Unimaginable Change
Sunday, April 1, 2012
by: Joyce Lu, GCFP

Section: Recovery

I often say that in the course of my training, I fell apart and came back together again.

Like many people, I came to the Feldenkrais Method® through injury. Since 2003, I was irritated by spasms in my upper back. I tried everything: physical therapy, Rolfing, massage, holistic chiropractors and not so holistic chiropractors. Finally after four years of hit-and-miss treatments, a dance teacher suggested I try the Feldenkrais Method.

I began by attending Awareness Through Movement® classes with Carol Kress and Donna Bervinchak. I quickly discovered something that was revolutionary to me: that by lying on my back and lifting my left arm ever so slightly off the ground, I could basically produce the same results as a chiropractic adjustment. I actually felt my nerves fire and a vertebrae move into a more comfortable place than where it had been before.

This event was revolutionary to me because I’d lived my life with a “no pain, no gain” attitude. I felt I had to beat my muscles into submission in order to make them relax; that I had to force my bones into a particular alignment. This way of thinking was connected to deeper patterns of believing that I had to work myself into the ground in order to earn the right to exist.

So, the Feldenkrais Method changed my life.

Probably a lot of people say this. Probably all the people who read this newsletter know about this potentiality already or you would not be reading this; you would not be engaged with the Method. But I keep saying this because I cannot get over it: the possibility of healing oneself; of training one’s awareness to be so fine that one could maintain one’s own state of health and well-being; this power to heal oneself is incredibly empowering.
When I entered the training program, I was coming from a place where I had given up a lot of my power. I was fresh out of a doctoral program, exhausted, beaten down, insecure, and questioning whether I would be of any use in the “real world.” During my first two years of training, I fell asleep a lot. I did not take notes. I often felt totally disoriented. Occasionally, I was triggered emotionally.

At the same time as I was going through my training, I had to look for work. I found it in Southern California. I sublet my apartment in Oakland, moved to Los Angeles, and returned to Berkeley for trainings. Eventually, I landed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in theater and dance that paid for me to move myself completely down to LA.

Towards the end my gig, I was faced again with being jobless. I thought I would have to put the training on hold. When I told my classmates goodbye, I started bawling. This surprised me and also showed me how important the work and the space had become to me. At the last moment, I was offered a contract for one more year. Over the course of that year, I was offered a permanent tenure-track appointment.

People always talk about how hard it is to land a tenure track position in academia, but for me it was relatively EASY. While I can’t quantify or show scientific proof, I do believe that the changes in my body and being that occurred from the training made me a stronger candidate for my job.

"[I]n the course of my training, I fell apart and came back together again."
I started my Feldenkrais® training as a work-study student. I finished it no longer having to do work-study; my job paid the remaining tuition.

This isn’t to say that everything became easy. I missed a lot of sessions and had to do a lot of make-up. Sometimes I had to leave LA at 4 AM to arrive at my training in Berkeley by 11:30 AM. But the fact of the matter is that it was still possible for me to continue. I had the time, I had the money. I had the car. I had the energy. I made it happen. And I am so grateful for this.

Still, by working so hard to hold myself together in Los Angeles, oftentimes I arrived at the training on time only to fall asleep during class. I was lazy coming back from breaks. My sense of disorientation returned. In retrospect, I needed this space to be “imperfect” in order to function in LA.

At the university, I noticed that the Feldenkrais pedagogy had begun to influence my own teaching. The classes I taught became places where it was safe for students to “fall apart:” to be late, to take long breaks, to fall asleep, to fail, and through trial and error, eventually find their own way of moving. When I allowed the students to learn this way, the learning was more permanent, more lasting, and more profound. One student told me he used to feel like he did not belong at this school. Through the work in our class, he came became more confident and started to realize that it was his school, also. One day, I saw him standing in the quad, handing out information flyers about being vegan. This was something he would not have done at the beginning of the semester.

During my last year, I often boasted that I’d managed to eradicate the spasms in my upper back. I bit my tongue when I had a relapse a few months before graduating. The injury was related to an old issue I had of caring for others at the expense of myself. The flare up arrived at the end of a two-week period during which I’d taken care of three, and at times six, teenage boys. By the end, I felt like my left arm was going to fall off. But though the source issue was the same, my condition was less severe than it had been in the past. I was also able to deal with it more efficiently because I now knew how to deal with it.

I had a Functional Integration® lesson with Carol. I noticed that despite the tension of my tissue, I could sense my skeleton, supple and free, underneath the pain. This gave me a sense of ease and hope while the muscles calmed down.

This new sense I have of my skeleton has also helped me tremendously in dancing. People observing me have commented on the movement of my spine; that they can see force “ripple” through my vertebrae. A teacher who used to tell me that part of my middle-back seemed to be dead or missing, doesn’t say this anymore. I dance more fully. The experience is richer and more satisfying. I’ve been offered more and more opportunities to perform in more and more prestigious venues. Still, it’s not really the prestigious venues that are most valuable to me, but the feeling of freedom of movement that I have now.

I want to express my gratitude to all my teachers, classmates, and of course, to Moshe. I look forward to the next stages of my relationship with this work.

Last week, someone considering enrolling in a training asked for my advice. I said that I thought everyone interested should train if they could. The decision, as I see it, is more a matter of timing. If and when you are ready, participating in a Feldenkrais training can only offer improvement.
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