DisPatches, Summer 2000
Feldenkrais added to the PE mix
At low massage tables scattered around the exercise room by the College of Marin gym, several earnest, pleasant women speak softly while gently handling students with a variety of physical disabilities: a young man with a spinal cord injury, an older woman who's had a stroke, an older man recovering from a heart attack, a middle-aged woman frozen by multiple sclerosis.
Wheelchairs and canes are set aside for the moment. It's Tuesday morning, and the Feldenkrais gang is changing lives.
"I love the way it feels in this room," says Phyllis Friedman, who recruited, coordinates and supervises the seven recent Feldenkrais graduates who joined the Adaptive Physical Education program this year. "We feel wonderful, being with these people. Even though it's quiet and serious, we're having fun. We learn from you guys. The students are teaching us. I get more than I give."
The Feldenkrais Method, developed by Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), is an educational system that develops a functional awareness of the self in the environment. In a one-to-one learning process called Functional Integration, practitioners use instructive touch and verbal cues to guide students through a series of precise movements that alter habit patterns and provide new learning directly to the neuromuscular system.
"We give them individual awareness through movement lessons," explains Friedman. "We also give them exercises to do at home, and sometimes audio tapes."
"The gentle, directed movements of Feldenkrais are surprisingly effective in relieving muscle pain and stiffness," says student Mary Ruiz.
"Feldenkrais provides the gentle adjustment needed for more flexibility and better balance," adds student Diane Baumsteiger. "The practitioners offer a personal, caring service tailored to the specific needs of each individual. We are fortunate to have such support here on campus."
John Ongaro, who had been having problems with a stiff ankle, is impressed with the work of his practitioner.
"I don't know what she did," says Ongaro, "but afterwards, my foot sure worked better. I was stepping instead of shuffling."
"We're interested in helping them function better," says Friedman. "That distinguishes Feldenkrais from other techniques -- the concern for improving functioning, and thus the quality of life. We work the resolution of aches and pains, but also with things like, 'How can Jose transfer from his wheelchair better?' A lot of what we do is to expand the students' perceptions of what they can and can't do. Part of what's interesting is how creative these practitioners are in helping people improve their functioning."
Instructor Kay Pepitone was the first to bring Feldenkrais to the Adaptive PE program several years ago, and Don Walker (Feldenkrais) and Mimi Guimaraes (Jin Shin Jyutsu) also visit often.
"I heard about the program from Kay," with whom she once was a classmate, says Friedman, who has studied Feldenkrais since 1985 and done somatic education and body work in Marin since 1983. "I had been in private practice, but I wanted more involvement with the community. I loved what was going on here. The diversity of people and diversity of problems was very interesting to me, and I asked if the new graduates could come. I give them individual supervision, and afterwards we meet as a study group to share information to help each other do the work. We deal with issues that come up, and research it together."
Friedman likes to quote Moshe Feldenkrais: "I am not seeking to develop flexible bodies, but flexible minds... I am interested in the re-establishment of our human dignity."
Phyllis Friedman works
with Jose Mata, who
has a spinal cord injury.
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