By Paulette Dolin

Featured photo by Nijwam Swagiary on Unsplash

In my perfect world, anyone going in for surgery would be surrounded by supportive, skilled, trusted people including medical professionals, family and friends. Based on my experience it doesn’t always work that way. At those times in my life, practicing the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education gave me the confidence to advocate for myself while I was in excruciating pain, or when they told me to get up when I knew I couldn’t, and vice versa. 

So I have suggestions for pre/post surgery gleaned from years as a practitioner starting with my once teacher, now colleague, Ralph Strauch, whose hands during informative hands on sessions called Functional Integration® 30 years ago prepared me for knee surgery due to a ski injury.  

First suggestion, use your imagination. The Feldenkrais Method is rich with lessons from using the mind’s eye to visualize oneself to imagining movements without doing them. I’ll never forget one Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®) lesson during my training. To the best of my memory, I was told to put a mini me inside my lungs and look around. No one had asked me to do that before! Yet years later, I’ve used my ability to go inside myself to help myself heal, strange as that may seem. You’ll find lessons that improve your ability to heal in surprising ways. 

In my pre-surgery lessons with Ralph, he cued me to imagine the scalpel cutting through butter, to not resist the incision. I could visualize the tissues coming back together and healing more efficiently to minimize the internal scarring. After the surgery, I could recall movements we did to encourage synapses to fire even when I was immobilized so my muscles didn’t atrophy, and although I was told I was at higher risk for arthritis in my knee, that hasn’t been a problem. 

I went back to Ralph post surgery for Functional Integration® lessons because the Physical Therapy rehab protocol they were required to follow through my HMO focused on strengthening muscles and mine hadn’t weakened. I had limited range of motion both in extension and flexion, so I couldn’t completely straighten or bend my knee. Ralph facilitated cooperation between my flexors and extensors so I had a “felt” sense of how easily I could move when I stopped trying with so much effort and over contracting. The lessons helped me trust my leg and trust myself and I quickly regained full function. 

The Feldenkrais® approach of focusing on functionality along with quality of movement helps with recovery because the movements connect with desired activity and provide motivation to move. I was no longer forced to do an exercise I didn’t want to do that hurt. I no longer needed to resist. 

Second suggestion, then, is to begin to ready yourself by doing mini Awareness Through Movement lessons while recuperating. Wake up your feet and toes. The bed may be uncomfortable. You may have IVs or monitors attached to you restricting your movements, and you can still do many different lessons utilizing subtle, imperceptible movements such as this mini lesson.And of course, you can do any bigger movements using your imagination. 

Which brings me to another memorable moment in my Feldenkrais training, this one relating to the importance of preparing people to get up out of bed, particularly after surgery or hospitalization. As motivated as a patient may be to get up, making people get up too soon, before their feet and legs are ready to bear weight, often causes startle responses and tension which are counterproductive not only for walking, for recovery in general as well.

While teaching ATM lessons at Stanford Integrative Medicine to cancer patients, one of the favorite lessons my students often said made a difference to them was a simple one that started with simply shifting pressure and contact with the floor. I recorded a brief version as an introduction for you. 

Third suggestion, practice a variety of breathing lessons because there is no one right way to breathe. Not only can you do them any time, anywhere, they are very versatile. Breathing can help with pain management, be a form of internal massage, calm oneself and invigorate oneself. 

Doing Feldenkrais lessons and working with a practitioner helps us learn about ourselves, our limits, our challenges, our preferences, and our habits. We observe ourselves, and begin to understand signals within our bodies such as our breathing, pulse, digestion, aches or pains, how we listen and attend to ourselves or not.  

All that information is very relevant when undergoing medical procedures like surgery because the doctors and nurses can provide better care when patients accurately give them feedback on their condition. When you’re the patient, it’s up to you to tell them as clearly as possible what you’re experiencing and what if anything you need. 

Feldenkrais Practitioner Shannon Kennedy has written about a student who had an epiphany about her shoulder surgery after an Awareness Through Movement lesson: One of her students told her what a mind changing experience she had during an ATM lesson. Moving “from always referencing my story of my shoulder experience and that highjack to my body’s TRUE experience-real time! I was seen and heard from ME-I could hold my own…It was such a loving thing! It became more and more loving as I moved softly and slowly….”

In my perfect world, anyone getting surgery would have the opportunity to experience that sense of self and self healing for themselves and be able to access their sense abilities. 

Paulette Dolin, GCFP, Neuroplasticity & Comfort Coach (650 815 8520)

Paulette Dolin was fortunate to have the transformative experience of providing Feldenkrais lessons to cancer survivors at Stanford Integrative Medicine to Cancer Center. She currently has a private practice in Northern Colorado and teaches Fun Functional Fitness and Strong Bones, Powerful Women zoom classes as well as ATM lessons.