Feldenkrais®: The Power of Words, and Permanent Damage

I love being a Feldenkrais® Practitioner. I love working with people, and I love helping them recover from injuries and chronic pain. It’s actually not that complicated, and my clients are often amazed (and delighted) to discover how easy and effortless it is to heal from pain.

I recently worked with a young woman who was experiencing persistent neck pain from an auto accident. Along with her neck pain, she also had frequent headaches, numbness in her hands and arms, decreased cervical range of motion, difficulty keeping up with her job, and her home life was suffering.

However, after a few weeks of Feldenkrais®, her neck pain dramatically decreased, her headaches were gone, the numbness in her hands and arms were a distant memory, her cervical range of motion improved, her energy increased, and she was able to return to work full-time. Even better, she got a spark in her eye, a spring in her step, and her remarkable wit and sense of humor returned.

We both decided that she no longer needed to see me, and she was off to enjoy the life she loved before her accident. Therefore, I was stunned when she came back a few weeks later with a full-blown return of all her symptoms. She was in tears, extremely depressed and in severe pain. I couldn’t understand what went wrong, until she told me the story.

She had returned to her physician for a follow-up assessment, which included cervical x-rays. Her physician looked at the films, showed them to her, and informed her that she may have permanent damage” as a result of the accident. He told her that she may never be the same as she was prior to the incident, and may be looking at a life of pain and dysfunction. At that point even my neck began to hurt.

I reminded her that she had been pain-free for weeks, had regained her strength, range of motion and had returned to all of her functional and recreational activities. She burst into tears and wailed, “But that was before I knew I had “permanent damage!” Even the way she said the words gave them a life and power of their own. Uh-oh.

I pointed out that her doctor said that she may have permanent damage; he never said that she did have permanent damage. Through her tears she explained that she saw the x-rays herself and they looked “pretty bad”. Surprised, I asked her if she had ever seen an x-ray before. No, she never had, but she assured me that they looked awful. Sheesh!

As Feldenkrais® Practitioners, we understand the power of language. An unfortunate choice of words can transform someone who is healing into someone who has no hope of recovering. A poor choice of words can take away your power and render you helpless. Words can heal or harm, encourage or destroy, empower or devastate. They might even cause permanent damage. Words have power; choose them carefully.

Feldenkrais®, Volleyball, and Reciprocal Motion

My absolute favorite Feldenkrais® lesson is called “Movement in Opposition.” Or, “When Something Goes Forward, Something Goes Back.” It might sound intuitive, but it’s not, especially when it applies to a challenging or complicated movement pattern. This one single lesson helped me get rid of my chronic headaches, healed my low back pain, and made my ballet technique easy and almost effortless. But, my most satisfying application of this lesson was when I shared it with my adorable niece.

She called me last month for a phone consultation regarding an onset of back pain she was having during volleyball practice. When she reported it to one of her coaches, she told my niece that it was common for girls to have back pain with volleyball, and it might go away if she got stronger and worked harder. Hmmm, that didn’t make sense. No one should have back pain at the age of 13, no matter what they are doing. Besides, she was already strong enough and certainly worked hard enough. Perhaps she could work smarter, not harder, and my favorite Feldenkrais® lesson could show her how.

However, my efforts to help her were hampered by the fact that I live 1,500 miles away. Fortunately, I was going to be visiting her family the following week. Seven days later, I was sitting in my sister’s living room with my niece pointing to her left sacroiliac joint, which was where she had pain whenever she served or spiked the ball. I asked her what that meant, and tried not to notice when my niece and sister shared a look and tried to hide their grins. What can I say….I am not known for my athletic prowess and I don’t know much about sports. However, I do know a lot about movement.

Right there in the living room, I had my niece demonstrate her serve and her spike, minus the ball and the net. I immediately saw the problem. When she tossed the ball in the air to serve it, she was in a position of spine extension. When she hit the ball with her right hand, she was still in the position of spine extension, resulting in the force of her strike going back into her left sacroiliac joint. Well, that explained a lot.

We spent the next 15 minutes discussing the laws of physics, the mechanics of a serve, the power of a strike, and reciprocal motion. I showed her how her lower back could move backward as her arm moved forward to serve or spike the ball. We practiced a bit more in the living room with the imaginary ball, and then ended the lesson. It was up to her to figure out how to put it all together for herself. And indeed she did!

A few days later, she sent me a text letting me know that her back pain was gone, her serve (and her spike) were more powerful than ever, and even her coach noticed her increased level of awareness when she played. I wondered if it was the same coach that told her back pain was common in young female volleyball players, but for once in my life, I kept quiet.

When my precious niece asked me, “Aunt Cheryl, is it magic?” I said, “Well, it is, and it isn’t . It’s Feldenkrais, combining the magic, science, and intelligence of your own nervous system.” It’s a beautiful thing, and “Movement in Opposition” is still my favorite lesson. Maybe even more than it was before. Feldenkrais®….it makes everything easier, effortless, and stronger. Fascinating, isn’t it?