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Marcie showed up for a workshop the other day. I was surprised, because she had come to see me the other day after being diagnosed with a herniated disc. Her doctor had recommended a cortisone shot and/or surgery. I’m always really careful when someone shows up in my office with a “diagnosis.” Moshe Feldenkrais often said, “You are not your diagnosis.” So I worked with Marcie’s curiosity instead. We both noticed that on the painful side, she had developed a habit of pulling her hip up, shortening her torso. Her opposite shoulder was tense, lifted as if trying to support the effort of the other side. With gentle guidance, I directed her attention to her breath, the movement of her ribs as she breathed. Marcie noticed that even though she was breathing, she was gripping in her chest, “holding on for dear life,” she laughed.

She said the doctor had told her herniated discs were common at her age. But she had never had a day of pain in her life, was an active yoga practitioner and outdoorswoman. She had been absolutely mystified by this sudden apparent deterioration. And then she remembered. The dog. She had rescued a dog from the animal shelter, a seemingly sweet and docile mixed breed. She was fine until they went walking. The second the dog saw anything: another dog, a squirrel, even a leaf stirring, she tore off, dragging Marcie behind her. Twice, the dog literally pulled Marcie so that she fell to the ground and then dragged her in her pursuit of squirrel.

Marcie had sadly returned the dog to the pound and grieved. When the pain appeared a week later, she did not make the connection. That morning in my office, she suddenly realized that she held the leash in her left hand. She fell on her left side. Was there a connection? Whether the fall had damaged something, or she unconsciously gripped, putting pressure on her spine after the trauma, was irrelevant. What was important was what Marcie noticed. Her shoulders relaxed, her ribs softened. She stood up and the pain was gone.

“Wow! You made it through a whole workshop!” I said. Marcie shrugged. ”Why not? I’ve had absolutely no pain since our lesson. I’m going back to yoga this week.” Awesome.