Speaking from her Melbourne-based practice, Louise describes one such moment that’s happened just this day. A child diagnosed with left hemiplegia – no functional use of his left arm – came to her for the first time. Through a hands-on Functional Integration session, the child experienced profound learning that switched on his ability to use his left arm.
“There were numerous golden moments when he just went into a trance-like state; when a child starts to sense new feelings around new movements, they seem to go into a state of very quiet self-listening,” Louise explains.
“We worked on the table and then he needed a rest so we put him on the floor. The mother pulled out some sultanas and I said, ‘Why don’t you put them to the left side of his left knee and just see what he does.’ To begin with he took his right hand to the left side. Then he looked at the sultana, and then moved his left hand to pick it up, dropped it, but then he actually picked it up and ate it. He was very pleased with himself.
“So here’s a child who supposedly has a left arm that’s not functioning but all of a sudden the function is there. That opened up a wonderful conversation between myself and the mother and father; they had been looking at constraint therapy and then they see the possibility for things to happen in the most non-linear way.
“They look at their child completely differently. It gives you great impetus to keep one’s practice going and try be the best match for a child that you can be.”
Louise originally didn’t intend to work with children, or even to be a Feldenkrais practitioner. Feeling frustrated in an office job in London, she started training in kinesiology and soon after that, went along to a Feldenkrais workshop. “I spent the entire day exploring moving on the floor and had little idea as to the purpose of the movement, but at the end of the day I was standing at the bus stop thinking, I just feel fantastic – I’ve never felt this fantastic in my life.”
After taking up Awareness Through Movement lessons, Louise began a practitioner training in Switzerland. During the training she took on part-time jobs: one working with children who had visual-motor issues, and another with children who had listening and auditory processing challenges.
“That was the beginning of working with kids. I still couldn’t see how I could integrate any of my work experience to date into my Feldenkrais practice so they remained really separate things,” Louise recalls.
“But as time moved along I realised that the Feldenkrais worked so beautifully with a child’s individual needs, not one-size-fits-all. That’s when I decided it was important that I go into private practice because most people couldn’t understand how I worked. Parents enquired about ‘my program’ and, would I be giving their child a ‘set-menu’ of exercises to follow. I couldn’t support a goal-oriented approach in my thinking so I decided that I should work on my own.”
This decision was confirmed when Louise began working with a child who had cerebral palsy. “I think it was my relationship with the child’s mother that made me consider how worthwhile an area of practice it was to be involved in, to work with kids who really need a special kind of help that is very individual to them and very accepting of where they are at that time. And that maybe I could develop my thinking around that to offer a very special kind of support to these kids.”
This year, Louise has modified her practice to include more adult clients and says that her experience of child development constantly informs her practice. “Often when I meet a child for the first time I sense what’s holding them back [developmentally] and once we start playing together soon those learning gaps become obvious.
“When I work with adults it is also possible to sense a gap in a person’s self-awareness, and giving clarity to that or bringing it forth in a person’s self-image can be transformational at the end of a session. It’s great to see people sensing themselves so differently and walking out of my practice more grounded yet feeling lighter. ”
As well as offering Functional Integration, Louise runs weekly Awareness Through Movement classes for adults and is part of two Feldenkrais study groups.
“I’ve gone down the road of Feldenkrais, and the further and deeper I travel this road the more fascinated I am by the method. It’s profoundly changed my life.”