How A PT Transitioned from Manual Therapy to Telehealth with the Feldenkrais Method

I am a practice owner. When I was 30 years old, I started my own Physical Therapy Practice. I didn’t ask “why,” as modern business leaders teach, neither about the business nor the career, but “how” is nearly always at the forefront of my mind.  With the shutdown, I believe “how,” took a larger precedent for all of us.     

Five years before I opened my physical practice, I had suffered a pretty severe back injury.  I had been an aerobics teacher, a personal trainer and Pilates instructor by then.  I also became a Physical Therapist, a serious student of Tai Chi, and a Cranial Sacral Therapist.  Yet, with all of this “training,” I still had no relief from my back pain.  When I was in PT school, I even did something very atypical for graduate students-  I took nearly 20 continuing education courses in Manual Therapy for post professional PTs. I handled their course registration and filled up their coffee and water; and in exchange, the continuing education companies would allow me to take their seminars for free.  These were multi-day courses that professional PTs were spending thousands to take!, and I soaked it up. I learned a ton, but the manual manipulation practice was too much or me to take, and I often ended these courses with flare-up or sometimes the feeling like I would faint.

Finally, just after school ended, after 3 years of pain, I started my training to become a Feldenkrais Practitioner.  Within a year, I was pain-free. Then, as happens to people who are no longer bound by pain, suddenly I was blessed with an increase in energy and drive. I started my Solo practice with a bang after just one year of professional work, and I worked tirelessly as a manual therapist every day for 10 years thereafter.  My greatest asset as a practitioner was that I had learned how to move out of my own pain.  Patients would often hear me say, “trust the process,” because I knew that their rehabilitation could only come as fast as they could process their own movements and habits. 

Then just before my 40th birthday, I injured myself again. I made a ridiculous flaw in a Jujitsu grappling incident. The pain was minor, but my back felt “stuck,” so, I went to a PT whom I knew and trusted for some help.  I recall very clearly that my complaint that day was a 0.5/10 pain.  He then gave me a manual treatment that left me feeling completely discombobulated with an increase in pain and a feeling like I didn’t know where my legs were.   Of course, because of my history, I didn’t panic. Rather, my mind went to patient experience, and how indeed disorienting it is to not feel like yourself.  This was something I had forgotten.

A couple of months later, COVID happened, and with it came enough time for me to figure out how I would get my body back into ordinary function.  So I took myself back through the same process with the Feldenkrais Method that moved me out of pain 10 years before. Only this time, I was met with a different version of myself.  Back then, I spent four intensive years lying on the floor and learning of my habits, my physicality, my misuse of myself, and my own self trust.  I had been practicing regularly since that time, so what more could there be to learn?

I invited myself to start all over again, making a study out of my own physical map, using the floor as feedback for where my bones lay and where my muscles were thickened. Eventually, through this process, I again fully recovered. Actually, I more than recovered- I improved.  And quite naturally, I became curious- could I actually teach this methodology to patients on Telehealth? 

I started with my colleague Margi. Once a week, I would meet with her on Zoom, and I would take her through her own process of self-discovery with the Feldenkrais Method.  With time, we both fell in love with how profound our experiences were.   So, naturally it trickled down to our students, clients and patients, who were also able to recover from all kinds of injuries that had never been properly addressed. 

With every improvement that a patient made, I also knew I had to learn more, investigate more, and sharpen my own skills. So I continued to lie on the floor and draw up more and more “lessons” for patients to engage with.  I spent far more time than ever trying to contemplate what patients were telling me, what I was noticing in their movement patterns, and what kind of physical “lesson” I could teach them on how to recover.

I relied so heavily on patients’ feedback, that they had no option but to search for their own answers. I relied on the fact that sensation and movement are so intimately connected via the nervous system, that by sharing their sensations with me, they became more aware of their movement patterns, and the potential for change.  

I could have done this very differently.  I could have instead tried to teach patients the correct and incorrect ways to move. But as a former trainer, I knew this would eventually plateau. I wanted more for them. I wanted to teach them the “how.”