Part One: My Story
When I first knew that my body was listening, it was a matter of life and death. Twenty-four years ago I was given three weeks to live, and I am told I am the only survivor of that illness. I can remember how I talked to my body, every step of the way, and experienced how it is truly a reflection of my thoughts, words, my prayers. In the most dramatic moments, I felt this connection save me in ways doctors called, “Divine Intervention.” But there were also less dramatic examples of how opening the pathway for positivity and hopefulness helped me restore physical movement beyond medical prognoses.
I would never think the same way about the human body. I left my business career to share what I had learned about healing with others, and I have now been teaching Pilates for seventeen years. I have witnessed my Pilates clients improve and heal from conditions diagnosed as chronic and seen the disappearance of compensatory patterns, both muscular and skeletal. My experiences, and those of my clients, are consistent with numerous scientific studies.1
A Mind, Body, Spirit Connection Helped Save My Life
Like most of us, I am continually learning. But sometimes it is a dramatic event in our lives that picks us up and teaches us something that must be shared. For me it was this:
I was diagnosed with a fatal complication from childbirth that left me in a coma with tens of thousands of blood clots attacking my vital organs, and completely shutting down both kidneys. In the coma I couldn’t move, but my mind was aware of everything and actively working on how I could break free. I remember the moment I felt the “mind-body-spirit” connection take hold, and there was no difference between my thoughts, my prayers, and my body. When I realized I could see even though my eyes were closed, I knew there was something deeper to understand about my body. I focused on my arm and saw it begin to move before I felt the physical sensation, and I realized I had been saved.
Once free from the coma, I was told I had three weeks to live. During plasmapheresis and dialysis treatments, I spoke to my lungs and kidneys, so calmly, with a knowing, “I will get out of here someday.” And I did. I began to let go of the illness’s effects, got out of the dialysis ward, stood from a wheelchair, relearned to walk and regained use of my arm. I still had stage-four kidney disease, but I was functioning as if I did not. My doctors were amazed, and I understand my recovery to be a partnership of their medical care and a pathway for its effectiveness that I fostered and that had allowed my body to respond in ways beyond medical understanding. Each milestone was a reflection of what I expected, because I had felt that within me was a power to heal.
Moving from “I Can’t” to “Please Show Me How”
I was grateful for life, for mobility, and perhaps I mistakenly felt that asking for more would be greedy. When even lying prone was painful, I accepted that stage-four kidney disease meant avoiding back extension. With everything I had been through, this seemed a small and reasonable side effect.
Many years later, stronger, wiser, calmer, I became determined to reintegrate back extension into my life. Limiting a range of motion was not just about being able to do a Pilates swan – it was about my overall health, and even support for my kidneys. To open a pathway to release severe chronic back pain and stiffness, I would first have to release fears I had associated with that region of my back, and I was ready to do so.
The move from “I can’t” to “please show me how” was a change in expectation and it opened a path of discovery about what my body needed. I released fear about my condition and visualized myself doing back extension in my mind’s eye, and saw, step by step:
(1) How to incorporate external and internal hip rotation exercises into my daily routine, all with functional focus on pelvic stability. (2) How back extension was initiated from the front of my body, and that opening from my hip flexors to the tops of my feet and actively engaging the arches released strain in my back. (3) How to engage anterior and posterior cross-patterning fascial support. I applied this until I told my husband that I was going to go all the way in, and do a backbend. We walked out to a beach, where I feel most free, and I pressed my hands into the sand and without hesitation, lifted into full back extension, without pain, without fear.
In the photo you don’t see the tears streaming down my face, from relief and gratitude for feeling freedom being restored in my body. It was a powerful reminder to me that health and healthy movement is an on-going pursuit. And it requires a consistent, calm, open mind and heart.
Complete Coordination of Mind, Body and Spirit
I live and teach with the understanding that the body is ever changing, and provides us limitless opportunities for healing and renewal. This is how I interpret Joseph Pilates’ expression of the “complete coordination of mind, body and spirit.” We can always get stronger in some way, no matter our age or condition. But as with any reach towards health we can help or hinder its efficacy. Small changes in the way we think and express our expectations can result in large shifts in pain reduction, mobility and release of chronic conditions.
(1) Studies by M. Catherine Bushnell, Marta Čeko, and Lucie A. Low.
George Freeman, Robert Adler, and others.
(AM Psychol, 2000 January; Taylor SE, Kemeny ME,
Reed GM, Bower JE, Gruenewald TL.
Please check back for Part Two of this article:
Your Body is Listening: If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…
Part Two will discuss working with clients to release chronic conditions