The 12 people lying on mats at the Chevy Chase Recreation Center did a series of stretching exercises, counseled by workshop leaders Adrienne Penebre and Chrish Kresge to move gently, rest after each series and generally do “less.” The session may have helped its participants, but that wasn’t its goal. Penebre and Kresge were introducing the Anat Baniel Method to parents of children with special needs.
The youngsters they work with, Kresge said, “have been done-to a lot. So we’re teaching the parents how to have that quality of interaction with their child. And just how many different ways there are to approach and touch a person that can be informative and kind and gentle. And not aggressive.”
The Sept. 26 session was part of the fifth D.C. Feldenkrais Festival, dedicated to the techniques developed by the late Moshe Feldenkrais and his students, who include Anat Baniel. Feldenkrais’s method involves moving gently and focusing attention to improve not just movement, but general well-being, according to its Web site.
The festival is not an annual event, said Seth Dellinger, an Awareness Through Movement teacher and one of the festival’s organizers; this was the fifth one this year. Awareness Through Movement classes involve a teacher talking a group of students through a series of movements.
“There’s just been a great response,” Dellinger said. “And this work needs to be better known than it is.
“The concept here isn’t that you’re a patient, a problem that needs fixing,” he added. “The idea is that you’re a human being, with all kinds of potential. And above all, the potential to learn. And you’re involved. It’s not something where I do something to you, and you’re just passive. You’re a part of this.”
Penebre and Kresge have experience with yoga and still practice it.
“I was really interested in how people learn to do something in a new way,” Penebre said. “That was the big thing I was seeing in my yoga classes. Why could some people do it, and why could some people never improve?
“The Western approach to yoga is mechanical,” she said she has realized. “I can’t tell you how many yoga teachers I know that are injured. I was injured. It’s the big dirty secret in yoga.”
“I have probably four yoga teachers in my practice who have injured themselves doing yoga,” Kresge added. “Since I started doing Feldenkrais, my yoga has become easy. I don’t have to strain so hard.”
With the Anat Baniel Method, Penebre said, “I was able to do things I could never do for years in yoga.”
When working with adults, who are the majority of both teachers’ clients, Penebre and Kresge most often deal with things such as neck, back and shoulder injuries. With children, they try to ameliorate the effects of diverse and generally more severe conditions, including autism and cerebral palsy.
They use Baniel’s method, they said, to make and strengthen connections between muscles and the brain, rather than focus on one particular outcome.
“When we work with a person, yes, we have a goal in mind, and we’re after things,” Penebre said. “We want to bring them into the world. That person maybe is never going to walk like a normal person. But how do you learn to use with skillfulness what you do have?”
The two women have separate practices — Kresge in Upper Northwest and Penebre on Capitol Hill — but they often work together. One of their shared clients is a girl with a rare genetic condition.
“The parents were told that she would probably never walk, that she would never talk,” Penebre said. “She would never be independent.
“She’s 5 now,” she added. “She’s learned to roll over, she’s learned to crawl, she’s learned to sit, she’s learned to stand. She’s learning to walk. She’s done all that and she keeps going. It’s not on the time frame that people want it to happen, but it’s happening.”
Physical therapy usually focuses on one particular task, Kresge said, but the Anat Baniel Method is more holistic.
“Very often, children will have, for example, speech difficulties,” Kresge said. “Well, we don’t work specifically with speech. But a child’s speech will improve, because when you improve one part of the system, then the entire system can also improve. And new parts of the system can emerge.”
One reason for the workshop was to demonstrate the method, Kresge said. But she and Penebre also wanted parents to have, and better understand, the experience. They’d also like to introduce it to people who don’t live near the Chevy Chase Recreation Center.
Jenkins is a freelance writer.