Maintaining Mobility
The Feldenkrais Method and Multiple Sclerosis
Friday, June 15, 2012
by: Susan Dillon, GCFP

Section: Recovery

Maintaining mobility is a concern for everyone, especially as we age, but for people with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) concerns about mobility may unfortunately come much earlier in life. MS is known as “the greatest disabler of young adults.” It is estimated to affect 400,000 in the US and 2.5 million in the prime of their lives worldwide. I was diagnosed with MS in 1994 and when I couldn’t walk the 200 yards to work without having to sit down and rest, I was crushed. I loved hiking in the mountains and the thought of never seeing the world from the top of a mountain was a sad thought.

I had experienced the Feldenkrais Method® earlier in my life and had noticed its effect on my nervous system—I was calmer, more relaxed. Feeling desperate after the diagnosis, I thought the Feldenkrais Method just might help with MS and I began a training in 1995. During each year of the training, I felt stronger and could walk longer distances. A few months after the training ended, my husband and I did a twelve day trek in Nepal that ended at the 14,000’ ridge behind the Annapurna base camp—I had made it to a higher point than I ever had before.

"Feeling desperate after the diagnosis, I though the Feldenkrais Method just might help with Multiple Sclerosis..."
So what is the relationship between MS and the Feldenkrais Method? I’ve thought carefully about my situation for a long time and I’m finally ready to tell my story, and share what I think are the connections between MS and the Feldenkrais Method. The most useful thing the Feldenkrais Method has taught me is to recognize small differences that are signals for when my nervous system is stressed, which subsequently leads to a worsening of my condition. When I sense those small differences, I put my life on hold and REST. Sometimes the recovery takes a few days, sometimes longer, and now I try to recognize even the smallest beginnings of those differences, resulting in a shorter recovery time.

Come to the 2012 Feldenkrais Method Conference and participate in a workshop with Susan Dillon and her co-presenter Beth Rubenstein. Beth is a Feldenkrais Teacher, an assistant trainer of the Feldenkrais Method, and a physical therapist. She is on the medical advisory board of the Southern California chapter of the National MS Society, taught Awareness Through Movement classes for the chapter for years. She works with people with MS in her private practice.

The workshop will include several Awareness Through Movement classes that we have found helpful. Some are designed to calm your nervous system, thus enabling you to pay closer attention to yourself and notice small changes that may be important. The combination of sensing ourselves while attending to our feet and pelvis, balance and breath will lead us to improving functional activities for people with both “relapsing/remitting” and “progressive” MS. There will be an increased sense of balance whether standing or sitting in a chair.

One of my favorite ATM®s is called the Bell Hand movement. This movement involves softening the palm of the hand by drawing the fingers inward toward the palm but neither closing the hand into a fist nor totally stretching out the palm and fingers. Instead the focus is on the gentle opening and closing movement of the fingers and softening of the palm which can be coordinated with breathing. When you inhale, the fingers and palm open slightly and when you exhale the fingers and palm close slightly. This movement can be also extended in a similar but different version to the feet. It is possible to do this movement sitting or lying down.I’ve been gathering anecdotal information about how people have used the Bell Hand movement and its effectiveness for them. Several people have told me that they use it to help them sleep. Another woman used it to deal with spasms. This is a recent comment I received from a nurse in my ATM class who has MS and arthritis: “I was having so much pain and couldn’t sleep and then remembered the lesson (Bell Hand movement), I tried it and some time later awoke pain free and realized I had actually fallen asleep. Since then I use the movement frequently.”

Practitioners attending this workshop will learn helpful ways to assist clients with MS, and people living with MS may learn new approaches in addition to the Bell Hand movement which may help deal with aspects of MS. We will explore options for movements and functions that might be difficult because of MS. The workshop will also include a presentation by a member of the MS Society about the current state of MS research and will end with a Q&A session. We will be prepared to accommodate people using wheelchairs.

Susan Dillon, MA has taught Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes in Cambridge, England since 1996. Diagnosed with relapsing/remitting MS in 1994, she decided to train as a Feldenkrais practitioner. She had previously experienced the Feldenkrais Method and realized that its effect on the nervous system might be helpful for people with MS.

Beth Rubenstein MS, PT. Beth has been involved with the Multiple Sclerosis Society since childhood, putting on neighborhood shows and donating the money to the local Washington, D.C. MS Society. She taught ATM classes and given workshops about MS and for the MS Society. She is currently on the medical advisory board of the Southern California Chapter of MS Society. Beth works with a diverse client population. She is an Assistant Trainer and maintains a private practice in Los Angeles, CA.

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Comments (1)
Yolanda Caballero
10/28/2016 11:38:28 AM
Hello I Would like information on classes in the Los Angeles area. Thank you!

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