Living & Working with Dystonia
I have been working with and learning about Dystonia for over a decade and have developed many insights into the beneficial uses of both the Alexander Technique and creative psychotherapeutic methods in helping sufferers manage the condition.
Alexander Technique & Dystonia
Dystonia is a neurological condition that sets the muscles into continuous spasms in the upper body. The condition can appear at any age and often goes misdiagnosed for a long time. The contractions do not stop at night – they are relentless and painful and cannot be hidden and cause postural disorders. Furthermore, the condition often causes feelings of anger, shame in social settings and therefore isolation, loss, fear, and guilt. So sufferers need both physical and emotional help.
The website of the Dystonia Society is an enlightened source of advice with many insights that are close to Alexander’s philosophy and practice. The main difference is that the Alexander Technique offers the sufferer hands-on guidance rather than a pure self-help method so the person is not left alone with experimenting what helps and with an Alexander teacher one can work with unhelpful patterns a person has brought into the condition from before.
I was contacted by Val Cross a dystonia sufferer in the last quarter of 2009. We have worked together since then and engaged in a process of living and working with the condition.
With Val, we have achieved a lot for many reasons. We mainly worked on the core thesis of Alexander’s of “non-doing” and breathing through the spasms – day and night. Val was also prepared to work through emotional and psychological challenges with the help of psychodramatic action methods which I am able to offer. That allowed her to express her emotions and learn to release the energy, such as anger or despair, in order to go back to the “non-doing” and breathing.
Since there is no cure, Val allowed herself to receive a new way of being with the condition and realised that the new input helps to re-educate the brain and the body.
Interestingly, on the website of the Dystonia Society one can find ‘sensory tricks’ in order to cope. For Torticollis the help for the sufferer is to touch their head, neck and chin to counteract the spasms – almost the classical contact an Alexander teacher would apply.
Val’s improvements have been considerable. She says:
“The work with the AT allowed me to become more aware of myself as a whole being. It has taken away the feeling of being identified as a ‘dystonic person’ by accepting all that I am and who I am. It helped me to learn new ways of breathing, posture, movement, thinking and focusing on what my muscles are doing and then learning to breathe through the spasms. Whilst I still have movement and pain it is not as severe as it was all of the time. I am not taking strong painkillers on a regular basis. My sleep pattern has improved and I am not waking up every morning with severe neck and head pain. My confidence has increased and I don’t feel so much of a social freak.
I concentrate on allowing my body to work less in all the positions that each part is placed and this seems to release the tension in the muscle. If spasms come on I breathe out through them. I learned to stand and bend differently, and slowly I am learning to send these right messages back to the brain.
I went initially for any help with coping with the symptoms of Dystonia. This has been achieved, but also I now have no arthritic pain in my hips and my legs have become stronger, which has been an added bonus.”
Val Cross, Southampton