One of the mysteries of my early life was what “normal” actually felt like. For as long as I can remember, I had a stiff ache in my lower back. I had assumed throughout my childhood that this was just how life was, and that you were meant to just get on with things. I had no idea that to the majority of people an ache as I experienced was anything but normal. To relieve the stiff and ever persisting ache I needed to be constantly on the move. Sitting or standing still only made it worse. Growing up in the countryside and near the sea, it was easy for me to remain active. I was a real outdoorsy type, often riding and sailing. I was a keen swimmer and I loved long distance running.
I wasn’t academic. The constant fidgeting (to relive the ache in my back) and chatting (just me) didn’t help, but by some miracle I got to university to become a Primary School Teacher. To everyone’s surprise (especially mine) I excelled and really found my vocation. After graduating I got a job in a Prep School in London. Everything was great. I was living in this amazing city and had met the man I was going to marry. I had great friends and my dream job. However, I still had the constant dull ache in my back which actually was no longer just an ache but really painful!
Working with small children constantly bending, lifting, sitting on tiny furniture made the pain became more acute and noticeable. Ironically this also allowed me to explain it away - most teachers complain of some sort of back pain. I didn’t want to spoil my life or be seen as making a fuss so I hid how much pain I was actually in. Then I stopped being able to pretend my back pain was normal. My legs would become weak and go from under me. I had a tingling sensation and pins and needles in my legs and feet, a lot of pain in my lower back and a lump that was very painful to touch. This lump turned out to be my vertebrae sticking out! Finally in my mid-twenties I went to the doctor. After x-rays and MRI scans they found I had spondylolthesis grade 4/5 (a slipped vertebrae and 2 perforated discs) and they needed to operate immediately. A 10 hour surgery and one fused spine later I woke to even more pain than before (something I thought at the time would be impossible!). I also now had the addition of the most excruciating nerve pain. But for the surgeons the operation had been a “success.” my spine was now stable, I was still able to walk and I was reassured that after a long recovery period I would eventually be in less pain.
My rehabilitation included a long, long list of activities that I was to avoid which included sports such as running and every day activities like lifting something heavy (not great when you work with small children). I was also told to expect to be on pain medication for the rest of my life. These were bitter pills to swallow – after all I was in my mid-twenties and I felt like my future existence was already that of someone at least three decades older than me. It seemed impossible that there could not be other options out there. Indeed, it turned out that there were alternatives. There were many! In the most part, they all eased my pain for a short period of time, but it wasn’t long before I needed to go back and have the treatment ‘done’ to me again, and I really wasn’t getting much better. I wasn’t able to live the life I wanted. Then two years after the operation I returned to the consultant as I was still struggling. He advised me to stop teaching as this was putting too much strain on my back and that I could further damage my spine.
I started to lose hope.
The walls were closing in more and more each day. I was now working in a job that wasn’t as fulfilling as my prior teaching role. There was the possibility of not having children given the strength of my back and the pain I was suffering was still not getting better. To the outside world I continued to be happy, go out with friends, hide how much my body hurt, pretend to be excited about new opportunities but really…
I wasn’t thinking positively.
I wasn’t living in the moment.
I was worried about the future of my health and my job prospects.
I wondered if I would ever get better, stronger and EVER be a mum.
I really didn’t know what to do when a friend suggested I try The Alexander Technique. I hadn’t even heard of it!
With very little expectation I found a teacher. In my first Alexander lesson my teacher worked with me to help me let go of my tension and improve my overall coordination (not just my back, my whole body) so that my entire body was working together more efficiently and with less effort. He encouraged me to breath and to allow my ribs to move which from fear of pain I had stopped doing!
I left this lesson feeling lighter, easier and with less of the dull ache and pain that would continuously hang over my body. It wasn’t a dramatic change, however, I did keep going back and as often as I possibly could.
Over the next few weeks and months I started to feel better both physically and mentally, the nerve pain was no longer a constant. I gradually started running again and wearing heels! Everything became easier…..the house work, driving, Pilates. Things that I had taken for granted before my back pain became so debilitating, I could take for granted once again!
Then the Aha moment - I was not just feeling better, I was getting better! For the first time in years I could see an end to living in pain. It was the Alexander Technique that had brought this change to my life. Subtly and over a number of months I was seeing real progress. The most amazing thing was that I was learning how to apply the technique to all aspects of my life. It was like 24-hour healing. I wasn’t relying on someone else to fix me, or give me a treatment. When I would start to notice the old pains and bad habits creep back in, I could chose to do something about it. It felt so empowering to no longer be a victim of circumstances.
After just a year of lessons I decided to train as an Alexander Technique teacher. I could not imagine anything better than a job that required me to use my body well and I would be teaching other people how to solve their own problems too. Towards the end of my training I had my son, Sam. And again the Alexander Technique saved me! I had a natural birth and was completely set up for the challenges both mental and physical that come with being a parent.
I know personally and professionally that the Alexander Technique works. It resurrected my health, my capabilities, my good attitude and ultimately gave my son and husband the very best of me.
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