Juniper talks about Chronic Pain, the Feldenkrais Method, & more!

feldenkrais lessons Aug 02, 2023

Ira Feinstein: Thanks for talking with me today, Juniper. I'm excited to learn more about your path to becoming a Feldenkrais Practitioner. How did you find out about the Feldenkrais Method?

Juniper Perlis: The first time I heard about the Feldenkrais Method, I was getting my master's in fine art, and a guest practitioner taught a class. I didn't enjoy it, and afterward, it left my mind. Fast-forward six years, and I was working as a nanny for two artists. One day, working in the studio, I spent hours peeling paint, when I got frustrated and moved in such a way that I dislocated a rib. I was instantly in excruciating pain.  It changed the course of my life.

It didn't take long before the pain got worse. I had pain radiating into my hands, facial pain, and other weird symptoms that didn't seem related. I saw nerve doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Reiki practitioners, pain management specialists, Alexander practitioners, everything under the sun. Nothing helped. Nobody even knew what was wrong. Eighteen months after the pain started, I had to quit my job because I couldn't carry the kids; I couldn't carry anything.

Eventually, a physical therapist suggested that my symptoms sounded like CRPS or Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. I'd never heard of it, so I went home and googled the term. I knew right away, "This is it."

I got a referral to see a CRPS specialist. After running through a series of tests, he diagnosed me. I found a support group and learned about a pain clinic in Chicago that provided intensive  treatment for people with intractable pain which had good results. The clinic was comprehensive—there was  psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, yoga, physical therapy, water therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, biofeedback, and Feldenkrais, which we did daily. It was really slow, and it felt good to move in new ways. It quickly became the best part of my day. 

On the last day of the four-week program, I had the realization that teaching Feldenkrais was something I could do. Standing and talking was comfortable; my problem was using my arms. So, I signed up for a training program. I didn't realize until it had begun that the Feldenkrais Method also included a hands-on aspect.

Ira: Well, you're in good company! I interviewed a lot of Moshe's first students in the US, and many didn't know about the hands-on component until they were in a training. So, what was the training like for you? 

Juniper: At the start of my training program, I couldn't lie still. I would get up and pace around. During our third session, we had a guest teacher, and I was trying not to distract them with my pacing, so when I would typically get up, I didn't. And it was good because nothing bad happened. I was uncomfortable, but I wasn't worse at the end of the day than when I started the day. And that was my measuring stick.

The turning point came about a year later. I was still having a hard time, and one of the trainers came over and said, "Why do you keep pushing? Just stop!" At first, I felt defensive. But then it dawned on me that she really meant that if I felt any resistance not to keep going. Not "Oh, that resistance doesn't count," or, "Yeah, but if I didn't feel this way, I could go further." Or, "Just a little bit of resistance, and then I'll stop." None of that. Just “if this is what is comfortable, this is where I stop now.” That’s it.

Ira: That's quite a moment.

Juniper: It was. I think about it a lot. And I still come up against it. There's not a lesson that goes by that I don't exceed my comfort zone. But then, I hear her voice, and I stop.

Ira: Moving slowly and not pushing yourself is harder than it looks! 

Juniper: It is. Finding ease within a small movement poses unique challenges. It's not necessarily a soft, easy place. A lot of discomfort can be found. But that discomfort is there before I start moving. I'm already uncomfortable. Initiating a movement without adding to the discomfort is also tricky. The key for me was going slowly, doing almost everything in my imagination, and really listening to myself. That's how I improved.

Ira: How has your relationship with pain changed since your Feldenkrais training?

Juniper: I no longer evaluate how I am doing by tracking my pain. In fact, I try not to evaluate at all, but live fully, regardless of what I am experiencing. For two years after I got this condition, I couldn't sit; I would only go to restaurants where I could stand at the bar. Now, I sit all the time. And, perhaps even more importantly, my capacity for being happy has expanded. That being said, my CRPS is not cured. 

Ira: In light of your experience, is it accurate to say that your upcoming workshop, Unraveling Chronic Pain, on August 19, isn't about curing one's chronic pain but changing one's relationship to it?

Juniper: Exactly. Pain is multi-faceted and complex, and our relationship with it is constantly evolving. My relationship with pain changed dramatically a couple of years ago when I lost a young person I love very much to suicide. I learned that the qualities that lead to happiness are the same for healing grief as they are for healing physical pain: Being able to stay in the present moment, regardless of what it offers, not constantly trying to change what I don't like, seeing how I can meet what's happening with a generosity of heart.

Often, we think of chronic pain or any sensation we live with regularly, as being constant because it keeps showing up. But the fact that it keeps showing up doesn't mean that it's exactly the same. There are moments of lessened pain where there's some sense of relief. One of the things we'll explore in this workshop is how to expand those moments of relief, rather than trying to get rid of the unpleasant sensations.

It's a subtle shift in perspective that can have profound results. One voice that people living with pain can hear, says that things shouldn't be this way. That the pain is wrong, but that's not the case. Everybody lives with some physical and/or emotional pain. There's nothing to be fixed. It's a question of where can we make things easier for ourselves. Where do we have the capacity to change something?

Ira: Those are potent questions. What tools will people learn to help them with that? 

Juniper: The workshop will include three Feldenkrais lessons with a lot of visualization woven in. Using visualization has been a big part of my healing path, so I'll be teaching some techniques that I’ve learned from other teachers and some that I've constructed for myself. And we will be learning how to listen to ourselves with care and acceptance, which is truly a learned skill and something we can all do better with!

Ira: Thanks so much for sharing some of your experience with me, Juniper. I can't wait for the workshop on Saturday, August 19 from 12:00-2:00 PM EDT.

Juniper: Thank you, Ira! I'm excited to be teaching it. 

This program is now available as an on-demand program at: 

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