Neurological Diplomacy is a Feldenkrais strategy to “make the good side worse” so that the “bad side” can become better. Yes. this sounds totally weird and strange, but it does succeed in reversing symptoms. Really!
I will illustrate the concept by describing an exercise introduced by Ruthy Alon in a Feldenkrais workship. Ruthy Alon is a senior Feldenkrais Trainer and founder of Bones for Life who coined the term “neurological diplomacy”. I learned all about this technique from an email I received from one of the workshop participants who prefers to remain anonymous. Below is an edited version of the email I received.
An Exercise that Illustrates the Magic
of Neurological Diplomacy
Do the exercise right now so you can experience precisely how and why it works to reduce the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. There are seven steps.
- Pretend to drink water out of a stream, cupping your hands one over the other. Image you are drinking water from a fresh water stream. Sip water out of your two hands as you bring your hands up and down from the imaginary stream. Notice how easy this movement is for you. Notice also which hand is on top of the other as you do this.
- Rest a moment.
- Now, do the same imaginary movement again, but put the other hand on top. Bring your hands all the way to your mouth to drink the imaginary water. This is not your familiar or easy way of doing it. Chances are good this movement will not feel so comfortable or easy.
How do we go about improving the second way of doing it, the way that is not so familiar and more difficult? We do not want to directly work with the “bad” side because this is not where the brain is working well. There is a lack of understanding by the brain or a difficulty there.
In the case of a Feldenkrais treatment there may be an injury or pain involved in the “bad side” or “bad movement”. No learning, nor any good outcome, can easily happen when the practitioner works directly with the “bad side”. Rather, the practitioner will leave the “bad side” alone and not attempt to “fix” it.
In summary, do not even think of any side as “bad” or any movement as “bad”. Instead, accept it as it is. Simply leave it alone. Ignore it. Do not even think of changing it.
Doing so is an act of violence. This is the last thing anyone needs who experiences the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
- Now, do the movement the “hard” way again and notice carefully how it was hard and why. Perhaps your shoulders are tighter with that unfamiliar arrangement of the hands. Perhaps the brain is confused. Perhaps the coordination is klutzy in that unfamiliar way. Whatever – notice what you can.
- Rest a moment.
Now Comes the Magical Solution
The Heart of Neurological Diplomacy
- Now do the easy movement, with the comfortable arrangement of hands one top of the other. Make sipping water difficult by pretending you now have on the “easy side” all the trouble or difficulty you had on the “bad side” with the unfamiliar palm on top.
Play like that for a little while, pretending to imitate the bad movement even though your palms are arranged in the more comfortable arrangement. Try to feel a little frustration about the situation. It is as if you want to convince the brain now that “I do not have any easy way to get a drink of water with my hands.”
- Then let it go and rest. Breathe. Forget all about this. Just relax. After a minute or so go back and try to “drink water” with palms arranged in the “bad” or unfamiliar way.
Now, it will be much easier in most cases to make the movement the “hard” way using the more uncomfortable arrangement of hands. If that is not magic I do not know what is!
The surprise of the day is that you did not work with (or pay any attention) to the “bad side” at all! The intervention is magical in this way.
Physical therapists use this technique with stroke patients. They deliberately make the good side and the good movements temporarily restricted with splints or other devices in order to “magically” make the “bad side” better. If the technique works with stroke patients, it will surely succeed for persons who currently experience Parkinson’s symptoms.
The brain is present, active and intelligent and functional in the “good side” or with the “good movement.” This is where learning can happen – not on the “bad side”. By “teaching” the good movement to be “bad”, we show the brain how to release that learning, how to release a difficulty just of that exact nature which is transferred automatically over to the “bad side”.
The “bad side” or “bad movement” instantly becomes better without confronting the bad side directly.
- We do not name the “bad side” or “bad movement” as “wrong” or “bad”.
- We do not attempt to correct the “bad side” (which is the strategy most people engage).
- We do not call it to be “wrong” or “stupid”.
- We do not try to correct it.
- We do not even think about correcting it.
Neurological diplomacy is an extremely gentle and respectful way of working with the body. That is why it is called Neurological Diplomacy.
In summary, do not declare war on your “bad side” or “bad movement”. Become diplomatic in your approach. Be respective of your body’s ability to self correct. I will say it one more time. This really is magic at its best.
Robert Rodgers PhD
Road to Recovery from Parkinsons Disease