Somatics and ALS: What Is Freedom, Really?

A first-year clinical student was approached by a woman with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), requesting that my student work with her so she can retain her movement. This woman shares that her family pressures her to do physical therapy and occupational therapy treatments, yet her experience is that all the yanking and stretching they do with her only leaves her exhausted, tight, and in pain. She wants something different, something more gentle and more gradual. My student guides her through gentle movements - some passive, some active - encouraging her to do what she is able and to move in a way that gives her pleasure: small movements of the neck or shoulders, gentle flexion and extension of the feet and legs. There's not much movement, yet the client, who can no longer speak due to her condition, writes out that she feels better. She wants to return for more.

What is she seeking?  She wants to feel herself until she can no longer feel. She wants to control what she can control until it is gone. She wants to sense freedom until she has lost it. To feel herself and to sense herself through movement is the purest form of freedom a Soma has and she is doing all she can until it is taken away from her. Her mental attitude bespeaks an intention that is extraordinary and her commitment to herself is one I don’t often see, even in those who have the ability to control their movement and choose what they want to do.

Most of us are fortunate to have a choice about how we want to live, move, and express ourselves. Many think that they don't have a choice, or that it's "too complicated" to make the choice that would bring health, happiness, and an inner sense of well-being. My student's client gives me pause to consider how precious it is just to sense my own body.