At 70 years old, Ashland resident Angie Thusius is her own best example of the benefits of Kentro Body Balance, a system of movements she developed for the most practical of reasons: to heal herself and improve her own quality of life.
It began with catastrophe.
In 1972, while living in Paris with her husband, Thusius fell down two flights of marble stairs, fracturing her sacrum and coccyx.
"This began 10 years of chronic pain, consulting the best physicians and therapists in France and England with very minimal results," explains Thusius. "I had to give up my career as an artist because sitting and bending caused more pain than I could tolerate."
In an attempt to help herself, Thusius became a certified Iyengar yoga instructor at the Yoga Institute in Paris. Still in pain while teaching, she noticed that some students needed more help than those techniques could offer. So she moved in her own direction.
"I started doing extensive anatomical research. I also began ongoing years of fieldwork, traveling to 12 different countries, observing how healthy people moved in their activities," she explains. "I saw that strong, healthy people in Greece, France, southern England, Spain, Portugal and South American countries all moved identically despite their size or gender — the same way of standing, bending and sitting. Their movements all began with a relaxed pelvis, the center of most strength and freedom.
"These people lifted and carried with ease, didn't go to gyms or work out. Their only exercises were their varied, daily activities, including dancing."
Thusius gradually adapted and integrated the movements she observed into her own body movements.
"After a year and a half, I had completely overcome all my pain and stiffness," she says. "To my amazement, I gradually became physically and emotionally stronger, as well."
As a child, Thusius suffered a great deal of trauma and malnutrition during World War II. Her parents, of German extraction, were citizens of Honduras, but while visiting relatives in Germany, they became trapped there when the war began.
"I was born during a bombing raid," she says. "Because my family was anti-Nazi, some of my early childhood was spent in hiding, subsisting mostly on potatoes and turnips. As a result, I was a frail, stiff, fearful child. Immobility felt safe. Now, years later, I am in a new body — strong and limber.
Thusius began teaching her method in France and England before moving to the United States in 1988. Because centering is key to her system, she named it Kentro Body Balance. Kentro means "center" in Greek.
"Kentro is a method of simple, centering movements that reduce or eliminate muscle or joint stiffness and pain," she explains. "They are practical movements because they are integrated into all our activities: household chores, sitting at the computer, playing the piano, dancing — or specialized activities like yoga or tai chi. Kentro is unique because there are no postures or poses, just safe, pleasurable movements."
Even though there are 80 movements in Kentro, change can be felt after learning the first five, she says.
"The first five are basic and key: centering the pelvis, torso, arms, head and neck, and the forward bend. As you practice, your powerful sensory system wakes up, and soon you can feel the difference between stressing the body compared to moving effortlessly."
Thusius offers private sessions, small classes and workshops for all ages in her Ashland studio. In addition to body-balance classes, she teaches dance and stretching classes and traditional Greek dance.
Retired Ashland resident Miriam Curran has attended Kentro classes for 15 years.
"After my first session with Angie, I felt like I'd been looking for this all my life," she says. "At that time, I had severe migraines, a complex issue that improved greatly. Later, when I developed a bout of painful bursitis in my hip, we were able to heal that very quickly. Moving correctly just helps you to function better in all ways, no matter what comes up in your life ... At age 62, I'm more resilient and flexible than ever."
Irene Boltz, a speech-language pathologist, travels from Moraga, Calif., for private movement sessions with Thusius.
"Two vehicle accidents left me with a broken pelvis, unable to work for a year," says Boltz. "A friend referred me to Angie, and after four years, I am stronger, supple and have the stamina for an entire day's activities."
People usually begin with two private sessions in which Thusius makes an individual assessment and teaches basic stretching and toning movements. Her hourlong, group movement classes cost $60 for six classes or $12 per drop-in. Private sessions cost $60 per hour.
"Kentro helped make positive structural changes in my spine," says Ashland resident Judith Sanford, a cranial-sacral therapist. "I carry myself with more ease and have more comfort as I work with clients. Surprisingly, household chores are easier and pleasurable, too — even vacuuming."
Thuisus' book, "Kentro Body Balance," is available through her website, www.kentrobodybalance.com, along with video clips and samples of the movements she teaches. For more information, call her at 541-944-1942.