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Transformations: The Story of Peggy D.

By Greg Hullstrung, P.T. Co-Founder, H&D Physical Therapy

At age 65, Peggy D. leapt from the couch into a wonderful world of movement

Sometimes patients come in for physical therapy, fix the problem, and leave. Case closed.

Other times, their lives are transformed in the process of healing. This was the case with one of my patients, Peggy D. She had a frozen shoulder, but she also had postural problems, a painful hip and felt her balance was unsteady.

Peggy made good progress in physical therapy. Over time, her shoulder range of motion increased and her pain decreased. As treatment was nearing an end, I asked her if she had given any thought to embarking on a home exercise program so she could maintain her hard-won gains after she left physical therapy.

The question stunned Peggy. “It put me into a slight state of shock because I don’t exercise - at all,” she explained. “At age 65, being a life-long couch-potato, the only exercise that appealed to me was yoga or Pilates. I didn’t know anything about them, but I thought of them as something quiet that did not make you sweat.”

I suggested she see our staff yoga teacher and movement therapist, Deborah Quilter, for a Feldenkrais® lesson. This method involves gentle movements through either verbal instructions or hands-on sessions. Through these lessons, movement that has been painful, uncoordinated or difficult becomes effortless and easy. I have experienced this work, and thought it would be helpful to Peggy. She said she’d try it out.

The next time I saw her, I asked how it went. “I felt taller for two days!” Peggy reported enthusiastically. This happened without conscious effort from her.

The following week, after another lesson with Deborah, when she got up from a chair, her knees felt “light and strong.” Using her newfound awareness, she was able to recapture the length and effortlessness she felt after the lesson through sensory memory. “The lightness and effortlessness happened because Peggy was aligned through her bones, and thus did not need to rely on sheer muscular force to stand or move,” Deborah noted.

Peggy was very pleased with her progress, but felt she wanted to keep the results longer. The next time they met, Deborah showed her some exercises designed to strengthen certain muscles and lengthen other muscles so that the bones would stay more aligned. Peggy instantly saw the value of this work and eagerly signed up for Deborah’s Thursday evening yoga series in addition to private lessons.

“For the last three weeks I’ve seen appreciable progress,” said Peggy. Using this holistic approach has helped much more than her shoulder. “When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t stiff,” she added. “Later that evening, I bounded off the couch without thinking about it!” Getting up usually required some doing.

Later sessions yielded even more dramatic improvements. After leaving a session with Deborah one evening, Peggy boarded a bus for home. “Normally, when I stand up to get off at my bus stop, it is quite an awkward, jerky, un-graceful process, partially because the bus is still moving and partially due to my own body movements,” she explained. “This is usually accomplished in three steps: from my window seat, I scoot over to the outside seat, then grab on to something to lift myself up with knees bent, then side-step to the center aisle and grab something else to stand upright until I can gain my balance and feel steady on my feet.”

But that night she went from sitting by a window seat to standing in the center aisle in one fluid movement without even trying. “I was so startled by this that I asked myself (silently) ‘How in the world did I just do that?’ I was astonished - truly astonished!” she exclaimed.

One of the visions that my partner, Rob DiLillo and I had in founding H&D twelve years ago was to incorporate complementary techniques in our clinic to give patients the optimum healing experience—and techniques to help them help themselves. I have a passion for helping people fulfill their dreams. Nothing thrills me more than witnessing the self-transformation that can occur when people embrace the tools that heal them.

Peggy D. is a shining example of how that can happen.

In her own words, Peggy D. tells her story:

Deborah Quilter introduced me to a combination of quiet, non-strenuous but very effective body movements and I have loved every minute of them. Working with her has given me an awareness of what my own body actually does and how it makes me feel when I do it. 

Instead of someone “explaining” to me how I should position myself - I have been guided to figure it out for myself - based on how I feel. It is quite an extraordinary concept and definitely a revelation to me. For example, in order to improve my posture, I have figured out my own way (not someone else’s) to give myself the self-direction I need in order to stand erect.

This approach works for me like a charm. I know my posture is improving by my own design. It is not difficult or stressful, and I get a big kick out of knowing that I have “developed” my own solution.

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