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.

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