Monday, September 14, 2009

Feldenkrais Evangelism

My friend Sandra says that everyone who does Feldenkrais is evangelical. I think she means it pejoratively, but I don't, when I count myself among the zealously converted. Even though I still struggle with the after-effects of my devastating Lyme Disease infection, I have had some dramatic healing the last couple of months since working with Steve Shafarman, an amazing Feldenkrais Method teacher who lives nearby.

I have always experienced all movement, including walking, as awkward and uncomfortable. Even when I was four years old, I had these special shoes to correct some kind of walking problem. As an adult, I blamed my unease on my obesity. Losing 94 pounds made moving easier, but it still felt forced and awkward. So David and I have always known that I needed some kind of movement re-education, but we couldn't imagine who did that kind of therapy. I first heard of Feldenkrais Method (hereafter called Feldenkrais) while reading up on Fibromyalgia when I was diagnosed with that pain condition in 2004. Simply put, the goal of the modality is to use gentle movement to increase awareness of one's body to learn how to move it optimally.

Feldenkrais was born out of Moshe Feldenkrais' need to rehabilitate a sports injury, and was inspired by watching how young children in his wife's pediatric practice organically learn to move comfortably and efficiently. We all started out with the flexibility and curiosity of babies, but as we grow up we pick up bad habits and settle into ineffective and uncomfortable ways of moving. Can you remember the last time you thought, "I wonder if there's a way I could do [fill in the blank] that would exert less energy and be more comfortable than the way I do it now?" I certainly didn't think about this until I started working with Steve, whose version of Feldenkrais is called FlexAware.

FlexAware exercises are designed to be playful and simple, but if you have images of mindless exercises, think again. This work has been far more challenging than I thought it would be, both somatically and cognitively. My body tires from using under-used muscles. My brain gets a workout as I connect how a slight change in my positioning makes movement more or less efficient, thus learning to erase decades-old patterns of tension and unskilled motion.

I actually have a 10-minute old example of how FlexAware is making a difference in how I feel. I just got home after being out for five hours. Since I ran out of time to do so this morning, I sat down to meditate and my lower back and neck were stiff. When I got up from my zafu (meditation cushion), I knew exactly which exercises I needed to do to make myself feel better. I tell people that my body now "talks" to me since doing Feldenkrais; it's more accurate to say that it has been talking all along, but I haven't understood its language. Now I do. I spent a few minutes practicing some exercises that I do standing up that have been marvelous for everything from my neck to my lower back, and followed it up with a few more exercises I do on my yoga mat. There is a lot of emphasis in FlexAware on working with gravity -- not wasting energy fighting gravity by holding your body up in some artificial position -- and on breathing more fully and comfortably. When I got up to come write this, everything felt nicely well-adjusted. This reminds me that I haven't seen my chiropractor, whom I used to see at least once a month, since I started working with Steve. FlexAware exercises essentially let the body become self-correcting, which is saving me time and money. Hooray!

I've noticed that in bodywork, even more than in medicine, the quality of your practitioner or instructor makes a tremendous difference in your experience. I saw another certified Feldenkrais practitioner, "Jill," for a few sessions, and sought Steve out because although Jill was pleasant, I felt like something was lacking in our sessions. However, since I had never done Feldenkrais with anyone else, I had no basis of comparison, which is why I decided to book one session with Steve. Within an hour, I knew that he was totally the person I needed to work with.

Jill also is certified in The Alexander Technique, which is often compared to Feldenkrais. I've done a fair amount of Alexander both with Jill and my old cranial-sacral therapist, and although Alexander can feel good, I think there's no competition between the disciplines. I perceive Feldenkrais as so much more robust, cognitive, and nuanced than Alexander. Feldenkrais focuses a lot on the pelvis, since it's the center of gravity and the largest part of your body. Alexander focuses mostly on the head and neck, so Jill pushed the Alexander Technique on me because of my serious neck problems resulting from my Lyme infection. I've found that Feldenkrais more than adequately takes care of my neck problems, and because Steve teaches me exercises I can do at home, I don't have to wait to be manipulated for relief.

Steve continues to coach me to move gracefully, an adjective that I can't imagine could apply to me, but I persist. And I'm determined that one day, it will feel truly natural to walk.


S said...
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S said...

Sarah, this reminds me of yoga - in that the quality of the teacher can make a TREMENDOUS difference on both the in-the-moment experience, and the longer, take-away awareness and subsequent lasting results. I'm delighted to hear you are experiencing such success with this!!