On one of the coldest days in February 2017 I made the acquaintance of an extraordinarily self-possessed young woman. Mélanie, four months pregnant, was looking forward to escaping the Pyrenean winter by spending two months in Columbia with David, the future father of her son Isaiah. She didn’t let herself be scared by people telling her it was very irresponsible to expose herself and her baby to the dangers lurking in such a politically volatile country...
The day we had agreed for her to come for a Feldenkrais lesson, winter had struck. Ice and snow made moving around rather dangerous. Postponing the session until the roads were less treacherous was not feasible: “Tomorrow we’ll already be on our way to South America!”, Melanie told me when I phoned her. Their flight was scheduled to leave Barcelona the following evening; trains across the mountains were not running due to the danger of avalanches; they would have to leave early next morning by car. A friend was going to drive them to Barcelona airport. She assured me that she would manage to get to me, even if she should have to walk part of the way; and that’s exactly what she did.. .
Mélanie arrived more or less on time, looking relaxed and very happy to have made it despite the tricky road conditions. Everything about this beautiful person struck me as presenting the world with a model of what Moshe Feldenkrais had in mind when he developed his Method as a “Guide to Spontaneity”(the subtitle of his book The Potent Self).
What she hoped to get from just this one-off Functional Integration lesson was to learn how to deal with the unaccustomed sense of heaviness she was experiencing as her belly grew bigger. She also wondered how “to get in touch with the pelvic floor”. The perineum, she said, was a kind of terra incognita in her otherwise well developed body-map. She had spontaneously booked this “last-minute” session after hearing marvelous things about the « Supported-by- Air »approach to somatic learning in Feldenkrais, a method she had never come across previously.
Our investigations, both intense and playful, started with walking: first on a partially carpeted wooden floor, and then stepping onto minimally blown up inflatable balls – I call them “air hands” - lined up in front of her. Mélanie greatly enjoyed the sensation of her feet searching for the security of solid ground beneath the flattened balls . Walking once again without these air hands cushioning her steps, Mélanie was as surprised as I was: She now had the impression of being “incredibly light” and felt “like walking on air”.
What really struck her was a first glimpse of the extraordinary learning experiences made possible by lying on an “air-table”. Once she got onto it the session turned into a fascinating exploration of the issues she wished to clarify. Afterwards she reported that walking on solid ground had become even lighter and more fluid.
Returning to sit on a chair, Mélanie got an initial idea about how to mobilise her pelvis. The purpose of placing « air-hands » under right/left/or both ischia, was to help her explore all sorts of pelvic movements which started waking up her entire spine to its function of effortlessly carrying the growing weight and volume of her belly. She also discovered interesting aspects of the perineum that had hitherto been absent in her self-image.
Mélanie was adamant that David should not be summoned to drive her back into the valley, but gladly accepted being shown the beginning of a rather hidden public path along a little river which would safely take her back home. As we trudged downhill through deep snow, avoiding any icy patch, Mélanie was skipping along like a happy child. She told me in passing that she had thoroughly checked with the baby whether the South American adventure was going to be alright and learned that “he” positively wanted them to go. She was quite sure that she was going to give birth to a little boy. The following morning I received a call from Mélanie, already on the way to Barcelona, just to let me know that she still felt much lighter than for a long time, and that the little ball she had taken along as a special traveling companion was making the car journey very comfortable.
My name had been included in the list of friends Mélanie wanted to stay in touch with while exploring Columbia, so I received written reports and amazing photos documenting their wonderful adventure in a country that was just recovering from the trauma of years of untold violence. Everywhere Mélanie and David went, people received them with open arms. This young couple, and especially the apparently utterly fearless future mum, come from so far away, elicited much respect and admiration. Many of the people they met seemed to consider Melanie’s steadily rounding belly as a sign of hope for a better future in their own country.
On their return to France in late April, Melanie and David were rather disturbed by the absence of unconditional friendliness as experienced in Columbian villages and towns.
After the trauma of moving - into a house just 20 minutes on foot from the little hamlet where I live - Mélanie came for her second Feldenkrais session. This helped her find a more consciously caring relationship with herself, which she had lost during a few rather gruelling weeks of stress.
A few days after that session at the beginning of June, Mélanie sent me the following text :
A Session with Ilana
I went to that [first] session out of curiosity, looking forward to getting a sort of massage with inflatable balls. I was hoping to connect with my baby while being gently rocked, just like him in my belly, while lying on an air-mattress consisting of large balls. What I discovered was a completely new way of listening to my body, the capacity to sense, without outside guidance, where some of the discomfort and pain came from and how to alleviate that by very small movements. The session also allowed me to reconnect with my centre of gravity and learn to realign with it as my sense of the vertical kept changing in the course of pregnancy. I am convinced that this helped me to get through to the 8th month without experiencing any pain in the cervical, dorsal, or lumbar regions even though the volume of my belly was becoming increasingly impressive for a first pregnancy.
I have been developing my physical awareness for several years, first of all through sport and dance (contact and biodanza), and seeing an osteopath once a year. Since I experienced practically no discomfort whatsoever at the beginning of the pregnancy, I thought I really had no need for a Feldenkrais session with inflatable balls. However, thanks to those balls Ilana got me to feel my body as I had never felt it before. I found that I could let go of unsuspected tensions – just by placing one or two balls where there seemed to be a lack of connection, a kind of empty gap, no awareness… The impact of soft pressure on my body allowed me to realign my central axis without outer intervention. I came out of that session feeling relaxed and very happy to have discovered a few exercises that might help me work on alignment of my spine as well as on the still somewhat nebulous area of the pelvic floor, the perineum. But I also told myself that the benefits of that session would probably be quickly lost as in most cases when everyday life brings back misalignments of the spine.
Then I left for Columbia where I spent the 5th and 6th month of the pregnancy. The little inflatable ball in my luggage saved my life during all those long bumpy bus rides there. Slightly blown up, it relieved the hardness of the seat when placed under the sit-bones. More important still, it got me to mobilize my hips and pelvis and to sense how my spine undulated softly in response to the pleasantly air-cushioned jolts during the journey.
I walked a great deal in Columbia – usually with a big rucksack which tended to be rather heavy at times. This would certainly have been impossible without a refined sense of awareness that made me really listen to my body.
A month after returning from Columbia, moving house with all the attending problems and lack of time for the usual exercises, some sciatic pains appeared and I didn’t manage to rebalance my body. So I went back for another session. I also intended to work a little more on the pelvic floor as part of preparing for giving birth . Ilana assisted me to ‘get back into’ my body. I think that right ischium had gradually gone to sleep when I stopped doing any air-supported exercises sitting on the small ball. As a result I had lost practically all sensation of that part of the pelvis. A deflated ball placed underneath when sitting on a chair quickly brought it back to life. Similar strategies revived awareness for other areas. As if by magic my body seemed to begin changing during the session till finally the right ischium felt more clearly present than the left. Entirely guided by what I was sensing, a new equilibrium began to establish itself – assisted by just a little questioning and support from Ilana. Gaining a clearer sense of the perineum was part of this experience.
When I got home a process of recovering full sensation of the right buttock and sit-bone got under way. During the following few days the hip seemed to shift somehow, leaving slight sciatic discomfort, but hip movements became much freer. When I began exploring some Yoga postures again, this positive evolution became even more noticeable and within ten days the pain had disappeared completely.
On the basis of my personal experience I am convinced that - even in a single session – the intelligent use of inflatable balls enables the practitioner to rekindle a person’s bodily experience and a renewed sense of autonomy.
During the third and final session three weeks before Isaiah was born, Mélanie focused on becoming more sensitive and aware of her perineum, and also on finding the most comfortable position for giving birth. She had decided to have the baby at home under the auspices of an experienced midwife. However, since it was going to be her first child, Mélanie was advised by well-meaning people, including the medical staff at the local hospital where she had a check-up, to avoid any unforeseen complications by entrusting herself and the baby to people who had all the skill and all the equipment necessary to deal with such eventualities. Relying once again on her intuition, Mélanie managed to withstand the pressure she felt being exerted from various quarters, especially after the calculated date of delivery had passed. She continued quietly going about her days - with long walks in the company of her dog. She also continued to refine the most promising strategies she had discovered – such as sitting cross-legged with a small ball supporting her belly, inclining sideways against an EGGball (« very comfortable » see photo above) , and, most important of all, the possibility of actually lying on her back, provided she was adequatedly supported by the inflatables she had found most helpful (see 2nd photo). I lent her all the material she needed.
The baby eventually arrived - in just over 4 hours if I am not mistaken ; and three weeks after the great event I took a photo of mum and baby when Mélanie arrived in our little hamlet, having walked all the way carrying her son in a smart sling.
At present Mélanie finds the air-table she borrowed extremely useful for relaxation.
Discovering the Benefits of Feldenkrais and Inflatable Balls During Pregnancy
Intelligent body Flexible mind Appropriate action
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