If you’ve experienced an injury to one arm and had to favor that limb in movement by holding it close to the body, you may have noticed that often the injury is healed long before the holding habit is done. For many years I “protected” my left arm and hand in that way, even though there was no pain involved in my experience of focal dystonia. Yoga has given me the opportunity to even out my left and right sides. The careful attention to symmetry in yoga sequences awakened my habit of holding, of protecting my left hand and arm. Practicing symmetry in yoga has affected my sense of symmetry on the flute. I no longer feel as though I have a “dystonic side”, even with my flute in my hands.
I wrote about my initial experiences healing a movement disorder with movement during a Feldenkrais class in the Flutist Quarterly (Fall 2011),
“While seated, the practitioner asked us to turn our right hands in circles with the palm on the floor and to be aware of the subsequent movement made by the hand, arm, shoulder, spine, and head. After twenty minutes we moved on to the left side. I was shocked to find that I could not move my left hand. It felt stuck on the floor. I couldn’t figure out how to move my shoulder or spine. This was the first time that I ever noticed any difficulty of movement (any dystonic movement) away from my flute. I sat for a while stunned by this small discovery. I finally relaxed enough to allow the movement I felt on the right side to guide the movement on the left side. Essentially, I allowed my right side to teach my left. We were then asked to pick up our flutes and try some simple scales. I was shocked again by the results: I played with more control of my left hand than I had since before the diagnosis ten years before. It felt as though my left arm and hand were part of my body again.”
Reading now, five years later, allows me to reflect on how little difference I now sense between the left and right sides. In fact, not long ago someone asked about my experiences with focal dystonia. As I was describing the process to them I, without thinking, gestured with the wrong hand. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago when my “dystonic” hand felt foreign to me.