Me After: The Solution

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Feldenkrais was not enough

In the previous 2 posts, I wrote about the 8 years I spent in severe back pain, my search for non-surgical relief, and then my spinal fusion surgery. In this post you’ll read about what I’ve found to be the greatest help in recovering from surgery and habits developed over years of of chronic pain. What I discovered was the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais and Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement.

It was the only non-surgical modality that gave me temporary relief from chronic low back pain when I was 16 years old. And yet, it was not able to keep me away from spinal fusion surgery. My spondylolisthesis worsened from age 16–23 and when I could resist it no longer, I found the right surgeon.

Post Spinal Fusion

I was lucky to have had a structural problem to which there was a structural answer in the surgery. As soon as I woke up in the recovery room I could tell the nerve pain in my right leg, that I had felt every moment of every day for 8 years, was gone.

After a week in the hospital I continued to recover at home. At first it took all my energy to walk to the bathroom, the next week I could slowly walk around my San Francisco apartment, the next week down the hallway, and after that down the block. A removable back brace kept me from bending or twisting.

My back was “fixed.” Yet years of dealing with chronic pain had developed habits in posture, my emotions, and even my thinking.

Rediscovering Feldenkrais

A year after the surgery, walking down a street in my neighborhood, I passed a sign advertising Feldenkrais. My mind quickly flashed on my first session with a Feldenkrais practitioner. I was a teenager trying to avoid surgery and that one session did give me temporary relief as well as a tiny bit more flexibility. I wondered how this method might work now that my back was fused.

Recovery surprises

I started with a few sessions and shortly after that I took a weekend workshop. I left each session feeling better, and I came home from the weekend workshop feeling as flexible as Gumby! The realization that I could feel different than I had was profound. The familiar stiffness, that had buttressed me against a back that felt broken, began to melt away. Muscles that were chronically tight began to lengthen. I felt lighter and more upright but without effort. My shirts fit tighter because my breath was expanding my chest more fully.

Now that I was no longer managing chronic pain, I discovered there was actually even more to recover from than just the surgery. Years of chronic pain had affected not only my habits in movement, but also my habits in thoughts and feelings. More surprises came as the world started making more sense to me. I could read and make connections quicker. Outside the narrow focus of chronic pain my brain turned on.

The process was not overnight, but the difference that I felt was dramatic. I had felt like a stiff 80 year old and now an unfamiliar flexibility in body and mind was beginning to develop. It’s a feeling that inspires me to keep improving.

The real solution

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the best recovery doesn’t just take you back to where you were. The best recovery is to keep going, beyond where you were, beyond your desire to be “fixed.” To keep inspiring yourself and widening the aperture of what you thought was possible. The best recovery is to never stop improving.