“In a perfectly matured body, which has grown without great emotional disturbances, movements tend gradually to conform to the mechanical requirements of the surrounding world. The nervous system has evolved under the influence of these laws and is fitted to them. However, in our society we do, by the promise of great reward or intense punishment, so distort the even development of the system, that many acts become excluded or restricted. The result is that we have to provide special conditions for furthering adult maturation of arrested functions.”

I came across this quote from Moshe Feldenkrais again, a few years since the last time I read it, and I was freshly struck by its density of meaning. I was amazed again by his ability to sum up the process of maturation, which is the journey to healthy adulthood, in a few sentences. Almost every word contains a distinct and recognizable human experience.

I learned from Dr. Feldenkrais to understand the words by the experiences they evoke. My experiences and associations are different from yours. I invite you, the reader, to find your own experiences or just allow yourself to ask the question: How does it apply to me? If you can share some of it in your comments, that will be a gift to all of us.

Here are some of my responses to the words:

“In a perfectly mature body” – I don’t know any body that exists without the person, and I have not yet met a perfect person. But I have met people who I will call mature, and I am very aware of my own, lifelong maturation process. I find myself shedding layers of habitual behavior, be it walking, using my hands & arms or discovering a prejudice I didn’t think I had. Now that I am in my sixties, I find the process accelerating. The liberation of shedding illusions and attitudes that caused me distress is exhilarating!

“Grown without emotional disturbances” – is there anyone like this out there? And we don’t need to go to the realm of abuse. It is enough for me to remember myself as a parent, wanting so much not to make the mistakes my parents did, succeeding more or less, but making new ones. I tried so hard! The parents of the special needs children I work with try so hard! And still, I witness constantly the emotional attitude behind some unnecessary words children hear, which is created by the anxiety for the future of the child. I observe how these attitudes disturb the child from achieving the step which is described in the following sentence:

“movements tend gradually to conform to the mechanical requirements of the surrounding world.” So when my two year old granddaughter tries to climb up the steps, which are part of her surrounding world, she experiments with multitude of movements to mechanically be able to accommodate the stairs and go up. I witness it and find myself holding my breath for fear of her falling. I have to tell myself that she will sense the fear and associate it with this particular activity. I change my position so that I am sure to catch her in a safe way, and change my breathing. I am no longer afraid and am available to quickly change my position to accommodate her experiments. Now we have fun! It took 30 years of Feldenkrais thinking and doing plus other venues of self-awareness, to be able to do this. I was not so smart when I raised my own kids!

“The Nervous System has evolved under the influence of these laws and is fitted to them.” Well, all my movements have to do with negotiating gravity – enjoying the support of a stable surface and learning to move away from it without falling. My brain learned to do this well enough to be still alive. Haven’t yours?

But how well did I learn? How do the emotional disturbances of my family and culture prevent me from feeling more stable, feeling strong and light at the same time, being free of aches and pains and reducing disappointments? Dr. Feldenkrais says:  “we do, by the promise of great reward or intense punishment, so distort the even development of the system, that many acts become excluded or restricted.” Excluded and restricted by the punishments we imagine would come from failing to do it “correctly” in the time we imagine we are allotted, which has nothing to do with the realities of the situations.

“The result is that we have to provide special conditions for furthering adult maturation of arrested functions.” This is the most concise description of the Feldenkrais Method I know of. The method provides special conditions, in the forms of Awareness Through Movement classes and private Functional Integration sessions for allowing a person to feel how her/his limitations are created and find other options. The movements are only the medium we, practitioners and trainers, use to make the process of transcending our “lot in life” and enlarge the world of possibilities – physical, mental, emotional and least, but not last, social.

 

A 60 years old man walks into my studio for a private Feldenkrais session. He is tall, with a gentle smile,  holding an electronic device in his hand and from time to time touching the back side of his right hip with it. He is in great pain and the device is a remote control for an implanted TENS unit which he activates with the device. He had two back surgeries, a lot of physical therapy and other alternative therapies. They helped for a while and then stopped working. Two years of pain left him with depression and anxiety and now he is taking 2 powerful pain medications, an anti depressant, an anti anxiety drug and anti inflammatories. On a scale of 1 to 10, his pain is between 8 to 10 most of his waking life.

He was very athletic until the back pain started. Moving was important to him. Not being able to move was a blow to his self image and to his figure. He put on some weight and was now alienated from his body, feeling it to be a burden and trying to dissociate from it. It was now a loathsome object for the doctors to do whatever is the latest thing with it.

It was not his body. The constant, exquisite flow of information from the senses to the brain and back, the feedback loop necessary for movement and any other human activity, was reduced to one sensation – sharp pain.

He tells me that there is a big family event happening in the Midwest 2 weeks from now, which he dreams of going to, but doesn’t feel he can. The image of being confined in the airplane cabin suffering pain, made him very anxious. He also warned me that treatments generally are painful for him.

So what do I do?  Most of the clients who come to me with pain have tried everything else first. They were helped to a certain extent, but the fundamental issues that needed to change, did not. They are paying me to think out of the box, to suggest, with touch or directions, connections that they cannot make for themselves, and to awake in them the natural flow of bodily sensations to the brain and back, the feedback loop mentioned above.

I sensed the man’s helplessness. He regressed to a certain kind of dependency  (which I see again and again with people with chronic pain), giving his body up to others to cure. I felt strongly that there was no way out for him but learning to feel himself again, so as to have choices of action when he was in pain. I told him that I can guide him in self healing but I cannot cure him. He will have to participate and be committed, or else I will become just another link in the chain of failures. I told him that since he has pain no matter what he does, he might as well start moving very gently and cautiously to satisfy his brain and body’s need to move for health and survival.

I thought I would encounter some resistance to this idea, but he woke up to this possibility with interest. He realized that refraining from moving has not helped him with the pain, only harmed him in other ways, including his mental and emotional health.

I usually start with hands- on lessons, so I can feel the unnecessary twists and turns of the skeleton and reduce them. Then I move to directed movements, so people can feel and learn how to change their inefficient patterns on their own. But here I decided to do the opposite. I wanted to teach him to listen to himself and change how he does things. I hoped to show him that he could move without  more pain, and even reduce the pain.  We were both successful in making it happen! After 3 lessons, he decided to fly to the event he dreamt of attending and came back glowing – energized physically, mentally, and more important – socially. And with less pain!

The biggest change was in his self image. He could see himself moving, literally moving out of pain. We are continuing with more and more demanding movements, which he enjoys very much and which have changed his outlook on life dramatically. And if one regains the feeling of loving life again, what else is there?

This is the legacy of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais,  for which I will always be grateful.