Trying the Feldenkrais Method for Chronic Pain

New York Times columnist Jane Brody recently published an account of how trying Feldenkrais has helped her with hip and back pain.  She tried sessions at the Feldenkrais Institute where I formerly worked as a practitioner and teacher before starting my private practice.  She says of her session, “Having, temporarily at least, released the muscle tension that aggravates my back and hip pain, I felt like I was walking on air.”

You can read the full article here.

Tendinitis

Did you know that tendinitis is no longer believed to be caused by inflammation of the tendons?  There’s a great article today in the New York Times on this idea and why pain relievers may slow healing of tendinitis. It certainly fits my own experience and that of my clients. The article goes on to say that light weight training may help rather than pills. I’ve found that many people with tendinitis move with so much excess muscle tone in and around the area that is hurting, that they can injure themselves further with weight training. Feldenkrais lessons help you to move efficiently so that the work is spread throughout your body efficiently. This alone often helps tendinitis, but when something more is needed, it readies you to lift weights without injury. 
 
Repetitive strain injury such as this is what led me to Feldenkrais Method 24 years ago!  It is an all too common problem faced by musicians, dancers, new moms, as well as computer users and others, which can be very debilitating and sometimes difficult to overcome.  Unlike pills, topical treatments or supplements which aim to cure the problem, Feldenkrais is a learning-based modality: it will help you learn new posture and coordination patterns to help you to move better than you did before your RSI injury and to learn your way out of chronic pain.

Businesswoman holding her painful wrist at office

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/08/ask-well-do-pain-relievers-heal-tendinitis-or-just-ease-pain/?emc=edit_tnt_20160408&nlid=68615221&tntemail0=y&_r=0

Norman Doidge – Feldenkrais Method

I’m very excited that a new book on the New York Times bestseller list,  “The Brain’s Way of Healing”  by Norman Doidge has two excellent chapters on the Feldenkrais Method.  Dr. Doidge’s first book, “The Brain that Changes Itself” was important for me, as it helped me understand neuroplasticity and how it might applies to the Feldenkrais Method. His writing on the Feldenkrais Method is clear and concise and I’ll be posting more in the coming weeks to delve into his description of Feldenkrais – both the man and the method.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 8.42.36 AM

Neck & Shoulders & Brain?!

Brain anatomy  - cross sectionDan Rindler, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner

What does the brain have to do with my Neck & Shoulders Feldenkrais workshop?  One of the things that makes the Feldenkrais approach unique is that it doesn’t teach a limited set of exercises that one repeats mindlessly every day.  One can’t practice Feldenkrais effectively with headphones on and a tv screen in front as we see people use at the gym!  Instead, each Feldenkrais class and private session incorporates varied and novel movement sequences to help lead you to new ways of coordination and therefore, relief from pain.  If you have neck and shoulder pain, it’s likely that your posture and movements are habitual and limited.  That you’re moving in the same way over and over, which is leading to pain or strain.  It’s also very possible that chronic pain has limited your variety of movement and posture even further.  This is all happening not just at the level of the muscles, but in the brain – where the coordination of the muscles largely takes place.

Michael Merzenich a leading researcher in the field of brain plasticity says the following about avoiding cognitive decline.  “You have to continue to exercise the machinery that controls brain change.  That is to say that controls learning itself.  Not just using those same old strategies that you’ve always learned, but acquire new skills, acquire new abilities.  Use your brain in really new and fresh ways.  Your brain loves that: that’s brain food.  [Being active] isn’t good enough.  Especially when it means that you’re going to do those old familiar things that you’ve always done…It doesn’t count enough – it doesn’t matter enough to your brain.  You have to take on new challenges and engage your brain in new activities.”

Its almost as if he is describing the Feldenkrais Method!  (Actually from what I have read, he is very familiar with it.)   In classes such as the current workshop, there are new and varied skills and abilities discovered each week.  We use movement not for a workout, or for stretching, but as a means of learning new coordination.   The aim is to open new neural pathways, through movement, so that each person leaves with a clearer sensory understanding of what was causing pain.  And each student finds new options for posture and coordination of movement to prevent future problems.  In short, movement as “brain food”!

Michael Merzenich quote transcribed from an interview on “The Brain Science Podcast” with Dr. Ginger Campbell, Episode 105, January 21, 2014

On Reslience and Swimming Holes

First Posted on 

Image

The water was inviting and clear, and I couldn’t wait to jump in.   My family and I were at a Catskill swimming hole on our vacation.  No one else was there, and it was absolutely serene and beautiful; I couldn’t believe our luck at finding such an idyllic place.  I dipped my foot in the water, and it was shockingly cold.  After I pulled my foot out, I felt actual pain as the bones of my toes thawed and they began to warm up again.

Just a few years ago, that would have been the end of the story for me.  I would have deemed it too uncomfortable to try swimming, and then sat by the side of the water, disappointed, but sure that there was no other option.  This time, however, I jumped into the icy water. shockingly cold.

I’ve spent the last 13 years immersed in the Feldenkrais Method, and one focus has been to learn, through increased self-awareness, to find comfort in movement.  It may seem paradoxical, but that process of seeking comfort has made it possible for me to endure uncomfortable situations differently than before.  At times, such as at the swimming hole, I can even enjoy aspects of my experience at the same time that I’m very uncomfortable in some way.

In Awareness Through Movement group classes and one-on-one private Functional Integration Sessions, my clients often find new comfort in one’s own skin, a sense of being grounded, balanced, and relaxed.  While clients may begin Feldenkrais to address a chronic ache or pain, they may find that when the ache is gone, the method has led them to new pathways of personal growth.

Feldenkrais wrote an article on health in which he  said that good health isn’t defined by a lack of illness, but by our system’s resilience.  In the short run, Feldenkrais method may help your bad back, but in the long run, there will be other challenges for each of us to face.  One measure of our health is how each of us will cope, and even flourish, the next time we face a difficulty.  Through Feldenkrais Method, we can find untapped reserves of resilience that each of us possesses.  We can then apply the learning we do on the mat to the rest of our lives, to live, as Moshe Feldenkrais wrote, our “unavowed, and sometimes declared, dreams.”

So in a small victory for that day, I jumped into that cold, beautiful swimming hole.  I won’t tell you much about how long I stayed in, or about the yelps I made to my family about the icy water.  But I will tell you that though I was freezing, the joy of swimming in that place, and the joy of having learned to step outside of my limitations into a new possibility was…delightful!

“In short, health is measured by the shock a person can take without his usual way of life being compromised….The outstanding difference between healthy people and the others is that they have found…that learning is the gift of life.  A special kind of learning:  that of knowing oneself.  They learn to know ‘how’ they are acting and thus are able to do ‘what’ they want — the…living of their unavowed, and sometimes declared, dreams.”

Excerpted from “On Health”  by Moshe Feldenkrais.  As reprinted in Embodied Wisdom, the Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais.

Dan Rindler is a Feldenkrais Practitioner with a private practice in Gowanus, Brooklyn NY

www.brooklynfeldenkrais.com 
Image