Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Arthritis

Naomi, a client I had many years ago, had been seeing me for FI  (Feldenkrais Functional Integration) about 6 weeks when she asked me “Steve, how is it possible that my arthritis in my left hand is getting so much better? You have not worked on the hand much, and it has kept getting worse all these years. Nothing much has helped.”

I was at a loss – even though in my Feldenkrais Training I had heard stories about arthritis being helped – even cured – by regular Feldenkrais work. But I did not believe it. Arthritis is joint damage – how could gentle movement and somatic education help it?

Naomi was only the first of many clients with that question. So I was forced to come up with some answers.

What do I now tell clients?

The answer is so simple, that I too missed it. It is that when the joint are over-compressed, pain will increase. You can call it arthritis, or whatever you want. When the joints are decompressed, circulation increases, health is quickly restored, and pain diminishes or goes away.

But, while is sounds simple to decompress joints, that does not mean easy. The entire Feldenkrais Method – and it is vast – may need to be recruited to accomplish this. If only it were so simple as just pulling on the joint! It means learning to move into length. It means changing habits of doing too much, working too hard, gripping the pencil too hard, holding the belly too tight. It means increasing awareness, to learn how to move with minimal effort, with ease and elegance. That means while reaching, standing, breathing, walking, running, even while sleeping and turning over from one side to the other. It even means changing how you imagine doing a job – even in the imagination less effort can be made.

There is a still a bit of a mystery here for me – I am still amazed at how arthritis pain can be consistently helped by Feldenkrais, when logically, that should not be possible. And of course, the more severe the arthritis - like degenerative rheumatoid arthritis - the less improvement, the slower the improvement. There may be no improvement in a bad case.  We're not talking about miracles here, just common sense. 

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