Rebecca, an artist and mother of two lively teenagers, had an initially undiagnosed cerebral haemorrhage when she was in her early fifties. However she made a miraculous recovery after having been paralyzed on the left side from the neck down. When she was back home a very good physiotherapist helped her out of the wheelchair and supported Rebecca’s attempts to teach herself to walk on crutches which were later replaced by two sticks. During the next two years Rebecca had intermittent hydrotherapy and physiotherapy with the main emphasis on rediscovering her centre, regaining balancing skills, and learning to avoid the danger of tripping over the still dragging left foot.
She described her experience in a little article entitled Hydrotherapy and Feldenkrais on Air:
“I was very lucky to have a wonderful, sensitive, and capable physiotherapist, who gave me confidence and courage to trust my own awareness as she taught me to sense how my body was moving in space.
She also informed me about the Feldenkrais Method and suggested it as the next step, after the course of physio treatment had been completed. I have found this Method extremely useful in further raising the level of my awareness and especially in terms of finding my own centre, balancing, and becoming conscious of connections between the different parts of my body as they participate in movement.
One session brought back memories of the hydrotherapy experience which had been so helpful to me earlier on:
The warm water was lovely and relaxing. I especially enjoyed the “seaweeding” and floating. At first I could not float and kept tipping to the left. This got better slowly as the sessions progressed. One of the difficulties I encountered was that, even though I enjoyed being held by the head and gently moved through the water, I found that after a relatively short time my neck would get really tense and I would have to take a break and try to relax my neck and shoulder muscles. The hydrotherapy sessions were very useful and enjoyable, but also tiring. I found it always quite an effort to get to the hospital, undress, and get in and out of the pool.
Supported everywhere, I could feel tensions in my body ebbing away...
When my Feldenkrais teacher asked me one day to lower myself onto a series of egg-shaped physio balls held firmly together by blankets I had slight doubts about how I could do that and how I would eventually get off again. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem since my trust in her ingenuity is total, but in my own mind I couldn’t quite see how it could be achieved. In the event it was so easy and smooth!
Once I was lying on the air cushions I felt extremely comfortable, safe, and relaxed. Supported everywhere, I could feel tensions in my body dissolving, ebbing away, although there were still painful knots in my neck.
It felt like floating without making any effort to keep myself afloat. Small movements, for instance work on my foot, would send ripples of movement right to the top of my head. It seemed to me that the connections and pathways of movement through the body were gradually getting clearer.
I felt at peace and wished I could lie like this more often, being gently moved and rocked.
After the session I felt more centered, but also had to get used to the weight of my limbs and get over the initial light-headedness, followed later, when I was back home, by tiredness. I always feel after these sessions that part of their effectiveness gets wiped out by having to rush around immediately afterwards, dealing with the demands of ordinary life instead of easing oneself back into it more gently.
Despite that, over the next few days areas of tension, stiffness, and heaviness disappeared until one day about a week later I suddenly realised that I was walking much more easily and with a lighter step. It is not always easy to maintain this improvement but overall after several of these sessions on “Air” there was a lasting change.
Comparing “Feldenkrais on Air” and Hydrotherapy I would point out two things in particular.
The effort and time involved in attending a Hydrotherapy session is considerable compared to a Feldenkrais session floating on air, since getting undressed, in and out of the water, and then dressed again is in itself both time consuming and rather tiring. Even if you are gently moved in warm water, tension in the neck seems to be unavoidable. Such tension hardly arises when floating on air, and residual tension tends to begin to ebb away as soon as one feels how gently, and at the same time securely, the entire body is supported from head to foot.
'Floating on Air': more pleasant, less tiring than Hydrotherapy - and as effective