Moving Through Grief and Loss with the Feldenkrais Method
Thursday, August 10, 2017
by: MaryBeth Smith, GCFP

Section: Stress

On December 22, 2016, I was having a rough time. A month earlier, I had moved to a new apartment by myself, ending an 11-year-long domestic partnership. The excitement over my newfound freedom was short-lived, however, because my former partner died, suddenly and unexpectedly, on December 5. With the Christmas holidays right around the corner, I struggled to “keep it together.”
As the days turned into weeks, I thought I was doing fine, or perhaps as well as could be expected. I certainly felt deeply sad and distracted, which I thought was normal. My private Feldenkrais® practice, with a busy schedule of classes and lessons, filled the time productively and provided a welcome focus. I felt "afloat," not drowning or lost. Yes, perhaps I was doing better than expected! However, my usual energy was in short supply. Upon returning home after work each day, I collapsed, exhausted, to "veg out" in front of the TV until an early bedtime. I also experienced irritability and apathy toward virtually everything except my clients and students.
What was special about December 22? That was the day that I received an email from the Feldenkrais Guild®’s Feldenkrais Conference Committee, in the form of a request for conference proposals. One sentence flew off the screen: "Focus on addressing the preparation and organization necessary to move easily with power, grace and reversibility."
"Well, shit," I thought. "I got nuthin'."
As I reviewed the last few weeks, that certainly seemed true. Anger and tears welled up. My current experience was the opposite of what was being asked. Feeling completely unprepared, disorganized, powerless, and graceless in the face of the irreversibility of death, I sobbed.
I came back to that email a few days later. It was undeniable that despite my evening exhaustion, I felt restored and renewed while preparing and teaching my Awareness Through Movement® classes at Houston's Jung Center. And then it hit me: perhaps the Feldenkrais Method® was like a Jungian “shadow,” the yang to my yin, the zig to my sad zag. What I lacked, the values and ideals of the Method could provide.  As a Feldenkrais teacher, I already knew that the Method was about much more than simply lying on the floor and relaxing. Could the Feldenkrais Method help me to move more easily through the grieving process?
I thought of one of my favorite clients. She had attended my class at the Jung Center regularly, then dropped off the radar for a few years. She called one day, out of the blue, to explain that she had moved to another city for an extended period to care for her adult son, who had recently died from brain cancer. She said, “I'm not sure what I need, but I sense that I need to be doing some Feldenkrais with you.” I was not sure what to do, other than simply teach Functional Integration® lessons, and to be a concerned and present witness for her. Three years later, she is still my regular client. She is thriving and creating new possibilities for herself. I have learned so much from her! She credits the Feldenkrais Method as vital for healing her broken heart and her life. With her experience as a guide for my own process, I began to practice the Method with new attention.
In time for the deadline, I submitted my proposal and had a purpose to guide my practice and study over the coming months. “When You Are Moving Through Grief and Loss” was accepted for the 2017 Feldenkrais Conference.
The full-day workshop will include several Awareness Through Movement lessons, along with some brief writing processes which I found to be very helpful in dealing with the day-to day challenges of grief. The workshop is not psychotherapy, nor is it a grief support group. It is a movement workshop designed to improve one's ability to function. As part of my own process, and in preparation for this presentation, I learned about the neurological and physiological effects of grief. I found that, rather than trying to find lessons FOR (to fix) grief and loss, it was better to think of the functions I wished to improve. Effective strategies for resilience and recovery are embedded in each lesson! As I embraced the experience of grief in its totality, my practice of the Method helped me to accept my whole self, moving, thinking, feeling, and sensing. Gradually, I was able to manage my anxiety in social situations, pace my energy expenditures in action and engagement throughout the day, and to give myself time, acceptance, and humor in the process.
Regularly, I tell students that the Feldenkrais Method is a deep well, from which one can draw as much as desired. As I viewed each lesson through the lens of resilience and recovery, and allowed metaphors to arise from the evocative movements (grounding, balance, falling, reaching out, picking myself up, etc.), my mind began to clear and my spirits began to lift. A lesson for back pain, for sensing the skeleton, for sitting comfortably, can just as easily be “for” grief. It all depends on where you put your attention during the lesson. The well was deep indeed.
When I was struggling in my grief process, my intuition told me to get on the floor and “do some Feldenkrais.” I didn't know how wiggling on the floor could possibly help to lift my sadness, ease my anxiety, and restore my confidence and balance. I simply sensed that I needed to make time to pay attention, and to learn anew about the universal experience of grief and loss. Through months of gentle practice, I know that a grief process takes as long as it takes. With the Feldenkrais Method, my aching heart is finding new ways to open again.

Join MaryBeth on Friday, August 25 in Seattle, Washington for her workshop, "When You are Moving through Loss and Grief."

Check out all the workshops we are offerings during the 2017 Feldenkrais Conference, August 23-27!

MaryBeth Smith, GCFP, (Feldenkrais Center of Houston) has lived long enough to experience grief and loss. Recently, she actively used the Feldenkrais Method to navigate a complicated grief process. She is eager to share her story and to inspire others to find their own way of healing.
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Comments (3)
Wally Walsh
8/11/2017 11:53:24 PM
Thanks for writing this article. I was in my 2nd year of training when I received a phone call saying my father was dying. The things I was learning about the Method absolutely helped me navigate his death more gracefully and helped me to be more balanced and emotionally well equipped to deal with loss.

Annie Gottlieb
8/11/2017 3:50:05 PM

8/11/2017 2:19:52 PM
Thanks MaryBeth! Just today I had an experience during ATM that allowed an extremely important message that simultaneously eased MUCH pain in my right shoulder and in my heart!!!
Illumination of cause of shoulder pain was somewhat an intention of choosing that lesson- the messages from/ for the heart will hopefully make ALL my days easier.
I am grateful to the Method for so much wisdom and capabilities it has revealed to me .
Good luck w your presentation at the conf and in your years ahead .
It just Makes Sense!

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