MBS Assistant Trainer Soeun Grace Hong Doh completed her Feldenkrais Training in 2002 and became an MBS Master Practitioner in 2011. She runs a private practice in Seoul, Korea and is organizing and teaching MBS Korea’s first Professional Foundation Training. Her background is in Exercise Physiology, Neuroscience, Biotechnology and patent law.
Here, Grace shares some of the experiences that have shaped her involvement with Feldenkrais® and eventually MBS, as a student, a practitioner, and an MBS Trainer.
“That was the first time I realized that an FI® and ATM® are really a time to be with the experience, and not to be spoiled with analysis or words. Not just the physical, but the mind aspect as well. I had to continue with the training, because continuing was the only thing that made sense going forward, as a way of becoming more mature, healthier, and more mobile in my life. I learned to pose questions to myself, explore new possibilities, ignite my curiosity and invite subtle changes and transformation.”
Finding Feldenkrais and “Raising Your Own Teacher”
I started Feldenkrais training to help with my health issues. I was suffering from sciatica and back pain after giving birth to my child. I was also in a car accident about nine months after giving birth, which caused me to have a lot of neck spasms and TMJ pain. The neck spasms and TMJ pain were sometimes even worse than the back pain. I tried all kinds of treatment methods. You name it: physical therapy, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc. Whenever anybody recommended something to alleviate my pain, I tried it, but nothing worked. As a result, I pretty much gave up.
After I had given up, a friend of mine recommended an osteopath doctor, Dr. Nevins. I was skeptical, but I decided to give it a chance. To my surprise, my TMJ pain got better with her help, so I continued to visit her once or twice a week for about 4 or 5 months. Dr. Nevins told me, however, that my progress was too slow, and she suggested the Feldenkrais Method® to me, describing it as some kind of muscle reeducation. She gave me the contact information for Mark and Donna Reese, who were Feldenkrais trainers in the San Diego area, and that was how I got started.
Initially, I received FIs® (Functional Integration® sessions). In those days, I was used to intense treatment methods such as deep tissue massage. As a result, my ability to sense fine differences was very poor, so I was clueless about the subtle changes resulting from the FIs®. I would ask myself, “What is this?” I really didn’t feel much of a difference before and after a session. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a chance for some time since it had been recommended by Dr. Nevins, whom I respected and trusted.
After a few weeks of giving me FIs®, Mark and Donna invited me to their introductory seminar, and at that seminar, Donna said, “This is about getting a teacher within yourself, raising your own teacher.” That statement was very intriguing, because I was so sick of spending so much time and money on specialists, and depending on other people for my health, which wasn’t even helpful. I thought it would be so wonderful if I had a teacher within myself so that I could take care of myself.
Mark and Donna suggested that I try the group classes, ATMs® (Awareness through Movement®), which they offered through their teacher training, so I went for the experience. I did the ATMs® every morning for two hours over three weeks, and it was a life changing experience. I became free of pain and I could move more freely. Because of the positive outcome of these classes, I decided to join the teacher training class and I became a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner® in 2002. I’m so grateful to Dr. Nevins for introducing me to the Feldenkrais Method, and to Mark and Donna for gently guiding me to join the teacher training at the time. As a result, I’ve been given an opportunity to change my life direction, the Feldenkrais way.
The training was great. I learned to move more easily and freely, and deal with my pain. However, my lifestyle hadn’t really changed. I continued doing many hours of desk and computer work as a patent agent. I used Feldenkrais Method® to get rid of the tension when it became really painful and intolerable, but I was still inconvenienced by many health issues, such as tension in my neck and shoulder, an inability to fully raise my arm, TMJ issues, etc.
From Meeting Mia to MBS Trainer Training
My moments with Mia have been moments of enlightenment about my body, my mind, my environment and my human relationships.
I moved to Korea in 2002. At that time in Korea, there were only three Feldenkrais Practitioners including myself, and none of us practiced the method for the public. I was on my own, with no teacher from whom I could receive FIs® or take ATM® classes. Then, in January of 2007, MBS was giving a post graduate seminar in San Diego. I had heard of Mia’s reputation, and since I was going to be in town that winter, I went to study with her.
We did movements in which we tilted one of our legs inwards, with our arms above our heads. However, at that time, my arms were in very bad condition, so I couldn’t even hold them up. A friend of mine suggested that I speak up, telling me that Mia helps everyone who has issues doing an ATM®. If not for this friend, I probably would not have raised my hand. Luckily, I did, and Mia worked with me.
First, Mia looked at me and said, “Hmm, this concerns me because your upper back and neck area are kind of flat.” Then she told me to try doing this. [Grace collapses her spine with her head tilting back and chin protruding forward.] She said to me, “That probably feels strange. It’s probably something you never do.” That was true. I was always this sort of person! [Grace sits up straight with the spine straight and chin pointing downward.] So, the new position felt very strange. Then Mia watched as I did the movement again and she said, “Hmm, that’s interesting. You can lower your knee almost to the floor, but nothing happens with your upper body!” I realized that I had no sense of connection between my arms and my lower extremities, even as a Guild-certified Feldenkrais Practitioner®! Mia worked with my head in a lying position and then in a sitting position. Now, remember, the issue I’d presented was my arm pain. However, I had a lot of other issues, too. Finally, Mia said to me, “I don’t know what’s wrong with your arms, but if everything else changes, maybe your arms will also change.”
That brief encounter with Mia was a life-changing, empowering event for me. Even though I hadn’t mentioned my TMJ issue, she helped me overcome it. Since the car accident, or maybe even before that, I was unable to open my mouth wide with my jaw going straight down. My TMJ made irritating clicking sounds and caused my lower jaw to go in a zigzag manner. None of the so-called specialists had been able to help me. However, when I came home after Mia’s demonstration on me, I tried opening my mouth. Suddenly, it just dropped right open! I was amazed. Also, this “collapsed” posture that Mia re-introduced to me [Grace again changes the position of her head and neck] has been a life-saver for me. It really helped to release my tension while doing desk work. My arm issue that presented at that time also went away some time thereafter.
Since that first encounter, I simply had to continue studying with Mia. Every time I’m with her, she guides me to go a step further in the development of myself. First it was dealing with the pain, i.e., in my arms, shoulders and TMJ, then it was about functioning better. My structure has been changing ever since, and still continues to change.
After the seminar in San Diego, I participated in the Post-graduate Training and then the Master Practitioner training. In 2010, Mia and Leora invited me to do the Trainer Training in Germany. It hadn’t been my life plan, but how could I not? So, I went and I learned about why the Foundation Training is called foundation. I found it quite different from the Post-grad or the Master Practitioner training, as it really gives students the groundwork of the MBS method. I am changing, too, with every seminar I attend as an Assistant Trainer. Each time, I learn something new that completely shakes my way of being.
The Mind and Body Connection
The mind aspect of this work started dawning on me when I started the Master Practitioner Training. One time, we were doing movements as if we were sitting on a clock, pressing on different “numbers” of the clock face. I found that my pelvis on one side just would not touch the ground. It was so different from the other side. My right side wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do, so I became frustrated. A fellow student, someone who had studied with Mia for many years, asked me how I was doing. Maybe she saw the frustration in my face. She said, “You know, now is not the moment for this, this struggling to achieve a certain movement. This is a moment just to feel.” “That was the first time I realized that an FI® and ATM® are really a time to be with the experience, and not to be spoiled with analysis or words. Not just the physical, but the mind aspect as well. I had to continue with the training, because continuing was the only thing that made sense going forward, as a way of becoming more mature, healthier, and more mobile in my life. I learned to pose questions to myself, explore new possibilities, ignite my curiosity and invite subtle changes and transformation.”
What I find really special and powerful about Mia is that she can very precisely find out what you need right at that moment, and she gives that little bit of help – specifically, precisely, and effectively – so that you can continue with your own learning and maturation process. Feldenkrais practitioners are generally really wonderful at offering people a new sense of well-being and a better organization of the body. And yet, even after I’d completed my teacher training, I was still very disconnected. But I found that even after a little encounter with Mia, she could trigger such a big difference in me. That was powerful guidance I could not get anywhere else; I had to continue.
Letting Go, Noticing Differences, and Finding Your Way Again
MBS doesn’t necessarily teach you to be more symmetrical or to maintain a certain better organized state. Instead, it gives you the awareness, the direct sense, to find out for yourself how you can be more comfortable, and more connected. When I had students come to me in my early days, I tried to do things for them. I was always asking myself, “What can I do for them?” At the end of a session, they usually asked me, “What can I do before the next lesson?” I used to tell them to try this or that particular movement. Now I just say, “Don’t try to do something. Try to feel.” Nothing really matters unless you have the ability to feel.
Palo Alto- 2010
In the summer of 2010, I attended and assisted at an introductory seminar that MBS gave in Palo Alto. At one point, I happened to be by myself and not engaged in anything while others were doing partner work. Mia came over to me, asked me to lie down, and put her hands under my upper back, feeling and moving my scapula and the surrounding area. This area, even after the ten days of Master Practitioner Training I’d done just before the Palo Alto seminar, was still not a very “happy” area. For some reason, I almost always had some kind of tension there. With Mia’s touch, though, the tension immediately dissolved, and I was left with such a peaceful feeling. When her hands are on me, moving with me, I always get the feeling that she truly understands me and understands exactly what’s going on in my system. This feeling of being understood with such precision with hands is also emotionally touching. She was with me through touch only for a few minutes, but it gave me long sought relief, so precisely and so effectively.
Afterwards, I asked Mia, “Oh, how can I keep this feeling?” She said to me, “This is not about holding on. Let it go, let it go.” Right then, I realized another aspect of MBS, and not just with regard to this work, but in all aspects of life. It’s not about keeping what is good. It is just being in the experience and recognizing the difference, so I can find it again myself even if the feeling is lost. It is about knowing the difference so I can have the option to be one way or the other.
I had another moment of awakening with MBS when I was in the trainer training in 2010, the first time I visited Bad Toelz. Mia was asking us, “Why do you stop there? What stops you? What can you do a little differently to go a little further?” She helped me to really stay with myself to know what was limiting me, and once I knew my limitation, it just melted away. That was the first time I really stayed with and explored my limits. It was such a delicious and sweet feeling to be able to sense movements of an area that I had not been aware of for such a long time! Mia guides people in a way that makes it easy to sense the ease and lightness within a certain range, and then to expand beyond self-imposed limitations.
I even learned how to play golf from Mia! In the summer of 2007 during the post graduate seminar in Berkeley, she asked me how I was and what was new. I told her I was trying to learn to play golf, and that it was so hard. I didn’t know what to do with my arms. She said, “What are you doing with your arms? You play golf with your pelvis!” I had never thought of it that way. I had thought about drawing the iron back with my arms, but even that involves moving my pelvis. So, I tried initiating the movement with my pelvis and sure enough, my arms became incredibly light. It was a complete transformation, and suddenly playing golf became possible for me!
Bringing MBS to Korea
In 2010, Leora came to Korea and gave a two-day MBS introductory seminar. The Korean students were very enthusiastic and grateful for the learning opportunity, and Leora could see and feel that in the students. When she learned of the difficulties these students faced to become MBS practitioners, (having to travel abroad for many days and understand the English language, which was almost impossible for most of the students, if not for all of the students), Leora offered to help me bring the training to Korea under MBS guidance with a flexible schedule. As a result, it became possible for an MBS Foundation Training to get started in Korea in 2011. It has now been two years, and it has been an amazing learning and maturing process for me and for the 13 Korean MBS students.
Leora and Mia have always been available and resourceful to me. They have provided me with help and guidance throughout the training process, which has benefited me as much as my students. My understanding of the work, together with my FI® skills and my communication skills to deliver the method to the general public has risen to a completely new level that I couldn’t have even imagined two years ago.
It has also been amazing to watch how the Korean MBS students have come along in the process. Compared to how I was during my initial Feldenkrais teacher training, these students are so much better in their ability to sense differences, deliver ATM classes and understand the underlying principles of this work.
Since the beginning of last year (2013), I have been guiding about six of my students in learning to teach to the public in an ATM internship. As they began, the biggest challenge for my students seemed to be learning to hold back, and just to observe without jumping in to help their students. It is not easy to refrain from helping, especially when someone seems to be struggling with the movements. My students are learning how to really find out what they’re doing, instead of trying to fix anyone else.
The most gratifying aspect for me is that I can see and feel the dedication and of appreciation of the work in my students, and their personal growth physically and mentally. We often have a sharing time toward the end of each seminar. It almost always amazes how many changes they have gone through and are able to share with the rest of the group.
Verbalizing the experience immediately following an ATM® or FI® can take away an opportunity to really feel the transformation, but if the timing is right, I feel that sharing can also add to our experience and learning. It can offer us an opportunity to realize something that we experienced, but didn’t quite grasp at a conscious level. Thus, when you hear someone else describing a similar experience, you have an opportunity to better understand your own experience.
One strength of the Korean MBS students seems to be their sense of teamwork. Just as Leora guides the Assistant Trainers, I have tried to instill a sense of teamwork in these students, both during the ATM workshops in the Foundation Training and in the internship process. Two years of such training has brought these students together as a team. It is such a gratifying feeling to watch them grow, care and love each other, learn from each other, help each other, and work together.
I started teaching Feldenkrais the MBS way in Korea because I felt a responsibility to bring such a precious way of empowering oneself to Korea. Since I was the only person in Korea who had gone through the in-depth Feldrenkrais and MBS training, I felt responsible to be the one to deliver the training to the people of Korea. Now, my students can join me in the vision, and it is such a great feeling to have a team of MBS in Korea! Thanks, MBS! Thanks, Mia and Leora!! I’m so grateful that Mia carried on with the Feldenkrais Heritage. I am also grateful that Leora, despite the multitude of options she had in her life, chose to dedicate herself to this endeavor!