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July 30, 2013 / Karen R Adams

learning to walk

me 2004 2Here are a few things:

  • Pain, especially chronic pain, has a lot to teach us.  It is an opportunity for us to gain some deeper insights into why we have the health concerns we do, examine how our beliefs, habits and lifestyle choices affect us.  This can lead to a level of discovery and healing that goes far deeper than ‘curing’ the pain.
  • Acupuncture works by treating the whole person, body mind and spirit, in every treatment.  Because of this, it has very good – sometimes astoundingly very good – results.  You are not your sore knee (though you may feel that way).  You are a person who has a sore knee.   An acupuncturist can help you figure out why you have that sore knee and help keep it from recurring by helping you understand the energetics of you, and how they are affected by what you eat, your stress level, the kind of movement you use.  (This is the difference between seeing a trained acupuncturist and a western medical practitioner who has learned points that just address the pain.  And, yes, it is always more than that you stepped wrong off the curb. Just sayin’.)
  • By far and away, the most common issue people bring to acupuncture, particularly to Greenfield Community Acupuncture, is back pain.

Put these together, and back pain gives me the chance to talk to a patient about how the Kidneys rule the lower back, are creators of the bones – and the brain (see that?).  How they are the cauldron that produces Qi and so gives us the energy and the engine to walk.  How the spirit of the Kidneys, the Zhi or Will, is not just will-power, but the will to step forward into our lives.  Then the patient gets a chance to reflect on what else is going on in her life that is affected by a pain that makes it difficult to walk.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I began to have lower back pain myself after a fall last October.

Initially, walking was almost impossible.  I could shuffle, but striding out wasn’t happening.  My sleep was affected because my back would ache, and rolling over was difficult.  The fall wasn’t the only player.  I used to ride horses, had numerous falls (though for most of those I landed on my head, and don’t get me started on where that thought would take me), and I’ve been in several car accidents.  Add pregnancy and delivery, hard physical labor when I was younger, a 10 year span that was horrific mentally and emotionally, and I could see that my back, and specifically my pelvis, had been carrying quite a load for some time.  (Ah hah, another body mind spirit connection.)

I started freaking out in my head because, you know, I’m almost 60.  Life was very good, and I was enjoying moving through it.  What’s with this?  Was this the beginning of The Decline?  I mean, it wasn’t even 10 years ago that I walked 110 miles in 9 days.  (Okay, I whined and complained – a lot, but I did it.)

Would I be walking like this – slowly and in pain – for the rest of my life?   What was I afraid of moving into?   (Beside old age, that is, and is that another clue?)  I was pretty sure if I went to the doctor, she’d tell me I had arthritis, which is useless information to me; I see patients all the time with arthritis and the western medical approach is pain killers that don’t work all that well, and physical therapy, which admittedly might be useful, but still.  When I walked out of her office, my back wouldn’t be functioning as I remembered it did.   (Oh wait.  How accurate was that memory?)

I began to review all those things I’d offered to patients.  And I began to be very, very aware of how I walked, the mechanics of movement that I hadn’t thought about since I was a toddler.

I realized how I was used to walking briskly, with long steps, and hitting the ground as if I owned it.  I saw that that movement had actually been changing over the last few years.  I was, gasp, slowing down.  Not only that, but I didn’t have that swing in my step that felt so loose and free – that swing that I rarely noticed in the past.  Now I was taking shorter steps, and not from my back, and hitting the ground hard was jarring.

I wasn’t able to move quickly and stand erect.  If I wanted to move with quick (and shorter, dammit) steps, I had to incline from the hips to get any sort of comfort.

I tried to analyze my entire life right now, to figure out if there was anything I didn’t want to walk toward.  Old age perhaps?  (That was a ‘what? what?!’ moment, for sure.)

In short, I began to walk mindfully.  I wasn’t able to ricochet through my walking on auto-pilot because my back pain wouldn’t let me.  It was forcing me to pay attention.  Yeah yeah, blah blah blah.  Geez.

I began to remind myself that if I kept, well, obsessing about this pain (and who wouldn’t? it was always there), I would make it linger.  Maybe I had to accept that it was here in my now, and use it as a chance to change something that might be more than just the way I walked.  Think about it: if you stroll leisurely you feel very different from when you stride out or slink.

If I walk more carefully and more slowly my world is an entirely different place than it was before.  If I think about each leg moving, how each foot feels when it meets the ground, if I think of moving with (what I hope looks like) dignity, maybe even regally, what do I see and feel?  It begins to not matter whether I walk this way forever, and the truth is I won’t.   Tomorrow or in 5 years or 20, I will have a different walk.  I might learn to walk again, in a new way that reflects the changes in my life.  And once again, thanks to this opportunity, everything will look … different.  Huh.

silly walks walk ins(thanks, John Cleese)

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