If we are not cuckoo, the body heals. Because if I’m not cuckoo, how will the body be cuckoo? The body and I are the same thing. – Moshe Feldenkrais (Amherst, 1980)
As has been documented in many places, most recently in The Brain’s Way of Healing, Moshe Feldenkrais developed his method while healing his severe knee injury after a surgeon offered only a 50 percent chance of success. Along the way, he became aware that mental stress, either from life circumstances or memory, could exacerbate the pain and reduce his functioning. Those observations informed his article, Mind and Body (1964): “I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts related to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning.” More colorfully, our cuckoo-ness shows up in the body.
The more I study and practice Feldenkrais, the more I see that my injured left leg is not separate from the rest of me, rather that my left leg (if not that whole side) is where emotional or behavioral patterns show up or have appeared for years. That holistic view partially explains why on some days my leg feels almost normal again and I move with a still unfamiliar lightness and ease, and on other days I’m back to square one, my leg a heavy, undifferentiated limb that I drag along, or perhaps it drags me. To a certain extent, it mirrors my experience along El Camino de Santiago; some days I walked normally, other days with tremendous difficulty, without knowing why.
Recently I received an oddly wrapped gift that helped me become more acutely aware of the unity of my mind and body. I had shared my post, “Yoga is Four Letter Word” on Facebook and one commenter, a “friend” of a friend, made some remarks that unleashed my inner cuckoo. This older male tried to use his experience and what he believed was his “authority” as a former Feldenkrais practitioner to point out why I shouldn’t have titled an earlier article, “Why I Do Feldenkrais Instead of Yoga”, a very deliberate decision on my part. In hindsight, I wish I had disengaged immediately from his comment, but I felt the need to stand my ground, call him out and reclaim the space, something I’ve often failed to do for the sake of what would turn out to be a false sense of peace. In the ensuing thread, he made statements that irritated old wounds. In addition to chiding me for using the term “yoga”, a bizarre critique given colloquial usage of that word, he also said I should not be writing about Feldenkrais as much as I do because I don’t “understand” it and haven’t been doing it long enough; since Feldenkrais is a lifelong process of learning and discovery, when does one “earn” the “right” to write about it? He told me to “rest” and “slow down”, as if he had assumed the role of teacher in the Awareness Through Movement lesson that is my life. Really? What-the-Feldenkrais was that about?
Regardless of his intention, his remarks landed as condescending and shaming. They dislodged scabs around expression. Women, especially but not only, have historically been sidelined and belittled for speaking their truth or even speaking at all, particularly if it doesn’t conform to what I’ll call the masculine model of expertise, of either claiming a singular mantle, or having a mantle bestowed upon them by another that “allows” them to speak, and using statistics, facts and narrow definitions, rather than anecdotes, to share something or address another. In the past, I’ve frequently chosen silence or sharing superficial truths with men and women who view each utterance as an invitation to correct instead of connect, educate instead of empathize, or lambaste rather than listen. These same people have offered the unsolicited advice that I grow thicker skin, as if donning conversational kevlar would make the world a kinder place.
Since my experience was of being shut down rather than drawn out, it seemed that an ancient, painful dynamic was at play in that Facebook exchange. The fixation on word choice made my personal choice invisible, a classic example of missing the forest for the trees, if not a particular species of moss beneath one tree. At the time, I was unable to plaster a bandaid on those wounds, to breathe deeply and respond from a place of Buddha-like equanimity, or simply exit the conversation (eventually, I did). Rage and tension, like toxic gases, filled the upper left side of my body, squeezing my heart and making it seem as if I might burst. I went for a walk, hoping movement would release the stuck energy. Yet in my agitated state I walked quickly and with determination, reverting to my pre-injury habit. Back home, I was still trapped by that noxious swirl and my injury had “regressed”, the muscles along the entire length of my left leg contracting if not coiling such that even my foot had stiffened, something I hadn’t experienced in months.
As much as the episode distressed me, particularly that I had taken the bait of a “mansplainer”, it was probably one of the more potent Functional Integration lessons I’ve received so far. I experienced a direct and dynamic connection between my emotional state and my leg. Should it start to go cuckoo, I’ll know to check in with myself.