help support the neuroplastic changes needed to unsmudge!
Contact me, Jane Clappison, if you want to learn how The Alexander Technique can work for you to reduce pain and help you move more freely and easily – 01759 307282.
The next workshop I am giving is “Managing Pain with the Alexander Technique” on 14th October 2017 if you prefer a group environment to learn. Further details here:- http://www.janeclappison.co.uk/workshops/