Happiness – A Feldenkrias® side-effect?

By Cynthia Allen

Imagine free falling in space while hearing whispers in the ether that change your life. This is how it began, or maybe it is the middle of the story.

Though successful in my career in medical management, as I turned 30 the physical and emotional pain which had been present since early childhood was increasingly hard to ignore. Out of sheer desperation (my best teacher, frankly) I turned towards finding new ways to care for myself, first through psychotherapy and then through massage, spiritual direction, energetic healing and shamanic practice. All opened a new world of possibility, one in which past trauma and harsh religious beliefs began to lose their hold on me. I felt that maybe there was some grace in this world after all, and some reason for me to choose to live in it.

I had begun to grow into the person I truly was meant to be. Yet, despite this new portal, physical pain was still very limiting and, truthfully, I still didn’t believe happiness was possible.

During this time, I was blessed to be referred to the Feldenkrais Method by several people. It took a couple years before I actually attended a class and the impact was immediate. While I disliked the class, my sleep after that first night was filled with a healing luminous butterfly unwinding along my spine. I continued attending classes off and on over the next year. Eventually I was handed an application for a training program that would soon begin in Northern Kentucky. As Larry and I got in our car that evening with me clutching a blank application, I spoke with a halting, emotion filled voice, “Oh my gosh, I am coming home.”

I wan’t yet enjoying the classes but the benefits were too hard too ignore. Although I was about to begin a training program, I actually knew very little about the work. In fact I didn’t even know I would be training to use my hands to help other people. However I did know that the calling to use this work in at least my own life was too strong to ignore.

During the next four years of training, I gradually became more physically comfortable. I even had my first clear thought of happiness while driving on Winton road on a windy, sunny summer day. I was smiling and heard myself say out loud “I am happy.” It was a shocking and blissful moment.

One night I had the most delicious dream in which I was free falling in slow motion somersaults in Awareness Through Movement style while my shamanic teacher, Alberto Villodo along with Moshe Feldenkrais, and the father of modern hypnosis, Milton Erikson whispered, “You know….you know…” over and over. The dream lasted through the night and stays with me to this day.

Post traumatic flashbacks and nightmares decreased. I became able to trust myself and others. My creative spirit soared. I could walk through a grocery story without feeling like I wouldn’t make it. I even had energy at the end of the day for cooking and gardening.  My reactive nature began to decrease. Perhaps most importantly I was increasingly becoming a nicer person. To this day I would say this is one of the largest benefits for me. I am learning every day how to become a nicer person.

Eighteen years after beginning the Feldenkrais aspect of my journey, I am blessed to also continue improving in the physical realm at a time when others complain of feeling older with increased limitations.  The reason most people come to see me is for a specific physical ailment and I will be part of their journey for a very short time. Others may have a significant life-long challenge and may use The Feldenkrais Method for many years.

Among those that try this somatic approach, there will be a few that like myself will feel the depth of their own need and the power of this simple approach to help them grow beyond stuck, seemingly intractable walls. Like me they may not even enjoy those first classes. But to know oneself without judgment is an empowering thing and is curative in and of itself.


Video tutorial on functional, somatic rehab for people in wheelchairs

Over the past few years I have watched a fair number of rehab or restorative sessions in LTC facilities and outpatient clinics. These sessions have, more than not, been comprised of the patients doing upper body exercises with weights as a major portion of their occupational therapy and lower body strengthening exercises using resistance, usually therabands, and assisted standing and walking where possible for the physical therapy portion.

I also see, at times, the patient is left to do the repetitions without supervision or with few clues on how to do the movement safely. One could say that the patient already knows how to do the exercise but unfortunately this is not what I see from a biomechanic perspective.

Given that these appear to be the go to exercises, I asked myself how might I be able to help improve the quality of these exercises without asking therapists to do something entirely different. I believe good arguments could be made that these standard exercises are questionable in certain situations but I don’t want to argue that at this . Instead I wish to offer a way to make the chosen exercises safer, more valuable and start connecting all of them to standing and walking right from the get go.

I think this video provides that opportunity without intending to turn traditional therapists into Feldenkrais practitioners. The fast paced environments with incredible amounts of time spent on charting do not easily lend themselves to creativity in sessions, but perhaps there are ways we can get more with the resources that are available.

Besides the Feldenkrais Method, I have drawn on Bones for Life and the Integral Human Gait theory as well.

Let me know what you think. And if you find it worth while, please pass along. LTC rehab in particular needs support from my exposure here in Cincinnati although I think this is useable information for therapists in all environments. Personal trainers will also benefit. I am also offering a workshop in June on this topic. Let me know if you are interested.

Wheelchair Rehab with Feldenkrais Method from Future Life Now on Vimeo