At the age of one, it became apparent that Alexander was not developing normally. He was floppy and had no balance. He could not turn himself over. An MRI scan revealed that he had an atrophying of various nerves in the neck; so that the signals being sent from the brain to the muscles were being ‘short-circuited’. This meant that the muscles were receiving garbled messages and consequently not operating properly.
The consequences of the damage to the nerves were serious. His balance was poor; he had high muscle tone, particularly in his adductors, leading to ‘scissor legs’ and a mis-alignment of the hip joints. His hamstrings were also very stiff leading to him having difficulty in getting his feet flat on the ground. This meant he walked on tip-toe. Equally, other muscles were not properly engaged.
As he grew older he had regular physiotherapy to assist his development. This undeniable had benefits but our impression was that it was not so much helping him to advance as preventing deterioration. However, the process was often painful particularly when muscles were being stretched and this made Alexander reluctant to participate. Additionally it was recommended to surgically cut Alexander’s adductors to lengthen them and to use botox injections to relax the muscles.
After further research, we refused both recommendations. We did not believe that a surgical intervention to cut a muscle would do anything other than weaken it and, in spite of its popularity, we felt instinctively that regular injections of a harmful toxin could lead to longer term problems. In short, we felt let down.
Consequently, we investigated alternative therapies and interventions which might benefit Alexander. Top of the pile was the Feldenkrais Method. We knew nothing about it but it sounded promising. We first saw a London based practitioner. The session was very gentle and Alexander enjoyed it. However, the practitioner advised that we see a fellow practitioner with experience of working with children. And so we found Garet Newell.
Over the following years Alexander saw Garet regularly. The sessions were challenging but fun. Alexander enjoyed them because there was no pain and he could see progress. The lessons involved a series of exercises that replicated many of the developmental patterns of growth. They particularly focussed on crawling, turning, reaching and grasping. They included manipulation of feet and hands; all done gently and often as games.
And the benefits began almost immediately. Alexander began to develop many inherent and reflexive skills that had lain dormant. His balance improved, the range of movement expanded and he began to grow much faster.
The improvement was steady. Each improvement would be assimilated and then built on. We would sometimes get a bit frustrated when we couldn’t see any improvement but then we would see a major leap forward as various changes suddenly came together. He was also rather proud of his achievements. It all seemed rather miraculous!
So much so, that I subsequently trained and qualified as a Feldenkrais teacher. Alexander is now in his twenties, is fully independent and has a world ranking in wheelchair tennis. You could say that Feldenkrais changed our lives.
© A Feldenkrais teacher 2006, updated 2021
*The Feldenkrais teacher and their son chose for this article to be anonymous