I sometimes encounter people who have a bias towards physiotherapy for physical rehabilitation since it’s “prescribed” by a medical doctor. The outcomes I’ve experienced with clients always help to provide the information they need to change how they move and then that experience, results alone, changes how they think about traditional therapies, and they often agree in hindsight, that this approach should be included in the prescription.

I eagerly graduate people all the time, as they only need tune ups here and there once they reorganize the movements they are doing that is causing them pain. Time after time, I’ve heard a similar message from clients, “I keep doing the exercises the physiotherapist told me to do and things are getting worse.” Even after years of physio getting them the same or poorer results, I can’t understand their loyalty and bias towards an approach that isn’t helping them get out of pain. I explain that a linear approach doesn’t work, even by a therapist with the very best intentions.

Here’s why

Two differently organized people can do physio exercises and have different results; either improve or create more pain based on how much of them is participating in the action. None of the physio exercises are wrong or bad, all movement for our bodies is good, but physio alone doesn’t help one develop a better whole body organization that comes from upgrading the brain as the conditions aren’t met to create brain change. Often we have muscular contractions that act like resistance, essentially putting on the brakes ourselves without a way to figure out a new trajectory or way to do it without the resistance. During NeuroMovement lessons, the brakes come off and muscle contractions let go, then the system begins to refine movement sensing more of themselves skeletally in the gravitational field.

You don’t do more exercises for your neck if you have a sore neck, it’s not how your brain learns to use your whole spine to carry your head. The exercises often create postures that are not at all similar to how you carried your head as a child, before you got a sore neck. When you help them uncover a dynamic solution based on carrying their weight through their skeleton, you realize how senseless all of those prescribed exercises. Not just senseless, actually quite harmful as they are conditioning you toward further limitation. To improve your movement and get out of pain you need to work with someone who understands functionally how the body coordinates movement at a very high level and not just explain it to you and show you some exercises to do, but to relay that information to your nervous system so you can find a solution. Very few therapists operate at that level. Feldenkrais and Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement Practitioners do.

In my experience, working with clients in my NeuroMovement practice over the last 6 years, we are the sum of all of the experiences we’ve had. So if you’ve learned to overuse your legs instead of your pelvis to stand, eventually you may have knee or hip problems. If your pelvis doesn’t participate in the movement of your arms and head you may have neck and shoulder problems. Does it need to remain that way forever? Only if you fail to discover and adapt better solutions.

I once told a lady with a very stiff neck who was completely hooked on stretching and physio exercises, that “I don’t stretch my neck and I don’t have neck problems, while she stretches and has a stiff neck”. It was beyond her comprehension that she was responsible for her own outcomes and was actually actively creating her problem. When we stretch a muscle it provides no solution for the brain to actively let the muscle go, instead the opposite occurs, it contracts further to prevent tearing so it gets conditioned to get more contracted over time.

Recently, I had a wonderful client, a retired dentist, who contacted me because his head felt too heavy, and his wife had been to see me and improved. It wasn’t until I met with him before his first lesson that he described what he was doing, neck exercises as prescribed by a physiotherapist, that I realized the solution was going to be relatively easy for me to help him discover. Turns out he also had his right shoulder completely replaced and tore his left shoulder so bad while doing physio exercises, that it required surgery and hardware. During the lesson, none of the movements I did with him caused any pain.

At the end of the lesson he sat up wonderfully in a new position (organization) then unaware of it he made an adjustment to sit in his habitual way pulling the belly in and lifting the chest up and pulling his head backwards in a “proper L shape” he’d been taught. I immediately put him back where “his brain first put him” and then we repeated the position of ease and comfort and then slowly moved into his old configuration where the pain in his shoulders and neck immediately returned. It was like a lightbulb had just turned on!!

We don’t have an L shaped spine, it’s an S shape and beautifully designed to position the head in front of the pelvis not on the same midline! All of these medical text books and anatomy books have illustrators that distort the skeleton to match a cultural representation of sitting up straight! The offsetting curves of each section in the spine create a spring-like structure, enabling the spine to act as a natural shock-absorber. If it were straight up and down, the spine would take tremendous wear and tear from constant vibration and shock, creating fractures and worse – pain!

His learning switch was active and he allowed me to help him discover once again the new organization where the pain went away as fast as it was created. These are learning moments that are powerful for our nervous systems to reorganize how we move. They shine a light on what we are doing that creates the problem and gives us a direction to go in instead. He walked out cheerfully to the waiting room to greet his wife with his improved body, long arms hanging at his sides and a neck that didn’t hurt. These are the moments I absolutely love about the work I do. I know he goes away with enough information to spontaneously integrate the improvements because his brain found the solution. There’s nothing for him to fix or exercises to practice or postures to remember, if there was it wouldn’t work.

Another client got in touch, who after one lesson with me, had completely erased the pain she felt in her knees for the past 10 years. One 45 minute lesson with me was all she needed to rid herself of pain that she had for 10 years! I was even blown away when I heard it. She said during the two weeks after the lesson she felt even better and integrated the lesson very powerfully to form a new way to move. She needed to get in to see me again however, because she had been working with a personal trainer at the gym and he had her doing leg exercises that drove her right back to her old patterns of movement and right back to the familiar pain in her knees. She recognized immediately that this has created her pain in the past and knew she needed a refresher to get back on track. As saddened as I was about her finding her old pain patterns again, I was thrilled at the capacity her brain had to integrate new information and recognize when she used speed and effort old patterns of movement emerged.

Another client I worked with this summer was a music conductor who was experiencing neck and shoulder pain that was so bad it was forcing her to be unable to conduct. Her chiropractor who had the best intentions to help her told her to “immobilize her chest and ribcage to help support her shoulders.” Wait what? Ok chiropractor, let’s review the biophysics of why our spine is S shaped not immobilized and L shaped? Once again hearing this before her first lesson had me silently reeling inside. She had been fed nonsense that created her problem to begin with. During the lesson, none of the movements of the arms we did created pain in her shoulders. I had increased her awareness of the fluidity of the ribcage to move in coordination with her arms. She felt great. At the end of the lesson in standing I asked her to conduct now with what she had learned. She immediately became rigid and tightened her chest. I stopped her and recreated the arm movements with her to allow the spine and ribs to move in a way that was dancing, free and joyous. She began to cry tears of joy as all of her love of conducting flowed back into her body as she experienced pain free movement that was more evolved and truly capable of conducting an entire orchestra. I’ve never been more silently enthusiastic witnessing this outcome after her first lesson. What a truly remarkable brain she has!

These are clients I’m happy to work with, they are ready to help themselves. I couldn’t fix anyone. I don’t have the capacity to do so. My work lies in creating the ideal conditions for your brain to become aware of what you are doing and let go of patterns of holding that are causing disorganization and pain or effort.

When it comes to the children I work with who have cerebral palsy or developmental delays, it’s only the parents that need the information as to how or why. The child always moves easier and feels better after a lesson and doesn’t question what just happened. They come home to themselves and find a new discovery in shifting the weight in their skeleton in a way that they weren’t able to discover on their own because of the contraction and effort in their muscles that was creating resistance. One of my favourite memories doing this work with children so far, was when one of my little clients told their mom when they were only 4 years old that “it was time to come back to see Lorrie Jollimore”. The mom was convinced that if her child knew it was time to come back and remembered me by my full name, that she obviously felt a difference with lessons.

The children that have had the most physiotherapy are often the children that have the hardest time learning to walk, as when you have a child with a brain injury focus on muscles they often get more spastic and movements become harder over time. When no focus is placed on sensing gravity and shifting the weight, they learn to contract their muscles even more powerfully to move. They end up learning their limitations because their brain is still powerfully ready to learn. A colleague of mine at our NeuroMovement training who had been practicing as an Occupational Therapist up until that point, said to me one day during the training “Oh my god, we’ve been doing it all wrong!”, in reference to her work as an OT. I didn’t realize what she meant until I had this context from my practice, time and time again, forcing and effort, “hard work” mixed with best intentions and linear based solutions created pain and disorganized movement.

To illustrate this further, I once watched a child at physio on a treadmill where the physiotherapist was lifting their lower legs and moving them forward as both the child and the physiotherapist was completely unaware of the functional neuromuscular organization that is required to stand and walk. The child was learning from that experience that it was difficult and required effort. There was no participation in his lower back and his belly was powerfully contracted to keep himself upright as he was leaning back with each step. It was a hard thing for me to watch knowing what I know about functional movement at this point, and also after working with that child prior to that physio session. I knew that he had a potent brain and was capable of learning quickly and easily. He didn’t even know he had knees to bend when I first worked with him as he was walked in front of his parents by holding his arms up behind him. He learned to carry his head far behind the center of gravity by being walked before he knew how to do it on his own. The discovery of his bendable knees was so joyous for him, he leaned against a short table after his lesson with me with his head forward and cooed and happily bent his knees over and over like he had just made the most important discovery of his life about himself at that point. These foundations were missing in his representation of self that made moving about limited. As we fill in the gaps together he puts it together better with more to work with and comes up with a mobility solution closer to the ideal.

If you still need research papers to convince you to form new biases please read and inform yourselves to your heart’s content. But based on my outcomes with clients here in Prince Edward Island alone, your doctor has probably already heard of this approach from some of his patients who’ve had great success by now. I’m delighted to see that our practitioners are steadily increasing across Canada and they are getting outcomes far greater than what traditional approaches have as well. I’ve already had some referrals from both neurologists and General Practitioners who are listening and open minded enough to buck with tradition and continue learning and caring about their patients outcomes.

Supporting Research:

The Feldenkrais Method improves functioning and body balance in people with intellectual disability in supported employment: A randomized clinical trial

Application of neuroplasticity theory through the use of the Feldenkrais Method” with a runner with scoliosis and hip and lumbar pain: A case report

Changes in neural resting state activity in primary and higher-order motor areas induced by a short sensorimotor intervention based on the Feldenkrais method

Lengthening the Hamstring Muscles Without Stretching Using “Awareness Through Movement”

Feldenkrais Method Balance Classes Improve Balance in Older Adults: A Controlled Trial

Feldenkrais-Core Integration Method in Patients with Ankylosing Spondylitis: A Pilot Study

Feldenkrais method and movement education – An alternate therapy in musculoskeletal rehabilitation

Feldenkrais method and functionality in Parkinson’s disease: a randomized controlled clinical trial

Feldenkrais Movement Lessons Improve Older Adults’ Awareness, Comfort, and Function