by Barbara Jones, GCFP

Pain can become a familiar friend, creating focus and meaning in lives. I have deep respect for pain as not so long ago it was my best buddy.

It had taken months for Carol Ann Clouston to tempt me to attend her Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® class. I lived in Cairo, Egypt at the time and was in so much pain that some days I could barely think.

Six months earlier, I had been in a car accident. I was driving through the Western desert, from Cairo to Alexandria. I was amused that the newly completed highway had a 15-foot ditch separating the north and southbound traffic. A drastic way to stop U-turns. The highway was a straight as a ruler drawn line but unknown to me, 20 km out of Cairo the highway took a sharp 90-degree bend. I was right on the bend when a sandstorm hit. It came from nowhere. Visibility was zero. The heat was so intense it felt like a roasting hot blanket had been thrown over my car.

I regained consciousness trapped in my upturned car. It had cart-wheeled and was sitting on the roof straddling the 15-foot ditch. Terrified by the sighing and groaning of a collapsing vehicle I found inner strength and kicked my way out.

Bedouins found me. One of them took me back to Cairo in a taxi, and then he melted into the crowd and was gone. I returned days later with friends to see if any wreckage remained. I was astonished! The Bedouins had camped around the car protecting it. They told me I was a “Blessed One” to walk away from such a wreck. They told me they were blessed to have the honor of serving me.

On the surface, I had walked away from the accident with only a small scratch on my arm. However, I had a 360 degrees whiplash. I survived only because, as I later discovered, I have eight articulating cervical vertebrae rather than the norm of seven.

The torsion of my spine had been extreme. The pain was excruciating. The effort of carrying my head in any position, sitting, lying down, standing or walking was overwhelmingly exhausting. A neck brace simply made the pain worse. Always an active person, I loved swimming, kayaking, walking, dancing, and horse riding. Now, my future was bleak. The pain clouded everything. Depressed and despondent, I felt utterly helpless.

Six months on, lying on the mat following Carol Ann’s instructions momentarily took my mind off the pain. My movements were minute but even so I could track how they linked together. An image leaped into my mind of another me lying on the mat in the form of a “stick-me.” It was an epiphany. Whenever I couldn’t physically explore a movement during a lesson, I imagined the “stick-me” doing the movements I could not.

I loved the classes so much I traveled to Carol Ann’s other venues and repeated the lessons over and over. Each exposure to the same lesson was very different from the last, as I was going back to basics. I had to rebuild myself, physically, psychologically, and emotionally and with Carol Ann’s wonderful Awareness Through Movement lessons, I slowly did.

Today I live in Cyprus. I kayak and sail dinghies and catamarans. I love nothing better than to be out on the wire as we hurtle along, one hull lifting, leaning back further and further to balance the boat. Perfectly balanced, the rigging hums with glee as we speed along. The greater the thrill, the greater my appreciation for the accident and my recovery, which inspired me to become a Feldenkrais practitioner.

When I began my training with Russel Delman in New York in 1991, I still had difficult days. Sometimes, the classes would be overwhelming. Russel and Linda Delman and Alan Questel were very supportive. Often, I stayed close to the back of the room during the training and visualized the lesson because it was all I could do. Other times, I fell deeply asleep and awoke disappointed that I had missed the class.

“Don’t worry, you will have gotten it at some level,” I was told.

One night during my training, I had a strange dream. In it, I was on my side reaching over my head and extending my arm and then contracting over and over again. I woke up still doing the movement. During the training, we lived in shared accommodation we called “huts” at Sarah Lawrence. That morning, I shared with my “hut mates” my odd dream. They asked me to show them the movements and together, laughing, they told me these were the movements from the lesson I had slept through the previous day.

The dream lessons became an active part of my training. As unconscious visualizations, they had a different quality to regular lessons, and I felt their enormous potential. As with the “stick-me,” visualizing gave me the opportunity to overcome barriers, real or imagined, related to movement and pain.

Inspired by my early experiences with visualization, I integrated the tool into my Educational Special Needs consultation practice. Helping students of all ages who have poor spacial awareness and low self-esteem has become easier and much more fun because of the technique.

Eventually, I also felt drawn to become a HeartMath Interventions Practitioner, where I learned to work with the simple, yet profound, tools of gratitude and appreciation. The physical results of moving into a coherent heart rhythm can be monitored using the mobile Inner Ease program or the computer-driven HeartMath EmWave Desktop Program.

Today, I teach practical active steps to connect the heart, mind, and body intelligence through TransFormAction. I have found that blending Feldenkrais lessons with HeartMath practices while using sensory feedback and visualization empowers and engages participants on a deep level.

I developed TransformAction because of my clients drive to embrace their own power and enable their mastery of the basic foundational skills of movement. This requires using our transformational qualities of compassionate understanding and intentionality. The Feldenkrais Method® is the key component. I have taken Moshe’s movement integration method and merged it with fun and creativity to harness the power of the heart through the integration of these simple practices that self-regulate the body systems and help take charge of emotions, movement, and coherent integration for healthier, more fulfilling lives.

The intriguing blend of visualization with a HeartMath focus creates a level of mastery, excellence, and confidence which together with the Feldenkrais Method triggers neuroplasticity at the highest level, changing our neurochemistry and helping to negotiate change in our world and lives through shifts in attitude. The outcome is that participants feel better about themselves and how they engage with their internal and external world. They also became better models for those around them.

Barbara Jones, GCFP, holds an M.Ed. in Inclusive Education / Special Needs. A Feldenkrais teacher for over 25 years, she is also a Special Needs Assessor and Consultant. Barbara lives in Cyprus where she is also a Monroe Institute Outreach Trainer and HeartMath Interventions Practitioner and Facilitator.

*The HeartMath Institute (HMI) researches heart-brain connection and its relationship to managing stress, increasing coherence and deepening our connection to ourselves and others. HMI has conducted leading-edge research on stress and emotional physiology, heart-brain interactions, the physiology of learning, optimal performance and technologies to improve emotional health and overall well-being. Since 1991 the HeartMath Institute has researched and developed reliable, scientifically validated tools and technologies. Individuals effectively learn to reduce stress and anxiety and improve health, learning, performance, and quality of life. HMI has also conducted intriguing research on the interconnectedness of our hearts magnetic field. Find out more.