Four years ago, after thirty years as a student of the Feldenkrais Method® and other somatic disciplines, I became my own case study. The body/mind/spirit trainings, so engrained in my cells, prepared me for a rapid recovery from a brain aneurysm.
For many years, I had recurring panic attacks. Trying to stop them, I repeatedly misinterpreted many body messages. I kept looking inward for messages from my guides, and evaluating sensorial and kinesthetic information with minimal results. I tried meditating to control the anxiety, studying and analyzing dreams, and lying on a variety of practitioners’ tables to solve my nervous system problems. I attended Awareness Through Movement® classes to interrupt my body-shaking and search for a calmer rhythm to my breathing pattern. I also searched for healing in my yoga and qi gong classes. I was losing control of my mind and my life. This intense struggle with worsening anxiety culminated in my acceptance of allopathic medication after I understood that my body simply wouldn’t make the chemicals I needed to function calmly. I was both relieved and disappointed. Relieved to be able to function again and disappointed that there didn’t seem to be a pure somatic answer to my illness. Or was there?
I kept searching for answers. I still hoped to solve the anxiety using a non-medicating method. Attempting to access my non-conscious for guidance, I painted, a therapeutic process I often used. My painting notebook showed images that looked liked twisted bodies, some with red drops here and there. I thought I was like Frida Kahlo, whose damaged body cried tears of blood. Three months after the date on one of my paintings that showed a tube of dripping blood coming out of a colorful brain-like shape, an aneurysm ruptured in my head!
Blood seeped out of my right vertebral artery, resembling what I had painted months ago, and I had a seizure that alerted my husband of the need for urgent care. The sensation was a nail in my brain! I recalled nothing for a day or two until I woke up in the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit and was told I had had brain surgery. “What kind of brain surgery?” I wondered. Being a knowledgeable kinesthetic practitioner, I wiggled my fingers and toes and noted that they moved; felt my head and noticed there were no bandages, nor hair missing. Then I whooped for joy at the realization that I was OK: I was thinking, talking, sensing and moving. I later realized I was using all the sensing skills I had developed during years and years of Awareness Through Movement® and Functional Integration® work, as a practitioner and as a student, in order to come back into this world, for I had almost died.
What exactly did these life events mean? I pondered the recurring anxiety and the aneurysm rupture as I recovered and eventually wrote a memoir to sort it out. In the meantime, I relished the indescribable delight at my first steps in the Intensive Care Unit toward the end of my stay there. The feel of the cool hallway floor on my bare feet. The mobility in my joints. The joy of my body moving, alive, interacting with the world of movement. I felt so many details of the body’s ability to move; the breadth of feeling traced back to years of lying on the floor in Awareness Through Movement classes.
Two weeks later, I was recovering at home where I spent most of the time napping, and lying down, resting. I couldn’t read or watch films because of the damage to my eyes (blood traveled down the optic nerve and scarred the retina) and because of my sensitivity to light. So there was plenty of time to meditate and do simple Feldenkrais® lessons. I especially focused on the breathwork, watching and playing with the small movements of my body as it responded to my breath’s easy flow. One day instead of resting on my back, I spontaneously put my legs straight up a wall and began to move my ankles in various ways. I realized my healing had progressed to another level!
I went back to work two months after the aneurysm, convinced that working with clients, touching others with awareness and precision would help me improve. It was true.
Later that year, I visited a Feldenkrais professional training program near my home. My ability to move with ease was rusty and I observed how much brain effort it took to try to move smoothly once again. I could feel the neurons growing and reconnecting. I returned to familiar yoga and qi gong classes, applying Feldenkrais principles to every movement I did in those sequences and in daily life.
Then one day I dared to go to a Zumba class, for I love to dance, and found that following the rapid movement changes was nearly impossible. My motor processing was so slow! Soon, I began to go regularly, to retrain my brain.
I feel very strongly that all my awareness training helped me recover rather quickly from the aneurysm rupture. However, its location was an act of GRACE and the reason I didn’t lose any motor function. I had to cope with “typical” brain injury fatigue and that meant I had to rest a lot more than I was used to, and slowly relearn and reconnect the damaged neural pathways. To date there have been no more panic attacks.
In my private practice, I treated many brain injured clients over the years; I now found myself to be one, having to follow my oft-repeated suggestions in order to heal. Blessedly there was little damage to my body, just a disturbance in my more refined activities. My kinesthetic self feels less rusty and displaced. I use the eye lessons to help my eyes continue to recover and to further heal my brain. And I still receive Functional Integration, cranial, visceral, lymphatic and neurological tissue work frequently.
What did I discover during these past four years? Well, I have softened and accepted more use of allopathic medicine in my life. After all, I am sane, alive and functioning. A miracle. Writing the memoir helped me recognize the important events of my life that led me to seek a meaningful career. My therapeutic practice fosters my dedication to helping people. I help clients listen to the messages of their body and inner self in order to make life decisions. And I encourage them to develop a foundation of awareness and body sensing that the Feldenkrais Method teaches so well.
Judith Marcus lives in Seattle, WA.