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It’s not unusual to be…. (plus caveats)

May 25, 2010

A recent article Back Pain: ‘I was only in my Thirties, but I felt like an old lady’ by Kate Burt in The Independent came to my attention recently.

The first ten or so paragraphs outline a journey I all too frequently hear: the initial awareness of pain, the persevering through it, the moment when pain immobilises, the visits to the doctors, the tests, the visits to osteopaths, to chiropracters, trials with orthotics, yoga classes, pilates classes, etc etc until finally, after trying everything else, discovery of the Feldenkrais Method.

It’s a common story – which is not to diminish its importance if you, personally, happen to be part-way through this particular epic. And although I suggest that whatever chapter you’re at, rush to Google and find a Feldenkrais Practitioner near you, here are three caveats for you to consider:

1. The experience of near-instant complete pain relief that Kate describes in her first Feldenkrais experience is NOT common. And it’s a not a helpful expectation for you to have for your first experience. Pain relief may happen, yes, but it’s more likely to be in the realm of diminishment, not total absence. The Feldenkrais Method is (in my belief) an educational method, and it takes time to learn how to move in a different way. After all, you’ve invested 20-odd (or 30, or 40) years in learning, and practicing daily, the particular way that you move, and 20 minutes will not divest you of that expertise. Even if it does, as in Kate’s case, the experience is likely to be temporary – your movement habits will likely return as your preferred way of moving until you’ve experienced and practiced alternatives sufficiently.

2. You don’t have to have back pain to benefit from Feldenkrais. Although Kate’s article may quote a council member of the British Osteopathic Association, Danny Williams, describing The Feldenkrais Method as “It’s a rehab tool”, I prefer to think of Feldenkrais as a ‘prehab tool’ – amongst its other roles. Recall at the beginning of this post I mentioned the Kate’s story as a familiar one. Absolutely everyone who has come to me (to date) with back problems has experienced, and then chosen to persevere through, initial pain. Here’s the simple, but hard, truth. Pain is your internal alarm system – ignore it at your peril. Muscular pain is specifically the message: Overuse Alert! Please Recruit Alternatives! In other words, find another way to achieve your aim. If your movement repertoire is limited, then indeed you have no other options but to persevere. This is where engaging with Feldenkrais is truly invaluable: because you both expand your movement repertoire AND fine tune your internal movment sensing (proprioception). Feldenkrais, if it must be corralled into the health system, serves the dual functions of both injury prevention and injury rehabilitation.

3. The Feldenkrais Method may not be right for you. A Feldenkrais Practitioner is not like a doctor who diagnoses and precribes and treats (fixes) your health problem. A Feldenkrais Practitioner is more like a coach who looks for the team’s strengths and suggests strategies and calls supportively from the sidelines – but the success of the team (you) is ultimately in the players working together. So if what you want is a quick fix which will permit you to go back to doing what you already do, Feldenkrais is not for you. The clinic where I run my Wednesday classes has plenty of clients who are quite happy to pay for a fortnightly massage to right the wrongs they have inflicted on themselves on a regular basis, and it works for them. I make no judgement. A cornerstone tenet of The Feldenkrais Method is that we are individuals, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for optimum health.

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