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My name is Carol.

Carol Zakula

I’ve always been a mover and a shaker, and lucky to have actively moved through more than six decades without any chronic stiffness or pain.

Well, okay…there is the one little disc that occasionally and gently reminds me of the unintended back flip when I was body-surfing in South Africa twenty-nine years ago. (I found out the Atlantic’s surf was not like the lapping lake waters in my native Minnesota.)

So, anyway, the moving and shaking part…

I’m a retired teacher and principal, and a part-time freelance writer and yoga instructor—plus a globe-trotter over the years.

Always ‘wanted it all’ and have spent most of my life going after just that.

It’s all been mentally, physically, and spiritually challenging and exciting….and I guess I thought I was just blessed by an absence of physical pains and limited mobility, while many friends and relatives of various ages around me weren’t.

Just the way it was… no reason for me to give it much thought.

Lesson #1: No Pain Until


After all, I wasn’t the one in pain.

But then 2 things happened that got my attention.

And suddenly, pain had just gotten personal…

Three women with fibromyalgia found their way to my gentle yoga class, desperate for:

  • Relief from Pain,
  • Stiffness,
  • and, Scariest of all, Hopelessness.

Secondly, I realized that some intermittent pain in my right leg and hip—originally attributed to a minor fall or maybe heavy snow shoveling–was not going away, and was getting worse over the months.

Stepping into a small corner of the lives of the three multi-gifted and dynamic women–whose lives were on hold—was eye-opening and gut-wrenching.

The dilemma was how to help them rather than hurt them more.  So, we talked a lot.

I researched yoga for people with fibromyalgia.

They shared what they’d learned at the Mayo workshops they’d attended.

Alternative Ways to Process Pain

One of the woman, Gayle, mentioned one of the Mayo doctors talking to them about alternative ways to ‘process’ pain—changing the ways the nerves communicate with the muscles.

Suddenly…I remembered something.

A yoga workshop I’d attended a year or so earlier on something called “somatics”.

It was about re-educating the muscles and nervous system to communicate more effectively with each other.

The benefits centered around:

  • Maximizing Body Functions,
  • Mobility,
  • and Reducing Stiffness and Pain.

I’d been impressed with the concept, and a brief internet search led to more information and a couple of especially intriguing videos by Ed Barrera….himself a ‘survivor’ of fibromyalgia turned somatics practitioner.

Ed had also written a book, Move Like an Animal, teaching people the animal concepts of applying conscious pandiculation which had been systematized as somatics exercises

But life was busy, and I’d soon forgotten about somatics….until Gayle’s comment.

The two of us immediately set out on a lively pursuit of current information and materials on somatics, which led us back to Ed Barrera–with lots of questions on how to offer therapeutic movement to three committed fibromyalgia ‘warriors’ in Northern Minnesota.

He quickly, enthusiastically, compassionately, and in detail, responded to emails from both Gayle and myself.

The ’warriors’ and I began some group sessions, but Gayle never does anything half-way….and began an intense daily somatics routine at home.

The result? – Moving Like an Animal

She started seeing and feeling some improvement in movement and mood within a few days.

The progress continued over the weeks, and within a few months, she’d transitioned from some 10 years of dependence on her husband to help her move and do basic activities around the house, to an increasingly active life style…

Plus a a jaw-dropping run up the driveway one day when she got out of a friend’s car.

Gayle was hooked on somatics exercises and what moving like an animal was doing for her.

She and I read, studied, emailed Ed, and then offered a couple of classes introducing somatics to others in pain here in our community.

In the last year, I’ve also have incorporated some somatics movements into both my hatha and gentle yoga classes, and occasionally offer introductory somatics instruction upon request—yes, right up in anything-but-urban Northern Minnesota.

Participants’ comments (20-70 year olds) have been reaffirming of the benefits of somatics…and I celebrated the victories of those who had successfully decided to take charge of their pain and stiffness.

Lesson #2: The Wakeup Call

But all that good news still wasn’t enough to establish and expand my own regular practice of somatics.

Life got busy again.  So then came wake-up call #2.

Yes….my right hip and leg—had me in on-and-off discomfort for more than a year.

When I realized that I needed regular Ibuprofen to get through our community theater rehearsals, I had to admit the deterioration of the situation.

So with the natural misconceptions of most 63-year olds, I started to obsess about what it actually was, and what medical/surgical interventions I probably needed to start thinking about.

Arthritis, Old Age, Hip Replacement, Surgery, Drugs

That’s right, I completely disassociated my hip and leg pain from everything I’d learned and been preaching about somatics, and was instead thinking “arthritis,” “old age,” “hip replacement,” “surgery,” and “drugs.”

I was in the midst of internet searches and yellow pages under “doctors,” when I realized what I was doing….or rather, what I wasn’t doing.

What I wasn’t doing.

Somatics.

However, because of the state I’d worked myself into, I also decided I needed Ed’s reassurance to make sure somatics would take care of this.  After all this was MY pain now…and not ‘just’ somebody else’s.

A short diagnosis and download of a couple of appropriate somatics movement classes later, I was on my way to relief within 48 hours and in a few weeks, I was pain free again. But slow learner that I am…

Lesson #3: Go Back to the Well

I started taking all that freedom from pain for granted, and gradually slacked off of my few minutes of daily somatics…until I fell into another stiff hips and lower back issue….and one that seemed to be exacerbated by my yoga instruction.

What’s more, ironically, the pain peaked just days before leading another 4-week introductory Somatics session.

Fortunately, the panic I’d again worked myself into, quickly reminded me of my panic of two years earlier.   I immediately set into some intense somatics, and got another ‘shot of encouragement,’ from Ed.

So, as it turns out, I’m taking somatics and mobility seriously now—finally.

I don’t want to stop learning or practicing it…for my sake, and for all the people I get to share it with.

More Than Not Having Pain

It’s about a lot more than simply NOT having pain.

It’s the whole feeling of freedom and absolute joy in MOVING and in the awareness of the marvels of human body.

When you feel that way, you get to remember how truly wonderful life can feel, and you almost can’t help but make the world a better place.

Does life get any better than this?

Carol Zakula is a Yoga teacher and writer. You can find her at www.carolzakula.com.

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Categories : Pain, Recovery
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