When I was living in the Middle East, I had the pleasure of working with a lady for a year, who had suffered TIA trauma (spots on the brain) caused by a mild stroke.
By the time we found each other, she had been committed to her rehabilitation for 2+ years and had gone from being unable to walk in a straight line to impressive strength training and without her telling you so, it would have been hard to know that she had any problems with movement at all.
She had referral pain in her right foot that screamed low back trauma even though one of her medical consultants insisted it was simply caused by the spot on her brain and my client was clearly concerned with exercising as a form of treatment and less an enjoyable path to freedom. This lady is incredibly positive and beams love. I knew she would be fine, if she could just calm a little and be less-rigid with herself.
To do this, I knew she needed to make more of a connection to her body. It had obviously let her down, and whether she realised it or not, she didn’t like it very much and there was some trust missing. She was pushing it to improve and this technique can only get you so far and can often result in the body shouting back in a less than agreeing way.
Whilst I treated the mechanical ramifications of her stroke through prescribed movement and private Pilates classes, I also focused on creating new neurological pathways with exercises that crossed the mid-line of the body and challenged coordination (a post for another day).
I wanted to get her into a yin yoga class, but as someone who had been told she was too large to join a yoga class in the past (I was horrified to hear this and she wasn’t large anyway). She was understandably dubious to begin a yoga journey.
Somehow I needed to nourish her parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system) and the only way we can do this, is to calm down! So I also set about including mindfulness in her classes to gently create a deeper connection and understanding of her own body (something I do in all my classes). At first she didn’t realise I was doing this, but she gently became more calm and once the connection to her body was made, she gained confidence in her ability to move as her connection deepened. This is when the magic started to happen.
Once I felt she was strong enough in her Pilates execution, I began to push a few boundaries. The best way to do this, I find, is to get people upside down on the Cadillac. After eight months from meeting, she was doing some impressive advanced exercises, in the air, supporting her own body weight. The first time she did this, she covered her face with her hands and cried. “I never thought I would be able to do something like that”. She hugged me and said thank you.
A new appreciation for her body and much missed trust, bought a sense of calm. Now we could get to the slow stuff. I introduced yin to some of her classes and she became very focused with breath work. The first time she came to a group yoga class with me, she reported how well she slept that night and I was happy that finally her parasympathetic nervous system was being loved and cared for.
You see, our bodies are extremely intelligent. They are always talking to us. You honestly, honestly, honestly (!) know the answer to everything that you need to know, you just have to listen.
Activating the parasympathetic response allows the body to adapt and recover. The parasympathetic nervous system aids repair and the success of any technique that triggers a parasympathetic response, is largely successful based on ones willingness and mental conviction. You can activate the PSN by doing things like meditation, yin or restorative yoga, and massage.
After ten months, my client was able to let go of the worry of going backwards in her new found abilities, she began to chose classes and exercises that she enjoyed and the challenge of class lessened, and moved from, ‘What shall I do for my case?’ to ‘I would love to be able to execute a jack knife, because I’ve never done anything like that before’. She also lost the pain in her right foot.
And my work here is done.
Me and my inspiring client, Fatoma who I grew to love very dearly