Conventional wisdom has it that when something goes wrong — I mean really wrong, like being in pain all day, every day — we need to pull out the big guns: costly MRIs, elaborate surgical procedures, and hi-tech pharmaceuticals. We need to outsource the solution, as it were. Following a hit-and-run, head-on car collision and years of unresolved chronic pain, however, I stumbled upon the discovery that relief came from inside my body and was just an mp3 player away: Dance.
You heard me. Dance.
Like most people in pain, I had stopped dancing because of, well, pain. By re-conceptualizing dance as something other than leaps, twirls, and fancy footwork, however, I came to understand that I actually could use it to heal myself. I would put on music I loved, artistically move whatever body part was not in pain, even if just my arms, and find some kind of alchemy taking over — melting away my pain zones, until I’d be blissfully tearing up the living room dance floor.
The spontaneous transformation seemed completely impossible, save for the fact that I experienced it. Repeatedly. Still, for a few years I continued outsourcing my healthcare to doctors and body workers – even as I experienced dramatic and immediate results with dance, and even as I successfully taught other people to dance away their pain.
The deference cost me. One of my most debilitating injuries, in fact, came at the hands of a chiropractor, just a few months after I had taken my first healing dance steps. Even then, I persisted in turning to doctors, physical therapists, personal trainers, and yoga teachers, in search of the person who could heal me.
“Loolwa,” my mother said repeatedly, “Dance!” But, you know, that was Mom telling me I could heal myself. As far as I was concerned, my healing would come through the hands of a formally-trained healthcare professional. Dance, though effective every single time in reducing or eliminating my pain, was too out there to be real. I chalked up the transformations to coincidence or, at best, I saw dance as a way to get myself well enough to find the real practitioner and start the real healing.
Over the years that I worked as a health journalist, I asked doctors why they thought it took me years to trust the reality of my experience of, despite being someone who is characteristically bold. Andrew Weil, MD — author of numerous best-selling books, including Spontaneous Healing — replied that American health care “has us all dependent on high-tech solutions” and that pharmaceutical companies are “just capitalizing on a mindset that has taken hold of both doctors and patients in our culture, that the only legitimate way to treat illness is drugs.”
Most of us have little confidence in our body’s ability to restore health, Weil concluded, echoing the sentiments of David Bresler, PhD, LAc, president of the Academy for Guided Imagery: “Medical training leads us to believe that the human body is a walking time bomb,” Bresler told me.
Given this attitude among doctors, and growing up in a society where we are taught deference to doctors, it takes superhuman strength to assert that no, really, I don’t need your tried-and-true drugs or surgeries, thank you very much. I’m putting all my eggs in this here dance basket that I made up. My only degree was a BA in political science. Who was I to take on the entire medical profession?
In one of our many conversations before his passing, the late David Simon, MD – a neuroanatomist who was the CEO and medical director of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing – validated how difficult it is to trust one’s ability to self-heal, given our cultural backdrop. “Our conditioning has taught us that doctors are the ultimate authority figure,” he said, elaborating that this conditioning begins when we are children: We constantly look to our parents for information, boundary-setting, and nurturing, he said. But when our parents take us to a doctor, they surrender their authority to that of the doctor. “So the conditioning runs very deep,” he emphasized.
What’s more, cultural symbols of the medical office — white coat, sterile office, one person lying down and one hovering over, one being called “Dr. So-and-So,” the other being called by a first name – feed into the power imbalance in a way that “can be formidable,” said Beth Darnell, PhD — Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at Stanford University.
Fortunately my mom persisted in getting me to recognize my self-healing abilities. One day, I was sharing the frustration, the outright desperation, that I was experiencing in looking for a practitioner who could understand and hold the space for all my different needs and philosophies about healing. “Loolwa,” my mom said evenly. “You are the healer you have been seeking. Dance.”
Somehow, that time, my mom’s words sank in. And so I began to dance regularly. In a few short years, I went from living with pain levels generally around an 8 (on the infamous pain scale of 1-10, with 10 being excruciating) and spending copious amounts of time in bed, to living an overall pain-free and active life. Today I easily bike up 20-30 miles at a shot, several times a week.
And that is something to dance about.