The delicate moment of professional introductions
It’s said that when you meet someone for the first time, the first question asked in France is “What do you do for a living?”, whereas in the U.S. the first question is “Where are you from?
As an American living in France, I have to say that I’d prefer to be asked the American version. Indeed, I’ve found myself several times at different dinners or aperitifs, having to dread the moment when the round table would inevitably catch up with me, and I’d have to answer “I’m a practitioner of the Feldenkrais method”. I knew full well that the sentence that would follow would be “Felden-what?”. At times like this, I feel strangely in tune with the person who has to explain that he’s doing soft matter physics. I tell myself that I too would like to be able to answer “Teacher”, “Architect”, or “Nurse”; and be immediately understood by everyone.
It’s not that I’m embarrassed to talk about what I do. It’s rather that, in my opinion, to really explain what Feldenkrais is would probably take about ten minutes. But I guess people didn’t invite me to dinner so I could give my talk on the method.
“Feldenkrais, a kind of…”
I tried different strategies to go faster. “I practice a kind of alternative physiotherapy”. “It’s a kind of alternative medicine, for people with pain, or for anyone for that matter…” “It’s a bit like osteo yes…”. One evening when I was tired, I even tried to say “I’m a yoga teacher”, hoping that the conversation could quickly move on to something else. Of course, my interlocutor replied “Ah, but I love yoga. Do you do Hatha or Ashtanga?”.
Making the comparison with something everyone knows (osteo, physiotherapist…) was sometimes handy for conversation, but I still wasn’t satisfied with my answers. Firstly, because I’m not a physiotherapist, nor an osteopath, and secondly because Feldenkrais, as far as I know, offers a very different approach to the body than these methods. Nor was it satisfactory to propose an answer based solely on the expected benefits of the method (“It’s a method that makes your back hurt less”), because I know that the benefits can be of a very varied nature, and that the method can be useful to people who a priori have no pain, no difficulty in their movements.
Taking responsibility for what I do
Eventually, I realized that I had to assume that Feldenkrais was not a “kind of…”. To really interest my interlocutors in this method, which I’m passionate about and want to make known, I had to describe it as a method with its own identity, and its own merits. After all, nobody talks about yoga by saying “it’s a kind of gym”.
Today, I’m willing to take the time to say: “I’m a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method. It’s a method in which we work on movement and movement awareness: we rely on neural plasticity to enable our bodies to find ways of moving or resting that are more efficient, more comfortable and logically less painful. It can be practiced collectively: in this case, I guide participants through a sequence of gentle, yet precise movements. It can also take the form of an individual session where I perform manipulations on the person, always with the aim of improving their movement”.
That’s probably a bit long for a quick aperitif presentation, but at least it’s a precise answer, in which I fully recognize myself. By practicing to explain this with conviction and passion, I hope that the 10-minute presentation will pass quickly for those who listen to me. It also gives the soft matter physicist time to think about his answer.