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Judy: Case Study 2006-2009-2017

Judy came to me to work with a stiffness in her upper body, though shortly after we began, she arrived one day having sustained an injury to her knee - a torn cartilage... She embarked on a series of Functional Integration lessons, combined with workshops and classes from time to time.

She wrote to me in 2017 saying "it's 10 years you know!" The first part of the following was written around 2009. The second, in 2017. She has written for her own journalling purposes but has offered that this be shared so that you can have an insider's view of the work she did with me and how it has integrated, and helped her, in her life. Blessings, Judy!


My Background

I was brought up in the immediate post world war two years, a time of generally tough discipline and suspicion of overt emotional expression.

I was an adventurous and sociable child who needed external stimulation from an early stage and strong boundaries were set around my excursions.

I was told from as early as I can remember that I had inherited a large frame from my Father's family and would need to learn to keep my stomach and bottom well tucked in. My paternal grandmother, of a similar build, spent her waking hours well braced with a corset and nagged me constantly about my deportment (or lack of!) My mother was slim and beautifully co-ordinated, gifts she passed to my brother. My body was generally unable to cope with my exploratory bold nature and I spent many an hour in the local casualty department! I found sport at school both difficult and dull.

Concern about my 'back view' has never left me and I would describe myself as self conscious. I didn't do well at all-too-confining school and as I sought the bright lights of London I went off to train as a nurse. My apparently low physical coordination hampered me somewhat in general nursing (and totally in midwifery!) but my abilities to relate to patients and manage other staff began to emerge over time.

I followed a fairly conventional path falling in love in my early twenties and preparing to marry and live happily ever after. The difference in my case was that my mother died suddenly just before our wedding. The British stiff upper lip response was clearly required and it probably took me more than twenty years to fully acknowledge my loss. I took on huge responsibility for my father and also my family of 'in laws'. In line with my father and brother I developed digestive symptoms and spent a good deal of my early married life being treated with medication.

I began to suffer with a stiff neck and shoulders in my early thirties and became a regular osteopathic patient. Photographs of me at that time show a pronounced hump on my upper back. I began to learn yoga but had problems with any postures involving my neck. I also spent many years working successfully with an Alexander Technique teacher. I gained an enormous amount from this and my back visibly straightened as I gained some connection between the way I lived and the symptoms I experienced.

I worked in a demanding job, studied with the Open University and took great responsibility in my role as a magistrate. I later began to write and have had numerous articles and two books published. The Alexander lessons were crucial as I spent many happy hours steeped in Jungian psychology and sitting at my computer! The lessons reduced my need for osteopathy somewhat but never eradicated it. I tried Pilates, Tai Chi and learned a bit more from each.


Finding Nikhila

I came to Feldenkrais by chance. We had moved and I felt unwilling to return to Alexander lessons with a new teacher. I found an excellent yoga centre and it was here that I was drawn to Nikhila's information about Feldenkrais.

Living in South Devon has opened up many new possibilities for me. I have even begun to sing for the first time in my adult life. The chance to get involved with a method that would apparently help me to unlock my potential seemed entirely in keeping with this new way of life.

I attended a Feldenkrais workshop with Nikhila, one focussed on the pelvis. I realised from the start that this was different from anything else I had attempted. Everything about the workshop was wholesome –the approach in the form of a quiet and clear guided exploration, the venue tucked away in a Devon garden, the encouragement to make small and simple movements while observing their effect – I appreciated all of it.

I opted for individual lessons and was asked only to commit to a short series. It is hard to cast my mind back to my early lessons simply because so much has changed for me. Initially I compared much of what happened with my experience of Alexander lessons and there are similarities insofar as there is encouragement to explore and let go of old unhelpful habits. What is different is the apparent lack of a fairly tight framework revolving around Alexander's directions. Instead Nikhila gently moved one of my knees from side to side and then the other. 'What do you notice?', 'How does this compare to the feeling in the other leg?' These apparently simple questions mystified me at first but of course led me to focus on the workings of my body. I think it fair to say that I probably have never done this unless any part of me hurt!

I went to Nikhila focussed on my stiff upper spine but events overtook me somewhat as I developed a cartilage problem in my knee just before my first lesson. The flexibility of the system is well demonstrated here in that we looked at the parts of me that are closest to the knee and considered the pressure that I might be exerting on the joint in question. How might my other leg, my hips, my pelvis and my spine help take a more active part in those tasks currently undertaken by my 'poorly' knee?

After my early lessons I came home saying what a great time I'd had, how much I had learned and that I could explain none of it!

Nikhila's subtle and non judgmental responses to my questions and habitual self criticism started to work both on my body and my mind. When 'doing my Feldenkrais homework' and practising yoga at home I began to experience physical links between my previously compartmentalised hips, pelvis and ribs. The accent continued to be on noticing and I became aware that smaller movements often had a greater impact in terms of the connections I experienced than big ones.

The next leap came when I began to understand for the first time how to connect yoga exercises with my breath. In yoga classes I tended to switch off after the actual posture had been described, thinking about breathing as well was too much of an effort. Now I could really relate to the ways in which breathing eased the posture.

At the same time I was reading a book about Zen (Turning Suffering Inside Out by Darlene Cohen) which also focussed on the awareness of breathing and suggested we might need to develop a metaphorical 'bringing back' muscle. When I realise I have lost contact with my breathing I can visualise that muscle rather than criticise myself.

Week by week I learned more about how one part of my body worked with another and slowly began to know when I was in touch with my body and when it was over ridden by my mind. At no point have I been 'taught' anything directly, it has all been given to me to experience for myself.

I was surprised to discover that during this process my thinking brain began to lighten up. I am capable of quite complex analytical thought which can be useful and can equally be problematic. I watched myself making decisions by setting off on a whole series of possibilities often involving some outcomes I do not want. I can also foresee negative options in spades and could see that this sometimes needed to stop. So how has working with Nikhila taken me to this point?

I read some of Moshé Feldenkrais's book The Potent Self and learned about 'cross motivation' and his words echoed what I was observing in myself: In those planes of life in which our maturity is least developed, we continue to acting compulsively; we do (or we do not do) things knowing perfectly well that we want the exact opposite.

As my body was moving into my awareness and bits that had been working in isolation began to blend together, as my awareness of my body grew something released in my mind.

When we began to shift the focus onto my upper back it was clear that my ribs are generally none too active and consequently much effort is shifted elsewhere. One 'hang up' that came with me from Alexander lessons was a fear of getting up from a chair without any external leverage (pushing with my arms for example). Instead of being asked not to do certain things Nikhila provided me with encouragement to try all possible ways of getting up. This was incredibly helpful but still I froze as I consciously 'tried' to come to standing in what I continued to see as the 'right' way. To some extent this remains a work in progress but I have flashes of magic when I came up all unaided and without even realising what was happening. Intuitively I now understand the process and often I can sit on my bed and move smoothly up and down smoothly. It is only when my mind gets in the way that things seize up.

I am intuitive but often apply that gift in a rather random scattershot way. This too has changed. The 'bringing back muscle' when engaged has helped me to slow down and consider things in a more clear cut way allowing that intuition more scope and depth. It is then I hear my inner steady clear voice suggesting the best course of action.

Feldenkrais recognised that the degree and nature of any 'stuck-ness' between the hips and the shoulders often reflects either an emotional underdevelopment or the need to appear in control. I recently spoke to a friend who I shared a flat with some forty years ago and she said 'you always seemed so sure of yourself, what you were doing and where you were going.' Ha!

I prefer less certainty and being freed from many of the associated compulsions.

A wonderful book, Motherless Daughters (Hope Edelman) describes my situation with great clarity: To be a motherless daughter is to be riddled with contradictions and uncertainties, but it is also to know the grit of survival, to hold and insight and maturity others did not obtain so young

I think I have been working on releasing my body from the physical manifestation of that grit and maturity and fortunately it seems to remember what it used to do.


Ten Years On... June 2017

Judy's interest in Feldenkrais didn't wane. At a certain point she began to take more classes and workshops, and did not need the regular support of Functional Integration sessions, but still takes several each year. She made Awareness Through Movement an almost daily practice, using purchased CD sets, and the free online resources that are so readily available. She continued to attend workshops and classes according to her busy schedule

In June 2017 she wrote

"Yesterday I fell on a concrete step in the garden, I was carrying a plastic box full of wet washing at the time.

I was aware as I fell that I had some sense of awareness of it happening and almost organised myself around the box, When I was lying down, I stayed there to sort out what I should do next. I thought I’d better abandon putting the washing out for a while and would need to go inside and gather what I needed which I figured was rescue remedy, arnica tablets and ointment and some ice. So I got up gingerly, rolling to my side rather than pulling myself up  and checked my body over. I had cut my shin and had grazes that would become bruises were evident. I realised in that moment that the pain I had was in fact information, something I have learned through Feldenkrais. So I didn’t panic, I planned. I set myself up to take the arnica and rescue remedy and applied ointment and rotated a bag of frozen carrots wrapped in a towel between all the bits that appeared to be bruised and sore. The main area, on my shin, could be seen to reduce in swelling and colour. I took time to work out what had happened and trace each pain to its source, I had twisted as I fell so my left leg and right shoulder were involved, I treated my shoulder almost before it hurt too much.

I spent the day reapplying the treatment and going about what I needed to do gently. In the evening before I went to bed I applied arnica to all the ‘hot spots’ - especially my shoulder - aiming to avoid stiffness and soreness gathering overnight. I also spent time with my nightly practice which consists of a series of intuitive Feldenkrais movements - all learned in Awareness through Movement lessons - but with a specific focus on my shoulder, gentle movements designed to ask the area to move a bit to avoid becoming seized up over night. 

This morning I can see the bruising appearing but it is minimal in relation to the fall and ‘what might have been’ and nothing has stiffened 

Feldenkrais not only helped with this from a physical standpoint, it helped me to understand how to work it all through and take the best steps to minimise the effects of the fall. Further, a regular Feldenkrais practice based on teaching and experience has set my body up to withstand such treatment better. In other words it aids recovery. It also boosts confidence, I knew that despite having recently moved into my seventies that I was able to deal with it."



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