As an occupational therapist, Beatriz Nascimento, MA, OTR, was determined to find the best way to work on her own FSH muscular dystrophy.
Trained in Brazil, and for several years a professor of occupational therapy at the Federal University of San Carlos, Nascimento experienced an accelerating decline in her muscle strength, mobility and function in her early 30s. This drove her to look for new ways to halt the progress of the disease.
“I was pretty scared that the rest of my life would be just a long and painful downhill trip towards more weakness, limitations and paralysis,” she said. In 1989, Nascimento came to San Francisco to train with Meir Schneider, PhD, LMT, at the School for Self-Healing. Schneider’s techniques have helped thousands of people to improve their health and function, especially in cases of chronic pain and immobility due to repetitive stress, stroke, spinal cord injuries, chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as degenerative diseases like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and ALS. The exercises, movement and massage techniques, which Schneider teaches at the school and through workshops in USA, UK and elsewhere, are particularly effective for people who wish to take charge of their own health, though the atmosphere is personal and supportive. There is an emphasis on self- awareness and on utilizing untapped potential even in people who have grown used to thinking more about their disabilities than their abilities.
For the first six months, Nascimento worked intensely for six to ten hours a day. “During this time, I was living entirely from my body’s point-of-view, even if it was resting. Self- healing takes intensive practice, it’s constant work, but for those who can give that, the effects of MD can be slowed and even reversed.”
Over time, she experienced remarkable progress in her own strength and flexibility, estimating that she was 40 percent better than when she started, though there was no way to precisely measure the changes. Her gains were impressive enough for her to take Self-Healing back to Brazil, where she began to teach the techniques to her patients and also train other therapists to teach.
Meir Schneider’s own history attests to his belief in the individual’s ability to effect great changes. Born with cataracts in both eyes, he grew up using Braille. As a teenager, he practiced and developed the Bates method of vision improvement, and found that he could utilize and increase what little sight was left after multiple operations that badly scarred his corneal tissue. Today he holds California driver’s licence as well as certificate of blindness.
The principles he used in working with eyes – his own and others’ – quickly proved applicable to the whole body. Schneider’s holistic techniques also help people get beyond their fear and trust the ability of the body to heal itself, even in the most challenging circumstances. For many people who have reached the limits offered by conventional medicine or mainstream therapy, this approach allows them to take control of their own health and start making progress that (in some cases) they were told they could never make.
There is no promise of miracles, but a very practical regimen of exercises based on a premise that makes excellent sense for everyone, whether battling major health problems or not: most of us persistently overuse parts of our bodies, repeating the same movements over and over again. There are multiple causes of overuse, from the repetitive strains of musicians and computer users to people who put undue pressure on certain areas due to chronic pain, injury or degenerative disease. At the same time, we neglect other areas that could be working effectively.
“We have 600 visible skeletal muscles – yet we use very few and those we do, we use with a tremendous amount of stress. The connective tissue hardens around the muscles we always over-use, and we cut off blood flow to the ones we don’t exercise,” says Schneider. “We have to have the courage to break patterns. We have no idea how much tension we build in the body because we don’t feel it. When you start to teach the brain that you don’t have to hold them so tight, you can learn to isolate and use muscles you never knew you had.”
“It can take years for someone to get so much in touch with their own body,” admits Nascimento, who points out that to get results takes long-term dedication and commitment, “but eventually it becomes second-nature. ” It is also important to find the delicate balance between enough rest, activity, stretches, and support (such as massage, floating in warm water, good nutrition, breathing exercises).
Maggie Lyons, who trained with Meir Schneider and now teaches Self-Healing in London and Bath, has termed this “the subtle art of listening to the body.” Whereas in medicine the patient is (by definition) passive, self-healing can only work when people are willing to take responsibility for their own state of health. “It works best when you help invent and create what you need rather than simply being given exercises,” says Lyons. “If you include them in a regular practice … Self-Healing becomes a way of life and a state of mind.”
For PTs and OTs whose clients wish to take the gains they make during therapy further, Self-Healing can help bridge the gap between therapy sessions and the challenges of their daily lives. Lyons believes it has the potential to contribute a great deal to physiotherapy in the future.
Though there is not yet much medical documentation of the effects of Self-Healing, a study with Muscular Dystrophy was done at San Francisco State University. Working with Nascimento, Schneider has refined a specific touch to increase tone, release tension and give support to muscles for MD patients. They believe it can build muscle fibre and help regenerate tissue. Nascimento herself was losing weight due to the difficulty of using her face muscles to eat. But she has halted that process, and her face betrays almost none of the muscular weakness and contraction characteristic of MD.
Despite inevitable reversals and periods when the disease became more active, Nascimento has taught Self-Healing techniques to thousands of people in USA, UK and Brazil through lectures, workshops, training courses and clinics. She also founded the Nucleus for Self-Healing, a clinic and research project at the Federal University of San Carlos in Brazil, which offers free classes to the community. Nascimento now maintains a private practice in the Self-Healing Method in Santa Rosa, California.
Meir Schneider’s Handbook of Self-Healing (Penguin) is a useful tool for health professionals and for those ready to take charge of their own health and well-being.