Empowerment: A journey back to pain-free play

In August 2018, Magazine by Emily WhiteLeave a Comment

A collective story by:

~Emily White~

~Caroline Bourcier~

& B|AM Editor, Genevieve Villamizar

Genevieve: This stretch of trail and valley cleft above, beguile me. A tracery of single-track heading off into the distance is a siren song. Bearing witness to a man or woman running, anywhere, body solid, flexing, unfurling, flying, rebounding– makes me groan in jealousy and shout in admiration. I can feel it. I’m hungry for it.

I haven’t been able to run in 7 months. It’s killing me. 

As a life-long trail runner looking down the barrel of age, I realize that my health and well being are inextricably connected. At this point in my life, I intellectually know I should be asking my body, not telling it: What can I do for you? What must I change to nurture you? How can I help you feel better?

When does a person stop chasing a six pack and ‘cut’ arms?


What, then, is the balance for older people staring down injury after injury?

My ego wants the image in the mirror (and jeans) to look fantastic, but the reality reflects otherwise. Injuries paired with a midlife pivot– being a hands-on landscape designer to becoming a writer. I’m no longer on the job site working with stone, wood, dirt, and plants. I tap away at a keyboard, glutes unused; my spine an arc of compliance.

When I started writing for a living, I could still run 3, 7, 14 miles of rollers between hours and days of sitting. My muscle memory was solid, but my connective tissue—the joints, tendons, fascia, and cartilage associated with all those lovely, plump muscles— proved otherwise. Injuries began to stack up: spinal fusions and blown rotators, torn bicep attachments, foot neuromas, IT band, hip and knee issues.

Flow states have begun to feel like a thing of the past… those desirable, elusive passages through time and motion where I’d find my self-worth, ferocity, competence, and agility are memories, no longer my reality. No longer a way of being myself– of perceiving myself.

Who am I without that?

I reached out to a friend in an attempt to revisit a sport I’d loved before having children. We set out to explore single track on wheels and left the running shoes behind.

Riding the county road in the early morning sun, I fessed up:  I am no longer a member of Colorado badass women club.  I feel full of excuses as to why and I’m lost… How do I  feel good about myself? How do I get through progressively challenging injuries? Why can’t I “man up” and just do my PT? I pointed out to my friend that I had missed three physical therapy appointments in a row. I was nearly 86ed by my provider. What was going on?

Emily Steers White is a Prince Creek regular and is known, from time to time, to enter a race or two! Photo, contributed

I didn’t know Emily Steers White was a “movement educator” when I asked her to take me riding. I just wanted what she had— afterglow. Recognizing that my issues were beyond physical, she offered to help me navigate the complexities of injury, identity and healing through embodiment and reconnection. No western doctor or physical therapist had ever linked “identity” and “injury” for me.

This is a collaborative story about our journey.

Emily: I have always enjoyed helping people find their way and have used many mediums to be of service to others. My path has lead me to be a movement educator. I am adept at facilitating movement behavior that allows a client to receive, refine and integrate movement patterns that are innate yet dormant in their being. My approach is collaborative, exploratory and thoughtful. I serve as a mirror reflecting my client’s virtues and encouraging their positive and evolutionary growth. My goal is to help others learn the nature of themselves. This process involves a willing participant who values the process of coming into a deeper understanding/expression of self.

Genevieve: I was intimidated as hell for our first appointment. This beautiful, younger athletic yoga goddess was going to “see” me— at my lowest. It took immense courage to even show up, but I knew I had to. Based on our convos and simply who Emily is, I trusted her. Besides, I was dying of curiosity.

Emily: I had the pleasure of working with Genevieve recently. We connected over a playful mountain bike ride. She shared with me her deep desire to get back to her long runs and that a nagging hip pain had kept her off the trails. I offered to observe her movement patterns and uncover the root of her dysfunction and so began our collaborative journey towards pain-free playing.

In our first session, I used the  Functional Movement Screen (FMS) which is comprised of 7 different movement patterns we all once used, evolving from a crawl to a walk. The beauty of FMS is that it doesn’t let you cheat. It forces you to move honestly through basic movement patterns and reveals where you have strayed from your body’s natural alignment. It provides a map for you to move well and with ease, rather than simply following the path of least resistance. FMS is essentially your bearing, re-orienting you towards your summit.

The FMS screen revealed the lack of mobility in Genevieve’s thoracic spine as our starting point. We spent time releasing tension through breath work and self-myofascial release with a foam roller. We then delved into corrective exercises designed to recruit muscles that were underactive and allow the overactive muscles, in this case, her pec minor & major muscles, to let go. Genevieve allowed me to create a container for her to receive and organically evolve into a more relaxed way of being.

This moment of softening and allowing oneself to be held is where the real work begins.

I sent her home with a thoracic mobility program as well as a goals worksheet that ask her to dig deep and listen.

Genevieve: I felt absolutely naked. I knew I had to “go there” to move forward, but still, the shock of having someone else recognize the extent of my problems was was humbling…and a bit validating. Someone understood– and my body needed (deserved) way more help than I realized.

As I admitted to feelings of “holding back”, Emily introduced a perspective on injury and “victimhood” that was new to me. By reducing physical therapy to exercises that I “had to do”, I gave away my power. By judging myself for my injuries (weakness) and my inconsistent adherence to the physical therapy regime, again– I was giving up my power. Somewhere, deep inside, I perceived myself as a “victim”.

Ef-  that!

In our first session, Emily guided me through breath work and finding my center;  from there, I could open up to what she shared next. In just that process alone, Emily shifted how I let physical therapy in: with an embodied experience of finding my innate strength again, and within that space, proposing a more evolved notion of ritual and self-care. I let it fill my entire body and it resonated so much better than “I gotta do my PT exercises!”

Emily’s voice was calming and steady. Under her guidance I felt genuine, nurturing energy. I discovered a safety in her that allowed me to “let go” and shelve the shame for good. I began to focus in earnest. I left our first session feeling hopeful, grateful and excited for a follow-up.

Emily: In our next session, Genevieve arrived eager to work. We started with a deep centering practice allowing her to drop in and receive my instruction from an intuitive space. I introduced exercises that stimulated her deep core stabilizers allowing her to attune to her body in a subtle yet profound way.

The doorway to a new relationship with her body was opening and Genevieve peeked inside.

She began to feel muscles activating deep inside that ignited a different kind of strength and awareness in her being. This powerful woman was tapping into a deep inner strength and the feeling of helplessness and despair was evolving into a grounded sense of support in her physical/emotional body. She left feeling empowered, energized and ready to commit to the journey ahead.

Genevieve: I was thrilled to discover Emily’s somatic approach to healing. “Embodiment” shifted this from an “intellectual” process to a “felt” experience. As a single mom, graduate student and freelance writer, I’m overstimulated. Deadlines, demands, texts, and emails inherent to my work tether me to anxiety: Go, go, go. It scatters focus and amplifies the cra-cra. I couldn’t prioritize PT.

I’d go running instead because it felt better— until it didn’t.

In describing the shift as “embodied” or “somatic”, it came to me this way.

Emily had me place my fingers on the horns of my hips, lying on my back, knees bent, feet on the floor. “Oh my gosh! There they are– I have hip bones!” Those sexy little numbers that span my pelvis, rise out of waistbands, cradle my core.  And despite my new little belly, they there are, connected to muscles, to my spine….even to my diaphragm, the membrane that breathes me. I still have an amazing body in there, working away to support me, in spite of my judgements. This was revelatory! I got pretty jazzed and that stayed with me, even at home, on my own.

I set an earlier morning alarm. 

With Kirtan or binaural beats kicking on Pandora, I began a standing date with a full foam roller, simply opening for the first few minutes. With knees bent, arms open to healing, to the world, to life, and my spine in a deliciously neutral position, I opened up to caring for Genevieve.

This opening transition, this slowing down and moving in, was the break I needed to open up to PT, to feel empowered in my own healing process. Up until then, despite weeks and months of PT for one issue and then another, I had been doing it out of a sense of duty, answering to a physical therapist, like a child: “Yes, I did my exercises…but maybe every other day…versus every day….2-3 times a day.”

Emily: I remember feeling a sense of calm when Genevieve came for the next session. I could tell she understood the complexity of her injury and that her positive attitude and willingness to embrace this new approach to strengthening was an essential ingredient in her healing process.

Genevieve: Emily’s strength is bringing the body and mind to a place of awareness– and then release— and helping you note it, too. I would feel a shift, the letting go, and immediately Emily, hands on my body, would sighhhhh with my muscles, “Yes! That’s it; nice.” I can now feel this at home, too— or not, and realize I need to refocus to bring awareness in again.

Emily: We delved into our session and I did my best to help her feel the actions in her body so that she could quickly awaken her own corset of support. I was doing all that was in my scope of service to help her build strength from the inside out, yet she was still in pain.

Genevieve: And then…I injured myself again. Dismounting my bike on the opposite side, I felt a tearing pain and my whole leg buckled. I had felt so close to recovery. I was angry. Frustrated. Dying to run, for control. To be free.

Emily: I referred her to Caroline Bourcier, a highly skilled physical therapist that utilizes her cognitive skills and intuitive nature to systematically unlock patterns that are holding you back from your true potential. I work closely with Caroline to help my clients through the injury cycle. If I uncover pain during my assessment process, I refer my patient to Caroline. She uses the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) as one of her methods for assessing injury and systematically finds the root of the dysfunction. I knew that Genevieve would be in extremely caring and capable hands with Caroline.

Caroline: I’ve always thought that we should be taught “Body Happiness 101” at an early age so we could optimize our well being throughout our lives. Not that we would have heeded the advice in our youth, but we at least would have been informed of what the rules were!

My first interaction with Genevieve was in an email where I think she too, wished she had had more instruction in sustainable body happiness! She was distraught about her declining function over the last several years and more specifically the last six months, with increased time spent sitting, decreased running, weight gain— an overall loss of vim and vigor that just didn’t seem normal for her age. She was 46 and was reaching rock bottom.

Genevieve: By now, the pain was like a deep, dark toothache thudding, thudding, consistently inconsistent. I was fried. No position relieved it. No stretch, no digging into it, made it feel better. I was bummed, big time, all the time.

Caroline: Genevieve reached out to me at the behest of her personal trainer, Emily White, with whom I have shared many clients with. Emily is gifted at identifying movement dysfunctions and integrating new healthier ways of moving. Through the  Functional Movement Screen (FMS), Emily determined that Genevieve would benefit from a clearer understanding of what was going on physically.

As a physical therapist, I am trained to assess sources of dysfunction. Not just what an X-Ray or MRI picture shows, but more importantly, the “laundry list” of problems that cause those pictures to look as they do. By identifying the tightness/weakness/poor movement habits that cause the X-Ray to show degenerative changes, I have the potential to prevent or slow that progression.

That’s where the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) is invaluable.

It is a three-tiered process: the “top tier” is a head to toe, five minute series of movement tests that asks the client to meet both quantity and quality of movement tasks. Any area that doesn’t meet established standards is then subjected to “breakout” tests that further determine if the limitation is caused by tightness or weakness/incoordination. Lastly, “physical therapy” assessments are done to determine which structures are involved: muscles, nerves, ligaments, tendons, and/or the brain (seriously!)

Knowing that Genevieve had already seen other physical therapists and healthcare practitioners I knew I would have to look where they had not… and we agreed to meet

Genevieve: I was frantic to know what was going on. I felt weak, insecure and exposed again, opening up to a new (fifth!) physical therapist. It was sheer pep talk that pushed me to her front door.

I breathed deep. And I knocked.

Caroline: When she arrived at my door I was surprised by how fit and vibrant she appeared. We talked more about her history and I queried her on what she hoped to get out of our meeting that day.

Her request was clear, “I want to understand what the heck is going on!”

Genevieve: I’m pretty sure I swore, actually.  

Caroline: As a PT, one begins their differential diagnosis while listening to a client tell their history. As I listened to Genevieve, it became very clear what tests I needed to perform to rule in/rule out my suspicions. We started with the top tier SFMA which revealed more than I might have expected.

Genevieve: It took me a while to let down my guard. I cringed at experiencing my heaviest self through another’s eyes. I cringed at how whiny and full of excuses I felt. I cringed at being old and worn out.

Caroline: Sensing from years of experience that there was “an elephant in the room”, I quickly progressed to performing special tests on her hip since that was the area that was stopping her from running which was most important to her.

Genevieve: Yeah…                                                                   (About that elephant.)

Caroline: The findings were significant.

I shared my impressions, recommendations and discussed a plan of action. But rather than my telling my findings, I’ll let Genevieve share the rest of her story…

Genevieve: Hearing the S-word triggered me. Cold, hard tears of fury bloomed. X-rays? Surgery? Another 6-8 months of no running?

Caroline sensed the emotional bomb and checked in with me. I needed to check myself; I was sooooo angry inside. She reminded me I was young, well positioned, actually, to heal quickly. Dispersing my psychological baggage, she moved me into what I could do now: new stretches to unfurl my body’s betrayal.

I made arrangements for X-rays and another session with Emily. Moving into the body– and out of my thoughts– Emily’s voice guided me back to equilibrium. I was grateful for the support. We all know it: to get through this, I needed to go through this. All of it. No shortcuts.

My X-rays show no arthritis, which is good news, considering the 29 years that that leg has rammed a shovel into Rocky Mountain soils and pounded down boulder and root strewn trails. Miraculously, I don’t need a new hip at 46. I have an ortho appointment next week, and hopefully, MRIs will reveal the issue in my soft tissue.

Meanwhile, I will continue the somatic approach to well being to which Emily introduced me: slow mornings all for myself, before child, before laptops and editing and emails. The stretches Caroline showed me will increase my mobility as healing progresses. Core classes like Pure Barre and Qigong will keep me on track.

As a middle-aged woman, I don’t get to just “whip that shit ” back in to shape. I have to slow it down and start from within.  I will continue to start from a place of embodiment, asking what does my body need from me? I know myself. I can’t— and don’t need— to go this alone. I’m thankful there are a variety of PTs in this world, especially like Emily and Caroline— that are compassionate guides into healing.


Emily White of Joy Infused Yoga & Fitness, LLC has been focused on helping folks live happy healthier lives for most of her adult life. She spent years both in Vermont and then at Carbondale’s local run shop, Independence Run & Hike working with folks to understand their needs and find the right shoes for their lifestyle. Her desire to affect people’s health and wellbeing lead her to immerse herself in a Hatha based Yoga Teacher Training where she learned a refined way of moving her body that exposed her to muscles she didn’t even know she had. Her new relationship with her body lead her to work as a PT Aide at S.P.O.R.T. PT for many years and then to earn her certification as a N.A.S.M. Certified Personal Trainer. Along the way, Emily met her sweet husband Jason and has built a life for herself in Carbondale’s vibrant, creative and conscious community. You can now find her at The Aspen Clinic (TAC), Kula Yoga and at True Nature Healing Arts. MyJoyInfused.com

Caroline Bourcier, MSPT comes to the Roaring Fork Valley from the San Francisco Bay Area with over 23 years in the Physical Therapy and fitness fields where she owned her own studio. As an orthopedic specialist with extensive post-graduate training in biomechanics, sports and spine injuries, massage and resolving complicated cases she seeks to empower her patients to take the shortest and most complete route to becoming and staying injury free. She can be reached at 415 497 6557 to answer any questions you may have.