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Creating a Space for Healing

6th Jul 2023

In this extract from June's issue of Pain News, Betsan Corkhill discusses the importance of movement and relaxation for those with long-term pain.

In my work with people living with long- term health problems, as a former physiotherapist and now as a Health and Wellbeing Coach, I’ve observed that those who struggle become somehow fractured / fragmented.

Stories I’ve collected from around the world tell of how rhythmic bodily movements help calm the mind and are somehow ‘unifying’. This combination of rhythmic bodily movement, thought and feeling seem to be important. I began to explore this more, and to look at body or bottom-up approaches as a way of influencing the mind because it’s difficult to change the mind with the mind, particularly in a crisis. You can’t instruct your mind to RELAX! or CALM DOWN! but you may be able to facilitate change through the body.

This led me to explore Tai Chi. Further motivation came from people attending my ‘Wellbeing for People with Pain’ courses. We’d have a session on movement and the feedback would invariably be “We know it’s good to move but we don’t know how or where to start. How much to do. How to keep motivated.” It was felt that physiotherapists tended to focus on the body part that was painful in quite a mechanical way over a limited time frame, whilst personal trainers, through exercise referral programmes and gyms, in general, didn’t know about pain and started off too intensively and too fast, causing a crash with increased pain so the person living with pain often didn’t return. Of course, there are exceptions to this.

My exploration of Tai Chi soon became daunting as there are thousands of different moves and it takes tens of years to become a Tai Chi Master. Then in 2019 I came across the Tai Chi Movements for Wellbeing (TMW) organisation based in Herefordshire and founded by Tai Chi Master, Richard Farmer, with his wife Marigold.

I was lucky to get a place on the TMW annual training programme in 2019 and now run regular classes. Most participants have pain, many have fibromyalgia, some live with ME/CFS, functional neurological disorder, mental health issues and more recently, Long Covid. I also run classes for the Carers Association.

In the six-week introductory programme we teach principles, understandings and the concept of Soft Limit which can be taken into day-to-day life and be life transforming. Ongoing classes take them into a deeper meditative-like state. With practice, they learn to move as a ‘whole’ – the whole of their mind/body/breath moving and flowing as one. This is important because pain pulls your attention to the body part where you feel pain, which can then become ‘separated’ from the ‘whole’. Moving rhythmically as a whole mind/body in sync with breath enables you to reach a point where you are no longer ‘doing’ the moves but are ‘being’ them.

Learning to move with rhythm, joy and safety as a unified, whole mind/body can enable people to experience a sense of peace and safety within themselves, creating a space that optimises the potential for healing. I would argue that this should be an essential step in our treatment of those who seek our help. An added benefit, as I have discovered, is that it can have significant benefits for you, too.

Betsan Corkhill is a health, lifestyle, and wellbeing coach with a professional background in physiotherapy. Find out more about her work here

Pain News is the British Pain Society's quarterly magazine for members. To gain full access to Pain News and a suite of membership benefits, you can join here.

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