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A Feldenkrais Teacher’s Hope For You

April 7, 2014

The email arrived in my inbox with the subject line: Pinched Nerve

“When can I see you?” We exchanged emails and phone calls and scheduled our session. The story came out as we worked. A personal trainer/yoga teacher, someone who purports to know the body, asked the student to lie over a roller to open her shoulders and reduce rounding in the upper/mid back. The trainer helped the stretch and, despite the student reporting that her hands were going numb, kept helping the stretch to deepen. By the time the student left the gym, she couldn’t lift one arm. This was two months ago and she’s still struggling with numbness and discomfort. 

Another woman came to my office with a serious groin injury from a trainer taking her through a series of stretches, obviously not respecting her range of motion. My client could hear the pop when the tendon and muscle tore. The difficulty for her now is finding any comfortable place to stand or sit or move. She may require surgery. 

Years ago, my student, Anna, suffered a serious whiplash injury in a car accident. In severe pain, she went to physical therapy and the therapist held her head and turned her neck forcefully to the left and then to the right to increase the range. I think that was stretching. I think it was to stop the pain. 

As Anna was lying on my table, tears streamed down her face. I wait and listened and pushed through her feet so she could know where she was in space and helped her regain a small spring in her step and some soft turning motions of her pelvis and lower spine. We stayed away from her neck. She needed to have some time to trust that I wasn’t going to grab her head and twist. Over time, and not that much time, but more time than stretching allows for, she regained function and pain relief. 

Feldenkrais Notes . . . Into the UnknownI asked Anna to stop letting them hurt her that way. I asked her to listen to her own body and trust her own instincts and not follow the rules or the procedures or the advice of another when she felt it was counter to her own experience. She agreed she would ask them to not do the stretching. 

In each of these cases, the professional was someone supposedly in the know about what he or she was doing. The student took herself there in each case and trusted the professional to do something good, something healing, or something strengthening. In each of these cases, the person did what the professional asked and got hurt. 

This is lesson 101 of the Feldenkrais methodology, take care of yourself. Be your own sovereign entity. To be sovereign means to make decisions for yourself and not put the choice in someone else’s hands. You can take advice from others, you can study a situation intensively, and interview many others who’ve also done that thing. But, at the end of the research phase, it’s you who decides what is best for you.

This is one of the reasons we Feldenkrais teachers ask students to make finer and finer distinctions in postures, actions, and sensations. We want each student to discern the first moment the discomfort begins. That is the moment to stop. Stopping after the discomfort progresses into pain, well, that’s often too late. People who are aware and listen to the self have fewer injuries.

Clearly, there might be times when you have to turn yourself over to someone else. You may not have a choice. But, there are more choice moments than we are led to believe and that is the place our Feldenkrais study can help. When we lie on the floor and take part in a lesson, we are practicing noticing the choice moments. We might listen to the teacher saying to go slowly and when the movement becomes uncomfortable, go the other way. We might lie there and wonder why she keeps saying that over and over. It’s likely because it’s clear the people on the floor are moving into the discomfort. It shows up as strain on the face, as the stopping of the breath, and in the quality of the movement. 

Each class, each private lesson, each moment in time, is your time to practice. If you have established trust with your practitioner, by all means turn yourself over to them. That trust comes over time, not in one or two sessions. 

I had a conversation today with a student I’ve been working with for eight months. She had some serious injuries in her early years and the repercussions caused problems elsewhere in her spine and hips. We agreed we have seen more change in her ability because we have not forced. We agreed she is quicker to respond to the lessons because she trusts what I will or won’t do and she can relax and not resist.  

The progress didn’t happen by forcing. It happened by respecting, gentling, and listening. 

I hope you will listen to yourself. I hope you will take seriously the task of becoming your own best authority.

It is so worth the effort. 

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  1. Heather permalink

    Beautifully stated. I agree

  2. Matt Williams permalink

    This is an outstanding, insightful article. Thank you, Kim!

    • Thanks, Matt….nice to know you’re reading in Austin. Anyone need a Feldenkrais practitioner in Austin, give Matt a shout.

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