Three and a half years ago, Rona Stanton had the shock of her life. What doctors diagnosed as brain stem bleeding caused her automatic functioning to shut down, making her incapable of doing anything. For 2 1/2 weeks she was in intensive care with seven different tubes keeping her alive. Doctors advised her husband to send Rona to a nursing home, explaining that recovery from brain stem hemorrhage was unlikely.
Rona however, insisted on rehab and struggled her way back to walking. Two years after the stroke, she went back to physical therapy, feeling that her progress was too slow. I recently interviewed Rona and two of her Feldenkrais® practitioners about her recovery.
“When I went to the physical therapist,” Rona explained, “he said, ‘You need Feldenkrais. You’ve re-learned a lot, but you have big gaps in your neurological process. Too bad there’s no practitioners around here.’ It was true, I could walk, but things you take for granted - jumping over a line, riding a bike - my memory didn’t serve.”
Rona then learned that Janeen Braun had recently become a local practitioner. “Janeen was able to break everything down into movement patterns I could get, no matter how small,” Rona laughed. “and she said I didn’t have to do it a million times, just go home and rest and let it integrate. It was the opposite of the rehab model.”
Janeen found her work with Rona to be a huge learning process. “The rehab model Rona adopted and her personal style - was to push. It made me reflect on my practice with her and seek to do “less.” We studied how focus can be gained as much in resting as it can with action.” When Rona moved to Eugene, Oregon, she found two ways to continue her learning. Deborah Vukson is a Feldenkrais teacher and also her yoga teacher. And for private lessons, she works with Karen Dooley, a Feldenkrais teacher who is also a physical therapist. “Karen helped me build right side awareness, teaching me how to find balance with my right foot and toe. Once we spent a whole hour on my toe!”
Although Karen insists it wasn’t really a full hour on the toe, she does feel that playing with the toes gave Rona more awareness. Karen explored many avenues of movement to pull Rona’s awareness to her toes’ relationship to standing. “We worked with shoes on, shoes off, socks on, socks off. We worked with the pelvis, its movement forward/back, up/down. And most importantly, how to take this learning into life.”
Karen echoes Janeen’s gratitude for the learning Rona provided. “I consider myself an optimistic soul who can find goodness in the world, yet Rona lives this every day of her life and continues to demonstrate that to me, with a vibrancy that uplifts me anytime I work with her. I am always amazed at her strength and perseverance. She teaches me the grace to live in this crazy world. I feel I am the lucky one.”
Although, since her trauma, Rona has always worked to re-establish a “normal life,” her work with the Feldenkrais Method has helped her regain the ease and quality of movement that is so essential for a comfortable life. Rona’s improvement continues, along with her learning as she integrates new possiblities into her daily activities. It’s no longer about reclaiming the “old” Rona, but a journey towards a new approach to everyday living. “The Feldenkrais Method gives you a range of options” concluded Rona. “It teaches ‘this isn’t the only way you can do it.’ Then once you’re in the groove, when it makes sense, you remember it.”