Julie Francis is a Feldenkrais® practitioner whose practice has been deeply informed by her own life experiences. She first discovered the Method in her search for new ways to improve the quality of life of her daughter who has cerebral palsy. She soon discovered that the practice also had great personal benefits; she tamed several years of sciatic pain, recovered from a back injury, and used the new awareness she had gained to persevere in the face of a life-threatening illness. Then in 2013, Julie suffered a concussion, which resulted in difficulties with balance, memory, word recall and focus, and also led to recurring migraines. The Feldenkrais Method® has been central to her recovery and resilience. Julie regularly draws on the lessons of her own experience as she teaches.
Your workshop, “Keep Calm and Move On” is one of the events at the 2016 Feldenkrais Method Conference that is open to the general public. Who did you create this workshop for and what can participants expect to take home with them?
Have you ever said to a friend, “I'm so stressed out”? If so, then this workshop is for you!
The complexities of modern life take a toll. I see it every day in my practice and in my own life. There's so much that needs to be done to simply maintain the status quo. Add to that the impact of illness, finances, caring for loved ones...and you can see pretty quickly that life adds up to a lot of stress!
Not that stress is bad - it can actually be a positive force. My favorite definition of stress is the one Kelly McGonigal uses in her book, The Upside of Stress, “Stress is what arises when something you care about is at stake. It is a biological state designed to help you learn from experience.”
Learning is the essence of the Feldenkrais Method. I'm focused on offering people real-life applications for the Feldenkrais philosophy. I want to make the idea of “learning how to learn” more accessible to people. I want to help people understand that they have options.
At the end of the workshop, participants will leave with a tool kit of ideas and simple actions to take whenever they feel like it's all getting to be too much. We will focus on movement-based strategies that help to calm the nerves and keep you humming along. Whenever I teach this material participants comment on how they have found it useful for dealing with health issues, family issues, stress at work, coping with the death of a spouse and many other situations.
On my website, I have a page called “calm your nerves” where I offer many simple stress-reduction strategies. I've also created a book as a companion to the workshop that covers some of the same material along with other ideas for dealing with stress. It will be available in the conference bookstore.
The Feldenkrais Method has a wide variety of applications. How did you come to be so interested in the subject of stress?
In my practice, I partnered with a psychologist for a number of years, seeing the same clients and collaborating on their treatment. Together we worked with a lot of people with trauma and dissociative disorders. I found myself constantly reading about stress, especially research on how stress affects us, and methods to combat stress. Along the way, I discovered many things that explain why the Feldenkrais Method can be so effective for dealing with stress.
At heart, I'm both very practical and essentially lazy. Who isn't?! I found myself asking: what happens when someone doesn't have the time or the inclination to get on the floor for 45 minutes? What can they do to help themselves when they are in their car, in the middle of a meeting, or find themselves in some other situation where they are under pressure?
As adults, sometimes we take things very seriously. I want to show people that building their self-awareness and shifting their relationship with stress doesn't have to be approached like it's deadly serious. For instance, I often hear people say that meditation is really hard. Really? You're just sitting there! It's when we try to “make” it into something in our minds that we make it hard.
Developing a practice of mindfulness is one of the gifts I gleaned from years of doing Feldenkrais Method lessons. It is a source of great comfort to me, and a path to greater ease. The truth is that we can be mindful - and have fun - and that makes it much easier to make it a part of your life.
After sustaining a concussion, I found that I had to change my approach to a lot of things, including how I practice Awareness Through Movement®. Some days, a whole lesson is way too much for me. I'm still recovering and some times even just a few minutes is enough to help me keep my balance and do the things I need to do.
I want to show people how they can take ideas from the Method and continue learning between classes or private sessions. And I don't mean by giving “homework” – which most people tend to approach as exercise or a “to do” – but, rather, I want to empower people with the idea that “here is something I can play with.” It isn't about working - it's about observation, exploration, learning, playing, and finding more freedom.
How do you see your workshop as relating to this year's conference theme: The Tipping Point – Propelling the Feldenkrais Method into the Mainstream?
Mindfulness matters. It's hot right now and rightly so. Practicing mindfulness changes everything; it puts the life back into existence. The Feldenkrais Method, with its focus on small, simple, easy and elegant, is the most natural and joyful way I've found to put mindfulness into practice in my own life. I'd like to empower others to do the same.
Seth Dellinger is a certified Awareness Through Movement® teacher, a 4th-year student in the Feldenkrais Training Program of Baltimore with David Zemach-Bersin, central organizer of the DC Feldenkrais Festival, and writes a regular blog at www.MoveLikeAChild.wordpress.com.