It’s strange that I never noticed until recently how I round my back and pull my head forward in classic “fight or flight” posture. With all my years of running, yoga and working out, I thought my posture was pretty good. Don’t get me wrong, you wouldn’t look at me and comment to yourself that I have poor posture. In fact, I think I’ve always managed to look confident and relaxed. At least, that’s the impression I want to project.
Every now and then, I explore a different form of bodywork. That’s how I came to meet with Feldenkrais practitioner, Marlene Kennedy. Her promotion promised: Your Body Tells the Truth. She must be a kindred spirit, I thought to myself, one of us who realizes we hold our memories and our stories in our bodies.
I arrived for my first appointment at her three-storey townhouse in Toronto. Before going to the second floor for my session, we sat in her green-carpeted living room surrounded by statues and drawings of Buddha. In this peaceful setting, she asked me why I had come and what I was looking for.
I felt at ease with her. My felt sense told me she was to be trusted. I wanted her help and poured out my story. I told her how, in the outer world, I was confident and unselfconscious. Out there I was as big as I needed to do be. When I had a job to do, I just went about doing it. I was a skilled, compassionate psychotherapist, a teacher and the founder and director of The Center for Focusing where I trained anyone interested in learning the skill of listening to others and to themselves. I trained a separate group of professionals to use Focusing in their work as counselors, psychotherapists, nurses, etc. As a social worker, I was awarded the 2012 Inspirational Leader certificate. My memoir Confessions of a Trauma Therapist has helped thousands of people deal with their own child sexual abuse.
The painful part happens when I reenter my home, I told her. I’ve been married for a long, long time, yet I still morph into a shrunken wife when I came back home. I rarely express my disagreement or my needs. In my childhood home, I survived by never rocking the boat. Fly under the radar. Preserve peace at any cost. I’ve learned recently that I carried this outdated coping strategy into my home as an adult.
Moshe Feldenkrais who developed this approach to mind-body healing was a scientist working on atomic secrets with Marie Currie and her husband, Frederic when the Nazis approached Paris. Being a Jew, he was in grave danger. His laboratory’s atomic secrets were also in danger of falling into enemy hands. Frederic helped Feldenkrais escape with two suit cases filled with French scientific secrets. Feldenkrais and his wife managed to get to England just in time to avoid capture, in spite of his injured knee, which, under stress, flared up.
Later, the scientist applied his brilliant mind to heal disabled humans others had given up trying to help. He first developed his method to heal his own knee. He was discovering that the brain’s damaged pathways could be stimulated into life again.
Dr. Norman Doidge devotes two whole chapters of his best-seller The Brain’s Way of Healing to Feldenkrais and his approach to healing. Feldenkrais theorized that mind and body are always related, that physical problems are made worse by stress, and that it’s necessary to treat the whole body, not just the injured part.
After just a few sessions, lying face up and fully clothed on the practitioner’s sheepskin covered table while Marlene worked on my body, I found that – when I got up off her table – I was walking differently. My head was pulled back and my chest was open and exposed. When I tried to explain the experience to Marlene, I could only say I was standing and walking in a plumb line, the weight on the end of a string carpenters and plumbers use to find a straight line.
With the postural change came new awareness of how I perpetuate an old protective stance I no longer need. In my current life, I want to be open and loving, not “protected” by my shoulders and not on the lookout for danger. My body and my mind have worked together to help me discover a new, authentic way of being in the world.
If this sounds like something for you, maybe you’ll find a Feldenkrais practitioner. Sessions can be one-on-one or in a class.
Reference: The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Norman Doidge, M.D., Penguin-Random House, New York, 2015.