PAIN-FREE MOVEMENT IS YOUR BIRTHRIGHT
I am a Movement Coach, and I help individuals and groups to move, relearn and, in many cases, move away from chronic pain or physical discomfort. I believe movement must be felt. Following a movement assessment; I base the time I spend with clients, in person or virtually, on how they ‘feel’, how they have responded to the evaluation or previous sessions.
My mission is to provide an environment where the client feels safe, relaxed and secure
– not apprehensive as if they are being trained by a drill sergeant or, leaving feeling worse than when they arrived. I add physical challenge by adjusting positions or postures to the point where I get a ‘that feels weird’ response because they are in the right position and I can see the mental concentration ramping up, the focus itself can be tiring. If the mind is concerned, elsewhere or distracted, it cannot focus on the body.
Everything I do with clients is directly relatable to life, their life, and physical adaptations their work, lifestyle, or environment has created through repeated movement patterns or lack thereof, creating imbalances or chronic pain.
As such, my approach is focused on building physical resilience which encompasses how the mind affects movement, breathing and posture and, where desired, performance.
I assist with the foundations of moving with ease, after that my clients determine how much more they want to achieve and which personal mountains they wish to conquer; this could be as simple as getting through a day without pain to building the resilience to complete a marathon.
I first discovered resilience when I was at school. After a pre-exam parents evening, I was informed that I was ‘intelligent/smart but lazy’ and progressing to ‘A’ levels would probably be a ‘waste of money’.
An interesting summary of someone’s abilities at fifteen said in a blink of a moment likely without consideration of the course it may set in motion.
I am the middle of three, and we were all afforded the benefit of private education; the reasons for which I have only recently found out and something that I have felt guilty of throwing away for most of my adult life.
My parents were not wealthy; they worked hard and wanted the best for their children; all parents do. My response, however, to the school’s summary of my ability was ‘ok, I’ll leave, get a job and prove everyone wrong’, I’ll use my intelligence and determination to be the best at whatever I did.
I was 16, got an interview and started work after my school summer holiday, from a boy too, well still a boy. That, on reflection, was less mental agility or resilience and more sheer bloody-mindedness blended with a dose of teenage arrogance, it felt less like a choice and more like a necessity.
From that moment on vulnerabilities and emotions were not allowed, at least not outwardly shown, and every obstacle in my way was met head-on, like charging at thousand-foot walls until I got through. There was no need to ask for help because it wouldn’t be there anyway, would it?
Life, then, just developed a rhythm, l was married at 23 and had two beautiful daughters by 26. I became responsible for other humans, and I would be damned if I let them down, let alone myself; I didn’t want to fail. Long hours at work, the weight piled on, stress crept up, belligerence and arrogance ‘rewarded’, promotion, more responsibility, more money, more stuff, more, more.
It didn’t matter how I felt, emotionally or physically, I had a family to support, and it only seemed to matter that we all had a ‘good’ life, that I was successful and could buy things. There never seemed to be a moment to pause, reflect, stop.
Burying emotions worked and had done for most of my life; I don’t think I ever cried, I saw it as a weakness. The physical side of things, however, couldn’t be ignored. My body sent me a significant signal by way of a herniated disc. I had ignored all the little warning signs, typical of chronic pain, and kept going until I hit my physical wall.
I could not move, couldn’t put my socks on, couldn’t lie down, couldn’t stand up, every tiny movement was agony. It chipped away at my confidence, my manliness, my can-do attitude, it debilitated me mentally and still, I kept the emotions in check, pushing them down to avoid showing even a chink of vulnerability.
The doctor, thank goodness, would not refer me for surgery and prescribed me drugs to help with the pain and referred me for physiotherapy and was blunt to the point of telling me to lose weight and move more.
Yeah, I’ll do the physio and take the pills, that’ll fix me. The belief that passive treatment and prescriptions would solve the problem went on for several years with several relapses; more walls, more obstacles to defeat. More physiotherapy and more pills, and not just off the shelf painkillers either, the big ones with addictive properties.
Keep working, don’t let anyone down, don’t let yourself down, don’t let anyone know you’re not ok physically or mentally because now I was struggling with both. I was in my late-thirties and physically felt much older. I was not in good shape.
When I was not working, I would get home from work and fall asleep, working on the house at weekends because that had to be perfect; at least in my mind and it served as a distraction from everything that was going wrong, I had started letting people down; family, friends and work colleagues. Indiscretion, disconnection and waning dedication, in that sequence one triggering the other.
I started training myself, building physical strength and moving better and realised the pills and physiotherapy were masks. If I felt discomfort, I would work gently with it rather than mask it.
As I got more energetic and healthier, I decided to hire a Personal Trainer to help me increase my fitness levels so I could confidently ride the South Downs Way with a couple of mates; still unwilling to fail! As the sessions progressed, I increasingly thought “I could do this, and differently”. I signed up to a local course, and was fortunate to be taught, and inspired, by someone passionate about individual’s wellbeing and movement not just exercise for exercise sake.
The decision was made I’m going to be a Personal Trainer; I would be successful and corporate life would be over. I was ready for this, not at all prepared but ready.
My head was full of fear, and the burden felt huge. I was on the edge and chose to leap.
I had not considered the impact of a second life-changing moment in proximity. The decision to leave a twenty-year career in the city for something completely new was a two-year work in progress. What I had not factored, or expected, was also leaving my family, as hard as it was it felt right. I was an entirely different person now, I believe we both were, and it became evident to me that the upcoming challenge was not one that we could do together.
I had stepped into the void and was hurtling toward the ground; with no safety net.
A sudden realisation that my stoic faith was in my old abilities and the comfort of familiarity, I was passionate about the path I was now on. Still, I was just a beginner, a novice, and I was starting from scratch in every sense. It threw me right back to be that teenager but with no hint of arrogance, just humility and fear.
This wall I had built all by myself; I was on the wrong side of it, and I had neglected to put in a gate! I had created a long list of ‘needs’, it needed to look like this, it needed to be done like that, I needed to get clients, I needed to make this work, I needed to prove that it was the right thing to do and yet I had no energy, it drained me mentally and emotionally.
I took on a few personal training clients who were fantastic, open to my approach and their confidence in me allowed me to start honing my new skills and gain a level of trust in my newly acquired abilities. I continued with some consulting work in familiar territory to help maintain some balance.
I realised that I had to take accountability; no one else was responsible for my decisions but me.
Exercise is not just about physical ability or losing weight or getting stronger. Our environment, state of mind, past injuries all influence how physically and mentally well we feel.
I realised that I didn’t want to take the traditional personal training approach of spending an hour with a client and then sending them away- wasted, sweating, and possibly unable to move the next day. It took a lot of courage to declare to myself that I am going to approach this differently, to be gentle, focused, to understand how my clients feel physically and mentally, whilst they are moving.
Being introduced to and becoming proficient in the Functional Movement System has allowed me to fine-tune my approach to coaching and enables me to bridge the gap between exercise for weight loss, sport and fitness and clinical strategies for healing and rehabilitation.
I now embrace my pain and emotional states, yes, I do cry now. Practising and improving both my physical and mental resilience in unison enables me a greater insight into my clients’ movement; because, spoiler alert, it may not just be a physical adaptation.
To further my adventures, I am training as a mountain leader, to take groups into places they may have considered as unsafe, too physically challenging and not mentally liberating.
My object, if you can call her that, is my beautiful dog. We had a family dog, and she sadly died when she was still relatively young, we were all devastated. I swore I would never get another one.
I have come to realise that nothing is permanent, life is fluid, and by its very nature impermanent. Walking in the mountains provides the reality that I am just a moment in time.
To be more specific pausing, resting, and, at the top relishing the challenge of the climb, taking in the grandeur, absorbing the vast landscape and scale that has been hewn over time by the elements, and witnessed by our ancestors over millennia.
Continuously changing, processes that will repeat, albeit slowly, for aeons to come. In contrast, we exist for a blink, a brief moment in time with which to shape our lives, carve our paths, evolve, love, be loved, live, be alive, be our true self. As hard as this sounds, I bought Dina knowing that we wouldn’t spend a lifetime together, but promising the time we spent together would be incredible and full of adventure.
Acknowledging impermanence allows me to embrace life, that is how I intend to spend as much of my time as possible; with amazing people I admire, love and respect, experiencing life’s adventures.
A few years ago, I did not possess the courage to do something like this Story Portrait, to share a glimpse into my life with people close to me was hard, to share what was going on publically, would have been unthinkable. But locking things in doesn’t help either mentally or physically.
I have realised that I am on an adventure, my adventure, one that is full of unknowns and one that I am beginning to embrace, navigate and learn.
My Story Portrait is a part of the experience. The path is not entirely clear, consequences are unknown, the outcome not definite.
I am sure there will be walls, which now feels ok because while my head may sometimes offer up reasons to STOP, my gut resolutely says “THIS IS RIGHT!”, my heart is open and, most importantly, it feels good.
Connect with Andrew in the following ways:
Linkedin: Andrew Willson
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