I was 25 years old when I started the Feldenkrais Method. I was in chronic pain throughout college and grad school, and stressful jobs in New York City weren't helping. I could only walk a block or so before I had to get a cab. My feet hurt, my back hurt, and my shoulders hurt.
After seeing many doctors and trying every medical solution I could, I went to a workshop in the Feldenkrais Method. It stunned me. The slow, small movements allowed me to feel a bit better.
Soon, I was trekking to the Upper West Side every Thursday evening after my stressful job for a one-hour class of lying on the floor. I was transfixed, but also totally confused. How could these tiny movements help me? And why did moving my leg influence my spine? Or moving my pelvis affect my shoulders?
What was going on? I'd never considered that my movements could be linked to sensations. I wanted more answers. Not long after, I joined a four-year professional training.
The process of learning Feldenkrais was not easy for me.
Because I couldn't move without pain and I couldn't feel much at all, I felt at a loss. Honestly, I cried through most of it. All my advanced analytical and cognitive skills were useless.
I had to let go of thinking my way through the movements. Then I had to let go of trying to force, manipulate, or judge my experience. I wanted to be “good” at it, yet being good meant letting go of trying to be good!
One day, amidst my usual tearful struggle, one of the teachers came over and said, “You know, there's no moral value in how you move your leg. It's just an experience, it's not right or wrong, and it doesn't make you a good or a bad person.” For some reason, at that moment I allowed the experience to be what it was, without adornment or expectation, and my movement became easier.
I know, deep in my heart, that you cannot put labels, judgements, or demands on your experience. You must sit with it as it is.
Allowing the lesson to emerge out of a sense of spaciousness is the only way through.
* * *
Before I came to such exalted revelations, I was miserably watching the dancers in my training glide around like feathers on the wind while I sat there like an elephant stuck in the mud.
One day, in the third year, one of them found she couldn't do one of the movements. She approached me and said, “Now I get what you've been going through! You are going to be a much better teacher than me because you have had to struggle all this time.”
This turned out to be true. My own struggles help me relate to my clients. I understand how frustrating it is to have musculoskeletal pain and not know what to do when you can't move, sit, walk, or stand easily, or even feel comfortable in your own body.
What I discovered through this process was not just how to move better, although that did happen. I learned to move much, much better, but more importantly, I discovered that my self-image was malleable. I didn't have to stay stuck inside the beliefs I had about myself. One day the audio loop in my head about who I thought I was just...switched off.
My sense of being lost, stressed, and disconnected from myself turned into a quiet, easeful, self-knowing.
After my training, I made another discovery: I could free myself from a compulsive, neurotic, health-threatening lifestyle and make better decisions for myself. Soon after that, I quit my stressful job and moved to another country.
Twenty-five years later, I continue to live my life according to what I sense is good for me rather than contorting myself to fit into someone else's—or even society's—idea of correct, right, or good.
I do not negotiate with my quality of life. And my life is gloriously mine.
Questions for you, gentle reader:
Are you ready to take down the walls and get out of the prison of your habits?
Are you ready to take a risk to liberate yourself from compulsive patterns?
Are you prepared to find your own inner compass so you can live your own wildly unique and precious life?
Much, if not all, of my thinking about the Feldenkrais Method comes from my teacher, Dennis Leri. Dennis began studying with Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1970s in San Francisco, and continued studying with him in Israel. Through kindness, though not necessarily by answering my questions, he guided me to think for myself and discover my own answers, which is a gift of wordless value. He passed away in 2016.
Other phenomenal teachers who have influenced my teaching and thinking are Carol Kress, Arlyn Zones, Mark Reese, Deborah Bowes, Cliff Smyth, Elizabeth Beringer, and Yvan Joly.
Lastly, my first and most patient Feldenkrais practitioner in New York City, Scott Fraser, told me—after I had unleashed a barrage of questions on him—to go up to Boston and see a guy named Dennis. I never looked back.