My First Injury: A Feldenkrais Story

We’re happy that Wes, an FI student, has volunteered to share his testimonial tale of pain, recovery, and personal realization with our readers …

It all started innocently enough. I turned to a friend and made a request I had never made before.

“Can you boomerang me?”

A boomerang is a feature in Instagram that loops a short segment of video. The result is a shareable little nugget, the likes of which you’ve likely seen on social media, even if you’re not an Instagram power-user like most people my age.

I had never participated in one, preferring to stay on the other side of the camera lens for these kinds of things. That was, until the perfect tree presented itself. It was a picturesque Redwood, hallowed out in the middle and standing directly over the angle of a small, but steep, hill. I peered in and decided that I would jump into it, vanishing into the blackened center of the tree—the perfect boomerang! I opened the Instagram app and handed over my phone.

“Can you boomerang me?”

She agreed, but let’s rewind a bit, first.

This particular event took place on Friday, September 27th, in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Northern California. I had scheduled a handful of FI sessions with Donna Wood at her studio in preparation, without any debilitating, or even irritating health or fitness issues to treat. In my years knowing her, I have come to value these precautionary sessions almost as much as those directed at a specific problem. Almost.

I am a thirty-year-old millennial; a formerly athletic male with a long frame and limited flexibility. You probably know ten dudes built just like me. I played all the sporty sport games as a kid and enjoyed a moderately successful track career in high school. These days, I stay in shape by running a few times a week. It’s simple, accessible, and free.

Before this hiking trip, I had ramped-up my weekly mileage and felt as strong as I had in the past few years. My wind was good. My stride was fluid. I was amped to get out into nature, limited only by the setting sun, especially in a place like the Redwoods. Maybe too amped.

“Can you boomerang me?”

That’s when it happened. The injury.

My right heel exploded in pain upon impact with the slanted ground at the base of the tree. My eyes shot wide open as I muffled a scream that would have alerted the other park-goers to a murder in progress. Surely, my foot had been relocated to the middle of my calf, I thought. Looking down, I was assured that everything was where it should be. My heel, however, felt as if it had been instantly liquefied in the sole of my shoe.

What’s worse, the hiking trip, having been coordinated with friends from across the country, was a mere one mile old at this moment in time. We paused for a few minutes as I gathered my metaphorical marbles and tested my foot. It wasn’t going to be the kind of injury to shake off, but we had to continue, I did, for the sake of the group. It was no one else’s fault that I had leaped into the tree like someone half my size or someone with twice the athletic ability.

We went another four or so miles before calling it a day. These steps alternated between being excruciating and barely manageable. Our surroundings and my company did ease the pain somewhat, but I knew I was in for a long recovery. That worried me.

Favoring the back end of my right foot, I finished the day walking up on my toes as much as possible, but only on the one leg. That short-sighted solution made sense at the moment but cost me the next day or two. Or three.

By the next time I saw Donna, I was walking with a heavy limp and seeing very little improvement, day-to-day. What I knew was that my foot was not broken. What I did not know, and still don’t, is how it could hurt so badly without swelling or bruising much. The diagnosis I have landed on is a jammed heel, though those words don’t accurately convey what I felt. If there are any podiatrists still reading, I’d welcome comment on the matter.

Another thing I knew, and that concerned me greatly, was that I had a second hiking trip painstakingly planned for about three weeks later. Every morning I woke up doubting my ability to walk to my airport gate, let alone log miles in legendary Yosemite National Park.

Donna could hear the panic in my voice the first time I explained the situation to her. I visited for FI sessions twice a week before departing for my next excursion. What occurred at, and with, her hands, during this time period, is something I still struggle to wrap my head around but will never forget.

By favoring my heel, I had painfully locked up my right calf muscle, exaggerating my limp and throwing off my physical equilibrium. This lead to what felt like a pinched nerve in my lower back and some muscular knotting under my shoulder blades. Feeling each body part react to the previous ailment was like watching a row of dominoes fall in slow motion onto my fragile travel plans. I had started making jokes about not being a kid anymore, but this? Now?

No longer am I a high school athlete with barely the need to stretch before exerting myself. That much was clear. This had been the first notable injury of my life. I have never broken a bone, torn ligaments, or had surgery. I’ve never even needed stitches. I felt more than pain in my foot as a result of the ill-fated jump. I felt confusion, frustration, helplessness at the situation, wondering why it was healing so much slower than anything had in the past, and how such a silly little thing could set me back in so many ways.

Each session, I came in to report to Donna something new on top of persistent heel pain and worry over my upcoming trip. Each time, I walked out with a noticeable improvement in both regards.

As a student and client, I cannot accurately describe how or why the Feldenkrais Method and its specific movements have the benefits that they do. What I have noticed, though, are the tools with which Donna conveys them. Her hands, as I am confident any of her students can attest, are the keys to her practice. They’re strong and long, steady, and decisive. I can feel her thoughtfulness through her work. Donna was, and always has been, incredibly mindful of my comfort through every session, asking questions and instructing in a calm, reassuring tone that is assuredly part of the healing experience.

By the time I woke up on the morning of my second departure, I felt like a new person. I was ready to strap-up and head out without fear of a premature return and without the need to sully the experience with constant complaints, confident in my possession of sound body and mind. A faint soreness remained in my foot, but I could walk and bare heavyweight without issue.

That lingering soreness acted as a friendly reminder of my own mortality, at least until the pain disappeared altogether. It became less noticeable with every mile we put between us and the parking lot.

Those miles added up quickly. We hiked twenty-four miles in Yosemite in three days, including a nine-thousand-foot ascent to the Summit of Clouds Rest. We carried forty-five pound overnight packs for about half of the trek and did not stop to rest on behalf of my foot even once, a massive departure from my visualized worst fears.

My back pain, too, melted away on the first day. It was as if Donna had aligned my moving parts to lock into place as soon as I hit the trail or returned to my most comfortable states of exertion. The difference was staggering. I stood at one point, looking down into Yosemite Valley, bouncing back and forth on both feet, and couldn’t help but crack a smile as wide as the valley itself. The climb provided a sense of accomplishment, sure, but knowing where I was, physically and mentally, only weeks prior, made it that much sweeter.

My work with Donna, and her attention to detail in treating me, opened my eyes not only to Feldenkrais as a technique for treating painful structural injuries, but also to her unbound potential as a healer. My trip, injury, and the stark realizations about my aging self that it forced, would all have been much more painful without her help.

Story and images contributed by Wes K.