Interview with Dr. Mark Erickson, DScPT, MA, PT, OSC, COMT, CFP
by Andrée Martin
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Can you tell us about your new training program?

Sure, I'd love to. We are extremely excited about the opportunity to offer a Feldenkrais Professional Training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, FL beginning in either Summer or Fall of 2020. We are extremely fortunate to be bringing Larry Goldfarb (https://www.mindinmotion-online.com/), who is very well-known in the Feldenkrais community worldwide as a premier teacher and practitioner, to southwest Florida as the Director of the training. Feldenkrais Professional Trainings are sanctioned by the Feldenkrais Guild and provide tremendous opportunity to 1) experience the method as a learner and become aware of one's own body and movement patterns as a way to make all functional activities more effective and efficient, and less painful, and 2) learn how apply insightful, pleasant and successful movement learning principles as a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner to help others. Currently, we are early in the process, but the format will likely consist of one 5-6 week session in the summer and one 1-2 week session at some other point during the year. Participants earn certification as an Awareness Through Movement instructor after two years and full certification as a Feldenkrais Practitioner after four years. I've found the Feldenkrais Method to be a tremendously valuable process as a physical therapist clinically working with people who are not able to perform their desired functional activities at an optimal level, as an educator of student physical therapists, and personally as a useful perspective for living life with greater awareness. If anyone has any questions please feel free to share my contact information.

What is one piece of advice would you give to musicians?

If you are seeking medical information for a performance-related injury and are not satisfied with the information you are receiving, keep looking! One, two, or even three practitioners may be uninformed about the needs, fears, and passions of musicians but that shouldn’t stop you from looking for someone who can help. Good practitioners help musicians to reorganize body / brain connections and to be more accurate and precise activating effective movement patterns efficiently. Keep looking for the person who can help you do that!

How did you get interested in working with musicians?

In Madison, WI, where I started my private practice, musicians were seeking Feldenkrais work; it was already in their “world view” and I thoroughly enjoyed helping such creative individuals work through their challenges. Musicians were often reticent to see medical practitioners because the advice they often received was to rest, to stop playing. I thought that was short sighted and lacked a comprehensive perspective.

I enjoy the passion musicians tend to have for their craft. What impressed me early was the value musicians put on body awareness training and injury prevention as well as injury management. I was fortunate enough to have had opportunities to speak at the University of Wisconsin Madison Cello Institute and later participate in the Andover Educator conference in Ames, Iowa. Andover Educators were the first group of people I had ever met who placed a high value in a curriculum on movement. That was an eye-opening experience!

What common injuries do you see in the musicians you help?

Although overuse is the most common injury I see, I would emphasize that overuse is not necessarily just muscular.  Muscles and the tendons that connect the muscles to bone are but one aspect of an overuse condition. They “pay the price” so to speak for what is happening throughout the body and throughout the musician’s life.

We are generally unaware of what we are doing with our bodies at any given moment. Musicians often need input from fresh eyes to help them figure out what is causing the overuse. Overuse also implies misuse; when one body region is being overused, another is often being underused. It has a lot to do with posture, emotions, neuro-musculoskeletal and psycho-social perspectives. For example, the person who is forceful as a person is forceful as a musician. It is reflected in how they make music. If you are using more force than you need, you’re at higher risk for overuse injury.

The key is working collaboratively, working with the musician to discover the factors contributing to their individual situation versus simply giving their condition a label such as tendonitis or dystonia and recommending rest and anti-inflammatory strategies.  The primary role of the Feldenkrais practitioner is to facilitate a sensory understanding (body awareness) from a first-person perspective. We need to help that person understand what they are doing to themselves that is likely contributing to their overuse/misuse. It’s self-inflicted in the sense that our brains are telling our muscles what to do while our muscles, joints, skin, eyes, ears, etc. are providing information to our brains that create a perceptual experience.  Somewhere in that loop, the messages get distorted causing misuse, and typically it’s subconscious. There are numerous different ways in which it is self-inflicted and it varies from musician to musician.

When and why did you add Feldenkrais to your skills?

I graduated PT school in 1983. Within two years I met Gil Hate, my PT mentor. Word was that if you got stuck and needed ideas for a patient send them to Gil. I began to ask, “What does Gil know that we don’t?” He used a technique called “simple contact” that uses gentle touch to facilitate better body awareness, less tension and less pain. I had come to the end of a series of sessions with a patient and found his methods worked with immediate results.

I later worked for Gil and he sent to me Feldenkrais course which resonated with me. It was the first time I heard anyone speak in an integrated fashion that was practical and functional . Feldenkrais courses are very experiential and I was amazed at the changes I experienced from the interventions.  I quickly found that Feldenkrais worked much more effectively with people who have persistent pain. Seeing the results of taking an integrated perspective and reading texts by Feldenkrais was inspirational. Feldenkrais was so far ahead of his time. I continue to emphasize this methodology in my practice and in my teaching primarily because it’s very effective helping others become more aware so they can learn new ways of being in the world.  We are integrated beings (mind, body, spirit) and we need integrated practitioners.

How might Feldenkrais align with body mapping as a complementary practice?

Anything that enhances awareness is symbiotic. It is important to provide many strategies to match varied learners’ needs. Both the Feldenkrais Method and Body Mapping provide alternate sensory experiences that can change our brain’s integration of input/understanding and therefore our brain’s outputs. The key is providing more and varied options (or restoring options) as a way to create a more vast movement repertoire, thereby enhancing our functional capabilities and performance.