ALL OF ME
In December 2020 I received an email from Gokhale Method® offering a five-day trial period of exercise classes and dance parties with posture lessons. Every day for five days! I was thrilled to receive this email and joined on January 1. From day one I knew I had found something very special.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I swam to stave off the pain I felt in my back and hips. But when the virus struck, I wasn’t able to swim. Eventually my back pain returned to being constant. This showed me that being dependent on an external circumstance, swimming in this case, to feel good, could not give me everything that I needed to heal.
January 1, 2021, day one of my five-day free trial of the Gokhale Method daily program. It was about the inner corset and how it protects your back.
Those first five days were like a prayer being answered. I thought, “this is the place where I can learn how to care for myself day by day." Three weeks later I decided to take the online Elements course. With each lesson, I learned new ways to relieve pain in my body and gained confidence that I could help myself if pain returned. Fortunately, I could take the lessons at my own pace which allowed me to take my time and savor what I was learning. Some positive results came very quickly for me, and yet there is a lot more depth left for me to appreciate. For both these reasons, it was with deep gratitude that I came to write this article.
As a very young girl I was confident in my body. Being athletic, I felt I could do anything. I was just me. . .whole. That all changed growing up in a troubled family. Mine was a childhood of great conflict and uncertainty. But I was resilient, so I forged ahead.
Here I am, aged 18.
In my late twenties I fell through a porch, leaving one leg on the deck and the other dangling below. Alone, I pulled myself up. It was a terrifying experience and had a strong physical impact. Sitting became possible for only short periods at a time. I was profoundly uncomfortable with no ease or let up. Doctors couldn’t find anything “wrong” with me —no broken bones or serious injuries that X-rays could detect. A chiropractor told me my pelvis was twisted from the fall. This was a helpful diagnosis but he treated me for nine months with no change. So began my search for something that would permanently help me. Yoga, swimming, massage, physical therapy, chiropractic; you name it, I tried it—everything mainstream and more. All were helpful in some ways, but none resulted in lasting improvements.
Me in 1997, aged 40. I would tend to lock my knees and park my abdomen forward, creating sway and compression in my lower back.
My search continued for 32 years. My back would give out, I would have to lie down for days, and then slowly over weeks I would loosen up and go on. My chosen profession in the Fine Arts is of a physical nature, allowing me to move around frequently throughout the day. This was my saving grace, because moving kept some of the muscular tightness at bay.
Leaning in to paint book covers contributed to my hunching. I needed to learn how not to round my back and hunch my shoulders.
Sensing there was an emotional connection to my physical pain, I continued searching and exploring different avenues for a deeper understanding of why I was still “not right.” Talk therapy was enormously helpful. The fall had scared me. So had other experiences in my early life. Even with all this therapy work, the pain persisted. Over time I gained in self-confidence and felt reconciled to what I had to deal with—occasional debilitating bouts of back pain—and I moved on with my life. Things could be worse, I thought to myself. Years later the answers to my predicament became clearer as I took on the role of a caregiver. I imagine as I write this that many readers will understand from personal experience what it is like to care for someone who is ill and relies on you heavily.
Caregiving became a central focus in my daily life as I cared for my mother and later my sister. Caring for them made for conflicted feelings. As my mother’s condition worsened I took on more responsibilities for her care. One day she asked me, “why are you helping me?" It floored me, though I knew why she asked. Why would you care for someone who did not care for you? All I could say to her at the time was “because I love you, and you deserve it." She did not believe it—I was conflicted. But deep in my heart I knew she did deserve my help. This is what family does, right? I had to care for her, love her, show her that she was worthy. I do believe that we are all worthy of love and care. For myself, I wanted to learn what it is to have a positive experience of family.
The Dust Bowl book. (Buttons, tin type photos, hand-painted paper, birch bark.) A central focus of my work is to give attention to the unseen in plain sight. From the tiny bits on the forest floor to the unrecognized work that women do daily. Now after many years I understand hiding was my main way to feel safe, unrecognized, and unseen.
But it wore me down. It was almost more than I could bear, and my body caved in on itself. I stiffened with fear and worry. My shoulders slumped forward and my back rounded. It was a relief when my mother quietly passed away in her apartment.
The Dust Bowl, closed. Its insides are hidden.
Several years later I drove to Georgia with my husband and our pup, Ace, to bring my older sister home to Massachusetts so I could care for her. We had seen each other only a few times in 40 years. We were sisters but you wouldn’t know it. She needed help and care desperately. I knew I had to step in.
I made this piece when my sister was diagnosed with cancer. Dark and light come together. My photographs are not enhanced—these are printed on tissue paper, then applied to the frame like gold leaf. The black handmade paper is arranged edge-on.
That was nine years ago. Through those years we got to know each other and grew as close as she would allow. Several times she asked me nearly the same question my mother had, “Why are you helping me?" And again I said, “because I love you, you deserve it.” But I was angry with her for the hurt and pain she caused in our childhood. Even though I had grown a deep emotional understanding of myself by that time, I still didn’t recognize what was happening in my body. Again my body stiffened and caved in.
My mother and my siblings. I am the worried looking one on her lap.
Caregiving wore me down and filled me up, leaving room for little else. The burden from stress, worry, responsibility, and physical strain, is exhausting. Along with that, the sense of connection and privilege of being trusted and important to the people who needed my help filled me with wonder, love, and self-confidence. I held up and helped out. This is as it should have been in many ways, except one—I could not find effective or adequate ways to care for myself at the same time.
I have learned for myself how interconnected everything is. I used to think that we were made up of separate parts—a mind, soul, spirit, body. I sought out solutions to my pain as though I was made up of these different parts. It was as if, like jigsaw puzzle pieces put together in the right place, I could become whole. This did not work for me.
A limited edition of 39 copies, published by 21st Editions. As a bookbinder I co-designed and created many editions. This is one of my favorites. I painted linen papers for these covers. Each set is different. All stages of production are by hand.
Book cover opened. It took me a long time to find the integration within myself that I could create in my artwork.
Now I understand things differently. I believe there is an interrelated dance to the patterns we develop. These patterns play out over and over again. Our own individual ways of moving our bodies are part of the constellation of being who we are and how our life experiences inform our reality.
While I was still taking the Elements course and attending the daily program, the puzzle pieces started coming together. Sometimes, while dancing in class, I’d be swept away in movement, crying and integrating the grief my body was holding. All while moving with better posture!
Tucking my pelvis and rounding my back as I am doing here was a self-protective postural habit—almost like a turtle’s shell.
Now I prefer to hip-hinge and my spine, back muscles, and neck are much happier!
It’s been 13 months since my first Zoom classes. I still show up for the daily classes and dance my heart out. Moving as freely as I can, feeling myself move through space, sensing the physicality inside of me. How does it feel to anchor my ribs? What’s it like to roll my shoulders back and feel their weight as they hang by my sides or float around? I feel alive and connected to me. I feel wonderful sensations of flow as I move around the room.
I loved painting these lines, which are covered in tissue paper. This is the flow I had been searching for and have now found for my body/self.
This work with the Gokhale Method teachers and the online community continues to be full of opportunities and I am still learning. My latest adventure with this wonderful work is using the PostureTracker™! This is an amazing tool that gives real-time feedback on my body’s movements and is rapidly deepening my understanding of my posture habits.
PostureTracker used to show how I habitually contracted the back of my neck and lifted my chin up (left). Now it is helping me to learn and maintain a much healthier, tall neck position (right).
Aligning my body in healthy posture so that I can move with ease is my goal. I am simply engaged in the process of making the unfamiliar familiar. Over time I will be “at home” standing tall with ribs anchored, shoulders back, arms hanging comfortably by my sides, and strong feet beautifully supporting all of me.
Here I am seeing that my back remains unswayed using the Upright and Relaxed PostureTracker™setting.
If you would like to find out more about how the Gokhale Method can help support you, sign up to join one of our upcoming FREE Online Workshops…