Bringing Feldenkrais Care to Caregivers
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
by: Ira Feinstein, MFA

Section: Professional Develpment

Welcome to our first Practitioner Spotlight!
FGNA's member practitioners are working hard to bring the benefits of the Feldenkrais Method® to their local communities. Practitioner Spotlight, a new feature of In Touch, was created to raise awareness about the exciting projects our members are working on.

Nancy Gayle Judson, GCFP, and Annie Gottlieb, Member Trainee, are working to bring the Feldenkrais Method to a group that desperately needs it: caregivers. How did they come to realize that this group needed help? You'll have to read the interview to find out!

IT: How did you come to enter a professional Feldenkrais® training?
AG: I’m about to be in my third training. I first entered a training in 2002. What brought me to it was a strange chain of events. By chance, I met a Feldenkrais practitioner. He made the back pain I’d had for a year vanish with one FI® demonstration. It wasn’t even really a full-fledged lesson. He just said, “Do you want to see what I do?” I was interviewing his wife, who had also been in a Feldenkrais training. She was leading a body-image workshop and I was interviewing her for a women’s magazine. This practitioner had a miraculous effect on me, so I became very interested. I’d already bought the book Awareness Through Movement years before at a used-book sale and I sort of put it away, but something had attracted me to it. So, I started my first training in 2002. At that point, my husband was getting ill. He had a neurological illness, so I had to drop out [of the training] after two years because he was falling and I couldn’t leave him alone. 
After he died in late 2010, I started another training, but I was called away from that one to take care of my parents—I am sort of a serial caregiver. I am getting back into training in year three in September and I’m going to be finishing with New York City VI. So, basically, it was a matter of someone having a very miraculous effect on me. His name was Bill Hutchinson.
NJ: I heard about the Feldenkrais Method® when I was a dance major in 1976. Dr. Feldenkrais was still around and my college professors said that they didn’t really know much about the Feldenkrais Method but they gave us two days worth of learning about the method and it really had an impact on me. I remember coming away feeling that I learned something about trust. Still, I didn’t pursue it. I just put it on the back burner. 
Many years later, I became a children’s movement teacher in the schools. I did that for fifteen years and began to feel like there was more I needed to learn. It just so happened that I was at a think tank type of event and Anat Baniel was there. She was presenting the Feldenkrais Method. She told me she was teaching an advanced training; I could come observe. So I did that, and I took her ATM® class, and I went home and I said to myself, “Wait. I’ve done these movements for a zillion years. What’s different about this?” I’d had a completely different experience than ever before. I felt really good when I finished the class but not that exhausted feeling I had begun to have post-exercise. I drew the conclusion that it had something to do with the lesson being so slow and that Anat was talking so much during the pauses between the movements. Since I lived in NY, I joined David [Zemach-Bersin]’s training the following month. I had been looking to expand my learning about movement and was even enrolled in a dance movement therapy program, but I decided that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in and that the Feldenkrais Method spoke more profoundly to me. 
IT: How do you two know each other? How did you learn about your shared interest in bringing the Feldenkrais Method to caregivers?
AG: I was back in New York for the summer and I was cramming in as much Feldenkrais learning as I could. Nancy was offering a once-a-week mentorship program, so I attended that and that’s how we met. 
I brought up the fact that [the Feldenkrais Method] had saved me from injury as a caregiver. I weigh about 110 and my husband weighed about 275 lbs. I’d taken care of him pretty much alone. I helped him go up four flights of stairs to our walk-up apartment until he couldn’t anymore, helped him transfer, helped him get up off the floor, and I never hurt myself. The reason I never hurt myself was that I had gotten into a Feldenkrais training. I told Nancy that I wanted to turn the experience into something that could be given to caregivers. Nancy was interested because her mother had been a caregiver, as had some of her clients. 
NJ: In addition to that, before I came to work at the Feldenkrais Institute, I had my own practice up in Dutchess County, New York. I was traveling to different people’s homes. There was one person I was working with who had had a very severe stroke. She was someone who was taking my classes prior to her stroke. When she came back from vacation she contracted meningitis and while being transferred to another hospital she suffered a stroke. She ended up with aphasia as well as an impaired right arm and leg. I was training at the time and I volunteered to go to her nursing home twice a week and help. Later on, I also connected her with a practitioner and observed many of those lessons. Each time, at the end of the lesson, I observed how the caregiver interacted with the client. There was a disconnect because the caregiver was rushing her and trying to get her to do whatever it was that they needed her to do, and she was getting a very different message and kind of care from the practitioner. 
After four years she went home, and I would go to their home and watch different caregivers come in and out over the next several years. Then, they finally had one caregiver who stuck with them. She really believed in the method. I offered to teach her a session. She was very excited. We were able to fit in two FI [lessons]. Shortly after that, I ended up moving my practice. During the two sessions I had with this caregiver, we talked about the possibility and logistics of bringing this work to other caregivers. I thought about how every time I’d go into the nursing homes, I watched the way the caregivers were moving their patients and potentially injuring themselves. You could see that they were overworked and overwhelmed and they were trying to take the shortest route to get the job done… 
AG: …which turns out to be the longest (route). There are basically two problems caregivers have. First, they treat the person as an inanimate object, instead of engaging their nervous system to cooperate with them. Second, they really don’t know how the body works, how it’s connected, and what’s the easiest way to move oneself or another person. They don’t know the stuff that people involved with the Feldenkrais Method [find] really obvious. 
I once saw two hospice aides trying to turn my husband—a big, heavy guy with a big, heavy pelvis—with his legs long. I was astonished. It was so self-evident to me that if you bent the knees, the pelvis would be free. They tried to do it by main force, the hardest way. They just didn’t know that there was any other way. 
IT: You touched on this already, but I wonder if you want to expand on it: How do you think that caregivers can uniquely benefit from the Feldenkrais Method?
AG: It’s lifesaving for a caregiver. First, you don’t injure yourself. Second, in so far as you do suffer any kind of physical strain, you have a way of healing it. Third, you become more centered and calmer. You have a better relationship with the person you are taking care of because instead of wrenching them around and getting desperate, you can actually engage them and have them work with you, even if they are quite disabled. 
Improving the quality of the contact and the relationship is desperately needed because people get so frazzled. I am not saying I never got frazzled, but my training helped me to come back from that quickly and to remind myself to center and be gentle and tuned in to the other person. So, it’s both physical, practical—making the task easier and safer—and also stress-relieving. I think that is essential. You know, caregivers get sick and die sometimes before their charge does because they are so run ragged. From 2002-2004, my husband was progressing in his illness and we didn’t even know what it was yet and I was lying on the floor doing ATM (lessons) all day in my training and it really, really soothed me in a way that would have been unimaginable otherwise.
Most of us are likely to pass through this role sometime in our it is an enormous need, a huge population and very stressed, very much in need of support.
NJ: When I was teaching ATM classes in Poughkeepsie, New York, there were several people who were coming to my classes who were caregivers, and they just couldn’t wait to come to class each time. They said [the classes] were like a gift. They came every single time because they needed it so badly.
I was visiting someone up in Poughkeepsie just this year. A client I’d had called me and asked if I could help her husband, who was dying, be more comfortable while sitting in his reclining chair. My former client and her daughter were in the room with me while I was working with him. Her daughter said to me afterward that the session was so worthwhile—not only for her father but for her mother (the former client), because just being there in the presence of the lesson, the energy somehow allowed her to be calmer. I think she was feeling more embodied from just observing the interaction. 
AG: It’s very contagious.
NJ:….those mirror neurons!
IT: When it comes to the more practical side, do you have a mission/vision statement? Do you know if your business is going to be a nonprofit, Llc, or some other format? How did you do about choosing how to structure your business?
AG: We are still in process. 
NJ: Right now, we have a workshop that we’ve developed and a proposal for that workshop that we are sending out to caregiver organizations. I spoke to a couple of the organizations last week and they were very interested in having us come and present the workshop at their national conference. They also have support groups and respite events that they said they’d be interested in having us present at. There are different formats that we could plug into. Our first line of strategy is to bring awareness of the Feldenkrais Method to the caregiver community. Then, we would ideally like to teach the workshop to practitioners all over the country and have them contact their local caregiver organizations, nursing homes, or whatever facilities might be open to having them come and teach. 
AG: I also think that local hospices and maybe caregiver agencies might, particularly if a study could be done that could demonstrate the injury prevention potential of this, have budgets for inviting someone to come and teach this to their staff. It would save them money by preventing injury and outages.
NJ: We are also interested in applying for grants, for instance from AARP, and other caregiver organizations that provide funding, to further develop the workshop and then perhaps develop a study. And maybe even create a fund for caregivers who can’t afford to have FI lessons, so that they could get the FI benefits from the program. 
IT: How did you two go about creating the workshop? Did you test it out on people? What was the refinement process? 
AG: We’ve really only done pieces of it here and there with different people. We haven’t taught it yet. We’re going to pilot it probably this summer when I’m back in New York. 
NJ: We’ve designed the workshop. We’ve written it out and refined it in writing. We’ve also spoken with Deborah Bowes, who is a PT/Feldenkrais Practitioner out in California. She gave us some feedback. So now what we really want to do is teach the workshop and see how it plays out in the caregiver community. Then, that will be our refinement process—teaching it at caregiver national conferences, respite events, and support groups. 
AG: We are basically moving right now from the conceptual to the pilot phase.  
IT: What advice would you give your fellow Feldenkrais colleagues about creating their own workshops? What elements would you say are important for success in the process?
NJ: Sticking with your vision, being very clear early on, just like we do in FI [lessons], on what you want to do and then taking each moment as an approximation. Keep that vision of your ideal in your mind at the same time as you make one approximate step toward your goal, toward that vision. Keep going back and forth between the narrow focus and the longer, wider, more open focus. If you have an idea, try to envision who you are teaching, who you want to speak to, and what their needs are, and work backward from there.
AG: Having a clear sense of whom you are trying to reach. It doesn’t have to be dancers or older people, it could be just people who sit a lot in their jobs or people who commute. What is the specific gateway to the material you’re teaching? Somebody once said, “All ATM is the same ATM,” which really cracked me up because it all sort of leads to the same place, but where is the gateway? The gateway has to be defined. Then, they can get into that vast space no matter what. 
NJ: You have to know what you want to do in order to do what you want. Really, it’s very, very, true. Keep refining your vision of what you want to do, and keep remembering your passion for it and why you want to do it so that you continue to come from the same seed. 
IT: If any member practitioners wanted to contact you about this project how can they reach you?
AG: E-mail is probably the best bet because we might be hard to get by phone.
NJ: Our interest would be to start a list of practitioners who are interested in this workshop so that when the time comes to bring it to the larger Feldenkrais community, we will have a list of interested practitioners to start sending out information to. 
AG: We’d also be happy to just be in touch with people because they may have something to contribute.
IT: Is there anything that I haven’t asked or that we haven’t covered that you think is important for people to know about? 
AG: There is some staggering number of people in the United States* who are caring for family members, and that will only increase as the Baby Boom generation ages. Most of us are likely to pass through this role sometime in our lives, plus many more people will be needed to do caregiving work in a professional capacity, so it is an enormous need, a huge population and very stressed, very much in need of support. And I am sort of living proof. My husband was humongous and I am tiny and I took care of him alone for the better part of ten years and I did not hurt myself. People say, “How is it possible that you went through that and yet you are in such great shape and such good health, and that you aren’t limping around with a cane and a slipped disc or something?”
NJ: We are really excited to be doing this because there is a huge need out there and I think it would be great for the Feldenkrais community to be part of the solution for people.
AG: It is an enormous unmet need and we are in a unique position to fill it. We have something really clear-cut to offer, that is remarkably easily offered in this context. 
NJ: Basically it’s what we do as Feldenkrais practitioners: we are caregivers. When we offer FI [lessons], we are taking care of people. This really speaks to the heart of what we do. 
* According to The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2009), 65.7 million caregivers provide care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged.
Nancy Gayle Judson, M.S., GCFP, trained with David Zemach-Bersin and graduated from his Feldenkrais Professional Training Program in 2009. She is a full-time Faculty Practitioner at the Feldenkrais Institute. Before joining the Feldenkrais Institute, she taught the Feldenkrais Method throughout the Hudson Valley, NY. Nancy holds a Masters of Science degree in Early Childhood Education, with a concentration in movement education, from Bank Street College of Education, as well as a BFA in dance performance and choreography from the University of Illinois. For many years, she specialized in teaching young children in NYC schools about how to be better problem solvers and learners with the use of movement exploration and creativity. While bridging her work teaching children to the Feldenkrais Method, Nancy developed a deep appreciation for the connection between learning, moving, and self-growth. In her work as a Feldenkrais Practitioner, she has helped many people to gain greater balance and stability improve their mobility, reduce joint pain and develop a greater overall sense of well-being. Contact Nancy.

Annie Gottlieb, Member Trainee, is a veteran freelance writer and editor and a lifelong student of Kyokushin karate, in which she holds a first-degree black belt. Born in Chicago, she lives in New York City when she is not in Florida helping out her parents. Contact Annie.
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