Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Different Kind of Treatment

This forms Part II of the earlier What is My Body Telling Me?

When my physiotherapist Nicos said: “You need to wear insoles for the rest of your life to support your feet and align your body from the ground up.” I didn’t question him. His words made sense, and the insoles supported my feet. But after two weeks, I felt other pains beside the knee twinges that had sent me to him initially: my knee was no better, and my neck hurt.

I winced when he twisted my leg. Then he pushed gently on the knee. “But that doesn’t hurt?” Baffled by my negative, he said. “OK. I’m going to do some deep acupuncture to free a tight muscle. It will hurt.” I judge everything by the pain of labour and, acupuncture, though unpleasant, has never come close, so I didn’t expect the sharp ache that ground into two points. Tears ran down the sides of my face from the outside corners of my eyes.

When he finished, he asked me to flex my leg. Then he showed me how to lock my right leg over the left and push down, each time increasing the range of motion in the knee. When a cramp in my right thigh forced me to stop, he became impatient.

“OK, let’s manipulate the neck.” He climbed into position on the table and hooked an elbow under my chin. Without warning he pulled up sharply and I yelped. His mouth tightened. “You must relax,” he said. “Otherwise this can be quite dangerous.” He tried again, but I was uncomfortable, and now, scared. “I can do nothing, “ he said. “You are tense. Call me Monday.”

“Don’t cry now,” I told myself during the fifteen-kilometre motorway trip. “We’ll deal with this when we get home.”

Best Beloved was in the basement, building the racks for his winery. He put the power drill down and looked at me. “You’re having a bad day,” was his only comment. “Go to bed and I’ll bring you a cup of tea.”

Lying under the quilt, I let myself have a little cry. By the time my tea arrived, I was calmer. And I had begun to think. I had been listening to my body, but I seemed to have been interpreting the cues in the wrong way. I prefer concrete, tangible things to ethereal feelings. You know where you are with concrete. Give me a motor-cruiser over a sailing boat any day. Nicos’ suggestion, logical and down to earth had appealed to that part of me, but intuition – something that I frequently deny in myself – was ringing alarm bells.

My wearing prosthetic insoles for the rest of my life is like putting someone with a broken leg in a cast forever. Rather than being constantly supported, I felt that I needed someone to help me to strengthen my ankles in a way that does not misalign something else – and that sounded less like Nicos and his physiotherapy and manipulation, and more like a technique relying on body awareness. Oh, no: the dreaded words were coming closer. If I’m talking about awareness, the next word is ‘energy’ and now we’re moving toward New Age therapy!

I believe that mental, physical, and spiritual health are connected, but New Age therapies – aromatherapy, reflexology, sound therapy, crystals -- have never worked for me. I love the idea of them, but have never seen results. Yoga? I love and respect yoga, but injuries come easy, especially with underlying problems. I realised that I needed someone to work with me on a deeper level, and the person that I had in mind used some way-out sounding ideas as well as practical touch techniques.

I wondered if Barbara was still seeing clients in Pissouri. She had worked quiet magic on several people that I knew – bringing children out of shells of silence, easing the pains of old – and recent -- injuries, realigning a friend’s body so that she actually stood taller, teaching people to use their bodies to best effect. So I found her number and called. Yes, she was still working from her home on the hill, and yes, she would see me Wednesday morning for an hour and a half.

She watched me closely as I stepped over the threshold of the pale treatment room with its huge view over the valley, the bay, and the sea. Tall and spare, she has a penetrating blue gaze, clear but wrinkled skin, and short, soft and slightly wavy mouse-coloured hair crowning a long and gentle face. My impression was of cleanness and light. And patience.

She considered my history. “Bowen treatment first, I think. Then Feldenkrais. Your problem stems not from your feet, but from your long neck and long back. You carry your head out in front of you rather than balanced on your spine. This tips your centre of gravity forward and causes all kinds of problems through the shoulders, spine, pelvis – and of course knees and ankles as you compensate.” Treatment, she said, would aim at realignment from the top down, rather than the bottom up.

She dismissed the insoles. “When you came in, I noticed that one hip was higher. That’s the insole pushing it up and misaligning everything else.”

When I was on the table, warm under covers, her long cool fingers began gentle rolling movements over muscle and sinew. She worked around my upper back and then asked: “Have you ever had an accident?” Since I had experienced nothing like the major car accident that had propelled her into learning about alternative therapies, I said: “Nothing but usual bumps and scrapes.”

“Nothing,” she continued. “That made you…?” She put her hands up to shoulder level, arms flexed as if doing a push-up.

I remembered. At nine years old, I had playing a forbidden game: jumping on a beanbag chair, and landing on all-fours. My older brother – wanting, he confessed years later, to see if there would be blood if I landed on the floor – had pulled the beanbag away, and instead of landing asprawl on cushiony softness, I had hit the floor on my face, breaking my upper front teeth at the gum, and splitting both lips.

Barbara nodded. “That’ll do it. There is deep scar tissue on your back muscles from an old whiplash injury.”

She worked more on my upper back, my neck, my lower back and my calves. She gently flexed my knees, and supporting them on small beanbags, left me alone with some music and “covered with a rainbow cloth, so that you get some colour therapy as well…”

Later, she tipped up the old beautician’s chair that serves as her treatment table until I was sitting gazing out over the sea. “Do I really have to leave now?” I asked. I felt better than I had for a long time. “Afraid so,” she answered. “But you can come back next week.”

She asked how I felt. “Shorter, and more rounded,” I said. Then I saw the mirror. “Where’s my neck?” I looked like a Marine – cropped hair, no neck, big shoulders!

“Directly under your head, and supporting its weight,” she said. “Your spine is straight now. There are still issues with your shoulders and pelvis that we’ll work on next time. Then, when everything’s gathered and in its place, we’ll open you out.”

I put on my now empty shoes, noticing that my ankles were straighter than before, my weight distributed more evenly. “Yes,” she nodded. “That’s part of the effect of the treatment, although I didn’t work directly on your feet.

“Don’t worry,” she continued. “You won’t go back to your old shape. Just try not to stand on, or favour, one leg. Drink plenty of water – at least two litres a day – and don’t do stressful yoga: sun salutations are fine but stay away from the harder stuff.”

I drove toward Paphos on the old road. The sun had come through the clouds and the road steamed from a recent downpour. The fields were green, as the winter wheat matured, and yellow flowers carpetted the meadows and wild land – the scarlet drops of Adonis’ blood poppies beginning to show. In the vineyards, the still-early sun caught the first leaves unfurling vibrant yellow-green against the rain darkened vines.

I realised that I was driving too slowly, savouring the beauty of this morning, the quiet road, and my own feeling of peaceful well-being. I pulled over to let the pick-up truck behind me pass, then continued on my way.


  1. Beautiful! A perfect way to start my day!

  2. Yes, Success! Freedom from our aging bodies. Im so happy you have found help and in such a relaxing way.

  3. The only way to really appreciate a true healer is to experience their skills in action. I think it's a shame that natural healers as you describe seem to be so sparse.

    You have a great way with descriptive writing.

    Thanks for sharing.