by Ira Feinstein, MFA
I could start this story off by saying that I began working with a Feldenkrais® practitioner because of a repetitive stress injury, but that would be only partially true. The complete truth is that I sought out a practitioner because my life lacked color. I plotted through my days even though I had a lot going for me: a good job, good friends, a beautiful apartment in a lovely city, acceptance into a graduate program where I was going to focus on my dream of being a writer.
And yet, when I looked into my future, it loomed before me. I did what one is supposed to do in this situation: I went to therapy. I got on anti-depressants. Both helped. But I couldn’t shake the blah. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t tapping into some part of myself—the part that would really be excited to get up in the morning and engage with the world.
I had read that movement could help you connect with your vitality, and I supposed it to be true, if only because I wasn’t connected to my vitality and I wasn’t connected to my body. I hated having to exist in a meat suit: malignant diseases manifested on both sides of my family. My grandparents made it into their sixties; my parents barely into their forties. So although I knew mine was an impossible desire, I longed to be a mind devoid of a body. I envisioned myself as a brain wearing glasses, floating in a ball jar, moving through life. My mind could think anything, take me anywhere. My body and its myriad of vulnerabilities could only stop me.
Although my Feldenkrais practitioner didn’t know any of this when he met me, he knew that I wasn’t in my body. He could see it in the way that I walked into his office, how I held myself while we talked, how my body met his table. It would take months of weekly lessons for me to realize just how much he could know without me saying a word. I felt so vulnerable then. “Can you look at a person and see all their stories?” I asked him.
“I can see how they carry their stories,” he replied, “but I don’t know what their stories are unless they share them with me.”
We ended up working together on a weekly basis for almost a year. I wasn’t making much money at the time, but I made it work. I felt like I was investing in myself for the first time in my life. Therapy had helped me explore my emotions. College had helped develop my mind. Doctor’s visits had helped me maintain my health. But my Feldenkrais lessons weren’t focusing on parts of me. It was just me, devoid of any division.
Although the lessons themselves weren’t painful, sometimes the outcome temporarily would be. When we started to work together in the spring, I had been putting orthotic inserts into my shoes to walk without pain for three years. That summer, I ended up buying and returning five different pairs of sandals; I had started walking differently. It was confusing and uncomfortable to shed those old patterns, but by the fall, when I put my boots on for the first time in months, I was able to walk in them without any inserts. In fact, now the inserts caused the pain!
I recall one lesson in particular. My practitioner told me to walk across the room like I had an important destination in mind. I moved quickly and what I thought was efficient, imagining that I was walking to some doctor’s appointment to talk to a surgeon about a prophylactic surgery I was considering so that I wouldn’t die as early as my parents had. When I was done walking, he asked me what I was thinking about. “A doctor’s visit,” I responded like there was only one answer to that question.
He then asked me to imagine another scenario of my choosing. “Walk across the room again.”
I tried, but I couldn’t think of anything. I stood before him, frozen.
“What about a first date or maybe you’re on your way to a public reading of your first book,” he prodded.
I shook my head no. I tried on the suggestions in my mind. “No, I wouldn’t walk purposefully for those events. They aren’t important enough.”
“Sometimes instructions don’t make sense in the moment, but they’ll dawn on you in the future,” he replied.
We moved on with the lesson then, but twelve years later, I think I finally get it. If I was going to feel joy or vitality in my life, I needed to be able to walk towards it. Back then, I couldn’t even imagine myself valuing it! Now, when I meet people who are stuck in their life—whether because of a physical ailment or something else, I tell them about the Feldenkrais Method. I’m careful to not sound too evangelical about its potential benefits, lest I turn them off. But the truth is that those slow, small movements, done week after week—even when they didn’t feel like they were adding up to much–were quietly teaching me what it was like to be at peace with my humanity.
Ira Feinstein, MFA, is a writer and editor who lives in Chicago, IL. When not working as the Communications Manager for FGNA, he spends his boxing, practicing kundalini yoga, and drinking way too much coffee.