Try the Feldenkrais Method: for when you are sick and tired, of being sick… and tired.

White woman in a blue sweater takes pills & is holding a cup of tea. She is looking to the right. Includes article title
Try the Feldenkrais Method: For When You Are Sick & Tired of Being Sick…& Tired

“Sick and tired…” It is a cliche phrase used so often to describe anything from being fed up with something to actual illness. For those of us living with disabilities and chronic pain or illness, it is not unusual to mutter, “I am sick and tired…of being sick, and tired.” It is often said in frustration, sometimes followed with one of those weary, wry smiles that doesn’t quite make it all the way to our eyes.

While much of the tired is physical fatigue suffering due to the link between pain, loss of sleep, and depression — in varying order depending on person and condition — there is also significant exhaustion in trying to make our voices heard, to get doctors to register that our pain, our exhaustion, and our need to feel better is not a simple fix, is serious, and is not drug seeking behavior. This lack of being taken seriously is even more pervasive for women, BIPOC, and folks in lower socioeconomic circumstances. Also frustrating is when the disability leads to clinical obesity. At that point regardless of what other medical situations may exist, all that many doctors seem to want to talk about is weight loss.

In order to lose weight, I need the energy to move more, which is hard to do with chronic fatigue and chronic pain. It started to look like returning to full-time non-profit work was not going to happen, especially in the age of Covid-19. I started looking for work I could do part time contracting out of my home, so that commutes were not as much of an issue, and started working in education and in social media outreach. That is when I met Igor Shteynberg. He is a Feldenkrais Method practitioner out of New York City that was looking for someone to help manage his social media to increase his outreach, as his practice shifted online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

My first thought was what the heck is the Feldenkrais Method? Followed by some rapid research. I love movement practices — I used to be an avid student of Yoga and Tai Chi, but as a historian and anthropologist, I always worried about the cultural appropriation and whitewashing often involved in the way these subjects are taught. They are often stripped of spiritual and cultural significance, and the classrooms aren’t always very diverse, especially in Yoga. Feldenkrais, however, while it does draw from other movement practices as Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais was an avid martial artist, is something different. It is a method that is more modern and humanistic, and does not seem to stem from another culture’s religious and cultural practices.

The message really appealed to me… that by developing self awareness through slow, gentle, small movements, you can reduce pain and improve your balance mentally and physically. No new age white light business, just simple, small movements that I was easily able to do at my size and health…but surely it was too good to be true, right? It couldn’t be that easy….could it?

Igor and I met over Zoom and started working together, and part of the arrangements involved me taking lessons from him both for my own benefit, but also to give me an appreciation for what it actually involved. I have studied a number of martial arts and dances over the years, and am familiar with many forms of holistic and natural healing. I went into this with a fairly open mind, tempered with heavy skepticism. Studies have shown mixed results as to whether or not this would work. Igor told me that I didn’t need to believe him that it would work, I just needed to try it.

So I did, feeling a little self-conscious about my less than immaculate apartment, my size, my awkwardness in getting down to the floor. I lay down, and we shared some laughs over Zoom as my cat and dog kept thinking it was either play time or cuddle time. Igor was very non-judgmental. The Feldenkrais Method calls on people to meet themselves where they are. There is no desperate comparing yourself to other people in the class while desperately trying to attain a difficult posture. There are no set poses. Sometimes the movements are so small, that it is more imagining yourself moving to activate those muscles than actually moving a perceptible amount.

Our sessions tend to be brief due to my energy levels, the average is about 20 minutes. They start with me sitting or laying down, attending to my breathing and my body’s contact with the floor. Every step or motion Igor asks me to make is an invitation. The movement I am invited to do can be skipped if it is uncomfortable, or if I just don’t feel like doing that. There is no pressure to “obey” or even continue. Each movement is slowed, minimized, and he asks me to focus, or attend, to how my body responds: what moves first, how things are connected. Igor, in the truest spirit of his practice, meets and accepts his students as they are. If I get tired, or run low on energy, I simply let him know — our lessons could be 10 minutes or 30 minutes and he never pushes me to continue. When I say I am done, he has me pay attention to my breathing and when I am ready to stand and see how I feel.

Years ago I had injured my knee, and I have lingering pain from it. It makes it hard to stand for long. He asked me to stand at the end of the first lesson and my weight was more evenly distributed — I felt more solid on my feet than I have in a really long time. Igor explained that sometimes we learn to move differently after an injury, and long after it has healed as well as it is going to, we still move with the adaptations we made to accommodate the injury or pain. By exploring movement in a slow, gentle, and nonjudgmental way, we allow our brain and nervous system to re-learn how to move and work together, and movement habits that contribute to inefficient or painful movement can change to be more balanced and smooth. In the two or three months we have been working together, I have vastly decreased my intake of NSAIDS and Tylenol for pain. I did not expect the benefits, if any, to show so quickly.

There are also emotional benefits as well as physical. The year 2020 has been emotional upheaval after upheaval. In my 20 minute sessions, it seems like time slows down and dilates. In those moments, I am so focused inward on how my body is moving, it is a respite from the 24–7 news cycle, the next scandal, the next outrage. Out of all of the methods of self care that I have tried this year, this is the one that has surprisingly shown itself to have the most noticeable and lasting impact on my stress, grief, and frustration.

The other major emotional benefit I found from Feldenkrais was the greater ability to embrace and be kind to myself. So many of the self improvement mantras out there try to help you fix what is wrong, while Feldenkrais teaches you to embrace what is right, to have childlike wonder at your body’s ability to move, to befriend yourself and trust in your own healing potential. In essence, Feldenkrais teaches that you are enough.

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Museum Professional, Historian, Narcoleptic writing about life.

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