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Migraine Headaches HOL-emblem1-web.GIF (3556 bytes)

The Feldenkrais Method

The Feldenkrais Method is a body work that features individual sessions performed by trained practitioner, during which verbally directed exercises, touch, and movement are used to teach new patterns in order to improve posture, movement, and breathing. Feldenkrais lessons are extremely pleasant and relaxing, yet this is more of an added benefit than a goal.

In the book, "Awareness Heals," Steven Shafarman tells the story of a person who has used The Feldenkrais Method to manage her migraine headaches. Here is the story as told by Steve:

"Marcy had been having migraine headaches, occasionally several in a week, for almost 20 years. At times, these were so severe that she went to the emergency room for an injection of pain medication. A variety of treatments had helped, and Marcy had been in a hospital-based program for people with chronic pain that included psychotherapy, stress management, biofeedback, physical therapy, exercise, and relaxation techniques. Doctors had told Marcy she no longer had true migraines, only cluster headaches, yet she still suffered, both from headaches and from side effects of the drugs. In spite of this, at age 35 Marcy was completing her Ph.D. in mathematics.

Marcy almost always arrived at my office with a headache, her face dark and drawn inward, eyes shaded and lips pressed tightly together. She left each lesson smiling and free from pain. When I asked Marcy how the headaches began, she said she just did not know. She would feel fine when she sat down to study, but three or four hours later pain would force her to stop. In response to my questions, Marcy realized that she concentrated so totally on what was in front of her that she was not at all aware of how she was sitting, or even if she was breathing. I talk with many people who experience chronic or persistent problems, and most of them acknowledge a similar lack of awareness.

When I see a student individually, I usually ask the person to remove his or her shoes and lie, fully clothed, on a low padded table. Then, sitting on a stool next to the table, I gently turn the person's head, lift an arm or leg, and generally explore the pattern of movement everywhere. I proceed carefully, guided by my sense of what the person feels and needs at each moment, so that he or she is always comfortable. Through specific sequences and precise movements, I evoke the process by which babies learn to crawl and walk, shaping that process to the student's unique needs at that particular moment. Just as babies outgrow crawling when they learn to walk, my students, over time, replace old habits and tensions with new awareness and skill.

Marcy improved from the first lesson. She had trouble, however, learning to integrate these new skills into her everyday activities; her habit of concentrating was just too intense, her neglect of herself too complete. We had to develop specific signals that would tell Marcy to pause, breathe, and recall the lessons and how she was learning to move comfortably. For a while, Marcy set a timer to remind her periodically to stop working. That was effective, yet I did not want to leave her dependent on external cues. In our final lessons, I helped Marcy become aware of moving her arms to turn the pages of the book she was studying, and she was able to begin using that as a cue to alter her position and to breathe more fully.

I saw Marcy only 15 times before she moved to another city. When I last spoke with her, more than one year after our final lesson, Marcy reported that her headaches were no longer a significant problem. She said that at times she would fall back into her habit of concentrating too intensely, but usually at the first sign of a headache she was able to relieve it by applying what she had learned. When she did have a headache it was less severe and resolved more quickly, almost always without medication. Marcy also told me that her work was going well, and that the lessons had helped her become more aware and skillful in many activities in addition to studying.

Conventional approaches define migraine headaches as a pain to be relieved or a problem to be treated. I see them from a completely different perspective, and to me Marcy's headaches seemed to be the only way she knew to escape the rigidity of her acquired habits of straining, stiffening, and holding her breath. Instead of trying to treat or relieve her migraines, I helped her learn to be more aware and comfortable. Relief from pain was her reward for enhancing awareness.

Whether someone comes to me for some minor stress or discomfort, or after being diagnosed with a neurological disorder as severe as stroke or multiple sclerosis, I look at the specific ways he or she moves. The Feldenkrais Method works with the person, not with the symptom or disease. Whatever someone's history or the apparent cause of a problem may be, I focus on helping each individual learn how to be better today and tomorrow. To improve, the first step is to be aware of how one functions at this moment, here/now."

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