For the New Year – EXPLORE!

From the Healing Bridge Physical Therapy

January 2011 Wellness Notes

By Allison Suran, BS, PT

Exploration is a common theme in the Feldenkrais Method®. However, when a person is engaged in solving a physical problem, ache or pain, healthcare practitioners try to find the source of the problem to “fix it”. When this works, it is great! However, when the problem is not so straightforward, it can cause stress for the patient and the practitioner.

The other day when I invited my patient to “explore” and “say hello” to her pain, rather than just try to get rid of it, she was intrigued. I went on to say that most of the time we just want to fix “it”, get rid of “it” or ignore “it”. However, when we invite a different mental attitude towards our symptoms, a different healing opportunity becomes available through the brain-body connection.

As physical therapists we have lots of research to support how we educate our patients in proper posture, strength and flexibility, and creating healthy muscle tone. However, in our efforts to set our patients “straight”, we can create an atmosphere of right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, and black vs. white. Fortunately, these guidelines are often very successful and create wonderful outcomes for many patients. However, there are times when straightforward approaches fall short, which may be why the healing professions are filled with a multitude of approaches which sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. For the more complicated cases, this can be challenging, frustrating, and expensive.

In our effort to know the “right” way to treat and educate our patients, we can also create a stress-response in the brain, which can work against quality movement and healing. Moshe Feldenkrais said that, “To every emotional state corresponds a personal conditioned pattern of muscular contraction without which it has no existence.” So every patient that comes to us has their own unique history which dictates how they move. Just because we have the same muscles and bones doesn’t mean we use them the same way.

For some of our patients, trying to correct their movements into just the “right” posture can create a stress-state that perpetuates the very movement pattern that may be contributing to the pain. For many, trying to do the “right” thing, with the possibility of failure, can create more anxiety and interfere with the healing process.

What’s an alternative? Exploration. By learning to explore the connections between ones feet, legs, hips, back, and all the inter-related body parts, a person can begin to change their set patterns of movement. Exploration means experiencing oneself with a different kind of awareness. This means learning to notice the unique sensations of your pain, the differences between your posture when you stand on your right leg vs. your left leg, and any number of subtleties that are available rather than just moving and correcting from auto-pilot. As one becomes attentive to such movement options, the attention has shifted from “I need to do it right”, to “isn’t this interesting”. The places in the brain that are engaged when one is openly curious and interested evokes a very different physical response than when one is feeling stressed about the “right way” to do something. In this way, the patient is discovering and creating his or her own feedback and creating a learning environment that will be with them long after they have completed therapy.

As we go into this New Year, I invite you to be curious, interested, and explore your movement choices. Engage that part of your brain that helped you learn to move as an infant, the part that doesn’t already know the answers. Thus bringing a refreshing present-moment awareness, and hopefully some new avenues of healing, to your life.

Happy New Year!

Allison Suran, PT, GCFP

Founder, Healing Bridge Physical Therapy