As we all move through life, we don’t really think of the hundreds of coordinated movements that our body makes each day, let alone how they feel. When a person is in pain though, every single movement can bring on a landslide of feelings, both emotional and physical. When pain persists over a long period, the mere thought of moving can be absolutely paralyzing with fear.
As teachers, we see this every day but we don’t always recognize it when it is happening, let alone know what to do about it.
The best place to start is to understand what happens when fear takes over your student’s ability to move without pain.
The fear reaction immediately sets off a chain reaction of bracing and tension throughout the entire body. You’ll see breathing change, and the pace of breath becomes shallow and high in the chest. The pulse quickens and the heart pounds, then add to that a flurry of anxiety.
Now with all of that going on, just imagine what it would feel like to even try to move freely throughout your day. Impossible!
Managing this fear is just as important as rehabilitating from the injury. Unfortunately though, this “symptom” often goes completely unrecognized or is dismissed altogether.
I can’t tell you how many times I was told that it was all in my head as I struggled for five years to recover from my car accident.
But you know what, it is in our heads. Our brain is very involved in the recovery from pain and injury.
Trying to fix the body without addressing the mind’s role can result in a much longer recovery, years even. This fear response is called Anticipatory Pain, and it is brought on when our brain’s memory of pain triggers a very real physiological pain each time we move.
From a movement perspective, there are a number of ways to manage this fear. Here are just a few that you can share with your students to help them overcome their fear and get back to moving confidently:
1) Breathe before Moving – inhale for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, exhale slowly for 8 counts. Repeat this 10 times during times of fear when moving. Once you feel more relaxed, start to move on your exhale.
2) Release then Move – Before you move, take your time to feel relaxed and free of tension, then use the idea of floating a limb to lift it, or loosely swinging in the breeze to move it forward and back.
3) Ask for a Helping Hand – Have someone assist you in movement. While you focus on relaxing areas of tension, have that person support the moving part, like while lifting a leg or an arm. After a few repetitions of relaxed movement, start to assist your partner so each of you is doing 50% of the work, then try doing 80% of the effort with just 20% of support. Finally, once you feel confident in the movement, try the movement on your own with your support person on standby.
4) Support Yourself – Use supportive props to cushion areas that tend to hold tension, like in the low back when lying flat and moving your limbs. This support could be a towel or even your hand. As you move, use that prop as support and as a tactile reminder to avoid tensing that area during the movement.
And for us as teachers, when are students take the terrifying leap to start an exercise program, have the skills to teach with purpose and intention, so that you can listen to what they need and create an environment that will ease them back to enjoying life without fear and pain. Programs with a Functional Movement component can be especially helpful for your students by showing them how to recreate movements that they will use in their everyday life, while also reprogramming their brain to move confidently without triggering a pain response.
Interested in learning more valuable and applicable skills to help your students move better? Click HERE to check out the Body Harmonics Primary Specialist Certificate programs. All Movement Professionals are welcome.
Holly Wallis, Master Teacher and Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist, PMA®-NCPT
Director of US Operations, Body Harmonics Pilates & Movement Institute
Studio Owner/Director, ReActive Movement, 6200 LaSalle Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
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