ALL OF ME
In December 2020 I received an email from Gokhale Method® offering a five-day trial period of exercise classes and dance parties with posture lessons. Every day for five days! I was thrilled to receive this email and joined on January 1. From day one I knew I had found something very special.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I swam to stave off the pain I felt in my back and hips. But when the virus struck, I wasn’t able to swim. Eventually my back pain returned to being constant. This showed me that being dependent on an external circumstance, swimming in this case, to feel good, could not give me everything that I needed to heal.
January 1, 2021, day one of my five-day free trial of the Gokhale Method daily program. It was about the inner corset and how it protects your back.
Those first five days were like a prayer being answered. I thought, “this is the place where I can learn how to care for myself day by day." Three weeks later I decided to take the online Elements course. With each lesson, I learned new ways to relieve pain in my body and gained confidence that I could help myself if pain returned. Fortunately, I could take the lessons at my own pace which allowed me to take my time and savor what I was learning. Some positive results came very quickly for me, and yet there is a lot more depth left for me to appreciate. For both these reasons, it was with deep gratitude that I came to write this article.
As a very young girl I was confident in my body. Being athletic, I felt I could do anything. I was just me. . .whole. That all changed growing up in a troubled family. Mine was a childhood of great conflict and uncertainty. But I was resilient, so I forged ahead.
Here I am, aged 18.
In my late twenties I fell through a porch, leaving one leg on the deck and the other dangling below. Alone, I pulled myself up. It was a terrifying experience and had a strong physical impact. Sitting became possible for only short periods at a time. I was profoundly uncomfortable with no ease or let up. Doctors couldn’t find anything “wrong” with me —no broken bones or serious injuries that X-rays could detect. A chiropractor told me my pelvis was twisted from the fall. This was a helpful diagnosis but he treated me for nine months with no change. So began my search for something that would permanently help me. Yoga, swimming, massage, physical therapy, chiropractic; you name it, I tried it—everything mainstream and more. All were helpful in some ways, but none resulted in lasting improvements.
Me in 1997, aged 40. I would tend to lock my knees and park my abdomen forward, creating sway and compression in my lower back.
My search continued for 32 years. My back would give out, I would have to lie down for days, and then slowly over weeks I would loosen up and go on. My chosen profession in the Fine Arts is of a physical nature, allowing me to move around frequently throughout the day. This was my saving grace, because moving kept some of the muscular tightness at bay.
Leaning in to paint book covers contributed to my hunching. I needed to learn how not to round my back and hunch my shoulders.
Sensing there was an emotional connection to my physical pain, I continued searching and exploring different avenues for a deeper understanding of why I was still “not right.” Talk therapy was enormously helpful. The fall had scared me. So had other experiences in my early life. Even with all this therapy work, the pain persisted. Over time I gained in self-confidence and felt reconciled to what I had to deal with—occasional debilitating bouts of back pain—and I moved on with my life. Things could be worse, I thought to myself. Years later the answers to my predicament became clearer as I took on the role of a caregiver. I imagine as I write this that many readers will understand from personal experience what it is like to care for someone who is ill and relies on you heavily.
Caregiving became a central focus in my daily life as I cared for my mother and later my sister. Caring for them made for conflicted feelings. As my mother’s condition worsened I took on more responsibilities for her care. One day she asked me, “why are you helping me?" It floored me, though I knew why she asked. Why would you care for someone who did not care for you? All I could say to her at the time was “because I love you, and you deserve it." She did not believe it—I was conflicted. But deep in my heart I knew she did deserve my help. This is what family does, right? I had to care for her, love her, show her that she was worthy. I do believe that we are all worthy of love and care. For myself, I wanted to learn what it is to have a positive experience of family.
The Dust Bowl book. (Buttons, tin type photos, hand-painted paper, birch bark.) A central focus of my work is to give attention to the unseen in plain sight. From the tiny bits on the forest floor to the unrecognized work that women do daily. Now after many years I understand hiding was my main way to feel safe, unrecognized, and unseen.
But it wore me down. It was almost more than I could bear, and my body caved in on itself. I stiffened with fear and worry. My shoulders slumped forward and my back rounded. It was a relief when my mother quietly passed away in her apartment.
The Dust Bowl, closed. Its insides are hidden.
Several years later I drove to Georgia with my husband and our pup, Ace, to bring my older sister home to Massachusetts so I could care for her. We had seen each other only a few times in 40 years. We were sisters but you wouldn’t know it. She needed help and care desperately. I knew I had to step in.
I made this piece when my sister was diagnosed with cancer. Dark and light come together. My photographs are not enhanced—these are printed on tissue paper, then applied to the frame like gold leaf. The black handmade paper is arranged edge-on.
That was nine years ago. Through those years we got to know each other and grew as close as she would allow. Several times she asked me nearly the same question my mother had, “Why are you helping me?" And again I said, “because I love you, you deserve it.” But I was angry with her for the hurt and pain she caused in our childhood. Even though I had grown a deep emotional understanding of myself by that time, I still didn’t recognize what was happening in my body. Again my body stiffened and caved in.
My mother and my siblings. I am the worried looking one on her lap.
Caregiving wore me down and filled me up, leaving room for little else. The burden from stress, worry, responsibility, and physical strain, is exhausting. Along with that, the sense of connection and privilege of being trusted and important to the people who needed my help filled me with wonder, love, and self-confidence. I held up and helped out. This is as it should have been in many ways, except one—I could not find effective or adequate ways to care for myself at the same time.
I have learned for myself how interconnected everything is. I used to think that we were made up of separate parts—a mind, soul, spirit, body. I sought out solutions to my pain as though I was made up of these different parts. It was as if, like jigsaw puzzle pieces put together in the right place, I could become whole. This did not work for me.
A limited edition of 39 copies, published by 21st Editions. As a bookbinder I co-designed and created many editions. This is one of my favorites. I painted linen papers for these covers. Each set is different. All stages of production are by hand.
Book cover opened. It took me a long time to find the integration within myself that I could create in my artwork.
Now I understand things differently. I believe there is an interrelated dance to the patterns we develop. These patterns play out over and over again. Our own individual ways of moving our bodies are part of the constellation of being who we are and how our life experiences inform our reality.
While I was still taking the Elements course and attending the daily program, the puzzle pieces started coming together. Sometimes, while dancing in class, I’d be swept away in movement, crying and integrating the grief my body was holding. All while moving with better posture!
Tucking my pelvis and rounding my back as I am doing here was a self-protective postural habit—almost like a turtle’s shell.
Now I prefer to hip-hinge and my spine, back muscles, and neck are much happier!
It’s been 13 months since my first Zoom classes. I still show up for the daily classes and dance my heart out. Moving as freely as I can, feeling myself move through space, sensing the physicality inside of me. How does it feel to anchor my ribs? What’s it like to roll my shoulders back and feel their weight as they hang by my sides or float around? I feel alive and connected to me. I feel wonderful sensations of flow as I move around the room.
I loved painting these lines, which are covered in tissue paper. This is the flow I had been searching for and have now found for my body/self.
This work with the Gokhale Method teachers and the online community continues to be full of opportunities and I am still learning. My latest adventure with this wonderful work is using the PostureTracker™! This is an amazing tool that gives real-time feedback on my body’s movements and is rapidly deepening my understanding of my posture habits.
PostureTracker used to show how I habitually contracted the back of my neck and lifted my chin up (left). Now it is helping me to learn and maintain a much healthier, tall neck position (right).
Aligning my body in healthy posture so that I can move with ease is my goal. I am simply engaged in the process of making the unfamiliar familiar. Over time I will be “at home” standing tall with ribs anchored, shoulders back, arms hanging comfortably by my sides, and strong feet beautifully supporting all of me.
Here I am seeing that my back remains unswayed using the Upright and Relaxed PostureTracker™setting.
If you would like to find out more about how the Gokhale Method can help support you, sign up to join one of our upcoming FREE Online Workshops…
Julia, thank you for sharing
Julia, thank you for sharing your beautiful journey. So very inspiring. XO
Julia...I have no words...it
Julia...I have no words...it has been such a pleasure watching you spread your wings in your Zoom box every day....Peace....mary
Julia, your description, your
Julia, your description, your "painting", of your successes with Gokhale are written beautifully. The positive turn in your life of finally finding something to not only take away your pain, but help you feel joyfully connected through your whole self is inspiring. Time spent with your mother and sister shows grace and fortitude and the deep commitment you have to help others no matter the circumstances. I am so impressed and feel really lucky to know you.
Julia it is such a pleasure
Julia it is such a pleasure to tune in every day and see your smiling, joyful face...even when you are feeling not-so-joyful! Thanks for sharing your story with us. Lynn a.
Thank you for sharing your
Thank you for sharing your story. You speak for many of us who in our own way have a similar process. Being able to let go of hiding is so liberating! All best, Miriam
Thanks for sharing Julia!
Thanks for sharing Julia!
Thank you for an inspiring
Thank you for an inspiring and authentic blog post. I, too, spent 10 years as a caregiver for my mother and her sister who both lived to 100. It was a learning experience about dying and death, one that not many people have, and it takes time to recover from the emotional toll it takes on our bodies. I'm so happy that you have found your freedom!
Julia, I was so moved by your
Julia, I was so moved by your blog story about your childhood, adulthood, artist's life and posture journey. You are an amazing woman and I hope to meet you in-person someday! My major take home piece from your story is to continually remind myself that your and my posture journeys are lifelong, not take the Elements course with joints and spine magically fixed and perfect. But that we will both keep at it, enjoying the road along the way.
PS. thank you for sharing the photographs along with your text description. They made your story come to life for me.
Julia, thank you, even across
Julia, thank you, even across thousands of miles via Zoom you radiate kindness. And your artwork is awesome, beautiful xo (Patricia)
Julia, Thank you for sharing
Julia, Thank you for sharing and illustrating your story. I loved how you found insights from your posture journey reflected back through your art. It's fascinating how your held postures and movement restrictions related to your life story and how finding freedom in your movement through learning
the Gokhale posture method informs your life story. All my best, Diane
Thank you Julia! It is so
Thank you Julia! It is so inspiring to hear of your journey to selfdom and more ease and joy in your life! Your artwork is stunning and I really appreciated your sharing it with us! It is great to hear how you are learning lessons from your past however hard they were! I'm sorry you had to go through that. Now to see you changing your habitual posture to one of support and groundedness is awesome!!
Julia, I can't tell you how
Julia, I can't tell you how deeply your story touches me, and your artwork speaks so intimately and personnally to my soul and eye. Thank you for sharing yourself, your journey, this way. It is a beautifully done piece. I feel so fortunate to be sharing time and movement (on so many levels!) daily. Many blessings to you, and may you continue to thrive! Alice
Julia,This is a beautifully
This is a beautifully written piece that shows your extraordinary sensitivity and humanity. What a joy to be getting to know you! Your artwork is so powerful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story and for continuing to join us all as we dance together towards health and greater happiness.
Thank you so much for sharing
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Julia! Have loved your beautiful contributions in class but now the picture is so much deeper and richer. Your amazing pic with the huge tortoise was an aha moment for me, having grown up with significant family violence. So perceptive and visually meaningful! May your posture journey continue to uncover many gems. Grateful for you!
Beautiful and moving story
Beautiful and moving story about your life, Julia. I wish you continued healing on your emotional and physical journey :)
I am so moved by your story
I am so moved by your story Julia. Thank you for sharing with us. I always appreciate your comments and insightful questions in our daily programs, and the joy that Gokhale method has given you shines through. Your story is very inspirational. Karen
What a lovely blog post,
What a lovely blog post, Julia. Thank you for sharing your personal and postural journey with us, and for the glimpse of your exquisite artwork. The way you balance vulnerability with confidence, acceptance with optimism, and grief with exuberance is an inspiration. I look forward to watching you achieve ever-increasing ease, comfort and strength.
Dear Julia,Artist you are in
Artist you are in your sensitivtiy, volunerabilty and sharing of yourself. You are beautiful as is your art work, words and thoughts. Your blog is profound and uplifting...Susan