Cerebral Palsy and the Feldenkrais Method® By Greg Dennis
The Feldenkrais Southern California Movement Institute and its practitioners have experience and success using the Feldenkrais Method® with people of all ages who have cerebral palsy. This work includes both the hands-on method of Functional Integration® lessons, and teaching people with CP through Awareness Through Movement® classes.
The quickest way for those with CP to achieve results from the Feldenkrais Method is to take regular Functional Integration lessons. With this technique, the practitioner gently moves the student and uses other kinds of light touch to teach the student’s brain and body how to work together more smoothly, and with more control and less spasticity. Designed to enhance mental and physical functioning, the technique is noteworthy for the profound improvements it produces in movement, as well as the accompanying sense of vitality and self-esteem.
In Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lessons, the teacher verbally directs participants through various movements, breaking down complex motions into smaller sequences and varying the order and types of motion. These mentally involving but virtually effortless exercises – done in a live class or at home to audio tapes – can lead to dramatic, immediate improvements in flexibility, posture, mental state and comfort.
Helping children who have CP
“We have had wonderful results working with babies and small children who have CP,” says Mark Reese, co-director of the Feldenkrais Southern California Movement Institute. “We can help children with CP experience notable and ongoing improvements in their movement ability and sense of well-being.”
“Beginning lessons at a young age makes a real difference long-term,” notes Donna Ray , the Institute’s co-director. “The child’s motions become easier, they feel more capable, and therefore they have a better self-image.”
“The brain has the greatest elasticity during childhood,” Mark explains. “The earlier the Feldenkrais sensory motor learning begins, the better the results will be.”
Mark recalls a recent experience in which he was working with a two-year-old boy who could not use his left arm at all. “I still remember the joy in his mother’s voice, when she called me from home after her son had received a lesson. Her son had just reached out with his left hand for the very first time, as he called out ‘Mommy!’ ”
Feldenkrais lessons can be very helpful in teaching children to move in and out of a wheelchair. Mark recalls that Feldenkrais lessons taught a student of his – a 9-year-old girl with CP who had been unable to move her legs separately from one another – to move herself out of her wheelchair to sit on a bed, for the first time in her life.
“When children with CP learn how to make such a dramatic improvement, they often laugh with delight when they realize what they’ve learned,” Mark says with a smile.
“For children with severe cerebral palsy, we can help them learn to roll, sit up, stand on all fours, and crawl – all the different kinds of movements that maybe hard for some children with CP to learn,” Donna notes. For those with less severe conditions, “We can help to expand their abilities, such as walking with greater ease or engaging in athletics. The Feldenkrais Method® works to gently support and expand upon existing capabilities without pain or resistance.”
What do adults with CP say about the Feldenkrais Method?
For adults, the Feldenkrais Method can provide them greater endurance and improved ease in walking with a smoother gait. It can also help reduce physical pain by reducing stress on their joints. “They love the sensations they feel during and after a lesson,” says Donna Ray-Reese. “Students feel every part of themselves working together, and they experience a more pleasurable sense of their bodies, which again enhances their self-esteem and quality of life.”
“The benefit of Feldenkrais is that you can teach your body to move in a more normal way. You don’t have to cop out to the CP limitations,” says Ken Brooks, 51, an attorney with the county Department of the Alternate Public Defender. He has mild cerebral palsy that affects his Achilles tendon and hampers his walking gait. He began experiencing problems that led him to seek relief at the Reese Movement Institute.
Ken’s CP caused his right foot to begin to turn inward. As a trial attorney, he is on his feet a lot, and he had also severely strained his lower back in a fall that resulted from a misstep. Ken’s physician urged him to wear a cast, to be followed by a permanent walking brace that would help keep his foot turned sufficiently outward.
Instead, Ken began taking Functional Integration lessons from Donna Ray. His walk noticeably improved thanks to the lessons. “Through the Feldenkrais Method, you can change how your foot moves,” he notes. “I can now change how I walk within two steps. I’m note sure I could do that without the Feldenkrais lessons. During the most recent session in particular, my foot had a big correction.”
Jennifer Light-Krasnow found the Feldenkrais Method so helpful for her cerebral palsy that she has enrolled in the RMI training program in Solana Beach. Jennifer is in her mid-20’s and works as a doula providing support to women and families during pregnancy. She is also a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence.
With CP that affects the range of motion in her right foot, Jennifer had previously been through physical therapy for her condition. But she found the physical therapy both tiring and painful. “There’s got to be an answer that doesn’t hurt so much,” she found herself thinking. But several “experts” told her she wouldn’t be able to greatly improve her functioning any other way.
Fortunately, she found a better answer in the Feldenkrais Method. She says she’s learned “you have a range of motion of what you can do, and that range can be broadened.” In addition to Functional Integration lessons, she likes being able to make improvements on her own, through doing Awareness Through Movement lessons in classes and from audio tapes.
“It’s really refreshing for me that it doesn’t hurt and that I don’t feel I’m struggling with my body so much,” Jennifer says. “That whole trapped feeling is gone.”
If you have questions about cerebral palsy and the Feldenkrais Method, contact Donna Ray at (760) 436-9087.