“What my Body had been Waiting for” from an article by Penny Brohn (1943-1999), one of the three co-founders of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. The article was written at the end of 1993 and appeared in the Feldenkrais Journal U.K. in spring 1996. (For the complete text see Penny Brohn “What my Body had been Waiting for”)

BrohnIn May 1993 Penny had surgery to remove a malignant tumour from her spine. Later she wrote a wonderfully vivid article about her experience with the Feldenkrais Method. I will quote from this at some length because there could hardly be a better illustration of the effect – and the effectiveness – of this approach to rehabilitation:

My spine was now wired to two vertical metal rods and therefore a length of it just above my pelvis was now permanently fixed and rigid. The surgeon had done a wonderful job and he was justly proud of himself; the rest was up to me...Thanks to good advice and helpful guidance from the physiotherapists, by the time I left the hospital I could get out of bed and walk the length of the corridor to the bathroom unaided. Unfortunately, after a month back home, I could do very little more than this.

Certainly the installation of an extra handrail enable me to haul myself up and down the stairs and I learnt, by means of a rocking motion, to hurl myself out of chairs. But movements felt jerky and uncomfortable – goodness only knows what they looked like...

I felt stuck

I was becoming increasingly worried. I felt stuck. Nothing I did seemed to improve my progress any more. If I walked for any distance my back ached unbearably and standing for any length of time was impossible. One thing I could do was swim...but struggling in and out of my clothes was heartbreakingly difficult and many a tear was shed silently in the changing rooms. A follow-up visit to the surgeon revealed that he thought I was doing “brilliantly”. This was obviously encouraging in one way, but it was discouraging in another. Was this really the best I could do?...

A doctor friend of mine suggested I go for something called Feldenkrais. I was immediately enthusiastic to try this for the simple reason that I had never heard of it before and it would make a refreshing change to try a therapy I knew absolutely nothing about...

An unforgettable moment – I realised I was smiling

How to describe the wonder of that first treatment? Lying cushioned and comfortable on her couch, I felt Ilana hold my foot in her hand and move my little toe. In response to this tiny, barely perceptible movement, my whole body relaxed with a sigh of understanding. My body knew instantaneously that this was what it had been waiting for. For months I had felt like someone trapped alive in a tin box with the lid jammed tightly shut. I had pursued or experienced many things that had helped me feel slightly better about life inside the box, but now, for the first time, the lid of the box was opened, and I had an overwhelming sense of the possibility of being released from its confines. This was an extraordinary and unforgettable moment and I realised that I was smiling; more than that, I wanted to laugh out loud. In fact I have frequently found myself laughing during subsequent treatments. This is partly because the sensations are so pleasurable that I actively enjoy them, but also because that moment – that weird alerting little moment – when I find myself resisting or assisting some movement or another is itself inherently funny. This is an amusing process. Anything that shows you how frequently you collude with the painful, inefficient, unproductive way of doing something is pretty witty. These were the old patterns, developed and practised over so many years, small wonder I kept endlessly repeating them, even when they no longer worked for me.

Exploring new frontiers to find new ways of doing the same old things

The trick now was to suspend those old processes and allow my body the opportunity to explore new ones. I could feel Ilana gently questioning my body – “Do you want to do it like this? Or like this?” “How does this feel?” – at the same time offering alternatives and different possibilities. In this way the three of us probed and explored new frontiers to find new ways of doing the same old things.

I left that first session with an all-pervading sense of well-being and the certain knowledge that my horizons were already much greater than the four walls of the box.

Without thinking I did something I had not been able to do for months

I floated back to my car and, without thinking and completely automatically, I did something I had not been able to do for months – I put my left foot into the car and the rest of me followed. I was so surprised I had to sit there quite a while and absorb this. What happened to lowering – myself – carefully – into – the – seat – and – heavily – lifting – my – legs – in – after – me? Gone forever hopefully, along with all the lurching, hurling, and hauling. I had my best week for a long time...”

I stopped bullying myself ... and concentrated instead on my new found sensitivity

Summarising the learning experience of subsequent weeks and months Penny wrote:

“If there was one thing the Feldenkrais experience had taught me it was to listen to my body, not my will, and it would find that way without urging or forcing. Indeed any urging or forcing would be totally counter-productive. I stopped bullying myself with the discipline of the tapes (guided “exercises”) and concentrated instead on my new-found sensitivity and body awareness. When I became conscious of pain or discomfort I would try out various small adjustments to my posture: was it better if I shifted more of my weight onto this hip? What would happen if I used a cushion to rest my head at a different angle? Exploring different possibilities gently in this way helped to reinforce the knowledge that there is no right way, but there may be a way that works. Most important of all – the way that feels best is the way to go.

I am slowly becoming at one with my body

Forget “No Pain No Gain”; this is a way of making progress through pleasure. The body enjoys sliding into that moment of rightness, of opening up, of effortlessness and it will understandably choose to do that again and again if we let it.

Every successive hour of treatment reinforces in me a sense of potential and freedom. It is even possible for me to feel supple, which is not what you might expect for someone with metal rods in her spine. I walk further and stand for longer and most of the things I do are accomplished less clumsily and more comfortably, but perhaps even more important than this is the feeling that I am slowly becoming at one with my body. The damage and the wounds that were initially so dislocating are being gradually integrated into a new pattern. This will inevitably have its limitations but it feels exciting and creative and I am finally out of the tin box.

Rehabilitation after a Spinal Operation