For many people, that first day of skiing for the season is filled with a joy that is quickly followed the next day by excruciating discomfort.
Brent Kisilevich wants to change that. The guild-certified Feldenkrais practitioner and owner of Okanagan Feldenkrais is on a mission to have everyone experience improved function.
“You want to live a life where you say, ‘I went skiing and I’m not paying for it the next day.’ With Feldenkrais, I have learned to do things in such a way that I don’t have to pay for it the next day with pain and suffering,” said Kisilevich, who opened his studio a year ago in the space formerly occupied by Howard Ketola’s tai chi studio on the main floor of the Vernon Masonic Hall. “The Feldenkrais Method is cumulative, you discover new levels of ease and enjoyment, increase awareness of and respect for the body to get on with the things that you love.”
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist, athlete, author and educator, developed the Feldenkrais Method as a result of a disabling knee injury. After teaching himself to walk without pain by improving his kinesthetic awareness — his ability to sense, feel and coordinate easier, more effective movement — he began teaching others his method for improving physical function.
The Okanagan Feldenkrais Centre is a spacious, light-filled studio where a cozy seating area invites participants to sit and relax and chat after class, where there is space to move through the movements and where a large screen on one wall enables Kisilevich to deliver interactive presentations, and provide hands-on one-to-one instructional sessions using the Feldenkrais Method of sensory-motor learning as well as online classes with students around the world.
“It’s all about sit, stand, walk or run, but don’t wobble. I see a lot of balance issues and this is about experiencing confidence in oneself. I feel confident falling down and getting back up. I feel confident on my skis, I feel confident going up and down stairs,” he said. “Whether I am working with athletes or seniors, they discover something they didn’t know, the playing field is level.
“This supports athletes because they are so flexible and it’s fun to see that a senior has a different experience but they are both discovering something new. They will do the same thing and each person on the floor is having a deeply personal learning experience.
“It’s not a replacement for exercise or fitness, it’s what we would call biological fitness, the ability to respect and meet our environment, empowering 90-year-olds to say I want to feel safe getting in and out of a chair. I don’t want to have a knee or hip replacement and for those people who have replacements, they want to be able to move.”
Kisilevich was introduced to Feldenkrais as a student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he had a professor who also happened to be a Feldenkrais practitioner. Kisilevich had been a hockey player as well as a Ukrainian dancer and chronic pain was something he had learned to live with over the years.
“After 40 minutes of doing gentle movements I never thought I would do in my life, I realized what was anatomically possible for me was different from what I thought I could do. So I took some classes, I graduated and got a job and forgot about it.
“My mother had one book in 1988 and I took classes and did lessons — I didn’t want to feel old and I could tell that things weren’t good. I did not feel good and I knew I would pay for it later.
“With Feldenkrais, I had experienced a freedom and joy that wasn’t about my ability to work or my strength, I could not put my finger on it, but I was living the best possible life that I can.”
The key, said Kisilevich, is to find new ways of moving. The problem is that many people have treatment of some kind and then return to their old habits.
“It’s changing the way you feel, building up new ways to know yourself — you are changing the relationship to how you feel in your body. It’s overcoming self-criticism and helplessness. It’s very subtle but when I hear people saying things like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have done that. I know better,’ we want to change that.
“What I have discovered is that each lesson, whether it’s hands-on or on the floor, is for people to engage in having a new experience with themselves, and if they only do one thing they have had a new experience with themselves. You are the expert in you, you are the one who is going to notice the changes, it’s your story. The lessons are physical experiences that help you discover something new.”
Kisilevich said Feldenkrais is ideal for someone who is not injured but needs to feel better, to improve their mobility — the method’s motto is “awareness through movement.”
“When they are not injured, they will say ‘my back doesn’t work so well,’ and that’s what people are looking for, learning how to make changes in their life.”
While Kisilevich has his own studio, he also works with clients at Pleasant Valley Physiotherapy, the Vernon Recreation Centre and is working as a volunteer with the Silver Star Freestyle Ski Club and has been invited to share his work with people who are suffering from PTSD.
“This studio feels like a gift to me — one of my clients said to me, ‘there is this beautiful place and you need to see it.’ I knew that one day this is what I would like, because I wanted to be able to teach people in the studio as well as online,” said Kisilevich. “The online thing came about from my parents, who enjoyed being part of the class but they live in Edmonton, so thought I would teach online and they and others could continue to take part.”
For his own activity and exercises, Kisilevich doesn’t restrict himself to one thing such as going to the gym or running.
“I do a little of everything, I play with the kids, jump on the trampoline, golf,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else now. I’m learning something new about myself every day.”