Awareness, Feldenkrais, Healing, Sensitivity

Feldenkrais: When Irritation Is Injury


And if we are cuckoo, we might as well celebrate it

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.


About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais champion, Aikidoka and explorer of internal and external landscapes.


12 thoughts on “Feldenkrais: When Irritation Is Injury

  1. Ahhhh…Ilona, where to begin. First, I freaking love that you share your personal insights and experiencing. Your blog is like a personal declaration, a growing documentation of and an act of devotion to the work you are so passionately exploring. This post is no different. Your insight that your leg is not separate from the rest of you and how you experience & interact with life is spot on. Woman, isn’t being human humbling and amazing!

    I have to say that this post also breaks my heart (a wee bit). The discouragement you received from a fellow practitioner is unfortunate at best. Keep speaking your truth. The world, and especially the Feldenkrais World, needs it!

    Yours in moving & growing,

    Posted by Buffy Owens | February 19, 2015, 3:12 pm
    • Thank you, Buffy, for your support and for being a fellow traveler! I’m glad that you understand what it is I’m attempting to do with this blog. Not everyone does, nor can I expect that. Not everyone wants to hear my truth (or anyone else’s for that matter!), and I hope to grow those young parts of myself that long for approval so I can shrug off criticism more easily when it comes. And, I didn’t make it clear that the commenter in question no longer practices Feldenkrais, although that doesn’t excuse his “mansplaining” in the least.

      Posted by ilona fried | February 19, 2015, 3:26 pm
  2. Dear Ilona – I am so sorry that you had to go through what is, unfortunately, the experience of many new practitioners ajdn trainees in dealing with some of our “old greybacks.” Territorial. Patronizing. Never mind that you are probably an accomplished and educated adult person with an area of expertise, developed before you ever heard the name “Feldenkrais.” Despite the vociferous protestations, we do indeed have a hide-bound orthodoxy that rears its ugly head on those occasions when a breath of fresh air wafts through. Persist.

    I have been in your position – although on a much smaller scale – and I realized that it is sometimes true in the Feldy world that “they eat their young.” I, along with Buffy, feel sad that somebody got a bite of you. What seems to be most offensive is when newcomers try to engage the larger world of non-Feldys. My continuing frustration is that we talk to each other in our echo chamber, and we don’t understand why “THE PUBLIC” doesn’t know about us. Very few of us have gone to the trouble to translate our work for diverse individuals with diverse interests who have no interest whatsoever in becoming a teacher of the Method. However, I believe this one-to-one approach – which you have leveraged via your blog – is some of the most important daily work any of us can do to advance the Feldenkrais Method in the larger culture.

    If we don’t value individual experience, what are we about? Illigitimi non carborundum — don’t let the bastards wear you down. Keep telling your truth. Protect your light, as needed. Inevitably, the young whippersnappers WILL inherit the earth – and the Feldenkrais Method.

    Wishing I could hug you! cheers — MaryBeth

    Posted by divamover | February 19, 2015, 5:40 pm
    • I feel hugged by your words, MaryBeth. Thank you so much. I completely agree that if we remain in an echo chamber, no one will hear about Feldenkrais; that is obvious, not even an elusive obvious! And, if I’m going to continue to be myself more publicly, rather than hiding out as I’ve done my whole life, I will need to develop the resiliency and wit to fend off the critics. I trust that the Feldenkrais Method will help me cultivate those capacities; it already has, and this is only the beginning!

      Posted by ilona fried | February 19, 2015, 6:06 pm
  3. You have done a beautiful job of engaging in conversation with so many people. Then there are those that aren’t interested in conversation but making their point as the only point. You found one (or more) of those. Painful. But once again you are being yourself and sharing the lessons.

    Posted by Cynthia | February 19, 2015, 5:43 pm
  4. You have done a beautiful job of engaging in conversation with so many people. Then there are those that aren’t interested in conversation but making their point as the only point. You found one (or more) of those. Painful. But once again you are being yourself and sharing the lessons.

    Posted by Cynthia | February 19, 2015, 5:44 pm
    • Thank you, Cynthia. As they say, “No pain, no gain.” While Feldenkrais people know that isn’t true in terms of physical pain/gain, I think pain is part of emotional growth. To shy away from risking painful situations, which I’ve done, does not help me develop.

      Posted by ilona fried | February 19, 2015, 6:08 pm
  5. Ilona, thanks for this post. I was drawn to this work because there was the so ever precious opening. I find that as I am opening, I can feel more sensitive to slings and slights, and thus I have always wished that somehow we also learned how to speak to one another from a place of empathy.
    I am not proud to be aware that I speak less with empathy than 10 years ago, and that, then, I was still thinking that I could learn more empathic ways to speak. In my small team we have some important things to reflect on, and if I lead with the “educate” tone, perhaps we will lose some vital perspectives. Thus is it particularly poignant to read your note.
    Keep writing!

    Posted by Rob Black | February 19, 2015, 6:05 pm
    • Thank you, Rob, for leaving a comment. I think mindful speaking and listening is a skill that can take a lifetime to master. To either requires creating new pathways. I cannot claim to always listen and speak from an empathic place, especially when I’m triggered. All I or anyone can do is become more and more aware of triggers, and also practice listening from a non-identified place. It’s hard to be objective when one is passionate about something, for example. And, I will keep writing!

      Posted by ilona fried | February 19, 2015, 6:12 pm
  6. Ilona,
    I always appreciate your posts, but this one is particularly resonating with me – for a ton of reasons.
    I think there is such a gift of seeing ourselves in vulnerability, there is so much to learn in that place : becoming comfortable in the unease and following attentively the thread that connects our bodies with our emotions, our experiences, and the archetypes around us.
    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful authentic voice.
    And yes, this is only the beginning 😉

    Posted by Francine | February 19, 2015, 7:37 pm
    • Thank you, Francine, for taking the time to comment. Yes, vulnerability is a powerful teacher, and it’s still hard for me to allow myself to feel that way, but Feldenkrais has dissolved some of the resistance. And I appreciate your reminder of the archetypes around us; knowing what those are can offer a bit of distance and compassion.

      Posted by ilona fried | February 19, 2015, 7:44 pm


  1. Pingback: Of Feldenkrais and Failure | à la carte spirit by ilona fried - February 24, 2015

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