Brenda Rosenberg of Bloomfield Hills shares the alternative methods that sped up her recovery from a debilitating stroke.
Photography by Erin Kirkland
Anyone who knows Brenda Naomi Rosenberg knows she thrives on making connections.
That could include interacting with those in the local religious, artistic and philanthropic communities, working locally with her beloved Girl Scouts as religious liaison to unite girls of different faiths or connecting with her friends in Metro Detroit and around the world.
When she experienced a massive stroke in October 2019, Rosenberg of Bloomfield Hills did a different kind of connecting.
With the help of others, she’s creating new connections between her own brain and body as she recovers from the stroke. She describes the results as nothing short of miraculous.
“I was a mess,” she said about the ischemic stroke, characterized by a blockage of blood in the brain. “I was so afraid, but I was more afraid of not being able to function” than of losing her life to the stroke.
Rosenberg, 73, said the physical and occupational therapy she underwent only caused frustration and anxiety.
“My brain only remembered the frustration, which led to anxiety,” she said.
As someone naturally open to new experiences, including visiting the North and South poles on her own, Rosenberg felt it was important to try something unique to recover from her paralytic symptoms, which included slurred speech, drooping on the right side of her face, and the loss of control of her right arm, hand and foot.
Once again, connections led her to try three supplemental therapeutic modalities to regain her mobility — the Feldenkrais Method, the Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement and the MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) Method. She notes proudly that all three were created by Jewish individuals and focus on building the mind-body connection to help with healing, increased strength and mobility.
Rosenberg began using the alternative therapies almost immediately after she had her stroke, often doubling up on physical and occupational therapies with alternative therapies.
After one session with a local Anat Baniel practitioner, her face no longer drooped. “It was a miracle,” she said.
What is a Stroke?
There are two types of stroke: ischemic, which entails the blockage of blood from a person’s brain, and hemorrhagic, which can be described as a “brain bleed.” Rebbeca Grysiewicz, D.O., a neurologist and director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said 87 percent of the general patient population in the United States have ischemic strokes while 13 percent of patients have the hemorrhagic variety. Strokes can occur in many parts of the brain and, depending on where the stroke occurs, symptoms manifest themselves differently.
“From a recovery and rehabilitation standpoint, it can be very different” for patients, Grysiewicz said. “In each case, early mobilization is important. We try to do that as quickly as possible.”
She mentioned that multidisciplinary care is required in whatever stroke situation occurs and that the stroke team at Beaumont consults with professionals in physical, occupational and speech therapy.
“We have to make sure the patients are safe and can do these therapies,” she said. “Usually within the first 24 hours, we begin the process of rehabilitation. We want to make sure patients are able to return home and return to baseline functioning.”
Grysiewicz mentioned that physical, occupational and speech therapy are the pillars of therapy for stroke patients but that other alternative therapies can help as well.
“There are a variety of treatment methods,” she said. “It’s just finding what works for the patient. As long as it’s something that isn’t going to cause the patient harm, there is evidence for looking at alternative therapies.”
The Feldenkrais Method
The Feldenkrais Method, created by the late Israeli Moshe Feldenkrais, is a program of neural education via movement by which practitioners help clients gain mobility or alleviate chronic pain by working with the brain. Feldenkrais, who earned degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as a doctorate in physics, created the method after trying to solve his own chronic knee injury.
“Feldenkrais is based in awareness of how you move and in using this awareness to bring the desired change, just like psychology does with personal experiences and behaviors,” said Hava Schaver, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with an office in Franklin.
Schaver has been a clinical psychologist for more than 35 years and a Feldenkrais practitioner for approximately 17 years. Schaver said she uses no touch when it comes to practicing the method with clients.
“By talking, I guide the person to activate their own intentional system,” she said.
Rosenberg said she had never thought about the connections between the muscle tissues of her body and bone and how those interact to create movement.
“It’s so tender and unintrusive,” Rosenberg said of the method, in contrast to some of the other therapies she did while in the hospital.
Schaver, who was born in Israel and came to America in 1974, said it took her four years of formal education to become a Feldenkrais practitioner, which she integrates with her general psychology practice.
“Neuroscience is teaching us that even in psychology we need to look at the totality of the being, the mind and the body,” she said. “I work a lot with mindfulness, and I guide the individual to form an intention.”
After Feldenkrais, Anat Baniel
Building upon the principles of the Feldenkrais Method, the Anat Baniel Method expanded upon the practice by incorporating the concept of neuromovement — exercises that rewire the brain. Through attention but also physical movements and “distinctions,” neuromovement influences the brain through the development of new neural connections.
Heather Sjogren, an Anat Baniel practitioner with her own studio in Berkley, worked with Rosenberg to help her gain mobility on her compromised right side. Sjogren gained formal training in Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement in 2015.
“Neuromovement uses gentle movements to create new movement in the body,” Sjogren said. “Our body affects our brain, but our brain affects our body as well. We are using movement to change the body.”
Israeli Anat Baniel, who worked with Moshe Feldenkrais for approximately 10 years, is a clinical psychologist and dancer. She created nine “essentials” with her own practice. Sjogren, an occupational therapist by training, said the No. 1 essential is attention. Other essentials include doing movements slowly, having flexible goals and helping the client understand that it’s OK to have limitations and that the practitioner will help the client move beyond these limitations.
“Our brain is not a mechanical system,” Sjogren said. “It’s an informational system. If you provide it with variation, it has more information to use.”
Sjogren said the Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement is unique in that it can be used on children, whereas the Feldenkrais Method was created exclusively for adults. She mentioned she has used the method on a child with cerebral palsy and that slowly the child has been able to straighten his limb and that it has become more functional.
Rosenberg began working with Sjogren a few weeks after her stroke and worked with her two times a day, three times a week. She said Sjogren has helped her decrease her “wobbliness” and gain mobility in her right leg and arm.
“To me, it’s miraculous,” Rosenberg said, again using the “M” word.
An Additional, Helpful Step
Rosenberg, always an active person whether it’s her creative work, her community service or being physically fit, has practiced Pilates. After her stroke, she continued working with her Pilates instructor Leanne Bourassa, who also guides clients through the MELT Method. Rosenberg began using the MELT Method several weeks after her stroke and works with Bourassa several times a week.
This method was created by Sue Hitzmann, M.S., CST, NMT, who became interested in neuromuscular and manual therapies as a way to resolve her own debilitating pain.
Bourassa works with Rosenberg weekly on MELT movements and Pilates.
MELT focuses on working with a person’s connective tissue and nervous systems. Like Feldenkrais, MELT allows the client to do the work themselves, with no hands-on instruction required. The practice incorporates the use of soft foam rollers and balls to stimulate fluid in a person’s cells.
“Hydrated tissue is healthier tissue,” Bourassa said. “It helps the body’s own healing system.”
Many people who come to see her are experiencing back pain, says Bourassa, who was first trained in MELT in 2012. People with sciatica also can benefit from the practice, she said, along with anyone who is experiencing pain in general.
“(MELT) calms the nervous system and it creates fluid movement in the body,” said Bourassa, who added that the method also reduces inflammation by hydrating tissues that have become depleted.
Bourassa describes Rosenberg’s recovery as “remarkable” and said it’s her motivation to recover that is a critical part of her successful healing process.
A Physical Therapist’s View
Nora Cascardo, an orthopedic manual physical therapist and co-owner of Premier Therapy Centers in West Bloomfield, is familiar with the Feldenkrais, Anat Baniel and MELT methods. She said Feldenkrais is the most “mainstream” alternative therapy while Anat Baniel and MELT are newer. She said there are many paths to recovery for stroke patients but believes that every stroke patient should receive physical, occupational and speech therapy as the very first step to recovery.
“I always like a very clear diagnosis” when it comes to working with stroke patients, Cascardo said. “Not all strokes are the same. I always advocate for the alternative approaches when traditional approaches have failed to gain the patient’s mobility.”
From a practical standpoint, Cascardo, who has been a physical therapist since 1988, notes that the alternative therapies are not typically covered by health insurance. Schaver, Sjogren and Bourassa confirmed that their practices are private pay.
“They are not covered for a reason,” Cascardo said. “There is too much variety between who is administering the treatment.”
She advises people to obtain the credentials of the person who is providing therapy and to get recommendations from other trusted sources.
“A well-intentioned, undertrained person can do a lot of harm,” she said. “Ask the proper questions: Are you licensed through the state? What licensing do you have? Are you certified? What kind of training have you had?”
Cascardo said she understands how some stroke patients have difficulty with physical, occupational and speech therapy, as Rosenberg experienced.
“It’s an experience where a person isn’t able to calibrate their own mobility,” she said. “It can be frustrating and embarrassing for the person. If you have a novice or an inexperienced therapist, the (recovery) outcome is going to be radically different.”
Support Aids Recovery
Rosenberg is a proven trailblazer. In business, she was the first female vice president of fashion marketing at J.L. Hudson Co., creator of the department store’s wildly popular Santa Bear promotion and Lifetime Honorary Chair of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Fash Bash runway show.
As an author and convener, she excels at bringing people with differences together to find a common thread they can use to weave something new together — as she has with Reuniting the Children of Abraham, a peace initiative that uses creative arts to build bridges of understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
As one who uses her positive energy and momentum to effect change, she said she expects to experience a full recovery and that she is, by her own estimation, 95 percent there. The only things she can’t do yet are swirl a pot of spaghetti or use chopsticks. She has adjusted her diet to eliminate unnecessary fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates. And, she allows herself to take naps, which are essential to her recovery, she said.
She also has drawn upon her own spiritual community to guide her through her recovery. She and her husband of 53 years, Howard, belong to Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. She said after her stroke, five rabbis from the temple came to see her and that friends from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim community have provided emotional support.
“You know God will pay attention when Christian, Jewish and Muslim people are praying for this Jewish girl,” she joked. “Without the prayers, (my recovery) wouldn’t have been as fast.”
Moving forward, Rosenberg said it’s her goal to get health insurance companies on board to pay for alternative therapies like those she uses so that everyone can experience the health benefits.
She said she also finds it meaningful that what has helped her recover are three therapeutic methods created by Jewish people.
“What an amazing way to combat anti-Semitism by showing how these methods heal,” she said.
And about her own intentions to continue to live a fully functional life guided by purpose, she said: “To get anything done, you have to have passion and creativity. If we can address what we need and if we can use creativity, there is no problem we can’t solve.”