|jenett (jenett) wrote,|
@ 2011-05-31 03:59 pm UTC
My goal here is to cover some background, link to some resources, and then spend a bunch of time talking about my personal experience of it, since that's the bit that's sometimes hard to get from other sources.
What is Feldenkrais?
The official answer goes something like this:
"The Feldenkrais Method is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. Through this Method, you can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. These improvements will often generalize to enhance functioning in other aspects of your life." (As taken from http://www.feldenkrais.com/method/frequ
My answer to it is more like:
"It's a geek-friendly way to learn more about your body, your mind, and how they interconnect, in a setting that gives you new puzzles to solve and challenges to stretch you, while rewarding you for learning in ways that are both immediate and long-term. It's also about doing more with less - less exertion, less effort, less discomfort."
Some people try out the method because they've got an immediate injury or something they're trying to figure out how to deal with better. Some come because they want to improve their performance (in music, athletics). Some people want to solve daily movement issues or challenges.
I started (for reasons I'll explain in more detail later) as a way to get my brain and my body reconnected after a really lousy health year, to find ways to conserve my energy so I could do more with less of it. What I've gotten out of it is *far* better than that: lots of feedback that I could learn and grow at a time I felt pretty hopeless about that for quite a long time, ongoing feedback from someone who saw me regularly, but wasn't entangled in other parts of my life, and a lot of other stuff I find somewhere between congenial and awesome.
I also really really like having a modality to work with where health is not about numbers and mechanics, but about how I'm able to live in my body. Feldenkrais wrote two definitions of health that I've really taken to heart. One is that "health is the ability to live out an individual's unavowed dreams" (see it in context over here) and the other is the idea that health is about the ability of the body to recover from shock or trauma (or other kinds of challenge).
Both of those are much more useful definitions for me than ones that have to do with numbers, statistical probabilities, or anything else like that. And I like stuff that has to do with my body that my brain can actually help with.
I talk more about this below, but one of the things I really appreciate about it was that it gave me a way to feel more in control of my own body (and brain) and to get feedback about what was working in a way that helped me do more of the things I wanted to do, with less stuff that was a problem.
I am definitely glad to talk about questions/etc. with the understanding that I'm informed lay person, not a practitioner. (Also, while I think it's a system that lots of people might find useful, I am not trying to tell any individual person what they should do - because that sort of defeats the purpose of having more control over what you do with your body and time and energy. I'm laying it out here so there's a nice public reference for people who might find it handy, basically.)
Some general background
Feldenkrais is described as a somatic education method for good reason - it's about the body (that's the somatic part), but it's heavily focused on learning and discovery, not on external achievement. People coming for sessions are called students, generally, not clients or patients.
Feldenkrais is named for its founder, Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian Jewish man who was, among other things, a judo expert and mechanical engineer. When he hurt his knee playing soccer, and was told he only had about a 50/50 chance of walking again without significant mobility issues, he basically reverse engineered a whole bunch of biology, psychology, and other related topics to figure out how our bodies and our minds interconnect, hold old habits (that used to be needed, but are now holding us back), and how to explore new options in a way that our brains can use quickly to change things. He began developing the practice in his 40s, and lived into his 80s, so there was also a substantial amount of time for him to deepen the practice, refine teaching methods, etc.
It does not involve any kind of overt or covert religious or spiritual practice, but there are a lot of things that are culturally a particularly good fit for certain kinds of Jewish approaches to the world (holding a dual sense of exploration of the world while anchoring in a structured method and foundation), Zen (learning to be present in the moment, and being deliberate about actions and responses), and I've also found a great deal that's compatible with my own religious and spiritual practice (initiatory religious witchcraft) that talks about the need for an integrated whole (body, mind, spirit.) Some teachers go more into slightly more woo areas (visualisation, mindful living, etc.) which I like, but which is not everyone's style than others, but there's a lot of variations out there.
It's gotten particular attention among musicians, athletes (especially of sports where balance or equal ability on both sides of the body are important), and people recovering from injury, but there are also practitioners who do things like work with children with muscle weakness or coordination challenges. (And a lot of practitioners who specialise will also do general work, as well.)
The one thing that seems to be true is that a lot of Feldenkrais practitioners are not really good at talking about or advertising what they do, so you often need to go looking for them, rather than just coming across them. Which is a pity. They're more likely to be found in college/university towns, or other places where you have either density of population, or people interested in music/non-competitive athletic training, etc.
It does have an international presence - and actually, one of the things I like about it is that it's not US in origin (though several of the major trainings for early practitioners took place in the US, so it's certainly widely available in a number of areas here.) I think that's part of what's helped it stay rooted in a non-competition non-rampant individualism mode. (I'm in control of what I do, but I learn more if I trust in the person I'm working with to show me new things to learn or ways to do things.)
How do people learn how to do it?
The training process is pretty intensive: it's taught over three or four consecutive summers (about 750-800 hours of formal training, and a lot more on the side), in relatively small groups with a huge amount of hands-on time (because practitioners need to learn how to recognise very small changes in muscle tension, breathing, and so on.)
The two basic formats
There are two different strands of practice: they're working with the same concepts, but getting there in different ways.
Awareness through movement (often referred to as ATM) is a teaching method where the teacher leads you through a series of actions to explore particular movements. You can find lessons in books, and these days, there's a variety of them available online (I'll get to that when I talk about resources.)
ATM lessons are often also taught in a group context, usually in something like a dance or fitness studio. (My teacher teaches at the local Jewish community center). It's common to offer series (6-10 classes in a session, as with various other similar classes like yoga or tai chi, or whatever), but many practitioners also do one-off workshops on various topics ("The Healthy Back", for example.) that can be a good way to test things out if you're not sure. (These run a bit longer, as there's usually more explanatory bits.)
ATM classes usually run 50-60 minutes or so, though the audio recording ones can be quite a bit shorter (20-30 - a typical ATM class might have two or three related shorter segments.)
Functional Integration is the other mode, and also runs about 50-60 minutes. It involves the practitioner working one on one with the student. This is done on a low padded table (sort of like a massage table, but lower, since the practitioner is usually sitting down while working). Various props might be used (and I'll talk more about that when I get to my own experience.)
This one on one format means that the practitioner and the student figure out what to focus on, and the practitioner then figures out movements or questions to ask the body that will help clarify what's going on, how it might happen differently, and where various limits, restrictions, or discomforts are coming from.
It does involve touch, but how much and where can be varied quite a bit, and the practice can be adapted for various needs (including past broken bones, other injuries, surgery, etc.) It's not massage (trying to get muscles to release by pressure or directed touch) but rather is about directing movement or making it easier or harder to do a particular kind of movement as a learning technique.
One of the standard instructions my practitioner gives is "Yell if it feels uncomfortable" (These days, I often put up with a certain amount of discomfort, because it's where I get the fastest learning, but there's a difference between 'this is a challenge' and 'this is making everything tense up'. Tense doesn't help, challenge does, and figuring out which is which for me is one of the many cool things I've learned.)
Stuff you need
For either ATM or FI sessions, basically what the student needs is:
- Loose comfortable clothing (including a pair of pants, since there's a lot of moving legs around in ways that even loose skirts complicate)
- Bare feet or socks
- A willingness to try stuff out.
- And for ATM sessions, it's common to see people asked to bring a towel (to pad the head), a yoga mat, etc.
I've found that having something to drink afterwards helps a lot.
How long do people do it?
Some people do long series of ATM classes - the same way people might go to yoga classes, or tai chi classes, or meditation classes, or anything else where you can learn more every time you do it, even if you end up covering the same basic content sometimes.
Most people do Functional Integration for a relatively short period of time (it takes a few sessions to get comfortable with the process, figure out what approaches work best, etc - my practitioner does an initial series of 3 sessions for a somewhat discounted price for this reason), but people might continue for 1-3 months most commonly, weekly or bimonthly if what they're looking to solve is a particular issue (recovery after an injury, in particular).
I've been going most weeks for about a year, for reasons that have a lot to do with my personal circumstances (on the other hand, it's continuing to do me a great deal of good) which is less common, but not entirely rare for people who are looking at longer-term learning for specific reasons.
Varies a lot.
ATM lessons, as they're in a group context, are obviously a good bit cheaper - something like $10-15 a class for a series of sessions locally (comparable to a series of yoga, belly dancing, tai chi classes, etc.)
FI classes are more expensive - you can expect something around the rates for an hour-long massage or therapy/counselling session but there can be variations. (My practitioner does a sliding scale, for example). It's very unlikely to be covered by insurance in the US, but might be covered by a health savings account.
ATM classes are usually in some sort of suitable public space - fitness studio, dance studio, etc. Generally done at times when people might be free - my practitioner does one series each session that runs during the day time, and one that runs in the evening (and people can go to the other one if their schedule changes in a particular week)
FI sessions are generally done at a home studio or office equivalent (depending on rental rates and other details) - the table is not particularly portable, and there's a bunch of other props that may or may not be used at any given time which are even less so. Schedule depends on the practitioner - mine has some evening times, a bunch of daytime/late afternoon times, and Sunday mornings.
I do not have any pre-existing skeletal damage, and my health foo does not include things that would make body modality work particularly challenging in other ways.
However, I understand from my practitioner (and a conversation between him and a friend with those kinds of challenges) when I brought her to hang out during my lesson before we went somewhere else) that most practitioners can figure out to adapt for those things if you can explain what the limits are. (And that includes things like abuse trauma). I haven't worked with other practitioners, but based on my teacher, it's also likely that many teachers would recognise a problem area before a touch became a problem in many cases.
(And while it's most common to work lying down on the table for FI sessions, there are alternatives - people have done meaningful FI sessions for people sitting in a wheelchair, regular chairs, etc.)
The method does involve some amount of talking (equivalent to massage or related work) but there are ways to work around that too. A lot of it may be done with eyes closed (for reasons I'll explain in my personal experience) but that's a generality, not a requirement.
I should also note that I weigh about 250 pounds - my practitioner asked once, briefly, about my weight, but was great when I explained that I follow Health At Every Size (basically, doing things that help my body, without focusing on a number as a measure of health) He's since said that he considers my approach one of the healthiest overall of any of his clients, so hey. I haven't had any problems with the size of the table/feeling secure/etc.
Before I get into my personal stuff, let me do the resources:
http://www.feldenkrais.com - general website, which includes a directory of practitioners that's searchable by location.
There are open-access (free) ATM lessons available online, as well. A list of suggested places to start is at http://openatm.org/discussion/2011/05/n
A number of practitioners also have ATM lessons or other materials for sale. I've borrowed and listened to Russell Delman's (who is more along the Zen/Buddhist side of things, but whose approach I personally liked), and there's a bunch of options on iTunes, too.
There are also books - Moshe Feldenkrais wrote a number (with different audiences), and a number of other practitioners have put out titles.
(I'll note that I tried several of the books a number of years ago, but had a hard time getting into them in a way that let me make meaningful progress - the recorded versions work a lot better for me, plus having the experience in FI sessions so that I have a better idea what I'm looking for.)
Recordings are usually audio, not video, because you're trying to find what works for your body, not duplicate what someone else's body is doing. However, if you want some videos, http://www.sandrabradshaw.com/page_
You'll see a lot of resources referencing child-like movement - that's because most children have not learned all the myriad ways to protect themselves from having another injury like a previous one yet, so they don't have all the learned stiffness/frozen movement/etc. habits. If you do not have a convenient toddler to watch, I also find watching my cat an excellent instructive tool.
So, about me
I'd been aware of Feldenkrais for about ten years, but finally decided to do a serious exploration when a combination of health issues basically floored me for the better part of 18 months.
I've lived with migraines since I was 15, and asthma since college (both controlled these days by lifestyle choices with backup med options for the asthma if I need it, which I rarely do). I was very active in my childhood and teens, but mostly in activities that relied as much on brain as on muscle (horseback riding, swimming, sailing), but by the time I got to college, I couldn't rely on my body to be there when I wanted to do something. I might be fine. I might not.
Fastforward another fifteen years or so, and I went through a year of both complete exhaustion and lack of stamina, and of my brain slowing down and collapsing in ways that would have been a lot scarier if I'd had the energy to think about it. (Short version: I am normally a person who reads deeply, extensively, and on the tune of a book every day or two, plus extensive online reading. At its worst, I could only focus on very light, undemanding fiction for five minutes at a time before needing a break - and my executive function skills went completely out the window for much longer. And the overwhelming exhaustion was .. well, exhausting in that it was a constant fight to stay awake.)
This is not a good situation to be in. Fortunately, I managed to get a diagnosis of hypothyroidism and Vitamin D deficiency fairly quickly (though it took about 6 months for meds to kick in to a point that I actually began to feel like there was space for anything but exhaustion and cotton wool), and about at that point, I decided that if I was going to get my brain and body back, I needed to find something that let me get them talking to each other again.
I'd been doing some swimming as a way to bootstrap myself into having enough energy to get through work (it worked, so I kept doing it), and I kept having the feeling that there had to be something about getting my brain and my movement connected in a way that made more sense, and that gave me tactile sensation to work with and learn from. So, having had this niggling thing about Feldenkrais being interesting in the back of my head, I sent off an email, and set up an initial three sessions with my practitioner.
I'll be honest and say I was pretty totally hooked after my first session (which you can read about over here, as it's also a public entry.)
What's been good
I left my job that June (in large part due to the medical foo, and some other complications), and while I'm job hunting actively (and have been throughout), it's taken me a long time to really recover stamina. (I've seen steady gains throughout, but I see a big leap forward every couple of months: the most recent meant I could walk a mile and a half with almost no stopping, which is a really recent achievement.)
That meant that there were weeks, especially over the winter, where going out to my Feldenkrais appointment (and going grocery shopping on the way home) was sometimes the only time I left the house and actually talked to anyone not through a computer or phone for a while. (Since my library has self-check, and that's the other place I reliably go). Having there be a friendly thing, but an appointment I cared about, was really helpful for a while in there.
(I have occasionally referred to it as my preferred form of therapy: I have a number of other tools that mean I do not generally need someone to help me sort through my brain, but having someone to give me feedback who sees me regularly, but where it's a pretty clear-cut relationship has been very good for me.)
And of course, there have been huge improvements. Things I've gotten out of this include:
- Many many fewer head/neck issues (Like a lot of people, all my tension basically ends up there if I'm not careful.)
- My shoulders actually move. In multiple directions. Who knew?
- We have sorted out a particular oddity in my right hip that lead to a cranky knee and cranky hip, and where fixing that has made walking longer distances more comfortable. (I've never had problems with short distances, but anything over about half a mile at once had about a one in two chance of making the entire back of my right hip seize up.) But we had to untangle about three different things to get there.
- Vast improvements in sleeping, breathing function, awareness of what's going on in my body (I took a break a few sections ago to lie down on my back for a bit, knowing that doing that would be a good thing). Breathing in particular is awesome - like many chronic asthmatics, I've built up habits of being careful how I breathe, because particular approaches would trigger coughing or discomfort - learning to work through those was cool.
- And a very very clear improvement in how I use my energy. Because I'm not wasting energy making muscles tense that need to be tense, I have more energy for the things I actually really want to do. I like that part lots.
- When I started, I also had a lot of tender points - not the ones directly diagnostic for fibromyalgia, but definitely something that had some similarity. At this point, almost all of those are gone. It's a lot more comfortable in my skin, and I have a lot less of the 'needing to change position because something is going ow" stuff than I used to when trying to go to sleep, or other times I'm in the same position for a while.
(And there have, in fact, been a variety of studies about Feldenkrais technique and chronic pain conditions of various kinds, which mostly say "Yes, this can and does help a number of people.")
- I feel like I have a lot more control over what's going on with my body (something that
And finally, though perhaps most importantly: I got a lot of feedback about being good at learning stuff (a place my sense of self has lived for a very long time) at a time when I was very scared I'd lost that ability. Going to regular lessons and a) seeing improvement and b) getting really clear direct "No, you really *are* good at learning that thing, go you!") was quite possibly what saved my sense of self in a really difficult time, and made it a lot easier to work through the harder bits of where things I'd done previously were failing me in varied and exciting ways.
This last part does require trusting my teacher to be telling me the truth, but he's awesome at doing making that easy (and giving me enough feedback that I can measure what's going on myself.) It's also why FI is a lot more useful to me than ATM.
I get in my car and drive to my practitioner's home (which is about 25 minutes from me), generally wearing what I'm going to do the lesson in (usually a t-shirt and knit pants). I can change there if I need to, but since I'm coming from home, I usually don't need to have been wearing something else.
I do make sure my hair (which is waistlength) is in a braid, as that's easier, and that I've got my payment check handy.
I park, and ring the doorbell.
Usually, I need to wait for his previous student to finish, in which case I might chat with his wife (if she's home: she works, but not on a conventional 9-5 schedule), be amused by his kids (if they're home), or cuddle their cat (always fun.)
My practitioner teaches out of his house: you come in the front door, the kitchen is on the right, and then beyond that is a little sunporch that's his teaching studio. (It has humidifiers and space heaters in the winter, and various cooling devices in the summer: he generally keeps it right around 70, but adjusts if someone needs it warmer.)
His kids are both under 6, and they've never been a distraction - usually, they're upstairs or out during the time my practitioner's doing lessons. (Ok, we've had a couple of moments of really unhappy toddler, but never in ways that actually bothered me, as the really unhappy toddler was several rooms away, and stopped being quite so unhappy in under 3 minutes). And I get a kick out of seeing them grow up a bit, or the new artwork on the fridge, or whatever.
They have a little bench/chair area, but if the cat is handy, I am as likely to sit on the steps and cuddle the cat if no one needs to get up and down.
When it's my turn, I come in to the studio, sit down, he observes how I'm sitting (which can be very informative.) We talk about what happened since the last lesson, what I've noticed or would like to focus on this lesson.
For example, today, we talked about the fact that I had the first real thing that edged into a migraine in a while last Wednesday (and I normally do lessons on Tuesday), so we spent some time figuring out if anything we'd done (which had included a lot of head/shoulder/eye work) might have contributed. I don't think so - it felt a lot more like really wonky weather pressure - but it's nice to check, and we decided not to do more of work of that particular kind this week and give it a couple of weeks break just in case.
Sometimes we have me walk around a bit, too, because there are things you can see in motion you can't see when still. (Today, I did several laps in both directions around the table, and then we tried moving on the straight walking up and down in his kitchen.)
He figures out how to get at whatever it is we want to get at.
Today, that meant I started out lying on my left side on the table, and we arranged me with padding between my knees and ankles, and a pillow to wrap my arms around. We've got the actual lesson part down to a science now: generally what he does with me now is set up a situation that's the right level of uncomfortable for my body, and watches me deal with it, and there was a bunch of that this time.
There was also some of what's a bit more typical in FI sessions - trying out a range of different movements and seeing which ones are easy and natural for me, and which are constrained or limited. The idea is that you sort of sidestep into the constrained ones by giving your brain a way to make connections between the free and easy movement, and the movement you're aiming for in the constrained space. Your brain is very smart, and will often figure this out in just a couple of tries, if you give it the right input and enough choices.
So, basically what the practitioner does is a lot of "Ok, so here's what you're doing now... how about if you did this thing instead?" except that instead of being talking-centered, it's mostly tactile feedback. It's hard to explain, except that the brain makes the connection, and stuff does get better, and that's pretty awesome.
(Non related talking can definitely happen - my sessions are about half talky and half quiet, usually, and we mutually geek about gaming, SF TV shows, and a variety of other topics. But that part isn't necessary for the method to work. This kind of talking can also be diagnostic - when we were doing a lot of breathing related work, he'd have me talk deliberately as a way to see how using my ribcage more fully changed my speaking voice.)
There's also a certain amount of "Here, pay attention to what happens when you do X movement." type stuff, where he'll walk me through a particular action several times by tactile teaching, and then have me repeat or expand it on my own.
After experimenting with a bunch of things on my left side (working on twisting the body with the movement coming from the center of the body and the spine, rather than the extremities, basically) I get moved to my back (and my knees and feet propped up) to rest for a little bit. And then we do the other side.
What happens on one side or the other can be a bit different - most people (and I am no exception here) often have one side that's more responsive or expansive or whatever. Usually, I find that most things are easier on my left, but a few specific ones are easier on my right (I'm right handed, but have deliberately trained myself to be pretty ambidextrous in most things other than handwriting over the years.)
And then another rest on my back, and I get up, and do some more walking around the table to see what's changed. (Quite a lot, this time: it's amazing how interconnected the body is. Despite the fact we weren't mostly doing stuff with my feet and legs this time, what we did in the upper body has made a huge change in how my walk moves.)
Sometimes we also discover stuff that is not the way other people do it, but seems to work for my specific body - one example is that if I'm lying on my side, the top of my shoulder tends to want to have a close and intimate acquaintance with my ear. This is not a common resting position - but for me, it's both comfy and doesn't put strain elsewhere on my body, so I've learned to be okay with it rather than fight it.
There are a variety of props that might get used - the most common ones we use are flat layers of foam (like you see in stadium seat pads) under the head (with a towel on top for hygiene), a pillow to balance a wrist/arm when I'm on my side, or a stool/chair to extend the table if having my arms spread out is better than at my sides. We also use a rolled pad (sort of like a rolled sleeping bag, but a narrower diameter), and various styrofoam rollers of various sizes. There's some stuff we use most sessions, and some stuff in his studio that he's never used with me.
I wander off
Sometimes I have instructions to go for a short walk after my lesson and focus on paying attention to particular things, sometimes I don't.
Sometimes I have homework - trying a particular movement a couple of times during the week.
Sometimes he'll lend me a lesson or resource to check out and see if I like it or it helps me figure out a particular thing. (This is also a good way to get familiar with other teaching styles, so it's cool.)
I usually do my food shopping for the week on the way home, as I'm out and not planning to use my brain heavily for a bit, but it's also good to wander around a store in a slow way feeling different things for a bit.
I do sometimes feel quite tired after a lesson (usually not immediately after, but later that day) - it's a lot of concentration and focus and intense learning, so that's probably not surprising. (Also, bear in mind that most of this year, I've been getting quite a lot more tired than most people do by things that are normal-daily-living sorts of things.) And even if I'm not tired, my brain is not usually up for really major thinky stuff.
So I would probably not schedule major intense stuff you need to do the same day after your first few sessions, just in case.
Very occasionally, a lesson will mean I either feel achy and tender that night, or the next morning. This has happened maybe four times out of 45+ sessions, give or take, and it's never been something that a little OTC painkiller or a hot bath didn't solve.
However, the goal of the lesson is *not* to make you feel like that: it's a sort of delicate dance to get you right to the edge of that moment, but to back away before you go too far. (Because that kind of response indicates you went past 'good learning space' into 'strain on the body' space, generally.)
When it's happened to me, it's usually been related to releasing something that had been tense for a very very very long time (like years), so lots of bits of my body had to readjust to it all at once (similar to the same kind of thing happening in a massage.) There are easier ways to sneak up on this, which help. Drinking a good bit of water, having a hot bath with epsom salts, or whatever else helps you as a relaxant can all help.
It's a lot more common that I go home and go "Hey, my neck moves in good ways!" or "Wow, shoulders could *do* that?" or find myself in bed in a position that previously felt awkward feeling comfortable. (This is often hard to describe, because how you do describe the thing that isn't there?) It is totally awesome to experience, though.
Like I said all the way back above, I'm glad to do what I can to answer more questions from my perspective. Some of this stuff is hard to put into words, and questions may also help make that easier, so please don't hesitate.
(That said, my life is in tons of flux right now: I expect to reply to all comments in a reasonable amount of time, but if you're reading this more than a few days after I post it, there may be some travel/moving/other stuff I need to focus on, and it may take me a tad longer than my usual preference to reply. Feel free to nudge me if you don't see a reply in a couple of days.)