Interview with Roland Mathews, former IT Specialist turned full time Feldenkrais teacher and practitioner.
Here, he shares how a personal injury eventually led him to discover the Feldenkrais method. Subtle changes can help us reclaim our innate ability to move gracefully and efficiently, and enhance functioning in other aspects of our lives.
Roland, when we met 10 years ago at a yoga teacher training, you were working as an IT specialist. Recently, you have decided to focus entirely on sharing the Feldenkrais method. Can you tell us about your journey, and what made you connect with the work of Moshe Feldenkrais?
Yes, I was always interested in sports, and active in sports, mainly soccer, tennis, track and field. But when I was 15 years old, I hurt my back while pulling something heavy out of my Dad’s trunk. I did some physical therapy, but that trauma eventually became chronic pain. Coincidentally, a year after that, I was playing soccer and hurt my knee, which also exacerbated the situation. So for most of my adult life after that I was dealing with back and knee pain. I developed compensations and new habits in how I moved. And as long as I stayed in that pattern it created pain. I tried yoga and other alternative therapies, and got some temporary relief, but nothing had a long-term effect. And then about 7 years ago, I discovered the Feldenkrais method, mainly through CDs and attending workshops, and realized that not only did it alleviate the pain, it also opened an entirely new realm of possibilities. I realized it was about awareness, about how we learn, about education. So I decided to be more serious about it and attended a four-year training program to become a practitioner.
In other words, you managed to turn your personal experience with trauma into personal and professional growth! As one of your students, I feel fortunate to benefit from it!
I understand that the work of Moshe Feldenkrais is a vast, complex subject. So I am going to ask you for the impossible. How would you describe the man and his work in simple terms?
Moshe Feldenkrais was an Israeli scientist, who early on was involved in self-defense groups and Jiu Jitsu. He moved to Paris in the 1930’s to get his doctoral degree at the Sorbonne, and met Jigaro Kano, Judo’s founder. He shared some of the self-defense techniques he had devised, and Kano was so impressed with his strategies that he took him under his wing. Together they founded the oldest Judo club in Europe.
Basically, he noticed that we tend to have limited ways of using ourselves. These patterns of movement creates habits which imbeds themselves in our subconscious mind. These habitual patterns eventually become our way of moving. As the years go by, this start limiting us, affect the way we perform, or even create chronic pain. What he created are unusual ways of moving in a gentle and slow manner so we can pay attention to how we are functioning, and become aware of what patterns are limiting us. These movements allow our bodies’ intelligence to figure out a better way to move. We are not imposing the movement; we are just listening to it. And as we listen, our bodies figure out the better way, the most efficient way to move. This is the magic of the Feldenkrais method.
You once used a beautiful metaphor about taking a scenic drive to describe his gentle movements. Could you share it with us again?
Yes, what is often difficult for us is that his method not about striving or pushing, as we are encouraged to do in our culture. It’s like taking a scenic drive. If we slow down, we can see what’s on the road, the sights, the flowers, but if we go too fast, we miss the details and nuances. It’s important if we are trying to get out of our habits, because if we move too fast or too hard then we move in our habitual way. Slow down, and we increase our awareness and sensitivity. We become open to a different way of moving and rediscover our innate ability to move gracefully and efficiently.
I know you have quite a few success stories in your practice, from athletes reporting improved performance to clients finding relief from chronic pain. What are the most interesting cases you have come across?
One of my earliest students was this lady who had so much foot pain for years that she was walking with a limp. I did one private session where I created an artificial floor to take away the pressure of gravity on her foot. She walked out pain free. Of course at first the pain returned, as her moving habits were ingrained, but after a few sessions she was able to change the way she moved and got better. Another of my students is a young surfer and yoga teacher who had had a shoulder injury while surfing. He found yoga beneficial but some movements kept triggering pain in his shoulder. He noticed that the pain had lessened when we started doing somatic work (another way to describe the Feldenkrais method). Now he incorporates these movements in his yoga classes so his students can benefit as well.
For me, as I said earlier, I dealt with chronic pain because I did not want to slow down. The Feldenkrais method helped me alleviate the pain, but also improved my tennis game, and even the way I walk and stand. Before, I could not walk for more than a 1⁄2 hour without dealing with pain. In addition to improving my performance, it also rekindled my curiosity with life. Now for example, when I go to a new place when I am traveling, I take different routes to my hotel every day. I do the same at home. It keeps me curious and excited about life. I would say it’s enhanced every aspect of my life.
I would like to end by sharing a quote from one of my Feldenkrais teachers, David Zemach Bersin
See ability when others see disability See health when others see disease See potential when others see fixity
Thank you Roland. We are looking forward to having you come to visit our area of France and sharing your knowledge with us!