I loved playing outside and got involved in all kinds of activities. I water-skied, wind surfed, kayaked, fished, played in the woods, in and on the lake all summer, every summer. In the winter I skied and built forts with my brothers and sister and just generally had a grand old time.
School wasn’t hard for me. I remember telling my parents at some point that I figured school could be two months long and summer break could be 10 months long — and kids could still get the same amount of school work done. Yes, I had a smart-aleck streak!
Finding My Passion
When I was little, my parents had me in ballet classes. I hated ballet class, much to my parents disappointment. The teacher was always hollering and carried a big stick — seriously — a big stick that she’d pound into the ground along with the hollering to the beat of the music. It was stressful. And not fun!
As I got a little older, I played a bit of piano and for awhile, had a great time playing the flute. And, I was on the junior-high basketball team…
But nothing fired a passion in me — not really.
Until one day in junior-high…
Just as I was going to my locker at the end of a school day, I surprised myself. I decided in a blink, to grab my running shoes and shorts and head to the gym.
The new phys-ed teacher had made an announcement about try-outs for a new track team.
For some strange, unknown reason, I decided to check it out.
The try-out was a cross country run of a couple kilometres through the woods behind the school. I had no idea what I was doing. I just ran…
And I suffered!
Boy did I suffer…
I had no idea how to pace myself and being competitive as I was, I tried to keep up with the front runners. Talk about sucking wind!
The last 100 meters or so I could barely stay upright. This wasn’t due to shear oxygen deprivation (I couldn’t run fast enough to create that condition). It was because of a stitch in my side that was causing agonizing pain – I was practically doubled over those last metres of the race. Pretty pathetic looking really.
At the finish line, the phys-ed teacher came over and told me how to stretch out the stitch and asked me to join the team. I couldn’t believe it. I was dumb-struck. Why on earth did he want me on his team? I was slow, hurting, and a pretty lousy runner.
He replied with something that made a deep and lasting impression on me:
It’s not raw talent that make people great. It’s grit, heart and a willingness to work hard.
Oddly enough, running on that track team did light a fire of passion in me. I did work hard — very hard.
And I had success.
I won a lot of races and was in the top few in my region many years.
I kept at this passion all through high-school and university. I even managed to get a degree in physiotherapy while running on the university track team.
But there was trouble brewing…
All Kinds of Trouble
It started when I was stricken with the dreaded, kissing disease.
Mononucleosis knocked me on my ass.
Just when my training runs were exceeding every expectation of those around me…
Total, utter and absolute fatigue brought me to a complete standstill.
This was tough on me on so many levels.
To have been training so hard, to see such awesome potential, and to have that snatched away by a tiny, merciless little virus…
And… redeeming the small but meaningful scholarship for physio school I’d won depended on me being accepted into the physio program after that first year of university.
It was hard enough training while shooting for straight A’s in order to be accepted into the physio program when I was healthy. Now — now I was in survival mode.
I was exhausted, could barely think straight, and couldn’t sleep. It was the weirdest thing to have mono and not be able to sleep properly.
The disappointment and stress were monumental. I really piled it on myself…
With some struggle, my parents were able to lend me money to help pay my tuition. The thought of messing up on that scholarship and having to take an extra year of school was devastating. I cringed at the thought of burdening my parents any more than I already was.
But there was nothing for it. What could I do but persevere?
By some magic, in the end, I was accepted into physio school, and claimed that little scholarship.
Once I started training again, I did everything I could to get back to a competitive level. But it was nothing but struggle. Working hard during workouts seemed so much more difficult. Recovering from workouts was harder, and to my dismay, actually felt damn near impossible.
I’d lost my jam.
And then there were the injuries.
There was nothing completely debilitating at that point, but there was almost always something.
Eventually, within the next couple of years, I was plagued by pain darn near all the time whether I was training or not. Most of it was in my low back and left hip area.
The nagging, gnawing pain became “normal” — and exhausting.
It didn’t matter what I’d learned in physio school.
It didn’t matter what exercises I did, or that I was strong and lean (six pack abs and all).
It didn’t matter that I had access to the best physios and athletic therapists in the city.
It never really got better.
I tried all sorts of things besides physiotherapy:
Nothing made a real and lasting difference.
And I had other ordeals…
There was a weird period of about six months when doctors couldn’t decide if the massive lymph nodes that’d come up were some kind of lymphoma or something more benign. They kept playing the “let’s just watch this for awhile” game.
This really messed with my mind. How could they be so blase?! This was my life they were talking about!
Eventually, after many appointments with specialists, they were able to determine it wasn’t cancer.
It seemed it was just my immune system going haywire – most likely due to the mononucleosis I’d had a couple years earlier.
Life goes on — and I got on with mine.
I retired from running track as I just couldn’t train at the level necessary to be competitive.
This was a difficult transition. It shocked me to be experiencing something akin to grief by leaving that life behind for good. So much of my self-image was wrapped up in being a competitive athlete. So was most of my social life.
On the flip side, I now had time to get involved in other things I’d always wanted to do, like wilderness canoe tripping and rock climbing.
But there was always that insidious, nagging pain – my unbidden yet constant companion that dogged me relentlessly.
It puzzled me that the more active I got, the worse the pain got.
Hiking, canoeing and just generally having a great time in the outdoors — all made that damn nagging pain worse.
I continued to stretch, do exercises for it and see colleagues and other professionals. I would get temporary relief. But – fundamentally – nothing changed .
I was only in my mid 20’s and here I was plagued by chronic pain.
The worst part was that I was more than willing to do what-ever was necessary to work it out, to solve the problem for good. But the exercises prescribed and the methods I tried not only didn’t help, they actually often made things worse.
Surprising Twist of Fate
Several years later, by some wondrous twist of fate, I came across the Feldenkrais Method®.
I had just started working at a new clinic where a colleague introduced me to this amazing method.
After just one lesson I was taken — hook, line and sinker!
It was t-o-t-a-l-l-y mind-blowing…
Whether or not my chronic pain stayed away was besides the point. It had to do with how startlingly different I felt.
It felt like I was in a whole new body, let alone the fantastic mental and emotional state I was in!
A Whole New Life Chapter
I started figuring out how the heck I could manage to take a training program to become a certified Feldenkrais practitioner.
Nearly four years of travelling to the US several times a year…
Paying tuition with the Canadian dollar at $0.65 US…
Only just recovering from university debt…
No way I was going to ask my parents for help again…
This wasn’t going to be easy.
But I couldn’t help it. I was compelled. This work made so much sense to me. I just had to study it.
It was a crazy four years. Travelling back and forth. No vacation time. Parking my car. Selling my little house. Almost having to quit the training two years in because of the finances…
But it was worth it!
This was probably the second best decision I’d ever made in my life.
It’s been over 20 years since I started that training program. I occasionally have something like that old nagging pain come back, but it never lasts. I know what to do for myself to relieve that pain…
But the Feldenkrais Method has done so much more for me than that…
And…my work is so much more rewarding.
I know that the Feldenkrais Method isn’t the end all and be all of all things. It is one of many methods that focuses on embodied learning; on accessing the incredible potential of the human brain to learn and grow and become better at whatever it is a person wants to do better.
Yes, its an awesome method. And — I would never say that Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the method, had a monopoly on good ideas…
But there is no doubt that his ideas, the lessons and the method he’s created are genius.
And it’s true. It’s not just my pain that is better from engaging deeply with the Feldenkrais Method…
My life is better.
Oh ya — and if you’re wondering what the best decision I ever made was — it was marrying my husband, Sean.
A version of this article was written by Gisele St. Hilaire and first appeared on her blog at sunyatamovementstudio.com
Feldenkrais® and Feldenkrais Method® are registered service marks of The Feldenkrais® Guild of North America