When I left Satellite Beach at the start of summer it was with a nasty whiplash injury from a hard fall off the lip of a wave while boogie boarding. I’ve now had maybe 3-4 whiplashes, none from car accidents; all from riding waves. I had been working with a chiropractor for about a month as well as an at home cervical traction device to correct the 4 subluxations in my neck that were causing me some disorientation and feeling of being in a fish bowl most of the time.
I’d like to honestly say I thought the work helped, but really don’t think it did. I believe the relief I felt from the chiropractor came from the light warm up massage and heat before the adjustments and the cryotherapy afterwards, not so much the adjustments. Regardless of what the chiropractor did, my neck would pop and crunch with my every day movements feeling at times as though some of the connections in my neck might give way in an unusual direction. I could feel how the vertebrae were misaligned in there.
The traction device relieved a lot of the unusual pressure I was experiencing because of my cervical spine being severely out of balance. A month and a half of 1 -2 sessions per week of chiropractic and then 3 months of regular at home daily traction had left me feeling exactly the same as when I had first experienced the injury except that now that I had spent months in this condition I felt even more at its mercy as my educated, professional attempts to correct it had failed.
In reality, what had failed the most was my inability to stop offending activities during treatment. I did not stop surfing or riding my bicycle almost daily while I was attempting to heal my neck with the DC and traction. Well, I stopped for 72 hours after the initial and obvious injury. Then, despite the feeling of instability in the structure of my fragile neck, I couldn’t stop myself from the activities I so loved and why I live beachside. I did exactly what I had told years of clients not to do. And I didn’t heal.
Then I drove a very uncomfortable 12 hours north to Franklin, North Carolina to help my not to well Dad. In the five months I spent with him atop that steep, deeply forested mountain I did not surf or boogie board and I only rode my bike twice. The steepness of the mountain roads is a little more than I desire to ride. So I finally allowed my neck to rest: no offending activities.
Instead, because I wasn’t teaching or surfing or working or biking I was spending a lot more time immersed in my own daily and sometimes twice a day chi practice. As I disassociated from having to run my life by the schedule of a clock, my practice sessions grew from around 90 minutes to 120 until now when I’m practicing up to 3 ½ - 4 hours per session. I became completely removed from how long it took to practice focusing instead on the practice details. I became fully present with no concept of time passing as I had nowhere to get to on time.
My awareness of my mindbody increased tremendously in the extreme mountain quiet where all sound seems to be absorbed in the thick towering trees of the surrounding Nantahala National Forest. I fully felt my neck and forced myself to feel my injuries as completely as I could. With my years of training as a clinical massage therapist and armed with X-ray images of the damage that fun little wave had caused me, I pictured and felt as precisely as I could what had actually happened in my precious head support system.
As I practiced daily, I could slowly feel how the Yi Jin Ching practice was re-positioning the structures of my neck into alignment and balance again. This bilateral isolated isometric strengthening qigong exercise was pulling on all the opposing muscles of my spine in ways that felt very odd due to the lack of stability in my neck. The Yi Jin Ching (or DaMo’s 18 Muscle Tendon Changing Classic) works on the entire spine from tailbone to skull but of course I noticed it the most in my wave-slammed neck. By systematically strengthening the opposing muscle groups of my neck, the Yi Jin Ching was very subtly pulling the misaligned vertebrae back into center by strengthening opposing muscles. With supreme immersion into the self-awareness of my practice, I felt how the exercise gradually made the alignment of the bones better and in such, I was thinking and feeling clearer.
Once my bones had been slowly pulled mostly back into their normal positions, the still standing practice of holding post cemented my neck’s recovery. As I stood still for long periods of time with relaxed good posture, twitches worked their way through my shoulders and traps causing me to move almost in small undular waves, my neck turning slightly as my entire upper body would twist not unlike a cold snake slowly uncoiling. I had seen this reaction to holding post several times in others throughout my years of training, but I had never experienced it myself.
When I had witnessed this, I had always though it was a conscious adjustment on the practitioner’s part; that he or she had purposefully rolled their shoulders and neck to reposition themselves. I suppose that is sometimes true. But that’s not what I was experiencing. As an expert on soft tissue I knew that what I was experiencing was my fascia unwinding in a rather dramatic way. When trauma is caused to the mindbody whether mental or physical, the signature of that trauma is often physically held in the thin connective layers called fascia that surround every body part. Often that tissue responds as we to do trauma: by recoiling into itself in some way for protection. It’s almost as though the collagen fibers of the fascia get super-loomed together like 1000 thread count cotton, crammed in on each other as tightly as possible. Sometimes the trauma causes the fascia to fold over onto itself at different places like a sheet dropped onto a table unfolded. In either case, the fascia is shortened from its’ normal which results in loss of range of motion, discomfort, inflammation, structural adjustments in surrounding tissues and the inability to turn my head fully that I was experiencing.
When fascia releases its unbelievably tight hold, it unwinds or uncoils, almost like a misaligned spring recoiling slowly back to where it needs for balance. This unwinding, in my particular case with my neck, was causing my head and shoulders to move involuntarily. When I became still enough and my alignment was mostly where it should be and I could let go and relax when holding post for say 30 minutes, the injured fascia unwound itself and I was able to stand up taller with less strain. I felt like my eyes were actually opening a little wider because some kind of internal pressure was being released.
It took about 5 months for this healing to take place but then I noticed that my neck no long popped or crackled-the noise slowly disappeared completely. It didn’t feel stiff or tight when I turned anymore. The stability had returned too and I had a sense of confidence in simply moving my head that I had lost in that fun little accident. This complete and total healing of a pretty intense and traumatic neck injury cost me absolutely nothing. It happened because I was actually following the prescription for qigong healing: stop all offending activities that are making the problem worse and do at least 20 minutes of qigong a day. By following this prescription there were no bad side effects; instead I reconnected to the core of my practice and to its full healing potential.
I’ll be honest. I don’t think this would have happened had I stayed in Florida. I, like many of you, seem to be unable to give up offending activities I love even when I know I need to. I am now a walking and talking example of the true power of what these practices can do for you, if you follow the prescription of healing. All it takes to heal yourself is a tiny bit of knowledge and a heavy dose of self-control in the form of practice and patience. You are your own solutions. Don’t neglect the stillness of holding post. It is in the stillness that healing can take place. Just be still and let yourself unwind into health.