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  • Writer's pictureClaire Harrison

Spinal Fusion and the Road to Recovery With the GYROTONIC® Method

Robert John Weber, Jr's background is in gymnastics, figure skating and ballet. He is also a trained teacher in the Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Methods.

After contracting meningitis, Robert spent four weeks in hospital. By the time he got out of hospital, he had lost about 85% of movement from the lower rib cage down. Meningitis had caused a myriad of problems that no one knew what to do with. He was having a tremendous amount of back issues, but because he looked strong, everyone assumed it was all structural.

MRIs showed that his back was a mess, and it was decided that he needed a spinal fusion. Despite asking all the right questions, a procedure that never should have been done was done. What was happening was neurological, from the meningitis; it was not structural, but they went ahead and did the surgery.

"That was a whole journey in itself: meningitis, and then the fusion; the healing from that, and then the realization, post-fusion, exactly how significant the loss of movement this would cause in my lower back. It changed my life and set me on a course involving a lot of pain and a tremendous amount of work.

My emphasis to anyone reading this, who might be contemplating such a surgery, is to think very carefully about what the loss of your entire lower back really means. No one is going to be able to explain it to you. Especially as a dancer or athlete, you know better than they do. You have to really weigh this before agreeing to such a surgery."

After about a month in the hospital, in which Robert was in intensive care for the first two weeks, they put him into a special ward to start recovering. That was at Mount Sinai Hospital where Christopher Reeves had been; it’s a fairly famous ward where you go for two weeks after a spinal incident.

Robert was in a lot of pain, but had to start to regain his movement somewhere. Yoga was his starting point. He went to Cincinnati to stay with his parents and to undergo rehab.

"I began to find physical strength again, and through that, find my will to pursue what it meant to go through all that I had gone through. That’s when I got back into the studio to rediscover the Gyrotonic work. Right from the start, it was extraordinary to me that even though so much was gone, as soon as I got on the Gyrotonic Pulley Tower, that feeling of movement and expression came back. It was the first time in probably four or five years that I realised it was possible; I could come back and have a physical body to work in, as opposed to just a functional body, which is what the western doctors deemed enough. For me, that was not enough."

What Robert found most fascinating throughout the process was observing how his body could work around the one section in his lower back that had gone. He wasn't fused to the hip, so there’s a small space there where he could work, and also a space above the fusion, and then on top of it. He says it was a labyrinth of understanding how to work around a spot that your mind still believes can move, but it can’t.

One of the biggest gifts, and one of the reasons he felt so fortunate, is that he had a prior knowledge base from the Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis training before his injury. Coming back into it, his body recognized so much and could tell him where he needed to go.

"I’ve stepped up coming into the studio and doing the work. Walking is my biggest problem; I can’t walk without experiencing a great deal of pain, and I can’t walk very far. But my static movement, and my movement in yoga, is becoming much richer. I’m having much greater ease in those movements. My body is becoming much stronger. While I do say I’m still having trouble with walking, I’m learning so much about what not to do. Inevitably, when you are in constant pain, your body and mind reflect that. So just opening up and allowing the strength in the hips and the core, lifting you up out of your lower back, really helps."

Robert says he could not recommend Gyrotonic and Gyrokenesis it more highly, especially to injured dancers and athletes. To those who are considering only a traditional western solution to a problem that is as profound as a lower back injury – unless it’s catastrophic like a car accident or massive, sudden compression – he says to wait and find these other methods of healing first.

"Do the work and look for the information; it’s out there. I know it can be hard to find, and when you’ve suffered an injury like this, you don’t feel like there is much hope. There is."

When Robert first returned to the tower, the benefits were immediately clear to him. It was that feeling of weightlessness, feeling of being in water, that feeling of lack of restriction from gravity on his spine and body.

"I have seen progress and breakthrough. I have been able to find my ‘core’ for this body. The profound part of this work is finding that core, or “seed centre,” no matter where you are in your body, or who you are. I believe that’s what we have found, so I have a lot more hope. When people ask me what this work is, I find it nearly impossible to translate. Trying to describe the circular nature of the work, what it does energetically to the body, and that there really is no comparison, is hard to find words for. It’s a hard concept until you actually do it.

If you're interested in finding out more about what Gyrotonic can do for you, please get in touch.

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