Sunday, 28 May 2017

On 20:40 by Victoria Stanham in ,    No comments

It’s a running joke with my life partner that whenever something ails him or me, physically or emotionally, I will invariably blame it on the weather or some other atmospheric and far removed factor.
It’s not so much that I’m trying to shirk off my share of responsibility for the current situation; it’s more a question of putting my troubles within the context of a wider whole, and acknowledging that everything influences everything else to some extent.
This puts power back in my hands rather than taking it away: I might be helpless about changing the particulars of my ailment, but I can sure fidget with my immediate environment or circumstances (turn up the heat, clean up the house, go for a walk, take a nap, etc.) to better accommodate myself to the current “atmospheric” conditions. Sometimes it’s by working on something seemingly far removed and un-connected to my current problem that the problem seems to sort itself out “magically”.
A similar thing happens with joint ailments.
Whenever a student comes with a shoulder issue for instance, I don’t care too much about the particulars of the injury (other than getting the basics on what the physio or doctor diagnosed as the trouble and asking the person to tell me what movements or actions increase the pain).
What I do care about is how every other part of the body is working in relation to that shoulder; for it is easy to assume that if a shoulder hurts then the problem is the shoulder and so the shoulder should be treated… But is this necessarily so?
The quick and short answer is: no, it’s not.
Moreover, sometimes the shoulder is so tender that it’s even better not to deal with the joint directly, or altogether, for that would only increase the irritation to the area and augment its already rampant hyperalgesia.
So I start by assessing movement in other joints, and how they relate to the great highway of movement-communication in the body: the spine.
You see, in the Alexander Technique, as in many other somatic movement modalities, we work from the perspective that the body is a whole (we also work from the perspective that the body and mind are a whole too… but let us leave that for another post).
Therefore, in our assessment of how a specific part of the body moves or doesn’t move, we take into consideration how all other parts move or don’t move and how that affects the part in question. In other words, all joints in the body (a joint is where two or more bones meet) are related, they all form one big “joint-family”, so if one joint has problems performing its functions (for whichever reason), all other joints will compensate in some way to keep the family going.
Take the spine for example.
There are 24+ vertebrae in your spine stacked one on top of the other in a long flexible and undulating column, hence there are 24+ joints in your spine alone. A healthy and coordinated spine can bend front, back, left, right and twist. Not all sections of the spine can move in all five directions to the same degree, but they all can move a bit in all directions.
When all inter-vertebral joints collaborate with the right amount of their available degrees of movement towards the accomplishment of any of the spine’s actions, the movement is perceived as elegant and harmonious, both by the person executing it as by those watching it.
On the other hand, when one or several inter-vertebral joints, for whichever reason, lose their ability to collaborate with their full range of mobility to the action of the spine, the slack has to be taken up by the other inter-vertebral joints (and all other joints in the body, of course). This means that some joints will move too little while others will move too much, and the end-result is a movement perceived as stiff and uncoordinated.
The problem is not an aesthetic one, for we can get used to the strangest of movement and postural fashions and habituate them even when they might at first jar with our sense of rhythm, harmony and flow.
The problem is that the more some joints compensate with hypermobility to the lack of mobility in some other joints, we eventually reach the point where no further adaptation is possible without harming ourselves in some way.
We are left with a bleak scenario: on the one hand we are stalled in our capacity to move any further in a given direction and might lose faith in our capacity for progress or improvement; on the other hand, if we press on regardless, trying to break through the (healthy) limit our body has set us, we might actually hurt ourselves, and most probably at those joints which had reached the limit of their compensatory abilities.
So, returning to our hurt-shoulder example, is the original problem in the shoulder? Probably not.
Does the shoulder need treatment? Yes, I am all in favor of seeing your physio to get treatment for the damaged tissues, so that they get a chance to heal correctly and as quickly as possible.
But, will the localized treatment cure you of your problem? And, was the shoulder the problem in the first case?
Most probably not. There is sure to be a coordination problem within the whole family of joints, of which your shoulder problem is only the visible tip of the iceberg.
I know this sounds terrible. How can you ever get all of your joints “correctly” coordinated and whoever has time for that anyway?
Fear not. Thankfully, coordination is not something we need to meddle with directly. Coordination is something our neuro-motor system does on its own with what is available to it in terms of sensory information (both from the outside and the inside), conceptual information (our subconscious beliefs about our own bodies and its movement possibilities) and the actual movement capacities of our various joints.
So, what we can do is feed our system more accurate sensory and conceptual information and restore whatever movement is still possible to all joints.

In doing so you might find, much like I find when I fidget with my environment and not with my problem directly, that by improving your use and the functioning of other parts of your body, your shoulder problem (or whichever joint is giving you trouble) “miraculously” disappears… and hopefully never returns.

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