01 January 2006 - Personal stories
Jackie Adkins, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Dancing with Back Pain

My training is in contemporary and improvisational dance. I’d been teaching dance for several years, when one day a nagging pain in my lower back, which I’d been ignoring for some time, became very intense. I could ignore it no longer and I had to stop teaching as well as dancing, and took up administrative work instead. In the following three years the pain in my back became a barrier, something that stopped me doing things that I loved doing — dancing, walking in the countryside, going to art galleries — even standing in supermarket queues became an ordeal. I felt down and exhausted. It seemed that my life and career options were closing down. I could no longer pursue teaching dance as a career, nor anything that involved walking or standing — a lifetime of sitting doing administrative jobs was not appealing to me!

I’d been to see several practitioners: physiotherapist, osteopath, chiropractor and acupuncturist. None of them could see anything wrong with my back, but the pain was definitely there. I was at a loss. Then on the suggestion of a friend, I went to see a Feldenkrais practitioner. I didn’t get a cure, but I did get some very precise information about my ingrained movement habits — for example I turn a little to the right, put more weight on my left foot, arch my back. At last — someone saw something to help me shed light on the matter.

Intrigued (and desperate) I began getting regular Feldenkrais lessons, both in a group and individually. When the opportunity came up to train in the Method, I went for it. Over the next four years I learned a lot about movement and about myself. I discovered that I use my will to push and make things happen, that I tense up and hold my breath when I do things. Gradually I learned how to slow down and pay attention to what I am doing. I also had to face the pain in my back —– to welcome it as part of me — not a problematic thing apart from me. During the first two years the back pain was my ever-present companion — nagging away in the background. However, rather than focus on what I couldn’t do, I began to discover what was possible in my movement: freedom in my shoulders and chest, flexibility in my ribs and lightness in my walk. I continued my own dance practice and my way of moving, as well as my posture, completely changed — becoming more fluid and connected. Then suddenly, at the end of two years, the pain disappeared.

Six years later, the vulnerability in my lower back, which I now suspect is connected to a fall I’d had in a dance workshop many years ago, is still there. I have to be careful not to overdo things, but most of the time I’m pain free. I dance, go for long walks, swim and garden — all physical activities I love doing. If I do overdo things, the pain doesn’t last for long, like it used to. I’m lighter in my movement and my approach to life. Learning the Feldenkrais Method changed my way of seeing life from one of restriction to one of possibility. I have learned to listen to myself, respect my limits and appreciate the quality of how I do things, rather than just the speed or final result. More than anything I’ve learned to enjoy the pleasure of movement itself.