Feldenkrais: Body Works and Psychotherapy: How One Thing May Lead to Another: by Kathy Vance
I was asked to return and to teach a Spring time 2011 series of Feldenkrais workshops for the Shiatsu School of Tokyo. This prompted me to think of beginnings and where they may lead.
I warm to the body work developed by Tokujiro Namikoshi known as Shiatsu because it grew out of the love a boy held for his distressed mother and from there into a teachable technique, theory and licenced practice. This starting point, love and compassion for self and others is a wonderful motivational foundation.
Moshe Feldenkrais was a pioneer in neurogenesis. His method grew out of his personal fear that he would never walk again after suffering debilitating sports injuries. He was frustrated by an unsatisfactory medical response and frustrated by the scientific thoughts on recovery that were the accepted rule of his day. As he pursued his own treatment he developed a touch communication that helped his body regain its elegance and movement and he began to formulate a teachable method and registered as a trade mark the terms: Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration.
In 1980 I was working in the federal government in the area of Canadian trade law. I had always been athletic and thought I knew about my body, and I did as far as outside performance goes. I had a series of damaging sports injuries. Like many people when things go wrong, I wanted to fix it and I realized I knew nothing about how my body works on the inside. I loved harmony and wanted it back. Appreciating allopathic medicine for its ability to identify gross indicators inspired my further search for an understanding of the subtle body systems, those things that fail to meet the detection threshold of medicines and machines. How much time and how much money would it take for me to know what I wanted to know? What I found out led me to another and then another hurdle-there was no end.
The touch from a Feldenkrais treatment provided by a physiotherapist hooked me right away. There was an intrinsic intelligence in the touch beyond the personality and the particular style of the practitioner. My body was listening to and making sense out of a code of touch as a sailor would form the concept and then learn and translate Morse code. I was utterly intrigued. Every being with a central nervous system uses this inner system of communication. Often referred to as the elusive obvious I was about to find out that a beginning is just a beginning and there is a profound futility in applying surveyor’s tools when staking out a nebula.
In 1987 I graduated the Toronto Guild Certified Feldenkrais training program. Ample doses of frustration, tears, struggle and liberation. We students were encouraged to embody the work. We were asked not to take notes and instead to scribe the learning within ourselves and I liked that approach and found it so very frustrating at the same time. The adage of forever learning is true for me now, but then I thought that when the program ended I would have attained some mastery. Rather than being the end, what I realized over time was it would be a cycle of win-win, learn-learn opportunities that embodied my desire for love centered respect within myself, and love centered respect between myself and others.
Testing at the end of the program involved working with the public. My first client engaged with me. I struggled. The task was simple: to listen and be guided by my hands, pay attention to loving openness, and create a circular dialogue of awareness without words. My mind knew what I was doing, my cognitive self didn’t know what I was doing. I had no depth of experience to lend confidence.
I trusted in her to keep teaching me until I appreciated what she was seeking. Her presenting physical symptom was a shoulder that gave her constant pain (visit Shoulder MD for more shoulder pain related advice), reduced her range of motion, reduced her hobby of playing golf, reduced her socializing with card parties, reduced her self-assurance, and kept her awake at night. Otherwise she was a curious, happy, and contented person. She had begun dropping things.
Therapists of varied skills and backgrounds had been humbled unable to resolve this malady. I knew enough that when I didn’t know enough that I was to refer her on and perhaps that was why she was assigned to me. We both agreed to give a session a try. Our discovery of ‘partnership listening’ began with each other. I suggested that the strain appeared like that of a boxer and since she was a 70 year old 5 foot tall lady from a small French village north of Montreal I didn’t anticipate that she would be the product of a boxing career unless she informed me otherwise.
The humour of it all was enjoyable. We both relaxed. “Perhaps” she hadn’t repetitive strain but was it the opposite – holding back a punch. After asking her permission to voice a crazy idea, I wondered out loud if there was anyone she wanted to punch. Everything in her constellation shifted. “Do you think it is possible? I have wanted to punch my husband in the nose for a year, as long as this arm has been bothering me!” The elusive obvious had been voiced and once this occurred the cascade that followed delighted us both.
She resented her husband for opening a business after they had agreed to retire, and then he left her as manager, a job she hated. Daily she dealt with angry customers. Her husband had promised to help and then he tired of the business and neglected it, leaving her ‘holding the bag’ while he went on fishing trips.
Our conversation shifted into talk of responsibility.
Her husband had a business dream that once manifest was not a reality he wanted. As a mother and as a wife she had always tried to lessen any burden placed on the family and shouldered it herself. She hadn’t trusted herself to speak to him, her fury frightened her. Once she voiced that both she and her husband held a resolution to the problem, her psyche released the fury and she embraced the words ‘no merci’. Saying no thank you to this job she would find a way to talk with her husband and together they would find a way to save face and let go of the business. Touching her arm then became easy, effortless. She sighed; she would have the retirement she wanted. The physical issue resolved in her body grain by grain. A deep joy released like bubbles giggling up to her surface and the grimace was replaced by a radiant smile. Each system, her bones, muscles, blood, brain and mind had settled the disharmony. She was liberated by herself. I was lucky to learn that as a practitioner I would experience a rollercoaster along with the ‘hits’ and the misses’ that come with the work.
As I continued practising the Feldenkrais Method I found that inevitably while I was working with peoples’ bodies I would discover the psychological components of their physical discomforts. This continues to fascinate me. As a Psychotherapist, my first love and training in Feldenkrais informs me daily. One of the many tenants of Feldenkrais is to be practical and to leave open the ability of being surprised with how creative the human system can be. It is awesome how one thing can lead to another.