At age 64, Mary Miller feels like she's just learning to walk.
The Medford resident quickly bounced back from hip-replacement surgery in December but recently "felt wobbly." An April workshop at Rasa Center for Yoga and Wellness showed Miller how to put her best foot forward.
More than mere walking, "gait therapy" is a system for moving the body that stretches, strengthens, improves balance, eases pain and ultimately prevents injuries. Certified therapist Jamie Elmer knows better than most the unexpected benefits of changing one's stride.
"I was in constant pain every day," says Elmer of lower-back aches that sometimes kept her in bed for a week. "I feel like this work completely saved me from surgery."
Ten years ago, a yoga instructor told Elmer, now 33, to seek out physical therapist Sherry Brourman in Santa Monica, Calif. Brourman, in 1998, published "Walk Yourself Well," a 312-page manual of the techniques she developed in response to her own unexpected and debilitating back pain. Squeezing her stomach and back muscles together, while shifting her weight slightly forward, dulled Brourman's stabbing sensations and over time stabilized her spine enough to heal.
Like most gait-therapy patients, Elmer says she was deeply skeptical of how altering the way she walked could possibly alleviate pain. The lifelong dancer walked into Brourman's office like the consummate ballerina: toes pointed out at an extreme angle, hips thrust forward and lower back tightly compressed.
"Most people are pretty surprised at some of the habits they have," says Elmer, including herself in that category.