How I Became a Feldenkrais Practitioner

Hi! I'm Rachel. I live in Seattle, and I adore countless things about it, but most especially how stunningly beautiful it is on a sunny day, any time of year. I'm a movement nerd, an avid blues dancer, one of those people who can't stand e-readers because she craves the feeling and smell of a real book, a coffee drinker (but never Starbucks - proof of a true Seattle coffee snob), and an introvert who loves people. 

I was born with bilateral hip dysplasia. In a nutshell, that means that my hip sockets developed in a way that would not give me the support needed to learn how to walk without surgery or braces. Most people born with hip dysplasia are ready to go after some early intervention, but my situation was more complicated. As I grew up, my hip development continued to veer from the norm.

 A is a normal hip socket. B-D are the varying degrees of dysplasia. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

A is a normal hip socket. B-D are the varying degrees of dysplasia. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

This is where my connection to Feldenkrais started. When I was about 7, my parents noticed that my walking was starting to change for the worse. My mom had found herself a Feldenkrais practitioner a couple of years earlier, and decided to schedule a few Functional Integration lessons for me. A couple of memories stuck with me from those lessons. I remember how playful my practitioner was with me and how much fun the lessons were, and I remember being at school and practicing swinging my arms when I walked. An oddly specific memory, I know, but minds are funny that way sometimes.

Side note: Did you know that we swing our arms because we crawl as babies? When you crawl, your left arm and right leg move forward, then your right arm and your left leg move forward, cementing an early cross-body movement pattern in your body and brain, the same one you use in walking. Those of us who missed out on crawling, due to braces, casts, or simply not having enough floor time as babies, do not have that early pattern imprint.

2nd and 3rd grade passed without incident, but between 4th and 5th grade my development turned again and I began to experience intense knee pain. My parents took me back to my practitioner to see what she had to say, and her response was, "Something is very wrong structurally. Go get an x-ray." A month before my 11th birthday, I went back in for surgery.

Unfortunately, what should have been a routine surgery with a quick recovery time turned into a fiasco with a years-long recovery time. Everything I did hurt, and physical therapists didn't know what to do with me, so back I went to my Feldenkrais practitioner. She had a different way of working than the physical therapists - a way of listening to my body to see what I needed instead of giving me the usual set of exercises that would follow the kind of surgery I had. I ended up working with her on a weekly basis throughout middle school and high school, slowly working my way from being stuck on two crutches, to one crutch, to a walking stick, to free walking, to dancing, and off to college.

She helped me gain awareness of how I was walking, why I was in pain, and what I could do about it. For example, trying to never put any significant amount of weight into one leg and hip is not a very effective way of walking. By avoiding my right leg, I walked with a strange limp, had some serious muscle atrophy in my right leg, and drastically overworked my left leg. She taught me (very patiently, I might add, despite my best efforts to be a disengaged teenager) how to shift my weight and find stability and strength in the right side of my body. By the time I left for college, I still had a limp and some pain, but had strategies in place for dealing with both. 

After graduating from college, I moved to Seattle. A few months after getting a job as a preschool teacher (a very physically active job that I was proud to be able to do), I got an email from my practitioner. It went something like this...

I know you haven't gotten to do much Feldenkrais because of being in school,
so now that you've got the time, there's a weekend workshop happening in Seattle
that you might want to check out.

Of course, it wasn't just any workshop. It was the preview workshop for a professional Feldenkrais training, a very sneaky move on her part. I attended, and by the end of the first very emotional day, I had decided that I needed to take the training and pick up where I left off in high school. It was entirely a gut response to the weekend. I couldn't tell you at the time why I needed to do it, I just knew that it needed to happen. I needed to understand more about this method that had played such an important role in my life.

If you're curious about my experience during the training process, I kept a blog for most of it and you're welcome to hop over and read it. Beware, it was a roller coaster ride.

 Learning how to give a Functional Integration lesson. (Photo courtesy of Angel Di Benedetto.)

Learning how to give a Functional Integration lesson. (Photo courtesy of Angel Di Benedetto.)

It wasn't until about half way through the training that I actually decided to become a practitioner. My inner teenager fought that decision very hard, thinking the idea had been planted by my practitioner. My inner teenager was right - she did plant that idea, but I eventually realized that I had my own reasons for following that idea, and that I was not following it because of external pressure. I figured out that I had a lot of built up knowledge about what Feldenkrais is and why it's important, and how much good I could do by sharing that knowledge in a professional setting.

I love what I do. I have days where I can't believe how lucky I am to love my work so much. Helping a client find their way through a new discovery in a private lesson or public class about how their body works and what that means for their wellbeing makes my day. A client who suffers from sciatic pain told me recently that she had experienced an odd sensation a few days before our lesson, only to realize that for the first time in months she was feeling no pain, and I nearly jumped up and down with excitement.

And to end on a particularly happy note, I happen to be writing this on the 18th anniversary of that last reconstructive surgery. I am active, comfortable, and not looking at any more surgeries for what I hope is a very long time. I'll be celebrating my mobility tonight with dancing.

 Me (left) doing one of my favorite hobbies, blues dancing. (Photo courtesy of Drew Tronvig.)

Me (left) doing one of my favorite hobbies, blues dancing. (Photo courtesy of Drew Tronvig.)