… Back then, I used to think about the starting point of the disease. Did some cause of my RA slip my attention? What went wrong? I dug into my memories and found – nothing. Nothing besides the memory of the feeling of a slight hollowness. „What do I live for – and why?“, that was swallowed by the everyday turmoil that needed my attention from dawn till dusk. And if someone had asked: „What do you want? What do you miss?“ I couldn‘t have given a proper answer. But a sensation ensembled the feeling, a certain feebleness within my hand. But that alone did not give me sufficient evidence for an explanation of my RA.
Due to the discontinuation of my treatment, however, I was now alone with my “rheumatism-matter”. I was entirely on my own and wanted to make the most of my situation. But about my body, especially about all that is so soft and gibbering under my skin, I hadn’t thought more than necessary before.
So what could I do?
Arthritic pain, a lot of it, forced me to think.
Fritz Perls described the function of pain as a guide to its causes and therethrough to its relief with the words “The pain will lead the way!”. So I tracked the pain I felt and found that it was only then that I became consciously aware of the existence of different regions of my body.
Perl’s words were a guideline for me because until then, my rheumatoid arthritis seemed like something independent that just did whatever it wanted, moving freely throughout my whole body.
As if something strange I didn’t know and had no impact on had its own life inside me. So back then, I thought that my RA was not related to the way I treated my body but to a pure failure of it.
From slight tingling and dull throbbing to sharp tearing, burning and excruciatingly seeming, stinging pain, swelling and restricted movement, I experienced how precisely this “something” felt but still found myself unable to explain it. From this, I realized two things. At first that I had only an imprecise picture of my physical inner life and at second that I had felt my body to be a part of my Me only to the extent that I had known until then.
Illnesses such as colds or injuries such as broken arms or legs had always occurred in my life in clearly defined “normal” situations, in which the cause was openly apparent and remedy within reach. Apart from that, I wasn’t used to feeling my body that intense at all.
My pain and physical decline made me very sad. My condition gave me anxiety and worry; I felt shame and anger. And this mental effort also physically invalidated me. Mostly I was tired and exhausted, freezing hard. From freezing, the goosebumps on my arms, the chill which rushed through my entire diseased body, I first noticed how what I felt emotionally could be found as a physical expression in my muscles, my nerves, my skin. My sadness sat like a pillow-sized, oppressive drop on my chest, hung heavily on my head and shoulders and pulled them down. My head was sore with worry and started to ache; fear cut my breath short and laced my chest.
My rheumatoid arthritis and its consequences triggered emotions so that I could directly observe how my physical sensations were reflecting on my soul!
And vice versa:
My emotions found their expression in my physical sensations!
The physical and psychological aspects of my whole being correlate – not only when one is blushing, freezing in agony or starts to shiver from excitement. That’s why I thought there would have to be access to an understanding of my RA from my thoughts and feelings.
During my pain covered nightly waking times, I read a book by Anne-Marie Tausch about her life with cancer. She described how she had intensively imagined the diseased regions of her own body, the processes in it and then the successful fight against cancer cells. So she wanted to stimulate her body to heal.
I liked the idea of recovery through the idea of a healing body, even if my problem was not cancer, but rheumatoid arthritis. In any case, I wanted to do something for myself, even though I wasn’t a physician.
And so I deliberately directed loving, caring thoughts and good feelings at myself, letting them create pleasant and comforting images in me. Often I couldn’t bear warming blankets or thicker clothes because of the pressure sensitivity of my body and froze so much. That’s why I first imagined my body surrounded by a warm yet feather-light, fluffy soft blanket as a soft, comforting imaginary protective cover.
That gave me what the goal of this idea was: the sense of protection and comfort. I started to relax, which meant that after a while I got warmer!
So I learned by the experience with myself:
Feelings and thoughts provoke a physical reaction!
My sentiences are real for both my body and my soul!
Consciously used good feelings and ideas of health should now help me to get out of the RA.
I was looking for clear goals for my conscious emotional-imagination images and therefore began to imagine my body with healthy joints and muscles.
I looked at many images of the physical inner human life of a healthy person. I looked at the bones and joints and at everything related to them: tendons, muscles, connective tissue, nerve cells…and soon realized that I usually felt more comfortable with graphics than with photographs. So I specifically chose pictures that best matched my imagination and well-being and gave me a good overview of my body interior. And that put another complexion on things. I got more specific ideas about what it looked like within the areas where I felt the arthritis pain. Over time, I became better and better in explaining the different processes in my body.
In the previous years, my RA hadn‘t occurred evenly during all the days, weeks and months. There were times when it had been more imperceptible, slower, less inflammatory and less painful. This was always the case when I could relax more intensively than usual during the illness and thus also relieve enough stress to get closer to or even from time to time below the critical limit, where stress becomes overloading. I realized this in the situations in which I had found myself being less tormented by pain such as beautiful and harmonious family reunions, for example, activities with my friends, pleasant walks, fun and joy, an exciting film or a captivating read. All in all, not in everyday life.
However, I wasn’t able to feel that, and how tensed I was in typical, everyday situations. I could only compare my experiences and the inflammations and pain that accompanied them, and in hindsight, I attributed them to my tension level in these situations. That’s why I practised to relax more in all sorts of ordinary situations and habituated a more relaxed approach by memorizing the previously viewed images of healthy and strong hands, arms, elbows over and over again until they were utterly familiar to me. This way, I imagined my own body as healthy, combined these ideas with relaxation and happy memories and found that I could also recreate unrestricted and carefree body movements and postures!
By the use of relaxing body-techniques (such as Autogenic Training, the Feldenkrais-Method, Progressive Muscle Relaxation) we can improve body perception. Doing that we’ll learn how to detect and eliminate tension with relaxation.
This was precisely what I needed to heal my rheumatoid arthritis.
So in my first HeilÜben-exercises (today’s Level 1), I used the fact that health, as described more detailed above, can begin through the mind, thoughts and emotions, even if the disease restricts the rest of the body.
This helped me to experience more consciously again, despite illness-related limitations, which at the start made purely body-therapeutic interventions very difficult or even impossible.
Doing so, I realized that my sensibility was weakened not only in terms of my tension. In contrast to my feelings of pain and unhappiness, both strong stimuli, I no longer noticed many more delicate physical stimuli due to various effects of my RA at all or at least only noticed them physically significantly weakened.
That my fine sentiences vanished due to RA, I first figured by looking at the broken little hairs on the back of my hand and fingers. By that, I noticed that I was grabbing and touching things just little too hard than it would have been necessary – but I could not sense touch anymore without performing my movements using more and more tension. I needed more force increasingly as I lost my ability to sense and feel. Thus I also understood through other experiences with RA how the effects of the disease changed my sensations which in turn manipulated my perception. I realized that RA changed my body in such a way that I was less able to help myself when I could perceive things and connections less well, and my senses did no longer provide sufficient feedback.
The more inaccurate the sense of touch in my hands became, the deafer they were, the more they hurt, the worse I felt. The more swollen my feet and legs were, the worse the condition of my knees was, the worse my walk became. Not just once, but often, too often, I couldn’t walk like my joints would have needed it. My restricted senses, therefore, also led to unhealthy body movement and a poor posture. In my worst times, I would sometimes slam my crooked hands desperately at my desk and hated them for how crippled they were. It was like they were against me. I wanted to be able to feel with them, I wanted them to be completely mobile again, and above all, I wanted them to be painless. At the same time, however, I knew very well that by using force that wouldn’t happen.
Therethrough, I realized that I had to contemplate two conditions. The first was mine to a greater or lesser extent restricted sentiences. The second was that I moved accordingly limited due to the restriction of my sentiences and to the consequences of relieving postures and lack of training, which in turn led to shortened tendons, weakened muscles, damaged blood circulation and overfatigue, as my limited sense of touch had an effect not only on my movement and posture but on my overall perception.
My senses and sentiences, which constitute my perception, were modified by my RA (takes to mean: by inflammation, pain, swellings, numbness, limitation of motion, energy loss and overfatigue). Thus I was inevitably in the unfortunate situation of being unable to perceive the fine sentiences of me and my surroundings through my senses (damaged by the disease) I had been able to sense before RA. Out of my now lessened sentiences arose information that was modified by rheumatoid arthritis. And out of this modified information, my RA-reality came into being. A reality that wasn’t very real anymore: I forgot the things I couldn’t feel anymore, I forgot all those movements RA made impossible. It wasn’t just about being unable to move freely because of an RA, to be in pain and the destruction of joints in prospect, it was about me forgetting my actual range of movement.
Accordingly restricted were the motion and posture of my body. On the one hand, this solidified my RA and on the other caused other restrictions and health implications.
Progressive change and longer duration of the disease increased not only the difference between me and my fellow human beings but also between the person I was and the person I used to be. Stronger and faster changes by RA were usually even better than slight, steady and unusual. The more significant the difference between the RA-normality and my former healthier normality, the clearer it became to me how much influence RA had on my life. I had to fight against certain operational blindness, which pushed the habituation of my life and my feelings influenced by my disease. I learned with my own body that information and thus also information coming from my sentiences change me. And just because something is changing that doesn‘t necessarily mean it is changing for the better.
Thus it was hardly surprising that with goodwill alone, I couldn’t end my rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory process with pain, swelling and causing deformations. To be able to assess me and the world around me thoroughly, I needed my senses. I needed information/perceptions from healthy sentiences that I couldn’t get through a sick body on my own. This was a normal process because only from within we perceive the world outside. And for so long as I did not intentionally and consciously intervene by using my skills to practice my sense of touch and agility, my perception was mainly based on my increasingly limited physical sentiences.
Intervention now meant to treat my body more cautious and prudent. In doing so, I discovered that I could compensate for lack of sense of touch, e.g. with numb, swollen or aching hands and feet, by watching and my movements and by thinking about how I used my strength and shaped. So I could regulate both my movement and posture and thus relieve my body – despite my limited senses and motion. As I thought, tried and practised to activate my senses and to combine my skills, I felt how much more comfortable I was with my body when I kept myself unencumbered and moving. This encouraged me to do my everyday things in this better and healthier way.
I decided to do exercise with every situation and every single work and trained with everything I was dealing with. When I moved around, for example, or when I sat down, got up or ran, when I opened a faucet, took my jacket off the hook. I combined my body movement and posture with emotions, with imaginations and with my sentiences. I realized how much all of them closely intertwined elements make up our dealings with ourselves. They direct our body movement and posture and at the same time are provoked by it again.
I trained my prudence, improved my attention inside and out. My exercises changed me, made me more mindful of what I had done so far, overwhelmed me. I dismantled such harmful habits, for example, by no longer abusing my body as an impact and impact tool or beast of burden.
With my HÜ-exercises, my finer, physical sensations became accessible to me again. A critical step because these more delicate sensations were the warning signals of my body before and while overloading by misusing it. And when, in addition to the clear sensations such as sharp pain, I also felt the finer and beginning discomfort, I also felt stress and my reaction to him so much more that I could break them down before they became so strong that I would fall ill. Such an internal early warning system against overload, inflammation and pain requires all senses.
I observed how my sensory perceptions, emotions and ideas affect my physical expression because they are all direct-acting impulses for how I move and hold my body. Depending on my possibilities and my daily form, exercises for posture and movement were added.
HeilÜben-exercises Level 1
- address with words what we are aware of: our minds and the feelings that are accessible to us – it explains exactly what is practised.
- are aimed directly at body and soul with imaginations and movement. So by working with more than just our minds alone, we get more power to change. At first, the body is addressed directly through intentional thoughts, relaxing ideas, images, feelings and in subsequent HÜ about body perceptions, about sensations (through relaxation, gentle movement).
In the midst of my rheumatoid arthritis, I used my skills to create healthy impulses from pictorial images, a more conscious body-soul-feeling, concentrative relaxation, posture and movement.
All of this based on the abilities I had in my healthy life, without ever paying any particular attention to them, and yet using them successfully.
Over time I got to know my skills better and strengthened my confidence, which in turn improved healing and thus pushed my motivation. I collected more and more concrete observations and insights that confirmed my endeavours.
All of this may sound unfamiliar while your own body is “freaking out” and you’ve experienced that nothing of what you’ve done so far has healed RA. But I had the best will to help myself and developed my skills. However, they didn’t just come overnight. As long as I did not practice my skills, my health efforts did not succeed.
All of these wholesome impulses had a constant alternating effect, amplified and triggered relaxation in my body. I managed to relieve my posture and movement in the middle of the RA. During the healing process, it was essential for me to intentionally interrupt the tension habit again and again by consciously relaxing in a wide variety of situations.
From a certain degree of their form, my skills enabled me to reach the necessary knowledge and relaxation-skills for the next advanced healing exercises (Level 2).
While I was continually working on my exercises, pain offered me a sheer amount of new insights I could think about.
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*Tausch, Anne-Marie, Gespräche gegen die Angst, Rowohlt 1994