03 September 2022 - Personal stories
A Feldenkrais fan and ATM enthusiast, An Octogenarian's Tale

An Octogenarian’s Tale

As an octogenarian of South Asian origin with a cardiovascular health issue, I have reflected on ageing and men’s health. Statistics about men’s health make depressing reading.

“Health is a state about which medicine has nothing to offer.”

W H Auden

Health is multi-dimensional. It is a state of physical, mental, emotional and social well-being.  Allopathic medicine does know a lot about pathology, but there is more to men’s health than absence of illness, physical fitness and length of life.  After all, man may live long, but may live little.  Feldenkrais defines health as the capacity to realise not only one’s unavowed dreams but one’s avowed dreams as well. He also said that health is a dynamic condition: it’s the capacity to regain balance, the ability for renewal and self-reorganisation.

The Feldenkrais method is a somatic education process. It helps you learn how to learn.  I feel lucky that I encountered the Feldenkrais method and, at the age of 80, I have been able to complete the Feldenkrais teachers’ training course. I have therefore been one of the beneficiaries of the Feldenkrais legacy. It has promoted my health and enriched my life on many levels. It has helped me to find choices where I had thought I had none.

One Sunday morning some years ago, I woke up and found that my left shoulder was ‘frozen’ and painful. The pain became so excruciating that in subsequent days, I sought help from a highly recommended physiotherapist and a Harley Street acupuncture practitioner but to no avail. I then saw a Feldenkrais practitioner and had a hands-on functional integration lesson.

I lay down on the table and he moved me a little this way here, a little that way there. Nothing happened, so it seemed, but I felt deeply rested; at the end of the session, the pain had gone. Something had shifted. There was freedom in my shoulder. Alas, my habitual movement patterns reasserted themselves after a few days and the pain was back. My teacher introduced me to several specific “awareness through movement” (ATM) lessons for me to explore at home on a regular basis: he now wanted to get me to help myself. These explorations clarified for me the connectivity of the shoulder girdle, the spine, the clavicle, first two ribs and the pelvis. It also made me realise how the whole self can be engaged in one’s movement. It released my superfluous tonus of musculature and, over a period of time, my shoulder was liberated.  I was reminded that a problem may appear localised – say in one’s shoulder or heart – but its resolution has to be sought in the context of global groundwork.

My cardiovascular issue has remained but it has become almost asymptomatic. My ATM practice has helped me to negotiate life in my 80s with greater ease and without pain. It has allowed me to maintain my general functionality more or less intact. The Feldenkrais method is not a therapy or a prescription for cure but it may bring such incidental benefits.

I remember how my uncle used to say that after 70, if you wake up without pain, you are dead. I can say now that he was utterly wrong. The fact is that when you cease to feel pleasure and be playful, you dry up and die.  The nocebo effect is as real as the placebo effect. Many so-called age-related illnesses of man spring from unintelligent use of the self – what the Ayurvedic medicine of ancient India calls an abuse of intelligence (prajnāparadha).

So let us alter our assumptions and the metaphors we live by. “No pain, no gain” is a trap. Let us stop “bolstering bodily defences” and instead, as Feldenkrais suggests, make one’s whole self available to engage in what we do. Some men’s “macho” self-image misleads them to dismiss ATM micro-movements on the mat as some “sissy stuff” not worthy of their engagement. They forget the fabled “butterfly effect”. They cannot even imagine that such movements can be challenging and that ATM can be a way to awaken one’s potent self.

I highly recommend a lived experience of an ATM/hands-on functional integration lesson in the Feldenkrais method. I predict they will be happily surprised.

Why not try out a free short lesson: Free Your Upper Back and Shoulders