Feldenkrais for back pain?

Dear Reader,

Feldenkrais for back pain.  My neurologist, head doc for theUniversityofWashingtonsports teams, suggested I see Becci Parsons, former dancer, now Awareness Through Movement and private Feldenkrais practitioner.  “Watch out for your pants,” she said.  “Your clothes can be dangerous to your health.” Her levies were on the baggy side.  You could put your balled up fist between flesh and belt when she sucked in her breath.  I remembered that when I put a new (ValueVillage) pair of genuineLevis, hip hugger style, which I love, and my back talked to me nastily.

She laid me on a low table just wide enough for me with her kneeling next to me to move my legs, my head, my shoulders.  Her movements were minuscule.  I struggled to let go, to allow her to be the conductor.  I attempted to refrain from guarding, tensing, pulling back or from anticipating her next move and helping her lift, roll, twist.  My only job was to let her have my body, let her move it and pay attention.

When the session was over, I could identify my surroundings but I seemed to inhabit Oz’s Scarecrow navigating uneven ground.  A dreamy hand opened the car door.  Taking the wheel, putting on the gas, I began to reengage with this road, this stop sign, this merge onto the freeway.

Subsequent sessions began lying on the table with the gentle rocking, lifting, moving by Becci while I slowly allowed her to propel my limbs in tiny unchecked movements.  She taught my muscles to reclaim movement appropriate to healthy, uncomplaining joints.  She brought me to homeostasis.  On the table.  To teach me to roll out of bed, to sit on the side of the bed, to lift myself off the bed, to take steps, find the bathroom, lower myself on the toilet and rise again, she gently rocked my hips, held my hands, lifted my leg and set in down.  Retraining.

As a girl, I proudly walked to school several blocks with a marble held tightly between my buttocks.  In 4th grade, I could carry that marble clamped tight all day as I sat at my desk and walked to the black board, to the coat closet, out the door for home.  What glut control!  My father, the orthopedist, had a cartoon on his office wall of a woman whose naked breasts sat on top of a dresser.  The top drawer, open just a little, pressed her ribs; the second drawer down, open about half way, pressed her waist; the bottom drawer pulled out all the way pressed her pelvic girdle forcing her butt to tuck under.  The female version of the military stance.  I aspired with all my 9 year-old might to conform my body to this most unnatural posture.

As a slouchy teen ager, my father poked my butt every time he passed by and commanded, “stand on two feet.”  “Tuck your bottom in.”  I danced tap and ballet and swam all summer, movements that relax and produce flow.  Or should.  Again constant reminders of  “stroke, kick, kick, kick; stroke, kick, kick, kick.  Lift your bottom” (I was a back stroke champion).

Feldenkrais method took me back, back to the earliest movements.  A gentle curve relaxed down my spine.  I learned the pelvic clock where you tilt your pelvis from 12 to 6, from 3 to 9, back and forth in ever smaller movements until the mind images and the body feels the suggestion.

“Becci, now come and show me how to get in my car,” I entreated after successfully getting in and out of a chair with no pain, no firing of the muscles in jerky movements.  It took about six months of weekly sessions for me to graduate to private and semi private Pilates.

I strove fiercely for pain free movement and returned strength.  My daughters Ruth and Eleanor and I planned the hike around Mt.Rainier on the Wonderland Trail.  I had to be strong enough to carry a 35 pound pack and walk 95 miles in 11 days, each day gaining and losing around 2200 ft or more in elevation.  We wanted to make this trip in August of 1990, one month short of a year after the injury.

Burroughs Mt. hike from Sunrise Visitor Center on Mt. Rainier, August 2009

Burroughs Mountain from Sunrise visitor center, Mt. Rainier, August 2009


This reminiscence of the Feldenkrais process is fresh in my mind.  I just had a session with Erik LaSeur, Alki Moves, Feldenkrais practitioner here inWest Seattle.  I met him at a West Seattle Chamber meeting and was drawn to investigate his work as a way of refreshing my body’s acceptance of organic flow.  I have developed my own set of muscle and posture strategies designed to avoid chronic, daily pain.  I wanted to discover how I was getting in my own way.  Erik’s session helped enormously.  A salsa CD has me dancing, hips swaying, legs gently and loosely swinging.

What is your experience of Feldenkrais?  Ready to try it to see if it would lessen your chronic pain?  I would love to hear your comments, questions and suggestions.

Be Well, Do Well and most of all Keep Moving.




4455 51st Ave. SW


206 933 1889




I need a doctor! What kind?

Gentle Reader,

If you suffered trauma to your back, perhaps you would turn to a traditional medical practitioner. An orthopedist, a neurologist, at least your primary care physician. Surely, a medical problem like an excruciating pain in the lower back and the inability to walk unaided would send one to a regular doctor. I chose a chiropractor. Let me explain.

I grew up in a medical household. My father was an orthopedic surgeon and my mother, a nurse. After the Second World War, my father relocated us New York City people to Oklahoma. He wanted to start fresh and chose to do a year of specialty study with his fellow Naval officer, a professor at the University of Oklahoma Medical School. I was 10 years old when we moved to Muskogee, OK. It was 1947, only 40 years since statehood. The leading bone doctor in town had established himself during Indian Territory days.

I spent my summer evenings with my father, sitting on the hood of our station wagon watching rodeo riders crashing off bulls into the dust; stock car race drivers roaring into the barricades and each other; football players carried off on stretchers. He was waiting for the next injury, getting his Bone and Joint practice going. Youthful bodies he could put back together. A bone carpenter at work.

Back trouble was another thing. “People with back aches are no good malingering bums,” he would say. I now had back pain, unbelievably debilitating. As a high school student, I scrubbed in with him as he performed lumbar laminectomy surgery. I heard the stories of lengthy rehabilitation, set backs, never working again. Was my youthful athleticism going to end at age 42?

Our family lives in Seattle. I worked for a multi-national telecommunication company in outside sales. The office talk about stress often included reference to a chiropractor and the help she gives to tense neck and back pain. Three years earlier, on the eve of my daughter’s wedding, she woke up with a neck so tense she could not move it from side to side. On the advice of my co-workers, I decided to take her to a chiropractor. I embarrassed my daughter by grilling the doctor about the treatment she was about to perform. I could hear my father’s voice “charlatan, fraud” ringing in my ears. I was terrified. In 1986 neither Wikipedia, nor Google search engine was available. I wanted to learn more about the practice of chiropractic medicine. Briefly, chiropractic emphasizes diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine. The hands-on manipulation of my daughter’s neck was successful.

The day after my angry early morning exercise session with Jack LaLanne and horrendous thrust of disc into the spinal nerve, Don drove me to my chiropractor. I knew her through my business-networking group. She had never treated me, but many in the group said wonderful things about her. The massage therapist who helped calm my muscles and spasms enough so I could get out of bed and into a car, referred clients to her. That visit and several more got me on my feet again.

Next steps: my chiropractor sent me to a physical therapist and to the leading sports medicine neurologist for the University of Washington Huskies. The physical therapist wired my thigh muscles, put me on a stationery bike and measured the power output. The left side functioned at about 75% capacity compared to the right. I had no reflex when they tapped below the left kneecap. The nerve down the shin was dead. No movement was comfortable, fluid, exhilarating. Were my running days over? Would I head for the mountains with a pack on my back again? What about the trip my daughters and I dreamed of, circumnavigating Mt. Rainier, the 95-mile Wonderland Trail?

Looking at my MRI results, my neurologist said my bones were not strong enough or dense enough for a laminectomy to be helpful. I had to build a strong structure of muscles to support the weaker skeletal frame. He suggested Feldenkrais.

What is Feldenkrais? Stay tuned for the process that taught me how to lie, sit, stand, walk and transition in and out of each of these positions and actions.

Tell me about your encounters with chiropractors? How did you come to embrace alternative medical practices? If you have not tried alternative healing methods, why not? Until next week,

Be well, Do well and Keep Moving!


BetsyBell’s Health4U
206 933 1889

Traumatic injury: my story

Hello, Gentle Reader,

In 1989, I lifted, or should I more accurately say, yanked a large drink box full of wine bottles out of the back seat of a two door Datsun.  I heard something go in my lower back.  I was angry about carrying these bottles up a long flight of stairs to the social hall of a large church.  My husband in his characteristic generosity offered to cook an elegant meal for a visiting prelate from the Russian Orthodox church inMoscow.  While I approved a grand reception for this honored guest and his entourage, I criticized my husband for trying to do this alone.  Plenty of people would love to cook with Don Bell.  My only task was delivering the drink.

I could feel the place in my back where the terrible sensation had come from.  I carried the box and several more like it upstairs anyway.

The next morning, I awoke early, still smoldering over the piles of potato skins on the kitchen counter and the olive oil slick floor, remnants of the single-handed cooking effort the night before.  Jack LaLanne was just beginning his exercise routine on TV.  I took my position on the large expanse of our hook-latched rug covering the living room floor.  I would work out my anger through exercise.  On all fours, he called out doggie leg lifts.  Snap.

Whatever happened lifting the box, leg lifts finished me off.  I rolled on the floor sobbing in pain.  All my previous judgments against people who complained of bad backs taunted me.  Pay back for lack of understanding and sympathy.   Those legions who suffered, did they suffer as I was now suffering?  Were they not the malingering lazy bums I judged them to be?  What was I going to do?

I could not stand or sit but remained on all fours.  I slowly in extreme pain pulled myself to the staircase and up to our bedroom where Don still lay sleeping.  Once I struggled into bed and lay on my back, I began to breathe more deeply.  I went into head honcho mode commanding my groggy husband to get my day planner and find the phone number of my massage therapist.  It was 7 a.m.

This amazing person came over two hours later.  Don had already gotten me a 24-inch bolster cushion so my legs were in a chair position while lying flat on my back.  This was the only pain free position I could find.  Mary worked on me for over an hour, calming the sympathetic spasms in my shoulders, neck, upper back and arms.  She persuaded me against my wishes to take a muscle relaxant.  She came back twelve hours later and repeated the treatment.

The next morning I was able to inch my way painfully down the stairs and into the car.  Ouch.  That move brought tears to my eyes.  Don drove me to my chiropractor who gently calmed the spinal column and relocated the offending L5 into its proper place.

I was 52 years old.  A skier, hiker, biker, dancer, runner, I valued physical fitness next to Godliness.  More than Godliness.  I was determined to overcome this glitch.  Little did I know what was in store for me as I set about healing from an L5 herniation.

Tell me your story.  How did your back begin to hurt?  What makes you worry about ending up in a wheel chair?  How did arthritis begin and where has it taken you?

My story of treatment and recovery continues next week.  Stay tuned.

Betsy Bell

Betsy Bell’s Health4U

4455 51st Ave. SW


206 933 1889


Keep Moving! What do I mean by that?

Hello, Gentle Reader,

This morning I began my day with movement.  How do you begin yours?  Here’s my routine:

6:00 or so    Up, stumble into the kitchen to draw and heat a 16 ounce glass of water and squeeze half a lemon in it.  This wakes up my stomach and helps digestion.  More about this in a future blog post.

6:30  after a relaxed complete bowel movement (chewing the warm lemon water helps this), I lie down with the Back2Life machine, which gently lifts the pelvis in a passive Feldenkrais type movement.

6:45   a 20 minute seated workout to the Hot Body/Cool Mind DVD by Jennifer Kreis

7:15   breakfast and I am ready to go.

Logged on to gmail and there was an announcement that Wednesday, Oct 12, is World Arthritis Day.  Who would have thought!

Here’s my first pillar article:

Move to Improve

What are we talking about here?

Everybody knows we need to be physically active.  But if we have arthritis and hurt much of the time, wouldn’t it be better just to find a comfortable position, take our medication and not invite more pain.  Movement makes you hurt, right?

Not necessarily.  In fact the opposite is true.  Trust me.  Get up and move.  Movement can have specific benefits for people with rheumatic or musculoskeletal disease (RMDs).  Those joints that hurt with every step and every bend, will actually hurt more and more WITHOUT moving them.  To keep the motion you have, you must move.  Moving also improves circulation and will help keep other degenerative diseases at bay.

So what can I do? The most appropriate form of activity will depend on a number of factors including the type of RMD you have.  Which joints are affected and how bad is the joint damage?  Articles like this always tell you it is important to consult your doctor or physiotherapist about the type of exercise you need therapeutically, as well as the type of activities you enjoy doing to keep you healthy.  One friend who was just one step from a wheel chair because of her arthritis, did not like any activity.  Her chiropractor told her she just had to find an activity she loved.  She stumbled on a scull, a single racing shell.  She fell in love with the water and rowing.  Got off all her medication.  Began taking a prescribed regimen of food supplements from Shaklee Corp and went on to win world championships in her age group.  Her arthritis remains a condition of the past.

Find something you love to do and begin, slowly with guidance.  Don’t stop.

Let’s see what physical activity is.   Physical activity is any form of daily activity that involves movement, rather than sitting or lying still. This could include playing with children, doing housework, walking the dog, gardening etc. Being physically active can release stiffness and lift your mood.  I find that the playing, housework, gardening activities often lead to more stiffness while some form of regulated, prescribed exercise reverses or controls those negative results from just any daily physical activity.  In other words, exercise can make the fun stuff easier.

The term exercise describes planned, structured and repetitive movements that are performed frequently, at a given intensity and for a set duration of time. Exercise can be therapeutic, such as in rehabilitation, or taken as an enjoyable way of improving or maintaining:

§ muscular strength and endurance

§ flexibility and joint mobility

§ motor functions including coordination and balance

§ aerobic capacity and increased energy expenditure, which can help with weight control

§ bone mineralisation contributing to the prevention of osteoporosis

§ mood and self-esteem leading to increased positive attitude

Level of exercise

You have to decide what you can handle.  One person may have an easy time doing water aerobics while another will have to begin slowly and increase intensity. For example, walking, cycling or swimming at a gentle pace (low intensity), might have an aerobic effect (increase your heart rate and breathing) for some people, whilst others would need to exercise at a moderate to high intensity to experience the same effect. How old are you?  How is your general state of health?  How advanced is your disease?  How regularly have you been exercising?  Are you carrying too much weight?  Begin at a level of exercise that works for you.

Starting out

Always begin gently and build up slowly over time. It is better to do little and often than to try and overdo things and to push yourself too hard when you start exercising.  So many people begin with fervor and peter out after the third day or so.  I believe that dietary changes need to accompany a new exercise program to support your recovery.  Watch for a future article about foods and supplements that help.

If you do need to stop exercising for any reason, always start again gently and build up slowly. When you reach your desired level of function, you will need to keep up regular activities to maintain this level.

How much exercise

When you repeat activities regularly your body will adapt over time and you will find you can do more with less effort. You may need to change up your program to continue improvement.  People hit a plateau and get frustrated because they are not improving beyond a certain point.  Make little alterations in your routine and your muscles will respond.  It’s the surprise factor in training.

Really.  Regular exercise slows, or may even prevent loss of function due to disease progression.

Ideally, do stretching/flexibility exercises every day, muscle strengthening and endurance exercises two to three times a week and some form of aerobic exercise for 20 minutes three times a week. Mix it up.

The key is to find things you enjoy doing so that being active is something you look forward to and becomes part of your daily life.

Did you know?

The word ‘fit’ comes from:

Frequency – how regularly you exercise

Intensity – how hard you exercise

Time – how long you exercise

Now the word fitness is used to describe health and the ability to meet the demands of a physical task.

 What are we talking about when we say exercise?

 Aerobic / cardiovascular – Exercise that raises the heart rate and breathing, e.g. walking, cycling, swimming, dancing etc. at a moderate or high intensity

 Balance – The ability to control the body’s position when either stationary or moving

 Endurance – How long you are able to exercise at low, medium or high intensity

 Flexibility – The ability of muscles to stretch. Stretching muscles helps to keep them supple and relieves stiffness

 High impact – Exercises where the body weight impacts forcefully against a surface, for example running or jumping

 Low impact – Exercises where there is minimal impact through the joints and pelvic floor or where the body is supported whilst exercising, e.g riding a bicycle or swimming

Mobility – The ability of joints to move through a range of motion

 Posture – Good body alignment

 Strength – The extent to which muscles can exert force by contracting against resistance (e.g. free or fixed weights, bands, moving in water etc)

 Weight bearing joints – Joints that support the weight of your body against gravity when you are upright, i.e. your spine, hips, knees, feet and ankles

 Weight bearing exercises – Exercises where your body is working or moving against gravity, for example walking (swimming is non-weight bearing because the water supports your body weight)  Weight bearing exercises also help maintain bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis

I want to that the Arthritis Foundation.  Their website has excellent articles about taking control.  This posting borrows heavily from their pages.

To your good health!  Betsy

Betsy Bell’s Health4u

206 933 1889