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Imaging Oneself into Existence: Recovering from the Trauma of War

By Margot Schaal, GCFP

Everybody’s aging; Moshe Feldenkrais said that we get to choose how we age. The mind can become clearer, daily actions easier, and one can access improvements on a daily, hourly basis for oneself with regular Feldenkrais® lessons.

David* served in the Vietnam War, and then turned around 180 degrees to live a natural life, working the land and building structures and community. During the war, he tuned-out, like many soldiers, with the help of drugs. For a long time afterward he stumbled about, still using drugs. Nonetheless, as a young man, he met an elder, a 75 or 80 year old, who was alert, very fit, energetic, and positive. David identified this man as who/how he wanted to be at that age. When I met David, he had spent decades learning to feel and be.

After many years and many kinds of therapeutic treatments, improving along the way, David arrived at my office. He lived with nearly continual headache and neck strain, which was tedious and interfered with his work and personal life. He benefited from chiropractic adjustments, but his neck always went out again. He stood with his head far in front of his torso, and lay on his back with arms pinned to his sides, legs taught, taking in small breaths of air.

After the first Feldenkrais session the headache reduced and a chronic hip pain was gone, to David’s astonishment. Over time the headaches became less intense, and progressed to headaches without his neck going out of alignment and into severe pain. “I feel like a different person. My posture is really changing. It’s been a long time coming. This has taken years!”

Several months into our working together and after revising his exercise regime, his body re-connected with its capacity for smooth, easy movement and resting. His breathing had deepened and he had learned to use it consciously. He described that his whole life was improving – he was able to let go of emotions that weren’t helpful and expressed great gratitude for everything and everyone in his life. “I no longer live in fear of the next headache.” He used the awareness developed in Functional Integration® lessons while he worked, in scheduling his life, and managing the fluctuations in relationships. While standing for hours pushing boards through a table saw blade, he attended to how he was standing and learned to do it without subsequent back or shoulder or neck pain, and did the same with simply walking. For David, all the modalities he worked with had helped him, yet the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education made the greatest, deepest impact. One day, he gave an impassioned declaration of how helpful the Feldenkrais Method had been, and, said he was not continuing the work. 

When David decided to resume lessons, he no longer lay on the table with a soldier’s stiffness. Ease was more rapidly accessible. He experienced alignment throughout himself most of the time, and indeed, his head eased toward his torso. “I don’t recognize myself,” he said. He looked healthier and younger and he recognized that he had become the gracefully aging elder who shone for him at 25. “I haven’t had a headache for 1½ months. I enjoy my body now!”

“I have so much awareness in my body now - when I go about my business, if I feel discomfort or something is off, I notice it, and within a minute or two, it’s all fine. A change happens spontaneously without any conscious attempt to do it.”

I am grateful to be in the cadre of teachers and healers who have shared David’s path of growing and aging gracefully.

Margot Schaal practices the Feldenkrais Method in Sonoma and Marin Counties in Northern California. www.MargotSchaal.com

*David’s name has been changed for this article.

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