Sarah Best Naturally Able Guide

Exploring Virtual Feldenkrais Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Below, N-ABLE Guide Sarah Best shares her Feldenkrais physical therapy exercise as a resource for friends who have Cerebral Palsy or another condition that may benefit from this form of therapy. Remember, all stories on this website are informational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please contact your healthcare provider about questions related to your individual needs.

During this time of social distancing, I have found it quite an interesting challenge to discover ways to stay connected and motivated. I have been working from home, maintaining the training of my service dog and spending time with my family, then going to sleep and waking up just to do the same thing again. I thought, “How can I work on maintaining my physical well-being during this time?”

As many healthcare businesses have closed their doors, they have re-opened in a virtual form, such as the Feldenkrais Institute in New York City. The Feldenkrais Method aims to bring awareness to how we move. This therapy method can take place in a group class format and also indiviualized one-on-one set up.

I have been fortunate to work with Mark Hirshfield, a senior Feldenkrais practitioner in New York City. Mark has been teaching classes, workshops and private individual sessions for over 15 years.

VIDEO: Sarah Best Explores Feldenkrais Therapy with Mark Hirshfield

WHY SARAH TRIED ADDITIONAL PHYSICAL THERAPY

Having been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at the age of 2, I have engaged in countless physical therapy sessions over the course of my life. Some were more beneficial than others, but what they didn’t teach me was how to move.

In those former classes, I was always given the instruction to do a task, such as to shift my weight onto one leg. If I couldn’t complete that task, I was asked to do it again and try harder instead of being guided with alternatives to help me understand how to accomplish the task more efficiently. Yes, physical therapy can help, but as Mark describes it in the video above, when a person gets prescribed physical therapy, usually the prescription involves working with the part of the body that is injured or needs help.

While this seems logical, the logic does not take into account a complete picture of how any living organism functions. This can be viewed as a piecemeal mindset, as working with just one muscle or muscle group doesn’t take into account the integrated quality of a living organism.

Growing up with Cerebral Palsy, Sarah endured countless operations and procedures as a child.
Growing up with Cerebral Palsy, Sarah endured countless operations and procedures as a child.

To realize significant improvement, each part is dependent on the function of the whole and that’s what the Feldenkrais Method attempts to accomplish.

So, what exactly is the Feldenkrais Method?

Mark defines it as “a neuro-muscular reeducation technique that is designed to improve efficiency in human movement, and that the human brain is a habit-making device. We habitualize many of the ways in which our brain functions: we have habitual thought patterns, habitual emotional responses and we habitualize the way we move.”

The personal effects of my sessions with Mark have been life-changing for me. I started these classes about three years ago—commuting into New York City two times a week. It was quite a commute, with three hours of traveling each way, two days in a row.

Sounds tiring, right? It sure was! I did it because I was invested in what the method could offer me. It felt like such a relief to be doing something that wasn’t classified as physical therapy.

I wasn’t doing it because I needed to rehabilitate, but more so because I wanted to. I realized that this type of movement reeducation was exactly what I had been looking for all along. I already had ways of moving in order to get around and function, but it wasn’t efficient.

Sarah often speaks and teaches to help others learn about life with Cerebral Palsy.
Sarah often speaks and teaches to help others learn about life with Cerebral Palsy.
The Silver Lining of Sarah’s Virtual Feldenkrais Therapy Sessions

Through my individual Feldenkrais sessions, I have been able to re-learn how to move.  As babies, we are left entirely on our own to form our movement patterns, some of which may stay with us throughout our entire lifetime.

Due to being born with Cerebral Palsy, I had devised my own movements that certainly allowed me to function, but remember being constantly frustrated because I couldn’t accomplish the tasks the way I envisioned or saw others doing.

Because the method is very hands on, Mark was able to help me adjust in ways that typically wouldn’t be attainable for me. I felt the difference, physically.

I believe that my Feldenkrais therapy sessions have taught my brain new patterns that I can now call on to move.

So this is how my virtual therapy class works. We set an appointment time and then we hop online via a Zoom call. My practitioner guides me through the session as we normally would, except, I am following his verbal and visual directions without physical assistance. Honestly, I never thought that was attainable for me. Fear and anxiety always got in my way when I previously thought about doing any physical exercises alone.

“Would I be able to do them good enough? Will I be able to support myself in different positions? Will I get the same benefit if I was doing the exercises alone?,” I asked myself.

After the first virtual session, my questions were answered and my fears were reassured.

Mark has been able to guide me and go at a pace that feels appropriate and comfortable to me, even in a virtual setting.

Finding the right therapy and therapist is so important. The value that I receive from the Feldenkrais Method didn’t just magically happen. It is a mixture of both my physical dedication and also the personal rapport that I have with my therapist.

Each session is tailored to me and my needs. I always have the opportunity to make choices about what feels good to me, and that’s why I hope you will explore virtual physical therapy too.

About Sarah Best
About Sarah Best
Sarah is our resident social media guru as she helps us share NATURALLY ABLE resources on a daily basis. A natural entrepreneur, Sarah also runs her own social media consulting practice and works from home in Upstate New York.
Sarah graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 2014 with a bachelors degree in Sociology and a concentration in Human Services. Growing up having Cerebral Palsy, she has never let her disability define her.

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