Aika Yoshida - balancing on tree, MovNat

How I Found My “New Body” And Relearned How to Move After a Devastating Accident Left Me Paralyzed

Five years ago, Aika Yoshida was thinking about enrolling in the MovNat Certification Program, then she suffered a tragic spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Needless to say, she’s had a long road of recovery since then. But earlier this year, and despite some physical limitations, Aika courageously attended a MovNat 2-Day Workshop in Boston, where she made huge progress in her movement abilities.

She told us she was “hesitant to sign up for this workshop for the longest time since I knew I had a lot of physical limitations and am still learning my “new” body. But I’m very glad I did!”

We asked Aika if she’d be willing to share her story with the MovNat community, and she happily agreed. We are so pleased to introduce you to this strong, inspiring woman who happens to be on her way to compete at the World Championships in her sport. Enjoy!

1) Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, and what you do today?

I am passionate about studying and teaching movement!

I have a clinical doctorate in physical therapy, and I specialize in orthopedics. However, 5 years ago on July 28th, there was an incident during an acrobatic yoga session where I was dropped on my head. I sustained C6 incomplete spinal cord injury and underwent emergency neck surgery to minimize the damage of my spinal cord. Immediately after the fall, I had no movement below my shoulders. I was devastated. My life has changed forever from being an athlete who participated in trail marathons, mountain biking and rock climbing to a patient who had to re-learn movement literally from head to toe.

Thanks to the help of close friends, family, my health care team, and inherent stubbornness, I have returned to work as a part time physical therapist and am back climbing as an adaptive climber. I currently compete at national and international levels representing the Japanese National ParaClimbing Team.

aika yoshida climbing movnat

2) Can you tell Us what life was like for you before you found MovNat and began practicing it?

I grew up playing outside. Climbing trees, riding horses, practicing handstands, and riding a unicycle were some of the things I enjoyed as a child.

I first heard about MovNat at the Ancestral Health Symposium in Boston in 2012 – prior to my injury. I immediately knew that I wanted to attend this workshop and possibly become a certified MovNat instructor one day.

I had also become a yoga teacher that year and always loved learning and teaching movement and connecting with mind, body and nature/environment. But this is when my life was put on hold by the devastating accident and not knowing the extent to which I would be able to recover, or if I was ever going to work as a physical therapist again.

I was in the rehab hospital for 1 month and had outpatient therapy for over a year. During this time, I re-connected to MovNat when Gray Cook, a physical therapist and the founder of the Functional Movement System, started doing some work with Erwan Le Corre. I have been a huge fan of Gray’s work for over 10 years because he focuses on quality movement and the holistic approach by assessing patients as a whole instead of chasing pain or impairments. I was fortunate to work with a physical therapist who also utilizes Gray’s system to treat patients.

I got the DVD Exploring Functional Movement – An Authentic and Natural Experience by Gray and Erwan, so I could begin to learn more about MovNat and practice movement on my own. I was speechless with the beauty of Erwan’s movement-the fluidity and effortlessness. I could not stop watching his elegant movement, especially when my body moved like a robot after my injury.

I started incorporating some of the groundwork as my daily routine at home to keep my body moving and learn to be more efficient with my movement.

Aika Yoshida - MovNat Groundwork

3) Can you tell us about any other health and fitness approaches you tried in the past and the kind of results you had in the past?

As I mentioned above, I was very fortunate to have an amazing group of medical providers who knew my needs. We practiced a lot of movement from the “ground up” using developmental milestones while focusing on quality of movement.

I do not even know how many times or days I practiced rolling. I also spent a significant amount of time practicing crawling to improve my coordination along with building strength and stability. I was better off not using any equipment and focused on moving my own body. I also tried the treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, etc. Those were very awkward and frustrating for me. I felt like a robot was operating the exercise equipment and felt very inefficient. It just wasn’t natural, but what’s natural about exercising on the equipment? I say not much!

I believe there’s a time and place to use equipment to move or exercise, but I think machines can make us mindless with our activities if the task isn’t challenging enough. Isn’t that why so many people watch TV, read, or listen to music while exercising on those kinds of equipment?

4) How did you find out about MovNat and why did you decide to try it?

I have been following MovNat on the Internet and social media since 2012. However, after my injury, I didn’t have enough confidence in my ability to participate in a workshop because I thought everyone else would move so beautifully that I would be judged. I think my belief of how I would be perceived is what held me back from attending the workshop for several years. I also wasn’t ready to accept my own physical limitations by not being able to perform certain movements.

Even though I didn’t know how much I was going to be able to do personally, I knew my patients were going to benefit from me learning this material. I’m always eager to learn new material, so I can be a better therapist to provide creative and effective care for all my patients. In 2018, I finally built up the confidence to attend the level 1 workshop in Boston. But I was nervous.

boston_january 2018 group photo
That’s Aika kneeling on the far left.

5) Tell us about your experience at the MovNat workshop you attended.

I was initially very scared and intimidated by practicing the movements as a group. However, the MovNat instructor, Danny Clark, immediately made all of us feel safe and comfortable. Therefore, I was able to focus on my own practice and my body instead of worrying about what other people thought of me. Every participant was also very encouraging and supported each other at the level where each individual was. I love the mindfulness component of MovNat and the sense of community.

I never knew that we were going to practice walking in a MovNat class. This was beneficial for me since I walk with a limp and wear a carbon fiber leg brace on my right leg to assist my walk. I especially valued practicing taking steps and balancing on my knees. Also, isolated practice of upper body movement while walking with trunk rotation and arm swings was beneficial to improve my asymmetrical gait pattern. This is something I utilize with many of my patients now.

I still don’t have the ability to run or jump well, but this course provided me the opportunity to practice what I have been avoiding since the injury, JUMPING. Danny showed us a step-by-step sequence of jumping; body position, timing and the actual movement of jumping along with landing. Prior to my injury, I never thought too much about my jumping sequence, but following the MovNat technique for jumping was very beneficial since my body wasn’t coordinated.

I couldn’t believe how sore I was after the weekend workshop. The weaker side of my body, the right side was surprisingly very sore. This made me realize how much I utilized my weaker side of the body in the MovNat course. It gave me hope that even almost 5 years out from my injury, I still have potential to get stronger and move better.

You hear a lot about hand eye coordination, but I hadn’t really thought of foot eye coordination until this course. This is a great skill as a climber. So, I’m more efficient with my footwork, but this applies to many people such as soccer players, the elderly using steps, etc.

I think many of my patients need more specific instructions like what the MovNat course teaches when they are re-learning skills or learning to be more efficient. My feet barely cleared the floor when I first practiced jumping in the class, and I also used my arms for balance. By the end of the workshop, I have gained at least 2-3 inches! I know that’s not much, but it was huge success for me, and I was in tears with joy by the end of this workshop.

6) What is your life like now, after you’ve integrated MovNat into your lifestyle?

I incorporate groundwork for my daily routine and focus on mindfulness, connecting to my body and allow my body to move the way I don’t necessary move throughout the day. This helps manage my chronic pain that I’ve faced since the accident. I also like to get my 1×4 inch board out to practice balance as I walk to the bathroom and bedroom. I still don’t jump very high, but I’m making gradual progress with this.

I have also incorporated various unique MovNat exercises to my patients’ therapy to keep them engaged and learn to move more efficiently and safely. This applies to all ages and all diagnoses. I have gained more tools in my toolbox as a physical therapist to help my patients and athletes recover from injuries and prevent future injury.

I see tremendous value in utilizing MovNat groundwork as my warm up for my climbing. I especially value this warm up prior to climbing competition to connect my mind and body to climb at my best.

I’m excited to share that I placed first in my category and won overall female at the Japanese Paraclimbing nationals this year and qualified to compete at the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria this September. You will definitely see me using MovNat while getting ready for the world’s stage.

Aika Yoshida - MovNat vaulting

7) If you had to share any piece of advice with other people who are either involved with MovNat or are thinking about it, what would you tell them?

I’m glad I don’t often say “I CAN’T!”. I think having the mindset of “Let me TRY…” is a way to live life no matter what obstacle you are facing, so you don’t miss out on an amazing opportunity. Don’t let your belief limit your abilities!

Why don’t you do something that’s beneficial for you and also enjoyable? I feel like a little kid again when I practice MovNat because it’s fun! MovNat is not only good for your physical health; it benefits you as a whole.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Aika! You are an inspiration and we wish you the very best in all your future endeavors.

Bio: Aika Yoshida PT, DPT, COMT, Cert MDT, RYT is a physical therapist based out of Indiana who specializes in orthopedics.

Aika is also a MovNat alumna and an adaptive climber who competes at national and international levels representing the Japanese National ParaClimbing Team.

Want some Help Getting Started With MovNat?

If you’d like to learn more and deepen your natural movement practice, consider attending the MovNat Level 1 Certification or a MovNat Workshop. We hold events all around the world. Or, find a MovNat Certified Trainer or Gym in your area. We also offer MovNat Online Coaching as an alternative to live instruction.

Most people feel that they should be more physically active. Some even recognize the incredible value of natural movement training. But they struggle with actually implementing it into their daily lives. That’s why we work closely with people from all walks of life to help them move better, get healthier and stronger, and discover their true potential with natural movement fitness. It’s also why we work extensively with health and fitness professionals who understand the value of this new paradigm and are eager to start implementing it with their clients.

So, if you’re ready to take your movement practice to the next level, this is your chance. Please join our community and check out an event near you soon.

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