01 January 2005 - Personal stories
Susan Dillon, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Living with MS and Feldenkrais

I came to know the Feldenkrais Method many years before MS (Multiple Sclerosis) came into my life. It was the appearance of the symptoms of my first big MS episode in 1994 that finally moved me to take the plunge into the 4-year Feldenkrais training, and, as it turns out, a lifetime commitment to the Method, but how did it all happen? It’s not a straight-forward story.
My first intensive experience with the Method took place in 1980 in Boulder, Colorado in the US. I was living in Boulder and Ruthy Alon, one of the first group of Israelis trained by Moshe Feldenkrais, offered a 3-week, 3-hour per day workshop. It was an immersion experience. I didn’t know that much about the Method at that point, but I thought this was likely to be an interesting experience that might not come my way again. During those three weeks I had some amazing experiences, but more than anything, I realized that I could change physically in ways that took me by surprise. For the first time in my adult life, I felt what it was like to have my spine, especially my lower back, resting against the floor when I was lying down with my legs straight. For me, that was profound — an arched back had been a part of my usual posture. I would have liked to learn more. However, after the Ruthy Alon workshop, the demands of life, especially the need to support myself financially, took over and that was the end of studying Feldenkrais for a while.
In 1981 I moved back to New Jersey, my home state, because of family concerns and eventually ended up living in Princeton, NJ where I worked in a job that required many hours of reading and working at a computer which resulted in considerable pain in my neck. I saw a chiropractor for many months and then found out that there was a Feldenkrais practitioner in town. I remembered my experience in Boulder and started attending group classes. Eventually I noticed that when I went to the classes I didn’t need to go to the chiropractor. I continued attending the Feldenkrais classes for a very practical reason, it was cheaper to go to the group classes than to see a chiropractor every week.
As sometimes happens in life, a series of events then took my life in a direction that I hadn’t planned on. First I met the Englishman, who later became my husband, on a hiking trip during a vacation in Colorado. Secondly, a year later I had my first major episode of MS which was diagnosed as the relapsing remitting variety. And lastly, the opportunity to join a Feldenkrais training that was just beginning in NYC came up at the same time that the money and the time was available.
The next four years went by very fast. I spent summers in NYC studying Feldenkrais and the rest of the year I was living in Cambridge, England. I was slowly learning to live with MS, pacing myself, naps in the afternoon, and adjusting to what I could and couldn’t do. Once I started feeling a bit better, I decided to teach ATMs (Awareness Through Movement) classes through the University of the Third Age, a program of classes taught by retired people for students who are also retired. I have been teaching these classes for almost 12 years now and they form the basis of what I have learned about a possible relationship between MS and Feldenkrais.
Following every summer of my Feldenkrais training, I felt better and better, but what I wondered was the relationship between Feldenkrais and MS? It has taken me many years to come up with my current understanding. After my initial major MS episode in 1994, I thought maybe I’d beat the disease. Wrong! In Spring 2000, I had my most debilitating MS episode. Then in Spring 2005, I had another episode and smaller ones in Spring 2006 and Spring 2007. I began to notice that Spring seemed to be my time for episodes. What was common to this time of year? What I finally hit upon, for me, was that I taught my Feldenkrais ATM classes from October to late March and sometimes into May and of course teaching the classes meant that I had to prepare the classes and thereby spend a good bit of time each week going through the class that I was planning to teach that week. When I stopped teaching the classes, I ceased practicing the ATMs. Then I would have an episode and it would take several months before I could get myself back into the habit of practicing ATMs.
I have become a little more disciplined now and do an ATM on tape or CD at least once a week. Of course, the relationship between doing ATMs and MS episodes is only a hypothesis and it will take more episode-free years to give it more credence.