Gladys was in her early seventies when she came for her first Feldenkrais session. At seventy nine she is still coming once a week and swears that nothing has ever helped her as much as the Feldenkrais Method - and in particular Feldenkrais on Air. I sometimes wonder whether I would ever have kept developing the Air Table if this frail little lady with all her pains and sorrows – and all her courage and determination to help herself - had not appeared on my doorstep one day.
Gladys’s six children, she once said, “don’t ever remember me without pain”. That five of them live with their families in far-away countries is a source of great sadness to her. Ever since the visit to a daughter in New Zealand nearly sixteen years ago Gladys has suffered from a condition ultimately diagnosed as “long distance economy flight syndrome”, manifesting in excruciating nerve pain in legs and feet. In recent years morphine has helped her get some sleep at night.
Long before she resorted to such a powerful drug she had allowed herself to be talked into having a spinal operation “because the quality of my life was so poor... They fused some vertebrae at the base of my spine. But it didn’t work at all. The surgeon was very upset and disappointed and sent me to a neurologist who said I had ‘restless leg syndrome’ and there was nothing you could do about that.” A heart operation in which the breastbone was cut open had left Gladys even more traumatised. Progressively deteriorating bone density due to osteoporosis also had to be taken into account. To begin with I hardly knew even how to help Gladys get comfortable, but this challenge became a source of inspiration.
When I asked her in 2000 what she found particularly good about the Feldenkrais Method, Gladys didn’t hesitate for a second:
“What I get from you and the balloon things that you put me on is this fantastic support in every part of my body ... When I am on those bubbles I let go of all this tension and probably all that anger. Immediately! Totally! I’ve only got to get on the air table and the nerve ends all stop jittering; and I think the blood then circulates extremely well, the oxygen goes to all the nerve endings and releases them...”
I come out feeling more confident
“I feel almost like being in the womb... like being on a cloud, I think. I feel as if I could go up into the sky...where there is no pain...there’s no separation, and you are not aware of the world outside this being supported on a cloud and wow! It’s floating away...But I never feel I’m getting lost. I feel grounded. I find myself very grounded and utterly safe...Totally and utterly safe... I come out feeling more confident, more: life as a whole isn’t so bad and you’ll cope...And it gives me self-esteem which I lack – I can loose it so quickly...”
The cumulative effect of these sessions was described by Gladys as follows: “It’s made me grow up in that I can cope with what I have to cope with so much better. I do not feel so alone in this world, and it gave me a sort of awareness that the pain can go away, which I’ve never had before, which is just amazing!...
I always tried to be perfect... Your treatment involves learning to experience yourself differently ... It’s relearning! ...relearning the messages up the spinal column to the brain...
There’s tremendous understanding and allowing me to be myself. I think you gave me that too, and hope which I didn’t have before...This being totally myself with you – because with most people we put on another side a little bit, we all do...you can’t help it. But I don’t have to do that because I feel in tune with you.”
A few years after we started working together Gladys broke one of her ribs while bending too forcefully over a wooden contraption in her yoga class. About the same time she was further traumatised by a second heart operation, during which more wire was added to what had been put in her sternum the first time round. The occasionally severe breathing problems did not clear up after the operation as she had hoped.
Very recently she told me why she had refused to have physiotherapy once she left hospital and instead got straight back on her supportive cloud in order to learn something about helping herself breathe more freely again:
“They said – and I have heard that before, even in my yoga class – ‘Put the brain where the pain is and get on with it!’ Talking down to an old person as if you were a naughty child is so stupid! I kept hearing things like ‘Be prepared to put up with the pain, else you’ll never improve! Come on, make a little effort, be a good girl, show the right attitude!’ It’s so demeaning to be told that when you make the effort of coming for rehabilitation!”
How to deal with the torment of Irritable Leg Syndrome
In October 2006, after the summer holiday both Gladys and I were glad to resume our regular sessions. Gladys, who had a hip operation half a year ago and turned 80 last May, was very eager to tell me what she had discovered during my absence:
We thought that discovery worth sharing with other sufferers and therefore let a little tape recorder run while Gladys told me about a very helpful way of using her small EGGball (45cm max. diam.), thus adding to the many ingenious ways she has found to ease discomfort and pain and increase mobility. She just sits on the ball as shown in the photo. This was taken after exploring how to support her back in order to increase her comfort and give her some feedback when adding some simple movements to her daily self-help routine for which she now feels ready. Here is a description of what she has done until now. I sit with my hands very relaxed like that ... very much as in a Zen Buddhist meditation. I think it’s a mental thing: You know that you’ve got something you can do as soon as you feel it coming: You are half way there as soon as you get on your bubble...because you know or you tell yourself that it is going to work.
I do this about eight o’clock in the evening. As soon as I feel this discomfort coming and my legs start getting twitchy, I straightaway put a blanket on my bubble for warmth and get onto it with my legs back. That calms the legs down virtually immediately. I also sit on my bubble first thing in the morning because I am always very bad then; my back is painful and my legs hurt when I get out of bed.
Usually I stay on it for about half an hour. The pain and irritation have definitely gone in that time. I can actually feel all the muscles and everything just let go and relax. I say to myself “SINK!” I say just one word: “SINK ...SINK”... You then feel yourself sink into the bubble. It’s so wonderful that I found that out! After all this time! It’s ridiculous! IT’S SO SIMPLE!
That fantastic support in every part of my body & How to deal with the torment of Irritable Leg Syndrome