WORDS DANIEL DUNKLEY / PHOTOS SALINA GALVAN
Olly Coffey helps people out of wheelchairs and onto their feet. Daniel Dunkley visited his NeuroPhysics Therapy centre at the Mount to discover how he does it.
I’m lying flat on my back with my legs in the air. They’re suspended beneath an exercise bar and suddenly begin to tremble uncontrollably. My muscles twitch independently from the rest of my body, causing an unusual sensation right up to my stomach.
If this sounds out of the ordinary, it’s because it is. I’m at Olly Coffey’s NeuroPhysics therapy practice at the Mount’s SwitchedOn exercise and wellness centre, receiving treatment for a back injury that has been causing me pain for a few months. UNO has sent me here to uncover the secrets of the approach that has revolutionised physical therapy and is changing lives.
There are two NeuroPhysics therapy centres in New Zealand; Olly runs this one, and the other is in Auckland. He’s been practising NeuroPhysics for about four years, having learned his trade from Australian founder Ken Ware. From his base at the Mount, Olly runs eight-week courses comprised of four intensive two-hour sessions in week one, plus ongoing follow-up.
To his patients, Hamilton-born Olly is a miracle worker. From the wheelchair-bound man he helped walk a year after his snowboarding accident, to the tetraplegic who can now stand, to the sports star regaining feeling after a serious accident, they all say the same thing: he produces extraordinary results. Olly, on the other hand, is more modest about his achievements. “I help people make changes themselves,” he says. “I’m a facilitator in that sense, just observing the penny-drop moments.”
NeuroPhysics therapy is a revolutionary form of treatment that puts a holistic spin on standard physical rehab. Rather than homing in on an isolated area of pain or damage, it treats the body as a whole and harnesses the brain’s power to help in the rehabilitation process. It’s less about building strength in the body, and more about building our awareness of how the body works – physical therapy with a hint of mindfulness.
The human brain uses trillions of neural pathways to send messages around the body, but in the event of an injury or medical condition, these pathways can become blocked or damaged. When the brain is used to sending signals along a particular pathway, any disruption affects function and sensation. NeuroPhysics attempts to open up other neural pathways, to find routes past the pain zone or area of damage.
Olly likens neural pathways to a synchronised school of fish. He says that when an injury happens, it’s like “a shark breaking up the school”. The ‘fish’ (messages) have to figure out a new way to continue their journey together.
How does the body find new neural pathways? A key part of the treatment involves making your body tremor; you may have felt a similar feeling while holding a difficult pose during a yoga class, lifting weights or holding a glass of water out in front of you. By performing slow, steady exercises using light weights, the muscles are stimulated and begin to tremor, and NeuroPhysics practitioners believe this is the body’s own calibration system being spurred into action, as it attempts to open up neural pathways around the body.
As well as firing up the body’s internal calibration system, NeuroPhysics aims to increase your awareness of your body. Posture, for example, is important. Hunched shoulders or inward-facing knees are signs that your body is in fight-or-flight mode, and in this stressed state, you’re in no position to heal. Olly wants his patients to enter a ‘growth’ state – the opposite of fight or flight. To achieve this, they’re encouraged to puff out their chest, close their eyes and allow their body to do the work.
“The body has an innate ability to heal itself, but we seldom give it a window of opportunity,” says Olly. “We can think ourselves into a state of anxiety and it holds us in the wrong physical state. You can’t isolate the musculoskeletal system, neural system or cardiovascular system – it’s all part of the bigger picture. The brain is coordinating everything; if your body is an orchestra, then the brain is the conductor.”
Olly says he has made the biggest difference to people who are living with chronic pain, and with life-changing injuries and conditions such as spinal cord damage and Parkinson’s. After my two-hour NeuroPhysics session, my back pain has significantly reduced and I have a sense of focus and clarity that I rarely experience. It is extraordinary – I’ve definitely joined the ranks of those who think so. Read on for stories of three other Kiwis who are benefiting from Olly’s work.
THE MAGIC TOUCH
Tauranga’s Casey Waterhouse suffered a severe motocross injury that left her paralysed from the chest down. She began seeing Olly since last June and says the sessions are like “slowly reawakening the senses”. “I had no feeling when I started with Olly. Now when my body is in tremor, I feel little flickers right down to my hip.” Casey’s making progress she never thought was possible. “Some therapists practically crossed me out; Olly has given me a chance. He calms me down and I’m starting to feel more.”
Another convert is White Sox player Jennifer Feret-Brear. Jennifer suffered an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and was anxious to recover in time for August’s Women’s Softball World Championship in Japan. After four sessions with Olly, she was able to return to the game after 18 months out. “I could perform movements I’d been practising for a year but unable to master, and the calm and clarity of thought was even more rewarding,” she says. “For me, it was similar to the feeling you get after yoga, but with far less physical stress and effort.”
Matt Hall broke his neck in a swimming-pool accident last year, leaving him a tetraplegic. After making little progress with a regular physio, he discovered Olly. “It was a change of mentality,” he says. “I moved away from a model with very limited expectations of what
I could do. In three months, I went from not being able to feel my leg to standing on my own. After five months, I was walking on crutches. For me, it’s nothing short of a miracle.” Matt credits Olly’s calm demeanour for his progress. “His personality makes the difference. He’s a remarkable human being and has a real presence.” Matt’s now back working in Singapore, where he’s continuing his recovery. In the past month, he has started to be able to feel the sensations of hot and cold on his hands – something that would have been unthinkable a year ago. He wants to spread the word so NeuroPhysics therapy can help others. “Applying this process over several months can make a colossal difference to your life,” he says. “So many people out there could be recovering like me. It really can help.”
YOU CAN CONTACT OLLY AT: ENERGYNMOTION.NZ
GET GREAT RESULTS WITH NEUROPHYSICS: back pain – chronic pain – stress – injuries – paralysis – Parkinson’s.