I have long known that past experiences could influence the structure of our thoughts — what we perceive, what we’re open to, and how we react to the impetuses in our lives. Recently I learned that these experiences could also influence the basic everyday movements of our bodies — how we hold ourselves, retain or release pain, and function in a somatic or physical sense.
My friend Edna had been telling me for some time about her Feldenkrais classes and how they were making a difference in her life. Then another friend, Miriam, told me how the same practitioner who taught Edna’s classes had helped her out of the intense back and hip pain that she’d thought she would have to live with forever. Miriam had endured numerous surgeries and had run the course of physical therapy.
“When I went to Al Wadleigh for help, I was desperate,” she said, “but look at me now!”
She bent over and picked up a pen from the floor in one fluid, painless movement. There was so much freedom in the way she moved that I thought she looked 20 years younger.
Intrigued, I went to Al’s office just off of Main Street, on 21st Avenue, for a visit. Al told me that he is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais practitionercm, which means that he has gone through a four-year course of study, with at least 800 hours of classes. The goal of Feldenkrais, Al informed me, is to instruct people on a neurological level so they can use their bodies more efficiently, with less wear and tear.
“Through the years,” he said, “we develop habits that determine how we move and orient ourselves in space. These habits may be developed from injuries, long hours at the computer or other occupational demands. The patterns that we acquire are mapped by the brain, and we follow those same mapped routes over and over. Feldenkrais helps people expand into new neuromuscular patterns, allowing more freedom of movement.”
Moshe Feldenkrais initially developed the Feldenkrais Methodology in the 1950s in an effort to address his own painful knee problems. Since then, Feldenkrais has been shown helpful in alleviating chronic pain, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, anxiety, dementia and immune disorders. Athletes have also found the methodology a useful tool for performance enhancement.
There are two complementary approaches to Feldenkrais. One is in a classroom setting where students perform a sequence of movements designed to allow the mind and body to discover more efficient ways of doing things. Al gives these classes at the Longmont Senior Center. In the second approach, Functional Integration®, the practitioner works with the student on a one-to-one basis. In this approach, the practitioner gently manipulates the student’s body to promote a wholeness through neurological organization.
Al graciously agreed to give me a demonstration of this approach, and after about 20 minutes of him gently pushing and pulling me here and there, I found that the sciatica that had been plaguing me for a month was almost gone. What a great New Year’s gift, I thought.
Life wears us down in so many ways; it is nice to know that there is a methodology and approach that can build back those rough edges and restore us a little to our former selves.