Paralysis stops you dead in your tracks and then some. It is a resounding NO, a resounding message to your mind and body that you cannot feel anymore. A continual, “what the heck are you going to do now” scrolling sign constantly before your eyes.
It affects all of your physical movement, all of your emotions, and any future life plans, especially when a neurosurgeon explains to you, “sorry, but you will never walk again” or “you’ll never know life as you knew it; before the accident.”
I heard those words in 1979 when I was 18 years old. That summer, a week before college, I jumped into a swimming pool, hit my head, and was instantly paralyzed. In the first few weeks, I struggled to imagine a future where my fingers, hands, toes, legs, actually everything inside my body, did not work anymore. It’s challenging to describe paralysis. It is a silent, still pain. And it was questionable if I would be able to move my body ever again, despite some new sensations that I felt.
My breathing was compromised, as were my bladder and bowels. They all seemed to have gone into Quadternity (a word I created, meaning a life with paralysis is forever, and all the quirkiness that accompanies it). Thankfully, the doctors were wrong because 100 days later, at NYU-Rusk Institute, I walked in the parallel bars and have thankfully never stopped!
Now, forty years later, I am still vertical. My gait is not normal, but it works. I am always working on improving it, which Pilates has beautifully done to continue my progress in so many ways. I was introduced by Viraj Chang, my Physical Therapist & Pilates instructor, in 2014, after I needed additional unsuspecting cervical surgeries.
Taking my Physical Therapist’s advice, I bought my own Reformer to use at home. She liked that my spine is supported by using a mix of Pilates and physical therapy and that it’s something to do well into my older years. Currently, I have added precision movements of Postural Restoration, using deep diaphragmatic breathing techniques to my strengthening routine. I integrate breath to strengthen my diaphragm, abdominals and for pelvic stability, gait, and balance.
For the Pilates focus, we started with basic beginner levels and advanced to movements I could actually do and do well. I began feeling core muscles, which is amazing because that is the weakest area of my body. I often refer to my core, pelvic and hip area as a slinky toy. It’s never stable enough for me, which is everything in the relationship for walking.
If “change happens through movement, and movement heals,” then I have been a good student. Physical therapy is often utilized for a temporary issue, but in my case and so many others with chronic mobility issues, it is for life. Adding Pilates to a routine is so beneficial. I am finding it a necessary habit.
I am so grateful and fortunate to experience this type of motion. It is a return to a sense of normal. To be participating in Pilates group classes is a refreshing change from my former isolated workouts. Disabled people are usually “dis” focused and left out of any type of “normal” physical practice. To be included is refreshing and encouraging for all my senses.