By Cynthia Allen, GCFP CM
How do you think of yourself? Perhaps you assign labels such as beautiful, average, heavy, thin, healthy, active, smart or uncoordinated. Perhaps you think of yourself as having value in the world…or not.
We talk a lot about self-image in the Feldenkrais Method but getting a handle on what self-image is, can actually be elusive. Image is fairly easy to understand but the word “self” presents another challenge altogether. Self-image is sometimes equated with body-image. Yet body-image is only one aspect of self-image.
I often say that self-image is how one sees and experiences oneself along with how one sees and experiences one’s function in relation to the world. Our bodily sensations and our shifting emotions AS we interact with the environment help shape the idea of “me.” Of “who I am.”
In the Feldenkrais Method, we have a goal of getting to a clearer and clearer idea of who “I am”. We don’t want to influence what that “I” is, only that it gets clearer. As practitioners, we hope our students gain more ownership over that image instead of being stuck with the one that life appears to have dealt them.
Cultures are filled with labels, and we apply these liberally to children so that as one comes into adulthood, the image of self may be as much defined by others as by oneself. But to be self-authorized, to have autonomy, is a characteristic of a maturing adult and another major theme of the Feldenkrais Method.
How does it happen then that this approach could enhance self-image?
I’d like to share a few examples of what I believe is self-image being changed through the Feldenkrais Method.
Over the years, I have worked with several clients with post-polio syndrome. Early in childhood, each contracted polio and had significant challenges in coming back to health. Their walking was interrupted. Certain muscles became unusable for the rest of their lifetime. Each of these people did incredibly well in their careers and function. However, running was never a part of their functional capacity. In conversations, the dramatic difference in feeling, between the two sides of their body, was often a point of concern or annoyance. And there was often a fear of what the future would hold.
In individual Functional Integration® sessions with each of these clients, at different times, I explored symbolic walking and running when standing at a wall. A predictable moment began to emerge where each client exclaimed something like “I feel like I am running! Maybe I will still become a runner.” To me this is an extraordinary marking of when the self-image is being re-framed. Up to that particular moment, the possibility was never entertained but now suddenly, the world of possibility had widened.
Let me shift to my own personal moments in which I realized my self-image was changing.
I was a child that had some motor coordination issues. Nothing that was ever diagnosed, but I never ran properly. In fact, if I tried to run, I almost became slower. I also had knees and legs that didn’t feel they would hold me and I had extreme fear that I would need to crawl into the house or store and barely be able to make it while looking incredibly stupid.
Understandably, I had feelings of being uncoordinated and unathletic. That was my own internal experience, and it was verified by many people. Some years ago, on a beautiful day on an expansive, park trail, my husband and I were riding bikes. And I was feeling really good in my new Feldenkrais® body. Passing me in the other directions were sleek, lithe runners. And I thought to myself, “Maybe I will take up running.” This was a moment when my self-image changed.
These kinds of moments—even if they never happen or literally could never happen—are, I believe, a shift in self-image.
Another challenge that I took into adulthood from my life experience was the label “victim.” I was in search of an authority figure that would rescue me, while finding it impossible to trust any authority figure due to being a victim. The image I displayed to the world was one of a person in control but inside, I was struggling to survive.
About halfway through my Feldenkrais training, I had the most incredible dream in which I was free falling through deep dark space. The quality of the falling was beautiful, coordinated and felt exquisite. In this never-ending dream, I was serenaded through the night by two people: Moshe Feldenkrais (who I never met) and Alberto Villoldo, a shamanic teacher. Each sang only two words to me over and over through the night, “You know.”
While I had been working diligently on recovery from a harsh childhood through psychotherapy and spiritual direction. I feel it was indeed the Feldenkrais Method that allowed me to say, “I do know. I can do this life.”
The discrepancy of the image I projected outward that said, “I am in charge” with the internal image of “I am a victim” and “I will never be able to make it in this world” was being replaced with an integrated self-image that was conflict-free.
Last year, I taught a virtual Awareness Through Movement® series called Book on a Foot. This series is fun and in the end quite robust. I offered it daily for five days as a bootcamp. The results for participants were, well, stunning. Individuals who had been having trouble rolling over in bed, standing up, or walking reported ease and an awareness that they could do so much more than they had previously found possible. While I had been somewhat concerned that the series might be too much for some, it was the gradual challenge and growing awareness that not only improved function but also brought changes in their self-image. You can scroll below to the resource section to get access to that series as a gift from me and experience your own self-image transforming.
Of course, self-image is a work in progress. It isn’t one of those one-and-done experiences. When we rise to a challenge, we change. When life is hard, like in a pandemic, life is altered. Lending a helping hand to others creates a beautiful change in how we experience ourselves. When we do a Feldenkrais lesson where we feel, really feel, that we have two legs to stand on, we become more mobile and solid at the same time. The world is safer because we are able to navigate it more reliably.
Cynthia Allen is Feldenkrais practitioner, Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence and Bones for LIfe and co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory. Her unique background in health care program development combined has allowed her to produce the Feldenkrais® Awareness Summits reaching tens of thousands of people around the world in over 60 countries. She looks forward to seeing you online through Future Life Now or on their Youtube Channel
- Free Feldenkrais® Bootcamp with Cynthia Allen “Book on Foot” to expand your self-image. Carve out an hour a day for five days because this series is best done a lesson each day. Click here to sign up.