Anyone who has ever received a diagnosis of a chronic health condition knows how frightening and overwhelming it can be. Learning that there is something terribly wrong with the way your body is functioning, seeking numerous medical opinions, enduring multiple tests, and still not finding answers can be exasperating. A correct diagnosis is the first step in bringing relief, as knowledge and a treatment plan replaces questions, fear, and on-going symptoms.
Kimberly Woodring knows this all too well. She suffered from debilitating migraine headaches and fatigue for most of her life, but after moving from Washington D.C. to the East Mountains in 2010, her symptoms began to snowball. After taking several hard falls due to loss of balance and coordination, and experiencing nausea along with a migraine that lasted for six weeks, she sought medical help.
Woodring first received a diagnosis of altitude sickness and was given numerous medications to treat her symptoms, none of which gave her much relief. She then underwent a series of tests in an attempt to pinpoint the problem, but her symptoms continued.
After months of misdiagnosis and with worsening symptoms, Woodring was finally diagnosed with gluten ataxia, an extreme form of Celiac disease. For most people diagnosed with Celiac disease, the solution is to cut out gluten—found in wheat, barley, and rye—entirely. Thankfully, many grocery stores now offer a wide variety of gluten-free products, and many restaurants offer gluten-free dishes.
Gluten ataxia, however, can be so severe that lesions form in the brain. These lesions can affect motor skills, balance, speech, eyesight, and the ability to think clearly. Gluten can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients from food. This extreme reaction is exactly what Woodring experienced, long before she had a correct diagnosis. She also discovered that gluten is in many shampoos, bath products, and is even used as a binder in many of the medications she had been given.
Once she was diagnosed correctly, Woodring went to work. She changed her diet, started making her own bath products, and even used many of the old cooking and canning methods from her grandmother’s cookbook. She returned to the practice of yoga and Reiki, the latter a hands-on technique that promotes stress reduction and healing that she learned while living in Japan. Through a combination of Western and Eastern medicine, she says, she gradually began to feel better.
During this healing process, she also came across a PBS program about Essentrics, a fitness program that combines strengthening and stretching movements to rebalance all of the muscles and joints of the body. The therapeutic sequence of contracting and releasing muscles borrows practices from yoga, ballet, tai chi, and Pilates, but is unique in its goal to help create a pain-free body.
Woodring started practicing Essentrics on her own and felt her strength and coordination begin to improve. “I felt that I had finally found the last piece of the puzzle when I found Essentrics,” she says. Eager to share this stretching, strengthening, and healing technique with others, she began offering classes out of her home while taking courses to receive Level 2 certification in the program. “The instruction was very detailed and included anatomy and physiology, along with 30 hours of practice teaching,” she explains. During this time, she studied two to three hours a day, while continuing to practice and teach the technique.
Understanding the importance of modifying the exercises for each individual, particularly those with chronic pain, Woodring suggests taking a slow and steady approach. “If you push yourself too hard, your body revolts and you can go backward,” she says. “It is vitally important to listen to your body and accept where you are, while stretching and moving to make positive changes. Small adjustments can make a huge difference.”
Woodring is committed to helping others who are struggling with chronic pain or illness. Her own experience has taught her that there is rarely just one solution to the healing process. Each individual must look for the combination that is right for them. “I feel very fortunate to have found the right combination that has helped me to heal,” she says. “I want to continue to put everything I have learned into helping others.”
Currently, Woodring is the only certified Essentrics instructor in New Mexico. She teaches a full class two days each week, a chair Yoga class for people with more difficult mobility issues, and leads a Restorative Yoga Workshop at Body Dynamics Studio. For more information and a class schedule, see her website at stretchwithkimberly.webs.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.