Electro-shock therapy and a handstand, pt. 2

Photo by:
Vince Fleming


When I arrived in Seattle, I was already a certified Feldenkrais practitioner. I had decided to take a second 3-and-a-half year training to further deepen my understanding and skills.

one of my key interests this time was to better understand the interaction of my emotional and physical bodies. I wanted to gain more competence working with the self-image to invite a change in our way of being in the world – not just to “improve movement.”

Leading up to the training, I had been thinking a lot about the journey I’ve been on since I discovered the Feldenkrais Method in 2012. I was at a crossroads in life at the time, and had no idea where I was going.

What was the most fundamental thing that I could say, in one phrase, that had changed for me since then?

I have become more “comfortable in my own skin.”

That phrase carries many layers of meaning for me, but most fundamentally, it refers to my social experience, to what extent I feel that I can comfortably “be myself” in any kind of company.

We all act differently with different people, showing them more or less of our true “insides.” But generally, the more we feel that those around us love us unconditionally, the more we feel free to decide exactly how we we want to show up in each moment.

We are less likely to compulsively hold things in or, conversely, blurt things out.

But how can we expect to always be in the company of someone that loves us unconditionally?

There is only one way that I know of: we can personally take responsibility for giving ourselves that quality of love.

When I truly love myself for being exactly who I am, there is very little that anyone can do to me.

But of course, that’s hardly the way I am in the world at every moment.

How can I improve in this respect?

What I’ve come to realize is that movement practice is one of the fastest ways for me to take the temperature of my comfort in my own skin. (In the case of my right arm, I mean this literally – quite often it feels warmer than the rest of me.)

On the first day of training, Jeff Haller talked about two different kinds of self-talk that we might engage in when we encounter something confusing during an ATM lesson.

We might say, “Hmmm – I don’t know . . . “

Or we might say, “I don’t know . . . ANYTHING!”

Jeff continued to emphasize this choice throughout the two weeks of the training.

During the day, I tracked my curiosity levels during the movement lessons of the training. But I also noticed how my comfort in my own skin fluctuated in relation to my social experience of being with the other 70 people in the room.

And in the evenings, I tracked the same thing in my interactions with my parents in my childhood home, or on the phone with my partner 3,000 miles away in Maryland.

My own journey with the Feldenkrais Method has led me to think of movement as a metaphor for everything else that we do. This idea came together in a new way for me in Seattle.

What’s fascinating me these days is that I’ve begun to identify a connection between my sense of comfort in any given moment and the way I relate to my right arm.

Early in the second week of training, I was struggling with a number of personal issues that were unrelated to the daily movement lessons. While I loved the movement work, my mind was bothered and my right arm continued to hurt.

Then, during a couple of long phone conversations with my partner, we resolved some tensions  and came up with concrete actions to address a gap we felt between us.The next morning, I noticed that my arm felt much better, even before training began.

Jeff taught us a lesson that day focused on the role of the use of the eyes and head in relation to our vestibular sense. He spent considerable time helping us understand the importance of the physiology we were working with, but he also asked us to notice something crucial that resulted from the lesson in a different area of our self-image.

Most of the class had experienced that the exploration had given us better stability over our feet and expanded peripheral vision – even a sense of greater awareness of the room behind us.

What was particularly dramatic was the experience of a couple people who had experienced nausea during the first week when asked to take off their eyeglasses. This was no longer a problem.

Jeff asked one woman who had experienced this transition to describe what had changed. She said she felt an overall heightened sense of security accompanied by an unfamiliar sense of calm, She felt more connected to her environment and the people around her.

On another occasion, Jeff asked a student who he had worked with individually to demonstrate how she walked both before and after her Functional Integration lesson. The change in posture and gait was remarkable – but Jeff wanted us to note something different.

As she demonstrated her original walk again, shuffling her feet and looking down, Jeff told us that the theme of their lesson had been problem-solving. “How do you think you would approach a difficult problem if you moved through the world like this?”, he asked.

Or, what if you approached your problems as you walked through the world with a spring in your step, a long spine, and freely moving head and eyes at the top, capable of easily scanning any point on the horizon?

I also felt a shift that day in that extended beyond my body to other dimensions of my self-image. But it did intersect with my physical body – because what shifted was my relationship with my right arm.

The childhood shock trauma was something I’d already thought about a lot previous to my Seattle trip. I had already recognized how I recoil very quickly from any movement where feel strain in my right arm. So I often go into dark places during physical actions that depend on upper body strength.

While some might say that I simply need to “work my upper body” to create that strength, the fact is, I have never been able to stick with any ongoing training that would help me do that.


What I think is that there is a part of me – that is about twelve years old – that comes to the surface each time I feel that strain.

And that part of me likes to say, “I don’t know ANYTHING!”  

It’s the part that feels weak and powerless, just like I did when adults told me that repeated electric shocks were good for me and I didn’t know how to make a different argument.

How can I deal with this?

Recently, I had an idea: I decided I would teach myself to do a handstand.

The handstand project was exciting at first. I started throwing my legs up in the air again and again, and started posting on social media and bragging to my mailing list about my heroic journey.

But it wasn’t long before I had to acknowledge that the first leg of the journey had ended in my giving up.

While I had made a good start, I was totally unrealistic about how quickly I should progress and quickly began to tell myself I would “never” do it.

(What kind of person will “never” be able to accomplish a goal like this? Someone with something fundamentally wrong with them, of course. Like me.)

By the time I got to Seattle, I’d made myself busy with many other things and ceased practicing altogether.

The one thing that remained was my acknowledgement of the situation. I knew that there was more to this challenge than just finding alignment upside down. I tried to regather my mental energies for the next round.

When Jeff began emphasizing the option of approaching challenges from a ground of curiosity instead of frustration something began to shift in me.

After that same ATM lesson mentioned above, I looked down at the floor, and imagined my palms planted there with my feet up over my head.

And a moment later, I was actually doing it.

It would be fun if I could end this story by saying that I held that handstand for several minutes with total control and I have been balancing upside down regularly ever since.

But that’s not what actually happened.

I made two attempts that lasted only a few seconds each. And since that day, I have once again fallen mostly out of practice.

Still, in that moment, something fundamentally shifted in my relationship to the handstand, to my right arm, and to myself.

After the ATM lesson I had a feeling of complete physical integrity where my right arm was not separated from the rest of me. I also experienced a moment of emotional dignity where the voice of frustration was silenced.

When I lifted the weight of my body above my arms they both felt solid and trustworthy. I could still sense the world all around me clearly. While I couldn’t maintain my balance very long, I felt completely safe and there was no strain in my arm afterwards.

I still have the intention of learning a handstand. But I’m not in a hurry. I’m following the paths that keep me curious.

For example, each night in bed, before I drift off, I do detailed visualizations of the all the surfaces of my right hand, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder blade and clavicle. My idea is not to “reorganize” this part of myself as Feldenkrais practitioners sometimes say.

Rather, I simply have the idea of repeatedly reminding myself that this arm is part of me. There is no difference between myself and my right arm. We are the same being.

Simple as it sounds, this feels incredibly new to me.

I’m also looking at other places in my life where I may be reacting to weaknesses by assuming that I am powerless. I’m getting curious about the possibility of reimagining those parts of my self-image as well.

As I continue this journey, I am now clearer on my orientation towards curiosity in everything that I do with my students. I’m reminded of what Moshe Feldenkrais said to the students of training in San Francisco about the goals of this work:

“…To be able to, in each session, give each person in each session what they need and would like to have even if the person does not know that he needs it.

The person may only know that he is in pain or that he doesn’t like himself. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t like himself. What is important is that you get the person to begin to love himself, not just like himself.

If you achieve that, you are worth your weight in diamonds.

If you take a person who hates himself, has no confidence, and make him feel that he can love himself. He feels he can begin to rely upon his own self and begins to have self-confidence enough to stand on his feet.

Well, who can do that? No politician, no millionaire can. You can’t buy that for money. Yet, you may be able to do it and that means that you are richer than any of those. And, a very funny thing. Wherever you go in the world, you will find that you are needed, without exception . . . 

. . . Which is a very nice feeling.”


12 thoughts on “Electro-shock therapy and a handstand, pt. 2”

    1. Thanks Jeff – as you can see, I’ve been getting a whole lot out of the FTA so far – and we’ve just begun!

  1. In reading your honest and heartfelt journey I was reminded of my “right arm” although in my case it is learning. A few months ago started classes in a movement modality – one on one- so not able to hide in a class. I have started to pay a lot of attention to what I tell myself and what I do in the class. I am also communicating to the teacher what is going on for me as well and she can see as well. This is a new experience. In the past I would, in all likelihood, begun to talk myself into giving up though self talk, not good enough, not smart enough etc. However, this time I have decided to talk to my vulnerable child – that part. of me that is fearful, anxious, scared and see where this conversation takes me.
    Thank you for sharing your journey so far.

    1. Thanks Mia. I’m glad that my reflections on my story have helped you to reflect on your story as well. This is hard work – but highly rewarding too! Sounds like you are really engaged in your journey and breaking new ground!

  2. Linda Foster Kemp

    Greetings, Seth,
    I’ve been enjoying reading your blog for awhile. Even tried Parkour at age 67 based upon your tales of your experience. Lately, what has been appealing have been your posts about Jeff’s training, particularly, the parts about what is shifting for you emotionally. Those kinds of changes are what I am experiencing in my own practice. Sensing that Feldenkrais could bring about shifts in habitual thinking, feeling, and doing, I signed up with Angela Alston in Dallas for Weekly ATMs a couple years ago. Self criticism kicked in full force when i could not do the lessons, despite, Angela’s gentle reminders that it was not about the doing, but, about placing the attention on what one noticed or what sparked one’s curiosity. This encouragement and focus on attending to what was going on rather than pushing towards a goal was what kept me coming back. In the past, I have let fear rule, and I have run away from things that I did not immediately understand or I could not do, telling myself that I was born flawed and no good. And, I mean there was no room for discussion on the topic because it was a fact! It was the practice with Angela and the working at home on my own that has let me come up for air for the first time and gain some perspective, and see these things as patterns and habits rather than life long curses. I do hope you keep writing about your experiences and keep us posted with what happens for you in the training In January and beyond. P.S. I was really struck with the comments you made about asking ourselves questions and how we do it , and, also, that everyones’ experiences were acknowledged and respected in the sessions. So much food for thought about how to live life in those 2 ideas that I posted them on the wall in front of me at my work. The best to you in your practice and your further training in Seattle. Warm regards,
    Linda Kemp

  3. Linda, wow – thanks for sharing in so much detail! It’s gratifying to hear that you have taken ideas from my blog and brought them into your own journey – especially the parkour! 🙂 I’m glad to hear you are working with Angela. We were together in another one of Jeff’s programs in New York. I love your description of how heavy our self-talk can be: ” I mean there was no room for discussion on the topic because it was a fact!” I’ve been there too! That’s why it’s such an amazing thing when we find out that what we thought was the ONLY way is actually just one among many options! Yes, I’ll be writing more on these subjects in the months ahead. 😉

  4. Shalamee Campbell

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful story, Seth. My training (with Jeff and others) was one of the richest learning experiences of my life and it continues to be. All the physical and emotional traumas I had experienced were being held in my very painful body. The training offered me a pathway to deeper self discovery and increased freedom in the areas where I was stuck. I thank goodness everyday I am able to explore new lessons and feel the various benefits they offer.
    Thanks again for offering your experience, your insights and tools. Feeling good in my own skin is the greatest gift to me…after feeling pretty weak, ungrounded and shame-based for so many of my formative years.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Shalamee!

      It’s great to hear that your Feldenkrais training also helped you find more peace with old physical and emotional traumas. There are those that hold the point of view that Feldenkrais Method is not suited to working on emotional growth, but I don’t agree. The more I practice, the more I’m convinced that we can identify the same kinds of patterns of parasitic effort in our thinking and emotional life as we do in our movement – and work in similar ways to slowly but surely eliminate them.

  5. Wonderful article Seth. I am in the Seattle FTA training but we have not yet met. I am a psychotherapist and do a type of hypnotherapy that uses age regression and healing the inner child. I observe that people often hold their traumatized “inner child” in their body. Healing that child happens by helping them to find their inner “wise adult” and then developing the relationship between their adult and child – based in self-love. I think this healing process is reflected in your journey. I look forward to incorporating Feldenkrais into hypnotherapy. As Jeff said, you can’t be curious and fearful at the same time. Your blog reflects that curiosity is a part of Eros – love of the self/body as the ultimate healing modality in Feldenkrais. Thanks again – I look forward to meeting you.

    1. Thanks for reading, Jenny – and yes, let’s say hello in January!

      What I wrote about here crystallized for me through doing Feldenkrais, but of course I’ve done many other things that have helped me gain the insights I wrote about here.

      In terms of the kinds of processes you are talking about, I have read and gone through Michael Brown’s “The Presence Process” twice. That involves a lot of looking at the historical emotional traumas that we carry inside and learning how to “just be” with them when they arise.

      It’s a wonderful resource if you aren’t already familiar with it.

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