Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What The {BLEEP} Do We Know



Tamar and I would like to apologize if we haven't kept our postings on the blog as current as usual lately. We've been very busy. We'll get back on track by the end of this week or the beginning of the next. In the meantime, here's something I wrote back in late February- before Harvard and before our most recent trip to Chicago. Our process is an ever evolving one. We hope these blog entries reflect that and we hope you continue to enjoy them.

It’s Friday. The weeks seem to be flying by but this Winter seems to be lasting forever. Whatever snow-kissed beauty from the recent precipitation was blanketing the otherwise charmingly dinghy Lower East Side has been replaced in less than twenty-four hours with icey snowdrifts and dirty slush puddles. Natural beauty never seems to last long in this place. After all, even the milk goes bad early here. Luckily I only have to walk across the street to get to the studio. Tamar is predictably running late. I’ve come to enjoy this time. Previously, I never used to be able to work for any length of time by myself. I lacked specific focus. Now however, I hop up on the counter as soon as I get changed and begin stretching my psoas muscles- first the right leg, then the left. With a little effort, I can let all thoughts from the morning, night before, week ahead, drift away and turn my focus inward in a way I would have thought impossible a year ago. My previously “cerebral” conversation, which took place in my head often with several different voices participating, has been replaced with a much clearer, quieter one between brain and body. There’s something almost Socratic in my approach. I ask my quadracep if it thinks it might be possible to not hold on to so much tension and my leg drops an eighth of an inch. I suggest to my right foot that it may want to see what it feels like to turn out (go on, I dare you), and it does. I’ve finished with my piriformace stretches and I’m in the studio and working on stretching my hamstrings by the time Tamar has arrived. “Oh that looks beautiful,” she says. She’s not talking about my perfectly formed bottom. I can feel her eyes practically burning a hole into my lumbar spine. I continue to stretch my hamstrings and then roll up to standing. Tamar has been obsessed with the stomach muscles and the core area recently. In class and in our one-on-one studio sessions we have been working on engaging them (the abdominals), by employing the image of a vase in the mid section. The idea is to get the edges of the vase moving in an eighth of an inch. It’s a difficult concept to grasp and even harder to maintain, but it makes all the difference once it does occur. It’s an incredible organizing principle. If my stomach muscles experience engagement my upper and lower body both move automatically into an almost instantaneous alignment. The shift is difficult to explain, and it’s very easy for me to get distracted by the amount of sensation that occurs in my body as a result of this powerful an alignment shift- particularly with the core. To engage the core requires a lot of intense focus, an almost ‘divine relaxation,’ which is difficult to acquire when my upper and lower body are shifting so much. I’ve been extremely interested in following the alignment changes in my lower body in the past few weeks, particularly below the knees. As we work I can sense that I’m losing the ability to get my abdominals engaged and give the attention to my legs, which are shaking and spiraling to the point of throwing me off balance. Tamar suggests I lay down on a mat so I can better focus on the specific core area, but I’m getting a very strong, specific intention from my lower body. I tell her I don’t want to lie down because my legs will be taken out of the equation. I have the sense she’s a little perturbed with this resistance to a direction, but before we can discuss it any further a woman comes down the stairs…

“Hello, can we help you?”

Mason, the owner has promised someone a private yoga session at 0930 with Ursula, one of the yoga instructors. Being the interlopers we are, we relinquish the studio and move into the hallway. We’ve worked here on several occasions in the past week with the focus on my feet. We are unflappable in the face of this adversity! Obstacles are opportunities for the likes of stalwart corporeal adventurers the likes of us! Outside the studio I’ve rolled down and folded over my legs. My lower back protests strenuously. It feels like someone is reaching into my back with both hands Kali Ma-style and is squeezing every last drop of bile out of my kidneys. It’s torture. Tamar is sly like a fox. While I was busy gathering some mats and blocks in case we needed them outside the studio her wheels have been turning and she has devised a compromise to integrate my upper and lower body. Before I know it I’m leaning on the cubbies with my left arm threaded through my right with my left leg bent and my right, standing leg straight. Within moments I’m shaking deep within my legs. I mean deep. Every striation deep. The first time I really experienced this was the day the Good Morning America camera crews were filming us. I was in a similar position (rolled over my legs), experiencing similar pain in my lower back and Tamar suggested I stay in this stress position, confident that it would move into something else. Before I could make some crack about cripple torture- Guantanamo on Ludlow, it did. Move. This deep shaking is very different from the aggressive, slam-bam-wham shaking that we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s internal, much more supple, stronger. My right leg is gently jack hammering into the ground. I’m suddenly aware of my lower meniscuses on my right knee. I’m not even sure if I have lower meniscus but something is happening behind my knee in a completely new and unexpected way. At one point my tailbone drops like a hammer and Tamar and I almost burst into tears simultaneously. It’s like we’re connected or some shit. I continue in this position for what seems like an almost Brechtian length of time. Suddenly I’m convinced that my right leg is turning in. Turning in, in that typical, clich├ęd C.P. way. I can see it in my mind’s eye as clear as day. I can feel it. My right knee is kissing my left. My right foot is rolled in. I ask Tamar to check on it. She assures me that I’m standing in perfect parallel. That’s weird. I heard her say it. I saw it with my own eyes but I can’t believe it. I’ve never had a perceptual flash like that before. Interesting. As I continue in this pose and continue to shake deeper and deeper I have another flash. I see myself standing completely naked in a twisted, spastic fetal pose. Curious and more curious. How far down the rabbit hole am I going to go? My arms begin to hurt so I ask if I can switch sides. Tamar acquiesces. A change is a rest. My body responds similarly on the left side. My thinking head is starting to come online with the enormity of what’s happened today. Before I can get bogged down in the pseudo-psycho-emotional ramifications however, I notice that the yoga session is coming to a close. I need to start walking before these people come into our space. As I stand up I feel completely different in my body. I can feel every rib, my muscles seem to be hanging on my bones and I feel at least eight feet tall. There’s no room to go forward so I decide to take a step backwards. I do and get hit with a wave of emotion that I’ve grown strangely accustomed to. That step was so effortless, so beautifully integrated, so fully and completely human that it brings me to tears. On these rare occasions I am overwhelmed with love for this body. My body. Such a smart body. Such a good body. If you’ll forgive a little Shakespeare, “…in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!”

The women leave, I walk into the studio and I have a natural opposition and feeling in my feet that has never been there before. I know I’ve mentioned that particular sensation before but this particular way of walking has really never been there before. It feels like tongues of flame are licking my heels encouraging them to raise and lower in near perfect synchronization. I (we all), have an encoded, inherent desire for positive alignment. That’s what makes this work simultaneously and paradoxically surprising and not surprising. I’m walking around like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Well, because it is. When Tamar and I began our work we both noticed and came to the conclusion that there was something juvenile or adolescent about my walk; an almost happy-go-lucky bounciness to it that didn’t quite match up with the adult I had become. During adolescence ever person goes through a period of dramatic hormonal shifts and physical change. Everyone (for the most part) eventually grows out of this awkward phase but disabled bodies remain disabled. I remember being consciously aware at twenty years old that “this,” my disability, was something that I was never going to outgrow. That was the same year I asked my mother for the first time about the story surrounding the circumstances of my birth. That was also the year I started writing my first play, Game Legs. By the age of twenty-four I had begun to get creative with my own life story after discovering an obscure vocabulary word. Teratogen, is a noun and is defined as, an agent, such as a virus, a drug, or radiation, that can cause malformations in an embryo or fetus. The etymology is as follows- Tera from the Greek meaning, “monster” and the root is from the Latin word Genes, meaning, “Born.” Essentially, I had created an imaginary construct, a mythology, (that of the “born monster”) around my own biography in which I cast myself simultaneously as the hero and the victim. All this was an effort to explain and justify a body that didn’t cooperate with my mind. Needless to say, it didn’t really help. More on this perhaps at some other time…

It’s been an intense morning. As Tamar and I change and prepare to go about our day we talk about the work and get into an interesting discussion about trauma. I have referred to my birth as “traumatic” for a number of years now and have developed my own pop-psych theory that for most of my life I have been living with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not anywhere on par with battlefield trauma or trauma associated with physical or sexual abuse, but the fact is that at a very early stage in my development, while still en eutero, my body experienced a trauma. It just so happens that Tamar has been reading a book on trauma recently, and one key piece of information she has taken away from it is that after traumatic events the psoas and piriformace muscles shorten. This is a result of every human beings instinctual response to danger to go into the fetal position to protect their face and vital organs. I was already in the fetal position when my trauma occurred, which may have driven me further into that position. My body compensated and compensated beautifully, but, and I believe this in my bones, for thirty years my body has been operating as if it is still in a state of trauma. It never got the message that I was a functional, vibrant, thriving survivor. What really bakes my noodle is that Tamar was on to this months and months ago without being aware of this link. It’s a hypothesis in development- but how much of the physical effects of cerebral palsy or spastic displegia, are merely compensatory manifestations of early onset trauma? How effective can this work or work like it be to counteracting those, for lack of a better term, post- traumatic effects? It’s a big question. One that I don’t think Tamar and I have even the slightest idea how to answer. I’m not interested in the answer at this point. We’re merely on the road and answers don’t seem important. What is important is that each time we work the questions get clearer. That’s good enough for now.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, Greg. Just, wow. I am so excited for you and Tamar, and the journey you are on. I also get excited for me when I read about the work you are doing. I just wish I had someone like Tamar to do it with.
    Your writing is so precise, expressive, revealing. It's a gift to me. Thank you.

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