"ASK HIM IF HE CAN BE HELPED!"
My Story as a Cerebral Palsy Victim
by Paul Doron Doroftei
There are sick people who enjoy good health and healthy people who don't.
I believe it depends on one's character which of these two categories one belongs to,
rather than on the presence or absence of a particular illness.
I belong to the "infirm" who are healthy.
As a child I could walk with the greatest difficulty and effort,
and couldn't even conceive of touching the floor with my heels.
Many of the things other kids took for granted were impossible for me.
But all this never led me to consider myself sick or disabled.
Despite extreme constraints of mobility I never felt or imposed limits on the extent of physical activity available to me.
While my parents, my relatives, and the doctors they consulted saw my physical condition as a "problem," I didn't.
While all the doctors and professors consulted had given a very definitive verdict about my future
- no chance for any improvement -
my attitude resembled that of a young pianist who had just learned to tackle an easy piece by Bach
and views a piano concerto by Schumann or Grieg - which he yearns to play - as an exciting and challenging task.
As a boy of 6 or 7, I was already aware of the nonsense of the therapies I was exposed to,
even if these therapies may have contributed to preventing muscular atrophy.
I had repugnance towards any kind of therapy that had to do with body, muscles or flesh...
In spite of the impediments which my disability caused me,
I had no ambition to preoccupy myself with my own body in which I felt rather comfortable at that time.
My first serious confrontation with my handicap occurred when I had to learn to write.
I observed a physical barrier that didn't allow me to write with the same fluency and speed my classmates could.
In the process of learning to hold a pen and move it so as to draw intelligible, decipherable letters and symbols,
even if only 7 years old, I could observe the difference in functioning when using lower layers of the brain
and when using the higher ones with which I was not yet well acquainted.
I could hold a pen between my fingers more or less relaxed, undisturbed,
when I had no other intention but holding the pen.
As soon as I thought I "must" draw a specific form, the form of a letter or of a symbol like "=", or a number,
I immediately felt a disturbance in the quietness of my body, similar to still water in which a stone is thrown.
--- no matter how relaxed I had been, the moment I thought of a movement - writing -
which went beyond my self-image of my ability, my arm would already begin to jerk.
I became aware of the fact that the jerking was preceded by my thought about the risk of jerking
or of "being surprised" by a jerk while drawing a circle or a line that was part of a sign which needed
to be intelligible for the others.
It was the idea of jerking, the thinking about the risk of jerking that actually made me jerk.
The mere expectation of jerking provoked it.
I realized that this kind of jerking was provoked by the feeling of unfamiliarity,
as opposed to the state of freedom and ease I experienced when holding the pencil without any definite (functional) intention.
The comparison between the lightness and the familiarity with which I held the pen,
and the state of spasticity I felt in any other action or intention to act -- in other words,
the limits I put on my self-image -- these were responsible for my jerking,
for being unable to "walk over the river" as Ruthy Alon so pictorially suggests in mentioning the giraffe
in the foreword to her book Mindful Spontaneity, as a symbol for the boundaries one puts on oneself.
To avoid the risk of further destroying my exercise book, I developed a
strategy: when I felt I "intended to jerk," I grasped the pen so
powerfully that the pressure of the fingers one against the other and
against the pen could overcome the "idea" of jerking and inhibit it.
I was aware that holding powerfully was an inferior state of acting to
holding with lightness, but at that time I had no other choice; I had
to sacrifice my physical comfort to keep abreast of the general demands
and so avoid the danger of being classified as "retarded" in the
school. I also felt it would make no sense to discuss the jerking
problem with someone else, because people looked quite helpless when I
tried to go into the details of my disability, as if they were facing
an unexplored and taboo territory.
The therapies I had received had been more or less mechanical and thus
meaningless. I never felt any change in my physical condition. The
massages and the movements were more or less pleasant as such, but in
fact all these therapies annoyed me, and I had no patience for them; I
felt abased to the level of joints and muscles, to the level of organs
-- nothing which could awaken my interest. As a child I had no ambition
to "become healthy." Till the age of 13, I took my condition as it was
and couldn't imagine that any change would be possible. This attitude
changed from one second to the next, when I had the courage to take a
pot with milk out of the refrigerator one day and to carry it to the
oven several meters away.
It was a very long way, and the pot was pretty wide and flat.
Each inappropriate movement could cause the milk to spill. And yet I
was fascinated by the idea of carrying the milk myself, without the
help of others. And behold, the inner wish to surpass myself culminated
in a success which completely transformed the boundaries of my
self-image. The attention, indeed the fascination, with which I
observed the movement of the milk in the bowl at every one of my uneven
steps all the way along, was for me like a conducting and guiding
"instruction" without any kind of judgment of my ability. In those
moments while I carried the milk, I didn't feel any panic and no
thought of failure came up in my mind. I was only aware of the fact
that no milk was to be poured or spilt. I happened to be alone at home;
otherwise I would have been "helped" by my parents or someone else. I
must remind you that at that time my walking was very spastic and very
jerky. Here, for the first time in my life, I experienced a state of
awareness which allowed me "to know what I was actually doing" with
every one of my steps. While I carried the milk I took all the time
needed in order to walk as smoothly as possible, in very slow motion
similar to a Thai Chi exercise.
After I had put the pot on the stove, I understood that any improvement
and change in my condition would depend only on my own mental power, on
my readiness to take all the necessary time, and to invest it in the
analytical observation of my movements.
This way of thinking is in fact the most difficult thing to keep in
mind and to put into action. While I was walking with the milk pot, I
entered into a state of mind completely different from my usual one -
for the first time in my life, I acted in full awareness. For the first
time I felt that it was in my power to learn to control myself. In
spite of this experience, I accepted it as a matter of fact, without
actually making use of it: I was a lazy child. How to use my awareness
for making my movements more efficient and more effective was still
hidden from me.
One year before my family and I immigrated to Israel, a friend of mine,
a neighbour-boy one year older than I, visited me one evening. During
his visit he asked me suddenly, "Can you do like this?" and threw his
arms behind his neck and interlaced them in the front with the fingers
clenched around his throat. I was astonished by the suppleness of his
arms, by the movement of his shoulder blades, which could go outside
laterally in a way I had never seen before. There was a kind of exotic
elegance in his movements and postures which fascinated me immediately.
I asked him how he came to such ability and he showed me some primary
exercises for self-control and told me that these techniques come from
Hatha-Yoga. They were very slow movements of the fingers, of the arms,
legs, etc. I was so fascinated by these techniques, by the high
spiritual approach to the body, that ever since that time I never
ceased to "analyze" my movements with the aim of improving them
permanently. This is how I was confronted with Yoga for the first time.
In doing Yoga exercises, I have very often run up against difficulties
which I was unable to solve, such as the impossibility to feel certain
parts of my body or certain muscles. I tried to do slow-motion
exercises which were very interesting by themselves, but which, - in
some cases - instead of solving problems, aroused even more
difficulties, and this, of course, also because of my lack of
experience at that time in how to use the "Yoga-System." It was for me
a completely new field. Yet, I experienced a very important, if not
crucial, thing for my further development: I became aware of what I
cannot do, of these impediments which didn't allow me to do what I
intended to do as movement.
This kind of awareness - awareness of the physical impediments in the
execution of the movements I intended to do - was the precondition to
my looking for a solution, for someone who would be able to approach my
problems not in the form of diagnosing a specific illness (with which I
was never able to identify), but through the confrontation with my
actual problems, independent of their names. The "ritual" of
controlling and diagnosing which most doctors performed in the same
way, so that as early as at the age of 7 or 8 already I was able to
foresee its course at each moment, revealed each time a kind of
conditioning of the "specialists" by their own routine. This routine
seemed to me as grotesque as a circus performance repeated by different
persons who are not aware of one another, so that I couldn't help
laughing, like somebody viewing a scene from one of Fellini's films.
The two or three times it happened, the consultants thought I was not
only spastic but also retarded.
Upon my emigration to Israel in 1970, I started to look for a Yoga
teacher able to instruct me how to learn the skills I wished to
achieve. After a mediocre experience with a Yoga teacher in Tel Aviv, I
gave up looking for a teacher ready and able to face and cope with my
When I met Moshé Feldenkrais in 1972 I realized that there was the
personality and teacher who had lived in my imagination long before I
learned about his physical existence. This, I discovered later,
corresponded to one of the principles of his method involving the
relationship between imagination and reality: Feldenkrais was of the
opinion that to be successfully performed, an act -- from the simplest
movement to the most complex -- needs to exist first as a mental
concept. This is a guiding principle in Feldenkrais' "Awareness Through
Movement" lessons and informs all his work. Later I understood that my
attitude matched his philosophy of life: I felt neither sick nor
disabled, but simply prevented from doing what I wanted -- to study
music and become a conductor.
If I describe my instinctively correct attitude to the "problem of
spasticity" here, it's not to show how clever I was as a child. I am
writing as one of the privileged few who were given a chance -- by
Feldenkrais and his method -- to follow this instinct and enjoy the
results. (This text was written already in 1991.) Today I understand
what every spastic child senses and hopes -- something that represents
the seed of positive solution, but is in most cases tragically crushed.
My meeting with Feldenkrais had a functional purpose: I didn't want to
"get well." I wanted to develop the physical abilities necessary to
conduct an orchestra.
- "HIS CONDITION WILL CONTINUE TO DETERIORATE"
In order to illustrate how insane this wish appeared to the people in
my environment at that time, I must describe an incident that happened
shortly before my first encounter with Moshé Feldenkrais. After my
immigration with my family to Israel, a distant uncle arranged a
meeting with one of the country's most famous neurosurgeons, so that I
could get some advice about my situation and possible ways of improving
it. The encounter went as follows: I enter the professor's office in
the company of my mother and aunt, also a doctor. After exchanging a
few words with my mother, the professor asks me to walk a little to and
fro. Once I have sat down in front of his desk, he turns to my mother
and aunt and says in a quiet decisive tone, "In his case there is
nothing to be done anymore. He is too old and I can't guarantee any
improvement through surgery. It is to be expected that his condition
will continue to deteriorate."
The man never once turned to me. He never once talked to me. It was as
if I were not present or worthy of professional attention. I still
remember how he stared at his desk after giving his verdict. Other
professors, who had come to medical congresses in Bucharest and had
been consulted by my parents, had passed similar judgments. Thus it
happened that, despite all my parents' attempts throughout my childhood
to find a therapy for my "disease" among the "best" doctors,
professors, and therapists, my physical condition kept getting worse.
Since my early childhood I had been painting, albeit with considerable
difficulty, and had been much acclaimed as a young artist, even
receiving international awards and a grant. My work had been shown in
individual and collective exhibitions in Romania and abroad. But
shortly after my arrival in Israel, I had to give up painting because
sitting and holding a brush caused a lot of pain. In order to prevent
the brush stroke from veering off in an unintended direction, I had to
steady my hand with my cheek.
Shortly before we immigrated to Israel, when I was 16, my body had
fallen victim to a whole range of totally uncontrollable movements
which made it impossible to execute any intentional action with even a
modicum of precision. Because of my extreme spasticity, my knees seemed
to be "glued" together forever. Walking meant falling every ten steps
or so. Contacting the floor with the heels remained utopian as in my
childhood - on all four levels mentioned by Feldenkrais in his book
Awareness Through Movement: the sensory, the emotional, the mental, and
that of actual movement.
EVERY TOUCH WAS A SURPRISE FOR ME
- FELDENKRAIS WAS GUIDING MY AWARENESS FROM INSIDE
One day, during a visit, a cousin of mine spoke about a physicist who
had taught Ben Gurion to stand on his head some years before, after he
had suffered from chronic lumbago. As I later experienced a kind of
distrust and skepticism on the part of everyone I asked about "the
master" of Ben Gurion, my interest to know him grew even more. I asked
my uncle, Dr. Landau -- who knew, thanks to his political activities,
all the personalities in Israel -- about his name, and he told me,
"Feldenkrais, but he is not a doctor." With the feeling that something
decisive in my life would happen, something for which I had waited ever
since I knew myself, I looked for "Feldenkrais, Moshé" in the telephone
directory. It was a Friday evening when my elder sister called him. He
gave me an appointment on the Tuesday of the following week.
The silence which reigned in his Nachmany Institute, and the very
modestly furnished waiting room, held something mystical for me. As I
was invited by Feldenkrais to come into his teaching room, I was
astonished to see most of his students sitting around his working
table. I did not have the courage to say that I would prefer not to be
looked at during the session, and allowed them to observe me like a
He asked me to take off my shoes and lie on my back on his work table.
His face was serious, but in his eyes there was a hint of a sympathetic
smile. I felt how he observed me out of the corner of his eyes. His
look was free of expectation and didn't rest on me for long. I felt
that he was thinking, pondering, preparing something.
As I lay on his work table, I experienced for the first time in my life
the disorder in my body with such a violence that I asked myself
whether I had ever lain on my back before. The contact of my back with
the surface of the table seemed to me like my personal "Last Judgment,"
as if someone told me, "Look, what you have made out of yourself!" I
cannot explain how, but this was the first time that lying on my back
provoked that kind of sharp perception. The tensions in the whole body
were responsible not only for my twisted members and joints, for my
round shoulder blades and my curved small of the back, but also for the
chaotic pressure of my limbs on the surface of the table, as if the
table were jerking from side to side and I had to press on the table
with my arms, legs and my head in order not to fall down.
I became aware for the first time of the convulsive, chaotic movements
that expressed the extent of the lack of control over myself and
prevented me from experiencing a state of rest. After a few moments in
which Feldenkrais let me be confronted with my real condition, he
supported my shoulder blades with wooden semi cylinders of wood and put
two blankets, one under my knees and the other under the small of the
back. My spontaneous reaction to this kind of support was open
laughter, in spite of the number of students present. This laugh burst
out, first, because of my enchantment with his being able and ready to
make someone acquainted with the possibility, with the "alternative" of
a much easier, much more comfortable way of being and, secondly,
because of the prompt effectiveness of his strategy. In that moment I
understood that I needn't tell him anything about my suffering.
Each one of Feldenkrais' supports was from the first moment, without
changes or trials, just the ideal support I needed at that moment. I
wondered how a hard wooden form could be comfortable, as if I lay on
sand. The greater surprise came after a few minutes, as he grasped my
ankles. It was as if he communicated by his grasp ("non verbal
communication"), "Look, I hold you tight enough so that you cannot fall
from the table." Step by step, he began to grasp me from the ankles to
my head, as if he told me through his hands to feel, to pay attention
to what I was doing with myself in the places he touched. He had
already come to my body with his entire mind, and was guiding my
awareness from inside in the most unpredictable ways. Every touch was a
surprise for me. I was amazed about the extent to which this other
person was capable of feeling my whole being. In a way I experienced
divine love during that session. I couldn't help bursting out laughing
at each touch of Feldenkrais' hand. It was as if he was playing
hide-and-seek with me and kept saying, "I'll find and catch you in any
corner of your being!" I wanted to shriek with laughter, but was too
timid and "civilized," so I had to resign myself to suppressed,
convulsive, and idiotic giggling instead.
This was no muscle-therapy, no "body-massage" and no "energetic
induction." It was for me a sharp, even cruel confrontation with myself
and my ability of physical control. Through his hands he induced me to
a precise self-analysis. Only more than ten years later I grasped that
this first session had in fact induced me to scrutinize my own
At the end of the lesson, Feldenkrais told my mother that this session
was mainly exploratory, and the treatment proper would begin next time.
My mother, who obviously had no idea what had happened during the
session, asked, "Can he be helped in some way?" At that, Feldenkrais
seemed to fly into a rage that was very pleasant for me because it
expressed exactly what I felt. He turned his back on my mother and
gestured to where I was sitting, putting on my shoes, "Why are you
asking me? Ask him if he can be helped!" At that moment, at the end of
my first session with Feldenkrais, I felt like a person who after many
years of wandering through a Holocaust has finally the chance of
experiencing freedom and peace in times of justice. Mine was a personal
Holocaust in which I had to fight for my integrity as a human being. It
was a Holocaust created solely by physical disability obstructing free
development of the personality.
My mother told Feldenkrais of my great wish to be a musician, a
conductor, the tone of her voice seeming to imply, "Isn't he a little
insane?" Feldenkrais looked at me and replied, "As long as nothing is
cut in his body, he can learn anything."
In the second lesson, Feldenkrais began with the "artificial floor." I
remember how uncomfortable the touch of his board was on my feet and on
the tips of my toes. In spite of lying on my back, the fine touch on
the soles of my feet gave me the feeling of standing on an unstable
floor to which I needed to adapt. It is just this kind of ability to
adapt my nervous system to every minute impulse and change that he
intended to awake. Although I felt awkward being confronted with this
kind of stimulus to which I could not react properly at the first
moment, after about ten minutes I felt a kind of lightness overcome the
muscles of my legs, hips, and the lower part of my abdomen. The
lightness I felt was so unusual and so strange it was as if he had
replaced my legs and hips with others, with new ones I wasn't
acquainted with. I felt myself becoming long and far off my feet and my
hips like Alice in Wonderland. Gradually, this feeling of length and
lightness grew in my awareness and "kicked out" the first feeling of
awkwardness. Wondering at the precision of his witty sorcery, and
grasping the change taking place in my body as a mechanism beyond my
power, I couldn't help laughing again.
At that time my spasticity was so acute that, I think, Feldenkrais
found it better to bypass my self-image, my distorted awareness of
myself, and to give impulses which were appropriate to create new
experiences for the nervous-system, experiences which could overlap my
self-image, i.e. which my nervous system didn't know before and
therefore could integrate without difficulty, as "fresh news." I now
understand his strategies in dealing with my spasticity as a frontal
breaking of the fronts, avoiding any kind of "negotiations" with my
(Rereading my text I remember his statement in the preface of The
Elusive Obvious: "I myself do not like pre-digested food.") He just
provoked my nervous system through his stimuli and watched my
The marvel of his strategies was that he knew in advance what kind of
stimulus I needed in order to get the most positive result I was
capable of. At the beginning of this second session, I could not
foresee the outcome of his manoeuvers. After about twenty minutes, he
put his hand on my forehead. By his "listening" touch I became aware of
the stiffness in my neck and shoulder area. He began to induce my head
in a rolling movement from one side to the other by means of short,
light zigzag "movement hints." However, then I was much too stiff to
cope with the directions of movement in which he tried to induce my
He grasped my abdominal muscles from the side, the way he would have
grasped a very thick and tight rope or bundle, and lifted me in the air
so that my whole body hung down from the abdominal muscles. This was
such a great relief for me that I felt as if no gravity existed at all.
All parts of my body fell on the table as if someone had cut a rope
which had held them bound together. Again I laughed. This was my
reaction to the feeling of relief and even more to the effectiveness of
his manoeuver. I always wondered at the ways he chose to "play" with
Later, after ten years of Feldenkrais experience, I understood the
order in which he built these lessons. Beginning his second lesson with
the "artificial floor," he observed my reactions to the different kinds
of "standing" which he evoked in my nervous-system through the stimuli
he gave to the soles of my feet with his board: the stiffening of my
neck, of my chest and stomach. Although I was lying on my back and was
supported, not having to keep myself in the field of gravity, the
different touches on the soles of my feet evoked the function of
standing in my nervous system, with all the implications resulting from
a distortedly adapted standing function.
Each touch of his board on my soles meant for my nervous system a
"standing on the touched surfaces." The clue of his lesson was that the
standing function was evoked in the lying position -- a context which,
being new and not yet "corrupted" by use, allowed me to get rid of some
pathological reactions which interfered with the actual standing
function. Instead of contracting and stiffen-ing my whole body, as I
would do in standing, I gradually learned that I was actually lying on
my back without any risk of falling.
The surface of the table I was lying on became surprisingly smooth,
friendly and huge in all directions. I felt as though I were lying in
sand: no contraction was necessary against the gravity and as he
"checked" my head rotation once more at the end of the session, my neck
yielded to his hand like a dancer who follows in the movement induced
by his partner. Much to my surprise, I felt no strangeness, no
discomfort when I really stood on my feet, although I had a completely
new feeling of my body and of the floor. Feldenkrais knew how to work
out my standing in the lying position, so that it would be integrated
as much as possible in my nervous system the moment I came to the real
In one of the lessons he gave me later, in 1980, he told someone who
looked at his work that for a good integration you must always check
the neck at the end of a session, and if you let the person come up
from the table with a stiff or "disorganized" neck, you have spoiled
the whole lesson.
I would like to make here two general remarks about the private sessions with Moshé Feldenkrais:
He began his sessions with me by some irritations, or sometimes even
powerful stimuli, so that I would react in some way; and according to
my reaction, he took the next step. He changed, so to speak, the
environment, which allowed me to learn. He created for me the
conditions in which I could learn.
He finished the sessions at the exact moment when my
alertness and my attentiveness were at their highest point. The effect
was momentarily very disappointing -- I wished he would continue a
little more. This kind of sudden interruption in a pleasant and even
thrilling learning process had the effect of a "small trauma."
I couldn't explain why in spite of having sessions with Feldenkrais
only once or twice a week, I woke up every morning with the same
feeling I had at the end of his functional integration (F.I.)
treatments. Later on, I understood that this morning feeling was due to
the "trauma" at the end of his lessons which unconsciously fixed the
impact of the lesson even more in my nervous system; every time I came
into a state of subconsciousness, like in sleep, my nervous system
remembered the "trauma" which was inevitably notated with my condition
at the end of the F.I.
All these "small traumas" made a huge difference; I can remember all
the F.I. lessons I had in the 70`s even in their smallest detail. In
order to make me aware of this or that aspect in my spasticity,
Feldenkrais communicated in his F.I.'s with my senses and not with my
intellect. In his Alexander Yanai lessons I often heard him say, after
he had introduced a new movement to the group, "Do it many, many times
as light as possible so that you feel you do nothing and you will see
that this "doing nothing" will become interesting. Don't worry if it is
badly done or well done. Your body is cleverer than yourself. The most
important thing is to feel comfortable while you do this."
He was genius enough to recognize that my body was "more clever" than I was myself.
I said above that Feldenkrais by-passed my awareness, by which I mean
that he by-passed my habitual awareness, my actual self-image, which
was useless for an improving and evolving process at that time. He
approached my self-image as capable of perceiving new impressions, but
too much distorted at that time to initiate any positive changes. If he
had not affected my awareness at all, I wouldn't have been able to
remember the sensation at the end of each of his lessons every morning
as I woke up, and I would not have been able to write about his lessons
now, more than 20 years later. He told me once, "I am going very deep
into your brain." In other words, he aimed at my sensory perception
without interfering with my distorted self-image or with any kind of
intellectual attempt to become aware of what I was actually doing at
that time. He proceeded in the way one might manage a somnambulist who
is safe walking on the roof only as long as he feels what he is doing
without knowing what he is doing. In order to prevent a fall, you don't
wake him up to show him what he must do, but guide him "in his
language" or "from his level," as Feldenkrais liked to say, in the
language and at the level of awareness he can cope with -- the language
Through the impulses and stimuli he gave to my nervous-system, he
confronted me with reactions I had not experienced till then; not only
did this create a completely new awareness and knowledge (cognition),
but it also inhibited aspects of my habitual self-image, making room
for a new, better, and more appropriate one. Like teaching a language,
he gave me the necessary impulses to learn new and more efficient
patterns of reaction and movement.
For me the Feldenkrais Method is not only a method, but also a
language, a language of feeling, sensing, thinking and movement. Even
more than this, it is an artistic medium for me, not only of non-verbal
communication, but also of authentic non-verbal expression coming from
the core of the personality. In the Amherst training, Feldenkrais asked
his students to cry out for help so authentically and so convincingly
that he could become convinced of the necessity to help. As far as I
remember that lesson, not one of his students cried out for help in a
convincing way. Turning this example the other way around, his touch
was so convincing and so clear in the message he communicated, that it
meant (when treating me) a powerful assertion of his readiness to
confront himself with my limitations.
Only someone who is really aware of someone else's limitations; i.e.,
who also engages his senses and his feeling and not only his thinking
when acting, only such a person is capable of helping another person.
Thanks to my long experience in receiving Feldenkrais for myself, I
felt the need to do Feldenkrais for others; I wanted to convince the
others too of the marvel of the Feldenkrais Method, by bringing them
this experience. To summarize it once more, the Feldenkrais Method
means to me not only a method or a technique, but primarily a way to
express something encompassing both science and human expression in
one. I want to accentuate this human aspect because, unfortunately,
many practitioners of the new generation try to apply a "technique"
without the sufficient self-experience necessary for really sensing and
feeling what the other person feels. The "technique" used in this way
often betrays an alienation from their own feeling, and from that of
the person they work with. It is as if instead of having a sincerely
gentle touch, somebody would have only the sort of uninvolved polite
touch a stewardess may use, a touch which never gets to the core of any
I would like to describe another very special F.I. story, an F.I. in
which a psychoanalytic aspect dominated and which is essential for the
understanding of the ways in which the Method works.
In 1981, before Feldenkrais traveled to Freiburg where he taught a
workshop, he gave his last F.I. for me. In this F.I. he surprised me
with a kind of telepathy...
At that time I was preoccupied with the theories and the writing of
Sigmund Freud. Without daring to speak to Feldenkrais about it, I had
found an analogy between Freud's theory of hysteria and obsession and
the stiffening of the muscles in some functional contexts experienced
by everybody. I read a small booklet by Feldenkrais in Hebrew called
Chapters on my Method, in which he also describes emotional expression
in the body's behaviour; e.g., making fists in moments of anger, fury,
etc. Freud writes, "Object-libido was at first ego-libido and can be
again transformed into ego-libido. For complete health it is essential
that the libido should not lose this full mobility. As an illustration
of this state of things we may think of an amoeba, the protoplasm of
which puts out pseudopodia, elongations into which the substance of the
body extends but which can be retracted at any time so that the form of
the protoplasmic mass is reinstated."
When I read this passage I thought, "Look, it's like the functioning of
the antagonist muscles. In cases of undeveloped functions in the
nervous-system, the activity of the nerves and of the respective
muscles continues even after this activity is not needed anymore." The
inability to change quickly between the activities of the antagonist
muscles shows an inability to change the direction of a movement
according to the real intention and necessity. For example, pianists
who cannot play speedily stick their fingers to the keys too much so
that they cannot lift them as quickly as they intend to do. The same
principle applies to walking (If you balance yourself very gradually
from one leg to the other, you will perhaps observe how your buttocks
muscles are mobilized even before you change the leg and this also much
more than necessary. This causes stamping with the feet on the floor
instead of sliding fluidly from one foot to the other while walking).
A day after this I had an F.I. session with Feldenkrais. While
I was lying on my stomach, he put a stick in my right hand, my head
turned to the side with my hand near my face. On the stick he had put
hair curlers. The surface I held in my hand was therefore rougher than
that of the actual stick, so that I felt much more intensively that I
was holding something in my hand. He told me to do the following: to
hold the stick in my hand and then to open my fingers only as far as
needed to move it a little bit to one side and a little bit to the
other. Actually, the movement of the stick in my hand was only a means
to control my awareness of what I was doing and whether I was
continuing to hold the stick or not. In a word, it was a fine trick to
increase control of the antagonists of the hand and of the fingers with
a minimum of movement. The small, sharp pins of those hair curlers gave
me a clear sensation in my palm of what I was actually doing as I held
the stick, and also, when I stopped holding it. By doing this more than
10 minutes, I began to feel not only my fingers and hand becoming
light, but also my shoulder, my shoulder blade and gradually my whole
right side, even my buttocks and legs became light as if they were
weightless on the table. Feldenkrais spoke in a low voice, almost
monotonously, "Hold it, let it go. . .Hold it, let it go. . ." Then, as
if continuing to say the same thing, without any change in his voice,
the words became "Love it, stop loving it. . . etc." I regret that I
never asked him how he came to such an idea (as if he knew what I had
read and thought about, the day before). I just accepted with pleasure
that we were on the same wavelength. Thus, it will remain an enigma for
the rest of my life that just as I gained a wider understanding of the
connection between psychical and physical behaviour, he gave me a
lesson in which he changed from "holding" to "loving" in connection
with the closing and the opening of my hand.
Each one of his sessions was a great adventure for me. Each time, he
surprised and astonished me with new and completely unexpected "games."
The state of mind in which each one of these sessions evolved was that
of a mature animal playing with his child. Afterwards, I always felt
free and happy, as if nothing could ever keep me from developing and
freeing myself from any physical impediment.
After six months of F.I.'s with Feldenkrais and with Yochanan under his
supervision, I joined the group lessons in Alexander Yanai Street.
After two weeks of these, I felt very disappointed because almost all
the group lessons were impossible in my physical condition. Often, the
instructed movements caused insurmountable difficulties: I couldn't sit
or stand without the feeling that my body crashed under the pressure of
gravity, so any benefit of the exercise was ruined by my inability to
cope normally with the field of gravity in the standing position. This
difficulty accentuated tension in the lumbar region so that the small
of my back would be aching and even burning. Nevertheless, I was
optimistic because I knew that the group lessons covered an immense
amount of material which would help me later when my capacity would
improve. At that time I lacked balance in the upright position, being
unable to stand on the whole foot and to balance my weight smoothly
from one foot to the other. This, of course, is a primary function
necessary for improvement through A.T.M. lessons. I decided it was much
too early to begin with the group lessons, which each time had a
disorganizing storming effect on my nervous system. I knew I had to
achieve first some order in my nervous system myself.
I began to read Moshé Feldenkrais's book Awareness Through Movement. In
the very first lesson I thought I had found the key to my trouble. As I
tried to balance from one foot to the other, I became aware that I was
not able to stand at all: My left leg was much shorter than my right
one, my knees pressed one against the other and were so stiff that it
was impossible for me even to think about balancing on the feet, while
the tendons of my thighs felt like piano cords. I remembered how
Feldenkrais had worked on my feet with the board, and I saw a great
analogy between what he was doing and the balancing in the first lesson
of his book. I began by leaning my back on the wall and tried to feel I
am leaning safely on the wall and on my feet. Each time I felt I was
losing balance and might fall, I leant immediately against the wall. I
was tempted to read the following lessons, but with great tenacity I
tried first to bring my standing to perfection. Unfortunately, this
proved to be a great mistake which created much more trouble than my
actual handicap, but more about this later. For about two months I did
practically nothing else but balance myself from one foot to the other
all day long, so that one day my grandmother gave me the nickname "The
Gradually, my heels came to the floor and my legs became equal -- when
passing my weight from the left foot to the right foot I didn't feel
the need "to climb" over my right hip any more, and I could feel my
pelvis become horizontal. I could begin to do the circle movements
without needing the wall any more, and after about five weeks I could
do all the movements on one foot even in the middle of the room. By
gradually achieving "the absolute standing," I felt how my whole body
became incredibly light, as if gravity did not exist anymore.
The moment I tried to change the balancing into a walking movement,
however, I felt I had hit a wall. I began then to make variations of
the balancing exercises from Feldenkrais' book by doing them with one
foot a little behind the other, as though taking a very small step. At
the beginning I felt once more the uncomfortable feeling of having to
surmount my right hip the moment I tried to put weight on that foot. I
overcame this as well.
I remembered that after working with my feet, Feldenkrais
always checked my neck and my head. Among the lessons at Alexander
Yanai which I was able to do in the two first weeks of my going there,
was one for the neck. Using a chair, I moved my head up and down
looking a little bit more to the right or to the left with every
movement, and also inclined my head while keeping my nose forward. I
added these movements to my "standing program" in order to improve the
mobility of my neck, thereby achieving an easier and smoother turning
of my trunk from right to left and vice-versa. Gradually, I became able
to balance myself on my feet without moving my head, using only eye
movements from left to right. I could walk with an infinite lightness
as if I had no weight any more. The most important accomplishment in
walking was learning to guide my trunk in such a way that the moment I
touched the ground with one heel, my whole weight would "fall" on it,
so that the buttock of the other leg would be able to relax and permit
the corresponding foot to detach and come off the floor. At the same
time, while swinging the leg forward, I would turn my trunk by way of a
minimal movement of the eyes and head in the direction of the swinging
leg, which -- through its weight - would pull my whole body in its
direction. In other words, the swinging of a leg pulled the body
forward while the turning of the head directed the weight of the body
onto the leg coming forward at the right moment. It was very important
to keep the hips in a vertical line with the head at all times;
otherwise the whole system couldn't function.
After two months of "Feldenkrais-walking" 10 hours a day, I could walk
as smoothly as if I rolled on skates. However, all that time I had not
gone outside. When I finally did, I was thunderstruck. The moment I saw
spaces other than those of the rooms of my apartment, I wasn't able to
walk a single step. I felt even more paralyzed than before my
experiment. It was the change in surroundings, which I had completely
left out of the equation while experimenting in my flat.
If you try to imagine somebody walking on the road and unexpectedly
coming upon an abyss on the edge of the road, several hundred meters
deep with the roaring ocean below, you may feel what I was feeling when
I tried to walk in the street with my newly acquired walking skill.
For the next five years I worked on integrating the environment, the
street with its movement, into the function of walking and my
self-image of this function.
I continued going to the group lessons, four times a week, two to three
hours every time, for more than nine years. However, as Feldenkrais
advised me, I took from each of his lessons only that part which I
needed. I could continue and fill several hundred pages with the story
of my case, but I interrupt here in order not to abuse over-measure the
In any case, my experience with Moshé Feldenkrais' teaching allowed me
to get into the very core of his method so that for me it became my
Looking back over the years to the time I began to apply "Moshe's
Method" to handicapped babies and small children, I feel I am the
advocate of a crucial truth, a very human one, perhaps the most human
one since the beginning of humanity. And these children can be helped.