Basics of the Feldenkrais Method
The Feldenkrais Method was named after its founder, Dr Moshe Feldenkrais. He was always interested in how we learn, how the brain works, and how the body and brain work together. This method was actually created to rehabilitate himself from his own injuries sustained as an athlete and martial artist.
Rewiring the body with the Feldenkrais Method
In breaking down his own challenges, he started to discover that he could actually rewire his nervous system. He was half a century ahead of his time — he had ideas that now some of us have taken for granted as common knowledge, such as the fact that the brain doesn’t stop growing. He was one of the first people to talk about the holism of the body, that every part contains the other part.
During the course of his life, Feldenkrais developed thousands of different movement sequences and also worked one-on-one with thousands of people, leaving an incredible wealth of knowledge to draw upon.
Awareness through movement
Feldenkrais lessons are also known as Awareness Through Movement, which is a lot easier to say than Feldenkrais! It is the awareness of what I’m doing that actually creates the changes, and reprograms the nervous system, allowing me to find new ways to move.
My story with back pain
I actually got into this work because of my own pain. I speak from major experience — I was a performer for many, many years, and every time I wasn’t on stage, I was in pain. I tried everything, but it wasn’t until I discovered Feldenkrais’ writings that I began to realize that a lot of what was going on for me was habit, emotion, and tension that I was carrying in my body from a lifetime of ballet lessons and different attitudes from my childhood.
Once I started to unscramble those tensions, I began to move better and feel better. There was a huge change in my well-being. I could actually move around without my back hurting, which was amazing as a performer. I was more flexible. I didn’t need as much of a warm-up. I was more relaxed on stage, more present in my body. All of this began to allow me to move in a direction that I’d put aside when i was young, which was to write. Feldenkrais said that his method helps us realize our avowed and our unavowed dreams. The awareness of movement that his method encouraged helped me feel an opening of the emotional and creative spectrums of my life as well.
Widening the field of attention
Feldenkrais said that at every moment, we are thinking, sensing, feeling, and moving. How do we include all of that in our field of attention? The brain and the body are the same thing, it’s not the brain watching the body.
We define pain as the body’s response to disorganization. To be able to move with freedom and without pain allows you to live the life that you want. It’s the ability to be spontaneous, to be able to plan, to be clear about what your intention is, and for you to just feel better.
Less pain, more gain
There’s no strain in the Feldenkrais method, in fact, our motto is “Less pain, more gain.” We never try to push through–we use pain as information. When we encounter discomfort, we use it as an opportunity to check in with the rest of our body. There are a thousand things we can discover about ourselves in these slow, delicate movements.
Everything is interconnected. Your entire body is there all the time–you’re an information system. Everything in your body is responding to the information that you’re receiving. Everything is participating in the pattern of pain and supporting the pattern that you unconsciously choose. Nothing happens in isolation.
Everything is connected
If you think about a bridge, and your bones are the steel structures of the bridge, and the tendons and your ligaments and your muscles are the cables, imagine that one cable is a little too loose or too tight. That would affect the entire structure of the bridge, right? Eventually it will be in need of repair, or it will collapse. Every little thing that takes us out of our organization affects the entire system.
One of the side effects of the Feldenkrais method is relaxation. When our nervous system calms down, we kick into what’s called the parasympathetic mode which governs our healing, our learning, and our rest. When we experience that parasympathetic response, we are actually able to learn better than if we were straining.
Feldenkrais at every age
People at different stages of their lives experience different benefits. When people are young and active and athletic, if they integrate Feldenkrais method into their lives, they’re less prone to injury. They perform at higher levels. In the world of sports and the arts, the Feldenkrais method is used a lot by dancers, actors, musicians, athletes, because it takes you past your perceived limitations. You hit a wall — how do I go further? For the aging population, it’s a great way to maintain flexibility and maintain your balance.
Lavinia Plonka healed her own back pain using The Feldenkrais Method®. This inspired her to become a certified practitioner. Lavinia is considered a master teacher, as well as an internationally recognized expert in body language, offering workshops around the world. She is also the author of several bestselling books, including What Are You Afraid Of? A Body/Mind Approach to Courageous Living. Lavinia is director of Asheville Movement Center in NC, former Vice President of The North American Feldenkrais Guild and loves every opportunity to awaken people’s potential for joy. Lavinia lives by Moshe Feldenkrais’ maxim, “Movement is life. Without movement, life is unthinkable.”
Join Lavinia at the Art of Living Retreat Center from August 23rd-26th, 2018 for Moving Into Freedom From Back Pain, and change your relationship to your pain forever.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
In House: Wendy Swanson on the Nature of Pain
Some of you may know that I was in a small plane crash in December 2007. As we were crashing I braced myself, trying desperately to “put on the brakes”. Obviously, I lived to tell the tale and I was left with some pretty profound right side low back and hip pain as a result. Now, almost ten years after the crash, my pain is substantially less. In fact, most days I’m unaware of the pain unless something brings it back to the surface.
Before I go into what brings my pain to the surface and my opinion on pain, I want to clarify a few things. I have worked with thousands of people as an acupuncturist and yoga teacher and I KNOW that pain is very, very real. Sometimes pain stems from emotional trauma and manifests in the physical body, and it hurts all the same.
I find that it is absolutely necessary to have a baseline of self-care when trying to heal the body naturally. It is vital to eat healthy foods low in sugar, pesticides and other chemicals, have an exercise routine, and get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. If we are NOT doing these things our pain will be worse. This is where we need to clean up our act first, in order to successfully allow our bodies to heal.
A deep dive into my own pain
February 2017 my mom, at the young age of 73, passed from Alzheimer’s. In many ways I was prepared and even praying for her passing since she no longer knew herself or anyone else close to her. We had lost her long before her physical body left this earth. Even so, I went into a period of deep mourning and grief.
My emotional anguish showed up a few ways in my body. The first week after my Mom died I got a terrible, hundred tissue a day type of cold. After the cold subsided I was then left with that old, familiar right side back and hip pain. The pain rested mostly at my sacrum and was so severe that I contemplated finally going for a MRI to see what the heck was wrong with me. To know once and for all what had happened to my back after the crash. You see, I never got an x-ray or MRI, because at the time of the crash I was 5 weeks pregnant and did not want to do anything that would harm my growing baby.
The only way out is through
My pain kept intensifying as the weeks passed after my Mom died. I saw my gifted network chiropractor. I saw my therapist. I went to yoga classes. I meditated. I gave myself acupuncture. I rested. In short, I did everything right and yet my low back would not release. What I have come to believe is that my back was literally FEELING the intensity of my emotional loss and pain. There was no getting around it. There was only going through it.
Of course, my emotional pain landed where there had been physical trauma. The instability of my low back and hip are completely real. The pain, though, for ME (and for many, many people that I have worked with) is directly correlated with the stress of my life. My mom’s death = BIG STRESS, BIG SADNESS, BIG GRIEF.
About 5 weeks later I attended a spiritual day long retreat with Dr. Matt Lyon. It was there that I had a profound vision of my Mom. In this vision I saw my Mom happy, dancing and free in a way that she had never been in her earthly life. She clearly communicated with me that she was still with me and always would be. It was almost exactly at that moment that my pain completely disappeared. I had gone from excruciating pain to zero pain in a moment of emotional release.
The emotional and physical body
In the months since that profound emotional healing I’ve had twinges of pain in my back but nothing like it was immediately following her death. I also know that there is a good chance that I will again feel that terrible pain at my sacrum, low back and hip. It will be at a time of great stress. I’m open to NOT feeling that pain, but I will not be surprised if my body once again manifests my emotional state in my body.
I could tell you countless similar stories. I could tell the tale of how I ended up at the urgent care thinking that I had a severe neck issue only to realize that it was my body’s way of dealing with the fact that I was about to let someone go from their job. Or share stories I have heard from my patients. I’m guessing you have your own story or two of pain in the emotional and physical body.
Get into feeling
My solution to our collective pain is one that is probably not all that popular. It is important, though, for us all to hear it.
Get off the pain meds and get into feeling. Get off being a victim to our traumas and get into owning our own stuff. Pain is a reality of life. There is no medication that erases all the pain. There is no self-help book, no guru, no doctor that can make it all better. It might sound overly simplistic and trust me I know it is not always easy.
The answer is about every single day choosing a path of love, forgiveness and healing. If you are living in the United States, reading this blog, then most likely YOU DO have the ability to choose. I don’t want to minimize anyone’s pain because I see real pain every single day with the people I serve. We still can actively choose our path, to choose love, healing and to seek out help as needed. You are your own answer. You are the solution. And most importantly you CAN choose a path of LOVE & AUTHENTICITY.
Wendy Swanson, L.Ac, E-RYT 200, is a healer, transformational leader, yoga teacher and licensed acupuncturist. Wendy has been leading groups for over 15 years both domestically and internationally. She is an open hearted yoga instructor who is currently studying at Kripalu to obtain her 500 hour yoga certification. As a licensed acupuncturist for over ten years, Wendy’s strives to help people live a life filled with greater ease, joy, well-being and balance. Wendy owns Be Yoga & Wellness in Charlotte, NC.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
The Practice: How Yoga Treats Four Common Health Problems
Yoga is an excellent solution for four major public health crises.
Yoga has been proven to reverse osteoporosis (bone loss and fractures) more effectively than the most popular medications used for this condition. It also reduces many other risk factors for fractures. More than 200 people world-wide have osteopenia and osteoporosis. It is easy to learn, extremely safe and inexpensive.
There is a world-wide epidemic, endangering the health and lives of nearly 2/3 of Americans alone. Yoga techniques and life-style is an effective antidote for people of any age, diet and religious background. I have been asked by W.W. Norton to write a book about this, and I’m doing it.
This urban scourge saps the vitality, the mental alertness and joy from millions. It also affects people in crisis, in menopause, people who travel and at some times when people need to be most rested to meet the challenges of the day. Yoga is calming, especially when intrusive thoughts and emotions need to subside. It can even be done in bed to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. I will also be working on a book about this wide-spread problem.
The opioid epidemic is symptomatic of a deeper problem – our cultural and scientific ignorance of pain. From classic times to today, philosophers, scientists and doctors have been reduced to babble on this subject. One-third of medicine is based on pain, yet we have only a childish, ill-defined numeric scale to describe pain. My patients often have a very hard time quantifying their pain. I am currently working with Carnegie Mellon University on a National Institutes of Health grant to create an objective measure of pain. In this study, yoga and artificial intelligence come together in a ground-breaking investigation.
The ancient technique of yoga and its approach to life can come to the aid of our modern troubled world. If you’re a yoga teacher professional, you’re invited to join Loren Fishman for his upcoming healing and teaching reatreat, Yoga vs. Osteoporosis, from May 30th to June 3rd.
Loren Fishman, MD, B. Phil., and author, is one of the few physicians practicing medicine who incorporates yoga into his regular treatment protocols and offers patients individual yoga therapy. He has completed peer-reviewed studies into the efficacy of yoga for medical conditions including osteoporosis, rotator cuff tear, scoliosis, ocular pressure and other conditions.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
Exploring Wisdom: Chronic Pain & Yoga – A Physician’s Perspective
Pain is something we all feel at some time in our lives. If we are fortunate, the source of the pain is treated properly, and the pain goes away relatively quickly.
But sometimes, with pain that is difficult to manage, the discomfort can persist for months at a time. In those circumstances, pain comes to be seen as a disease in its own right. And often it can only be managed, not cured.
The true cost of chronic pain
Pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined, according to a fact sheet from the US National Institutes of Health. It is the most common reason Americans access the health care system. Pain is the leading cause of disability, and the most common cause of long term disability. It is a major contributor to health care costs.
The National Academy of Medicine estimates that pain affects more than 100 million people and costs $600 billion a year.
Taking all of this information into account, we can guess at the impact pain has on individuals. As French Physician Dr. Albert Schweitzer described it, back in 1931, “Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself.”
We know the scale of the problem: the numbers of people involved, and the cost of managing their discomfort.
The question is – can we reduce that terrible toll? Can we, the health provider and the patient, work together to find and deliver a better way of managing chronic pain? I believe we can.
Exploring solutions for chronic pain
In my practice as a family physician, I’ve discovered some low-cost, highly-effective remedies that can improve the lives of people living with chronic pain. These are solutions that I, as a family physician, am happy to share with my patients, and these remedies can be used in addition to the conventional strategies for managing chronic pain.
One of those conventional strategies is the prescription of opioids. Of course,we are all keen to see a reduction in the death toll from the overuse of opioids, but I’m getting ahead of myself. There are also non-opiod medications for chronic pain. First, let’s go back to the root of the problem: pain.
How do we define and manage pain?
Acute pain is the body’s reaction to physical injury, infection or inflammation due to tissue damage. The International Association for Study of Pain, in 1994, defined pain as “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage”.
In medicine we talk about pathophysiology, a term used to explain the processes within the body that result in the signs and symptoms of a disease.
The pathophysiology of chronic pain is not well understood; nor is the significant impact of pain on the patient, and his or her physical, emotional, social and occupational wellbeing.
These factors, in turn, can have a significant impact on a patient’s ability to overcome chronic pain. The prognosis, the course and probable outcome of the condition, is influenced by many environmental factors: nutrition, social supports, socio-economic status, exposure to drugs and substances, the patient’s state of physical and mental health before the onset of the condition, the patient’s attitude, and even genetics.
The opiod issue
Traditionally, chronic pain is managed by the use of analgesics, physiotherapy, massage therapy, occupational therapy, and psychotherapy.
Opioids have become the mainstay of drug-oriented treatment. Unfortunately, in Canada in 2016, there were 2,800 apparent opioid-related deaths. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, if this trend were to continue, up to 4,000 lives were expected to be lost for the same reason in 2017.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the US 63,600 deaths were related to opioid overuse in 2016, and the estimate is 66,000 in 2017.
As society, and health providers, we have to do a better job.
And, as health care providers, we are trying. The 2017 Canadian guidelines for managing non-cancer pain lists its number one recommendation as “optimization of non-opioid pharmacotherapy and non-pharmacological therapy, rather than a trial of opioids.”
It is well accepted that conventional management of chronic pain has limited success.
So, let’s explore an option that I know to be highly effective – which can help reduce pain and reliance on pain medications.
How yoga and meditation can help
Yoga and meditation can be helpful in managing not just pain, but also the associated depression and anxiety that comes along with chronic pain. More than that, it can improve cognitive function deficits associated with chronic pain. A recent research done at Stanford University suggests that meditation and breathing practices could be the solution to overcome the opioid crisis.
According to an official of the National Institutes of health, “There is compelling evidence that practicing mind-body techniques such as yoga and meditation can counteract the brain anatomy effects of chronic pain.”
Neuro-imaging studies have shown that chronic pain can reduce gray matter in the brain. Decreased gray matter can lead to memory impairment, emotional problems, and decreased cognitive functioning. The practice of yoga can actually increase gray matter in brain. If we can increase our gray matter, we increase our ability to handle pain.
Yoga practice may provide a protective effect in reducing the burden of depression and anxiety in these patients living with chronic pain.Yoga and meditation practice can also reduce pain sensitivity, leading to patients requiring less pain medication.
Bridging the gap to yoga
Often when I say ‘yoga’, many shy away. They worry that they need to be flexible, agile, and fit to practice yoga. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yoga practice can be tailored to an individual’s needs. Meditation practice can be taught to anyone willing to learn.
All you need to start yoga or meditation is the willingness to begin; a willingness to try something new. And let’s face it, if you’ve lived with chronic pain for any length of time, you probably know that conventional pain management is not always effective. So, what do you have to lose?
I believe we should be offering to teach yoga and meditation to our chronic pain patients, to improve their quality of life.
These practices are effective, and they can give us a low cost, highly effective way of improving the lives of people living with chronic pain and its associated problems.
A new option for health care providers
What is more heart warming than that now yoga, breathing and meditation practices are widely accepted by the medical community? There are courses where health care providers can learn these powerful ancient healing techniques and earn the Continuous Education Credits too.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Bharti Verma, MA, MD, FCFP
Dr. Bharti Verma is the President of Duffus Health Centre, and has varied experience in all aspects of family medicine, including long-term care, obstetrics, geriatrics, pediatrics, psychotherapy, and counselling. She is also a senior instructor in yoga and meditation with Art of Living Canada, and was Vice-President of AOLF Canada from 2010-2017.
This article first appeared on artofliving.org.
The world needs your voice! Join Dr. Verma and Medha Garud for their upcoming Women’s Wellness Retreat, where you’ll learn to identify and overcome the barriers for reaching your full potential, and approach health, wellness, and womanhood from an Ayurvedic perspective. Learn More Here!
Art of Living Journeys: Manju’s Road to Healing
The practice of a Panchakarma cleanse is an effective, deeply healing way to reset your body and begin to heal. Manju, a recent Panchakarma participant, shares how her experiences at the Art of Living Retreat Center helped her along the journey to healing her body and restoring her range of movement.
A Healing Community
I have problems with my knees and back, and I can’t walk very far, and when I first heard about the Art of Living Retreat Center, as much as I wanted to come, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. So I called and asked if it would be physically possible for me to do the Panchakarma retreat, and the person I spoke to, Mary, reassured me that it was.
I was so scared and nervous – I hadn’t gone anywhere without friends or family in so long. This was an unknown place and unknown people, but Mary said “Look, please come. Don’t be scared, I’ll take care of you.” And she did, and I am so thankful for her for that. And not only Mary, but all of the staff, were very careful and helpful and encouraging. I could have never, ever imagined that I could explore yoga and Ayurveda in this way with all the restrictions I have.
A Step Towards Healing
My knees are so much better now. I used to take painkillers and ice my knees in the morning and evening, and although there is still a lot of progress to be made, with the support of my doctor and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center, I’m beginning to be able to walk up and down stairs again. I’m really, really glad I came here, and I can’t wait to come back.
Begin your road to healing. The Panchakarma Retreat runs weekly.
Discovering a Pain Free Life: Millie’s Story
After struggling with PTSD for 15 years, and chronic pain that was triggered by multiple auto accidents, I decided to come here to participate in the Happiness Program and learn how to practice yoga. I wanted to find a way to exercise my body and cope with the pain emotionally and physically.
I am a biologist that does research that requires a lot of tenacity. In my field you never know what you’re going to get. One needs passion and fire in their soul to keep after those questions they have been asking, to try to find answers and solutions to real world problems. This course has empowered me to have the confidence in myself to go that extra mile, do those late night experiments, and solve those problems.
When I came here I was taking pain medicine for my back, I was unable to drive from fear of another accident, I had anxiety, and was riddled with depression and fear. I also had fear, coming here, that I would not improve, because many other methods had not worked for me.
During my stay here I had various treatments at the spa and participated in yoga and the Happiness Program. While having an open mind and heart and receiving care and love during my treatment I discovered that my lower back pain is gone. I have learned tangible tools to keep myself calm through any situation. I’m not waiting for my next pain pill, and I feel a greater sense of inner peace, calm, and victory over the things that were making my life closed and small.
I’ve also had insomnia for about 15 years, and with the techniques that we learned in the Happiness course I am now able to sleep soundly through the night without getting up and disturbing that precious REM sleep that restores the body and the spirit. I feel invigorated, confident, and excited to go back and do the things I enjoy without fear, anxiety, and the things that take away from everyday experiences.
One thing I could say to anyone who has post traumatic stress disorder, any kind of emotional dis-regulation, who is struggling and feeling that they can’t do the things they want in their lives, is that my experience here has changed my life.
Anyone who isn’t struggling with an emotional imbalance would love it because it gives one a sense of community, spirituality,and connectivity with nature and others.
Everyone should come here and immerse themselves in healing and peace because it will give you a new lease on life and empower you. It is something so invaluable that will carry me, happily, through the rest of my life.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.