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.
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.
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.
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.
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.