Phoebe, Daughter of Mother Earth

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THE DAUGHTER OF GAIA AND URANUS was called Phoebe. She was a Titan, goddess of prophecy, and grandmother to Artemis and Apollo. I believe that Phoebe will mark a prophetic start to my Feldenkrais career.

In my case, Phoebe was a severely handicapped twelve-year-old girl whom I met after two years of my Feldenkrais training. Working with Phoebe taught me many valuable lessons about how to become a Feldenkrais professional.

The very first lesson happened before she even became a client. I first met Phoebe’s dad, Chris, outside the school where my son and his youngest daughter were classmates. When he heard about Feldenkrais, he asked me if it could help his handicapped daughter, Phoebe. ‘Sure-but-I’ve-never-worked-with-handicapped-kids’, I said. ‘Oh, don’t bother then’, he replied. ‘NO! NO! NO! I’ll come’. I had almost thrown away a unique opportunity because I had chosen to act unprofessionally.

Lesson 1: Learn to act the competent professional you want to become. Communicate confidently what you can and want to do. Avoid devaluing yourself by saying dumb things because you feel unsure.

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The second lesson came the second I laid eyes on Phoebe. Early in year three of the training, we had learned to ask our client politely to lie straight and still on the table for 45 minutes. But here was Phoebe lying on her bedroom floor like a mikado game, a crazy scatter of limbs. Her scoliotic back was twisted like a wrung out towel, her wrists were locked backwards. She drooled from the mouth and her eyes squinted in every direction – except mine. I sat on the floor and she instantly slithered over and climbed to lie on my lap, taking hold of my hand. No one had ever told me I might need to work on the floor with the client lying on my lap, gripping my only working instrument, my hand, refusing contact to her head, front, hands and feet, whilst dribbling on my trousers and punching herself in the face. (Self-hitting is a way to gain brute sensory stimulation when the nervous system lacks refinement; it is also used to mean: ‘No!’).

Lesson 2: Don’t think outside the box; there is no box! Adapt your work to the client and not the client to your work.

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The third lesson came after just three sessions. Something awesome had happened. Chris excitedly told me that the volume of urine in her nappy had reduced so much that it was now possible to stop waking her at 11pm for a nappy change. This was a vast improvement for her quality of life; she was sleeping better and longer. Also, after twelve years of broken nights, Chris could now sleep uninterrupted, improving his quality of life. I looked at my hands. What magic had they done, and how? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I could do it again by continuing to apply the principles of Feldenkrais work.

Lesson 3: Feldenkrais works even if you don’t really know what you are doing. Therefore never say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I don’t know how’ or turn down opportunities. You’ll miss out on amazing experiences and learning, and many people will miss the change you can bring to their life.

Phoebe attended a special school five mornings a week. At home she lay and dribbled on the floor. At school, she sat in a wheelchair and dribbled on the floor. Well-meaning adults tried to get her ‘to do things’. To me, she seemed happier at home, free from the noise and sensory overload of a busy school. Her father Chris was an amazing strength. Calm, humane, and caring. But the school time was also important, as it gave Chris a rest.

In the year during which I worked with Phoebe, I saw many changes. Her sleep improved. She punched herself less. She was calmer, less aggressive. On one occasion, she spectacularly navigated across the uncharted open space of the living room in a way she had never done before. She once said a word, ‘ear’, as we played a game of ‘point and say’ with nose, chin, cheeks and ears.

One day Chris said to me, ‘Phoebe’s teacher and the school physiotherapist have both noticed a marked improvement in Phoebe. They want to meet you.’ When we met, I asked if I could work voluntarily at the school one day a week with other children, and so that is what I did for the rest of year three and four of the training course.

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At the end of the school year Phoebe and her family moved away. I had grown to love the time we spent together, her slyly grinning at me from under her crooked wrist. But the loss spurred me on to leverage my opportunity at the school. I started working with four more children. Picturing their (in)capabilities is like drawing an ever diminishing Venn diagram.

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One can walk. Two are blind. Two are quadriplegic (can’t crawl, roll, or shuffle). Three wear nappies. None of the four can talk.

After just ten one hour lessons, there were remarkable changes for all of them, but because the changes were so small when compared to ‘normal’ development, I found it useful to write them down and to inform the teachers and parents repeatedly.

Sibel, who was a quadriplegic ‘rag doll’ when I started can now sit straight and support herself in gravity. Her teachers have noticed that she can lean forwards to reach for things. Slawomir, a blind boy with hip dysplasia is starting to use his legs in a differentiated way and his leg spasticity is reduced. Pauline is much calmer in class, and may become able to use the toilet independently. Aman, however, suffers from a degenerative illness. He lives in his own tragic world – blind, immobile, epileptic. But when he is well enough to attend his Feldenkrais hour, a smile comes to his lips. He listens to my hands as they dance across his body, tracking them and the meaning they might reveal in the darkness. His teachers have noticed that he punches himself less now and is calmer.

This experience has provided what the Feldenkrais training does not include– a practical internship. I gained client management skills. I learnt to think outside the box. I tried and failed, and tried again until I created a solution that worked. I built my self-belief. I have seen my work bring results. I have used what I learned to become a successful practitioner. I have found a career path, built my own brand and USP – unique selling point.

When I first met Phoebe, she was lying on the ground, dribbling. He face was distorted, her back bent, her wrists crooked.  As I touched her for the first time, I launched myself on a journey to I-knew-not-where. Somewhere that even Phoebe, daughter of Uranus and Gaia, could not have prophecied. I encourage all Feldenkrais students to go out and offer to work in retirement homes, with the handicapped, with child and mother groups, local dance schools, climbers, walkers, whatever is in your neighbourhood. Do it for money or voluntarily, build up your experience, publicize Feldenkrais to an ever greater number of people. You may be surprised to see which unexpected future it brings you to.

Feldenkrais Trainers Worldwide

32 years after Moshe Feldenkrais passed away, how many Feldenkrais trainers are there world wide? Just 70. (http://www.eurotab.org/AllTrainers.pdf). Some of these are even inactive. No one else in the world has the right to ‘grow’ the pool of new Feldenkrais practitioners.

Of the 70, 10 share an address or a name, in other words they are partners.

Where are they all? There are 27 in the US, 12 in Israel, 12 in Germany, 13 others in Europe, 4 in Australia, 1 in Mexico and 1 in Canada.

Some places have no trainers. Like South America and Russia. Some cities have multiple trainers … San Rafael: 4, Santa Fe, San Francisco and San Diego, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: all  3.

How diverse is their origin? The early trainings in San Francisco (1974) and Amherst (1980), which contained some 350 people, provide 41% of today’s total trainer tally – 12 and 17 trainers respectively (to the best of my knowledge).

There are some questions of interest.

  • How old is this cohort?
  • How many productive years remain to those who were trained in 1974 and 1980?
  • What if they all retire simultaneously?
  • What steps, if any, are they taking to ensure their replacement?
  • Considering the average age of a Feldenkrais graduate is in their 40s or 50s, and it takes as much as 25 years to become a trainer, is it a worthwhile engagement to  attempt to become a trainer?
  • Is a trainer who waited 20 years to become a trainer twice as good as one who waited 10 years, 33% better than one who waited 15 years? Does the extraordinary duration lead to a significant qualitative advantage?
  • Do aspiring assistant trainers struggle to find an appointment allowing them to gain the ‘flying hours’ necessary to become a trainer – except for those who are partners with an existing trainer?
  • There are no trainers in Japan or South America. Other areas of the world are underserved. High profile trainers fly at great expense around the world to do trainings, simultaneously inflating costs and stifling local skills development. Is this an organisational error?
  • If there were more trainers, would there be more courses, more graduates, and more growth?
  • Is there an organisational goal to grow the Feldenkrais profession for the benefit of future practitioners and public benefit? Or is it just fine for those who are benefiting right now?

My perspective from the trenches is that the trainer process is in crisis. Is that so?

50 Shades of Moshe (17).Suzanne.

This somatic (mind/body) educational method uses gentle movement and nuanced touch to re-educate your nervous system so that you can move and function at your highest level. It magnifies your body awareness by teaching you to pay attention to how you habitually move. This triggers your brain to create new neural pathways and improve how you sit, stand, bend, twist, reach and walk.

Suzanne, on her website, www.move2livenow.com

Very poetic, very descriptive.

How to photograph Feldenkrais treatments

I came across some very nice photos on the following website www.sonjajohansson.com

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They do a lot of things very nicely, and a few things not so well.  The practitioner is well lit and attractively dressed.  The lighting on the floor is atmospheric, and the brightness of the windows adds dramatic impact. The room looks calm and the treatment positions show the viewing public that the place and the practitioner are professional, comfortable, and inviting.

On the other hand, the background is visually cluttered: the radiator, plant and screen should be out of sight, to keep the focus in the foreground. The fifth photo would look very nice with the crown of the practitioner’s head in shot.  Perhaps also the lying man would look better with his head less tightly cropped in the fourth photo, but in any case his foot needs to be either fully in, or fully out, of the shot.

On balance, I would be very happy if I had produced photos as attractive as these are.  With a little reframing and attention to the background, they could be even better.

50 Shades of Moshe (16). Thomas Hanna

“The Feldenkrais system is a way of handling the body by communicating specific sensations to the central nervous system in order to improve the functions of the motor system.”

… is what Thomas Hanna wrote in the foreword to Yochanan Rywerant’s classic practical guide to Feldenkrais Method Functional Integration, ‘The Feldenkrais Method: Teaching by Handling’.img_2509

This is an accurate description of the essence of a Feldenkrais treatment. It depends rather heavily on technical jargon and is not suited to a wider public. In this way it shows clearly   the difficulties in self-description and even marketing that continue to face the profession to this day.

For example, a member of the public would recognise a common word like ‘massage’ more than they would ‘handling the body‘. ‘Communicating specific sensations‘ could be ‘teaching the brain’. ‘To improve the functions of the motor system‘ could be ‘to improve how one moves’.

Hanna and Rywerant were two heavyweights, and were extremely influential in the Feldenkrais world until their deaths.

Hanna authored a number of books on Somatics and was an early adopter of Feldenkrais in the 1970s in America. Rywerant himself was one of the 13 students in Moshe Feldenkrais’ first professional training course between 1969 and 1971 in Tel Aviv.