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By Bridget Quebodeaux, GCFP
As a Feldenkrais® practitioner, I often work with people who have chronic conditions and unexplained pain. They come from different walks of life. They have different personal histories and life experiences. They have different strengths and weaknesses and different temperaments and moods. They are different. Their pain is different. And yet the first words they speak are often the same: “I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.” Sometimes it’s as if I’m being offered a fair warning, “Don’t feel badly if what you do doesn’t work. Nothing does.” Other times, I feel as if I’m being dared to make any difference at all. Always present is the hesitant hope that the Feldenkrais Method® will be the something that finally helps.
In recent decades, the biopsychosocial model has become the most accepted model for viewing chronic pain. The biopsychosocial approach says chronic pain is just part of the experience of a whole person living in the world. Hurting bodies cannot be understood in parts or in isolation of the thinking, sensing, feeling person walking around in them and the environment in which they live and ache. Personal histories, feeling management strategies, relationships, and beliefs are no less a part of felt pain than an old injury or a job that requires repetitive movement, and getting better is not a linear process of problem identification and symptom removal.
Research suggests a multidisciplinary healing strategy. Many people take that to mean they need a physical therapist, psychotherapist, massage therapist, energy healer and breath coach (to name a few). My belief is that less is usually more. Doing more won’t make what you do more helpful. Doing more won’t make it more likely that you will stumble onto the one approach or combination of approaches that “fixes” your problem and ends your pain. Doing more makes you tired and it isn’t necessary. Doing well is much easier and will yield much better results. I suggest beginning by banishing the hope of being fixed. People can’t be fixed like kitchen appliances and old cars.
It may feel as though all your pain exists in one or more parts of your body and if you could just fix those parts, you’d be flying high. Indeed, if you were a ’69 Mustang or a toaster oven, you could have those parts repaired or replaced and be on your way. Not so with the parts of you that hurt.
I began the last lecture I gave on chronic pain with the following quote from the NOI group, “Discs do not cause pain anymore than genital stimulation causes love. Discs contribute to the pain experience.” If discs in fact merely contribute to the pain experience (as I believe they do) then consider the following:
Fixing the disc may not fix the pain
Working with any other part of the person who lives with and around the disc might make a difference
So, why might trying everything lead one to the conclusion that “nothing helps”? If working with any aspect of functioning affects the whole, then shouldn’t everything help? Yes…but…only if the person seeking help has the ability to feel something other than pain and the capacity to measure improvement. That is the nearest I will come to offering a solution to chronic pain. If you suffer with a chronic condition and want to feel better, you must develop your ability to feel something other than pain and learn to measure improvement or you will continue to try everything and nothing will help.
Feeling something other than pain
Every person is capable of noticing a wide range of sensations in their body. Movements and feelings have qualities that we can describe as heavy, light, easy, effortful, fluid, energized, sluggish, open, closed and so on. Often, when someone hurts for a long time, all they are aware of feeling is pain or no pain. If all one can feel is pain or no pain, chances are that any intervention that does not result in no pain will be tossed in the “didn’t help” pile.
Feldenkrais Method Awareness Through Movement® classes and one on one, hands-on Functional Integration® lessons are designed to wake people up to sensations in their bodies. As Feldenkrais practitioners, we ask our clients questions about what they sense and feel. We help them become aware of their habitual patterns (i.e. all I feel is pain or no pain) and we guide them toward new ways of noticing themselves.
Improvement doesn’t mean no pain. Improvement can mean a shift from sensing a movement or a feeling as heavy and closed, to noticing a feeling of lightness and openness—-even if there is still pain. If feeling light and open feels better to someone than feeling heavy and closed, then being able to remain available for noticing lightness and openness means feeling better more often.
Feldenkrais practitioners don’t teach people how to move or sense themselves correctly. We offer experiences that help people create options, direct them to notice what they feel in their bodies and leave them to choose what feels right to them.
As a Feldenkrais practitioner, I use movement and directed attention as means of self-exploration and measuring improvement. Does that mean I believe movement exploration is the only approach to improving the way you feel or that the Feldenkrais Method offers the only answer to a chronic condition? No. However, Feldenkrais principles can be applied to many different educational and therapeutic approaches, making whatever road you choose toward feeling better the something that helps.
Bridget Quebodeaux has a private practice in West Los Angeles, CA. Visit her website at http://www.feldenkraiswestla.com Bridget will be one of the presenters at the 2010 Feldenkrais Method Annual Conference. Entitled “Toward Healing Chronic Pain,” her workshop will look at the past decade in research into chronic pain and current literature on chronic pain management. Participants will explore the benefits of using strategies from Feldenkrais Method lessons for their own growth and healing as well as for that of their clients or loved ones.