My love for Pilates began in the 90’s when I was in college. It calmed me. It strengthened me. It empowered me. It was the perfect fitness activity. I continued Pilates after my son was born in 2001 and then after my daughter was born in 2003. I was hooked and loved how it made me feel.
But soon after my daughter was born, I began to have unexplained symptoms – headaches in the back of my head, dizziness, and weakness in my arms and legs. Over the years, the symptoms progressed to the point where I needed answers. I was sent from specialist to specialist and eventually found my answer while in New York. It was called Chiari Malformation, a neurological disorder in which the skull is too small for the brain.
The results: the brain is overcrowded and is pushed out of the skull and in to the spinal canal. The surgery involved removing a portion of the skull to make room for the brain, trimming off part of the top vertebrae, and expanding the Dura (the protective covering of the brain). I had surgery on March 8, 2010. The incision went from the middle of my head to the base of my neck. Gaining range of motion back in my neck took six weeks of intense physical therapy. After the therapy, I could move my head from side to side but my neck muscles would not allow me to look up or down. And when I attempted to stretch my neck by looking up, I would instantly get dizzy. I became content with this limitation since so much of my other pain was gone.
Since I was inactive for so many years during my medical journey, I decided it was time to find a Pilates class again. I was unsure if I would be able to do it, but wanted to give it a try. Once upon a time, I was an athlete. I ran track, played basketball and softball and even danced all the way through high school. However, now I feared bending forward or backward, and any sudden jumps or moments put me in a dizzy spin. That is when Liz entered my life. I found Personal Pilates by Liz while searching for classes in my local area of the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. But there was something very unique about one of her class offerings. It was a Bodhi Suspension System. After reading about the class, I knew this was for me. The Bodhi Suspension System allowed me to try all of the moves that I had feared for years, because it allowed me the 4-point support of the ropes. No sudden movements to make me dizzy. Every movement was fluid. The Bodhi Suspension System also made me feel as if I could dance again too.
It was just the two of us on my first day using the Bodhi. Liz took the time to show me how they worked while evaluating my abilities and limitations. She immediately put me at ease and encouraged me to join one of her small classes. I was nervous about keeping up with the others, but knew I could trust her. My first class was such a great experience. Liz differentiated her instruction for each student in her class, but she did it in a way that did not make me feel inadequate. It was so natural for her. I told her that I would not be able to bend forward to touch my toes and going upside down was, unfortunately, something that I could never do again. She just smiled and modified the Bodhi movements for me. I have to admit that I was jealous when I watched the other students flip over using the Bodhi. It looked like so much fun. It looked empowering. But I wasn’t about to have a pity party – Prior to surgery, I couldn’t walk or form complete thoughts. This was something that I was just going to have to let go.
After one of my Bodhi classes, I had asked about the Reformer Machine in the next room. Liz very graciously showed me the machine and let me try some exercises. I could tell that this would also help strengthen my core and help with flexibility, so I scheduled some sessions. But what I didn’t predict was how it would change my life.
Within weeks, Liz had me stretching my neck further than it had gone in years. Before Liz, I couldn’t extend my head back or bend forward to touch my toes without getting dizzy or nauseous. And now. . . I can hang upside down and do flips on the Bodhi just like the others. My husband and kids are so amazed by my progress. Thank you, Liz, for your gentle encouragement, your never-ending support, and for helping me find my strength again. I will forever be grateful.