Sitting on the couch, hunched over her computer, Claire E. Brown tried to focus on the fictional story she was writing about a woman suffering from a head injury. Pain was a natural subject matter for this playwright. She’d lived with chronic head and neck discomfort for six decades. But on this day, like so many others, the pain would force Claire to stop working. Closing her laptop in frustration, she thought, It’s no use.
Decades of Frustration
Claire reveals a stressful childhood triggered migraines early on, and then chronic TMJ jaw problems only intensified her misery over the years. From the moment Claire sat up in bed each day, her neck ached, making life difficult for this teacher and writer. But she hardly remembered any other way of living. She lamented to a friend, “The pain was since…forever.”
Things got worse after age 50 when Claire developed arthritis, mainly in her shoulders and neck. By this point she was taking four prescription medications—for pain, headaches, arthritis and muscle relaxation — but they didn’t solve her problems. In fact, this painful condition further zapped Claire’s energy and made her posture crumble so she felt years older than her age. Fearing she looked like an old lady, shuffling around, she vented to friends, “I’m a real mess!”
Then one day, while volunteering at a community meeting, Claire met a local business owner named Mara Kimowitz. The woman explained how she’d founded StretchSource, a facility specializing in individualized flexibility and stretching programs. Claire’s ears perked up and she immediately said, “Wow, I’d really be interested in your help.” So Mara invited Claire to come visit for a private lesson.
There, Claire described her unique aches and pains. And Mara started by teaching Claire how to get up out of bed in the morning without triggering the start to all-day pain. Instead of sitting straight up, unknowingly putting extra strain on her arthritic neck joints, Claire learned to roll over to her side first, and then gently sit up.
The first time Claire used that trick at home, she was immediately stunned to feel how much more comfortable it felt on her body. No neck strain. This is going to make such a big difference!
Inspired, Claire started going to group stretching classes and learning more helpful moves. She discovered exactly how to stretch her neck and shoulders when they began to feel tight after writing on the computer, and how to use her thumbs to cradle and massage the back of her head to relieve headache pressure. Amazingly, her pain was greatly diminished within just one week of routine stretching. And if any new problems cropped up, Claire was able to relieve them, like magic, in the span of a single class. “I never walk out the door with the pain I arrived with,” she gushed to Mara after class.
With the pain controlled, Claire began experiencing mini breakthroughs in other areas of her life too. She was able to focus longer, and work more effectively. She even started writing her memoirs. This is so encouraging!
With the pain no longer bearing down on her frame, Claire also began improving her posture, first by looking in the mirror to correct where she looked out-of-balance, and then replicating that standing-tall feeling throughout her day. Whenever she walked her three dogs, she told herself, Okay, shoulders back, stand up straight… Her doctor took notice of the changes when remarking, “You’ve gained two inches since your last appointment!”
Relief at Last
Today, Claire is off all four of her medications and feeling on top of the world. It’s quite the plot twist: After decades of frustration and agony, she is shocked that doing simple stretches erased so many of her problems. “I’m not your average 67-year old. Now I’m in really, really good shape.” She wants other women to know: “You really can feel invigorated in a shorts amount of time.”
And unlike some of the characters in her stories who don’t get happy endings, Claire is enjoying her own real-life success. “I’m moving through the world with more ease,” she beams, “I feel better than I’ve ever felt. This is the best time in my life!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.