Why Limit Yourself?
Monday, April 1, 2002
by: Katrin Smithback, GCFP

Section: Recovery

As a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm for almost 20 years, I’ve worked with many people in my practice who have been active, even athletic, all their lives. People who, at some point, discovered that activities they always took for granted had become difficult or impossible, sometimes seemingly overnight: playing sports, getting up and down from the floor easily, walking on uneven surfaces, going up and down stairs, etc. How does this happen? How do we go from 7-year-olds who can gracefully cartwheel across the lawn, to 70-year-olds who can’t comfortably sit on the floor? I’ve always been intrigued by this, and then I had an accident that gave me first-hand experience. My accident happened on a boogie board in high surf in Hawaii (but it could have been anything- a car accident, a fall, etc.) A few months after my accident, I thought that I was totally recovered and back to normal. I was working, exercising, walking- my usual routine. One day, as I was doing a familiar Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®) lesson, I discovered I wasn’t able to do some of the movements that I had always been able to do before. I was shocked.

Think of the incredible variety of movements a child does, and then compare that to an adult. As we get older, we tend to do fewer and less varied movements. We have jobs where we use the same repertoire of movements every day. When we have an accident, a trauma, or just a minor stab of some familiar pain, we tend to tighten up around the area, to protect it and minimize the pain. This might work as a short-term strategy. But when we carry it into the long term, we run into trouble.

Suppose you sprain your ankle. After it is sufficiently healed, you will go back to work, maybe sitting at a desk for long hours, and doing only a very small range of movements out of all those possible. You probably won’t even notice that you have kept a little of the limp you had, and are now not using the full range of your ankle, or that with each step you’re stiffening your foot or your hip joint

Then, one day, you add another limitation, one which might be insignificant on its own, but when added to the others, becomes “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and all of a sudden, an activity that we could always do becomes difficult or impossible. So how can we discover and eliminate these hidden limitations?

After my accident I did a series of ATM lessons and made a series of discoveries. I discovered a renewed appreciation for the sheer variety of movements, the intriguing patterns and combinations that one can explore in ATM lessons—nowhere else in my life do I move in such varied and nonhabitual ways. Through these movements I discovered where I was arching too much in my spine, and where I wasn’t arching at all. I found how this affected my ribs and hence my breathing. I learned how to arch my lower back without lifting my ribs and shortening my spine.

This opened up movement possibilities, both in the ATM lessons and in my life, which had been unavailable to me before. For example, I could now sit and work with more ease and less fatigue. As I used the movements to become aware of how I was limiting myself and to find new possibilities for action, I was able to regain and even enhance my former mobility. I also came to appreciate, in a very personal way, the incredible potential of ATM lessons to equip us all with tools that can enable us to remain active and fully functioning individuals as we negotiate the sometimes stormy surf of life.

Katrin Smithback began her studies with Moshe Feldenkrais in 1980 and has had a continuous private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico since then. As a faculty member at the College of Santa Fe for 17 years, she taught applied movement in the theater, dance, music and physical education departments. She is presently the Educational Director of training programs in Japan and Argentina and teaches in professional training programs in the US, Canada, South America, Asia and Europe.
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