I’m a yoga teacher, so when I started experiencing chronic pain after falling down a flight of stairs in a remote town in Laos with no access to medical care, and a few months later pulling my back while doing some heavy lifting on karma yoga duty at an ashram in India, the toll it took on my physical and emotional wellbeing was . . . . well, it was challenging to say the least.
Chronic pain doesn’t just happen overnight. It comes and it goes over the years until unsuspectingly, you begin to notice its daily presence. For me, it was a pain that ran from the top of my neck, down the right side of my back, ending somewhere around the lumbosacral joint, where the lumbar spine and sacrum meet. Simple tasks can be agonizing. The worst part though, is that although yoga helped to soften the discomfort, it also became a daily reminder of the pain, because with yoga, I was always aware. Aware of how different moving an arm or a leg can feel from one day to the next, how the pain progresses. Aware of my own physical condition in each and every yoga class that I taught. Aware of my deteriorating mental and emotional condition and eventually aware of its toll on even my relationship with my husband. Yup, chronic pain can make its way into every part of your life.
Over the years, I had tried various treatments. Some to just get me through the pain. Others to address the source of the pain. But it wasn’t until recently that I found real hope. I had heard about a technique called Rolfing a few years ago. As defined by the Rolfing Institute of Structural Integration, Rolfing is “a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity.” The goal of Rolfing is to restore the individual to his/her natural alignment to encourage an easier interaction between the self and gravity.
After a little bit of research, I visited Hee Tan, a certified Rolfer, located in Singapore. I opted for the full 10-session Rolfing treatment. The changes to my body were noticeable immediately after the first session. I felt longer, lifted, lighter, along with an experience of diminishing pain. Session after session, we worked through the different parts of the body, identifying the sources of the pain and also acknowledging the history of my active life. What do I mean by this? Well, I’ve been identifying the source of my pain as the two most recent injuries that I mentioned above. As it turns out, ALL of the little injuries along the course of my life (some that I barely even remembered) are relevant. I think about them as layers of brick. Layers of injuries that may seem significant or insignificant at the moment that they occur, but together form one big, solid, impermeable wall of pain.
By the Rolfing Institute’s definition of the technique, I have experienced the “soft tissue manipulation” as the part done primarily by the Rolfer and the “movement education” as the information he passes to me, that then becomes my work. It is the knowledge of how my body has compensated for my injuries, which muscles are overworked, which ones have been neglected in my daily movements that were truly the defining moments of my path to healing. As a yoga teacher, I thought I understood my body and its movements, but what I learned from my sessions with Hee were really . . . . mindblowing!
What I’d like others who suffer from chronic pain to know is that there is hope, but there is no magic pill. Before my Rolfing sessions, I used to view my treatments, as something my therapist would do to me. I lie on the bed and they massage me, or treat me with needles or with energy work, and believe me, it’s all good stuff. But the reality is that for it to be sustainable, you have to continue to move with awareness. You have to continue to do the work. There’s a certain reprogramming that needs to be done and this must diligently be done by you!
Patience is virtue. As the body heals, it changes. There were moments in my yoga practice that I felt like a beginner all over again. I had been practicing yoga for over 12 years and I found myself as a beginner! And as frustrating as that was, it was also absolutely incredible! I often ask if there are any beginners in my classes. We often think of a beginner as not having done that many classes or not being familiar with the postures, but how about familiarity with one’s own body? I was a beginner again because I was unfamiliar with my own body, how to move it, what squared hips felt like, how to use muscles that were underworked. Slowly, and with patience, I became familiar again and also started to enjoy some of the new experiences that my body presents to me each day. I am ever grateful to what Rolfing has done for me and for the kind and knowledgeable care that I received.
If you are heading to or passing through Singapore, check out Hee Tan’s website, www.postureconnection.com or contact him by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (+65) 8498-5673.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)