Success Stories

Countering the Effects of Chronic Stress
Musician hits all the right notes with effortless movement

Debbie*, 46, had spent five years in a highly challenging sales position in the software industry when she noticed she was very tense while playing her violin. Ever the perfectionist, she was deeply affected by stress in her personal and professional life. Her goal was to improve her ability, but became fatigued after playing for only five minutes, and the stiffness in her fingers prevented her from tackling more challenging pieces.

Motivated by her love of music, Debbie sought help. She had worked with me previously and had some understanding of how the FM could be useful in this situation.

With practice, she learned to make music with her whole body: to breathe with her playing; to use her feet to help stabilize her trunk; and to feel how the violin and bow are extensions of the fingers, hand, arm and shoulder.

After only five sessions Debbie could play for an hour or more without fatigue, using the tools she has developed for taking short relaxation breaks during her practice. She also improved her technique and her sound production, performing more intricate fingering with ease and astonishing her teacher with her improvement.

Best of all, Debbie has learned to transfer this relaxed way of being into her entire life.

*Not her real name


Un-learning Painful Habits
Thirty year writer’s cramp reversed

In her early 60s, financial advisor Maxine Thompson came to me with a problem. “When I take a pen to write, my whole arm vibrates and I don’t have any control,” she told me. “It feels like an electric current runs down my arm. I have to brace my arm hard to get any control at all.”  Maxine also lacked strength, needing to use both hands to lift a coffee cup. She wanted to be able to write more easily and lift things without feeling pain.

For 30 years, Maxine had worked as a warrantee clerk for a car company. Completing multi-copy forms before the advent of computers, she had learned to brace her arm and press very hard in order to make all of the copies legible. Now, she had to re-learn how to use her body effectively.

The hand, arm and shoulder work best as a unit when the trunk is stable, and that stability in turn comes through the feet.

In six sessions, Maxine practiced a series of lessons that would help her “reconnect” her hand to the rest of her body. She has found a new way to hold her pen that is completely comfortable and puts no strain on her hand or arm, and can now write with ease.

 

Non-surgical Relief from Joint Immobility
Frozen joints can be thawed

Marsha Ivany’s right shoulder was frozen. At 54, the retired teacher and recreational equestrian couldn’t move her arm; lifting bales of hay was impossible, riding had become challenging, and even daily activities were problematic. The problem was so bad that Marsha consulted a surgeon, who felt that surgery was the only way her shoulder would release. She opted to try the Feldenkrais Method® while waiting for the operation.

Halfway through her treatment of twice-weekly sessions, Marsha went on a cruise and lapsed back into her holding and pain patterns. Frozen shoulders have many components and are not something that can be resolved in a few short sessions. The nervous system must accept new patterns that are layered one on top of the other so that eventually the whole problem can be resolved. Treatment must be maintained until new habits become automatic.

Like many physical challenges, a frozen shoulder involves a trust issue. The body is afraid to let down its guard because the next movement could be painful, so the nervous system becomes hyper-vigilant. Because of this we have to focus on very small changes.  Each new movement is slightly challenging but within reach and presented in such a way that the nervous system accepts it without tightening up again.

Often we have to “trick” the nervous system into allowing new movements.  In Marsha’s case, if we couldn’t easily move the arm we would find a way to move the body around the arm. If there was pain in one area we would look for other areas that were pain free and focus our attention there or do unusual movements that didn’t have a history of pain attached to them so that we could find a pain free pathway. Once we had a path we could reconnect the dots so that other options became available.

After four months of treatments, Marsha experienced significant improvement that progressed beyond relieving her frozen shoulder. With increased body awareness, she fine-tuned her repertoire of movements and was able to take riding to a new level.

Marsha returned to her medical doctor, who was amazed the Feldenkrais Method® had worked. Mobility had returned and Marsha found it easier to ride and to practice Pilates. She was able to use the shoulder in a more natural fashion. Surgery was no longer necessary!

Two years later, Marsha finds that when she is learning something new her shoulder may still roll forward, but without pain. She has time to remind herself that this is an old habit pattern, and she slows herself down to make adjustments so that she is using a healthy movement pattern instead. Although she still notices “signs of aging”, she feels she has the tools to deal with everything better: her posture has improved, and she is going to age gracefully.

 

Re-thinking Movement for Increased Flexibility
Mastering Yoga by mastering your movements

Frank Biro came to me with a very specific request. In spite of many years of yoga practice, the 40-year-old welder/fabricator was still unable to do a full lotus - a position requiring you to have your legs crossed tailor- fashion, with the backs of the feet resting on the opposite thighs. Very important in Ashtanga Yoga, the position is a prerequisite for advancing in the form.


Frank had attended one of my workshops, and at the beginning of our first session he showed me what he was able to do. Believing that we would probably have to devote perhaps three or four sessions to this, I started slowly with an Awareness through Movement lesson during which I would verbally put Frank through a series of movements to give me an idea of his patterns and to see how he organized himself.

The lesson was very simple: lying on his back Frank began to bend his knee to the outside and drag his foot toward his pelvis. We did many variations of this movement and I would have Frank attend to different parts of himself (ribs, pelvis, head, shoulder girdle, etc.) as he moved. He was learning how to organize his whole system in order to externally rotate the hip joint in the easiest most functional way.

At the end of that one 45-minute lesson Frank sat up and was able to do the full lotus! I was astonished to say the least. Frank was obviously ready for this and yet one key thing had been missing in his understanding. Once he had that knowledge he was able to do this very challenging movement with ease.

 

Relief from the Symptoms of Parkinson’s
From dis-ease to ease

Running a household and assisting part-time in the family business into her mid-60s, Greta Henseleit had a lot of commitments. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s a year or two earlier and the pressure of her very busy lifestyle was taking its toll. “The demands upon my resources were too great,” she explains.

Greta’s symptoms included micrographia (progressively smaller and more cramped handwriting), a soft voice due to her decreased ability to project, bladder difficulties and postural changes. She had become quite hunched over and walked on her toes, and she was unable to ride a bicycle or swim. Her face had taken on a “stony” look, and when she did show facial expressions they seemed exaggerated because they were no longer spontaneous. She had developed a chronic cough, and she experienced a general tightness in her body - particularly if there was any pressure.

Although there is no “cure” for Parkinson’s, from the very first session Greta felt a change. We talked about the neurological implications of her diagnosis and since the Feldenkrais Method® worked directly with the nervous system we would see where it would go. She decided that she would come on a regular basis and made a huge commitment to herself, trusting that the Feldenkrais Method® would make a difference.

In twice-weekly sessions we went through gentle, easy lessons so that we could sense her movement patterns and what was easy and natural for her. These hands-on lessons also helped her learn to relax her movements. Very slowly we began to add new movements that would challenge her system slightly but be within reach, and we added a developmental component with lessons such as rolling and crawling. Sometimes I would do a hands-on lesson, while in other sessions I would verbally put Greta through the movements so that she could explore possibilities on her own. On some days, we combined the two.

If we added a new component Greta’s cough would start up again. It was her body’s way of objecting to new possibilities, so we began to implement what I called “the back door” approach: we would find ways to bring in the new movement that didn’t start her coughing. Before long she was able to do it in the original way and it would be fine.

After about a year of treatment Greta decided to cut her appointments down to one per week. She discovered that her symptoms returned and we went back to twice a week; happily, her symptoms began to recede again.

As Greta’s confidence in her ability to find ways to move more easily increased she felt the Feldenkrais Method® helped to reconnect neurotransmitters. “If one isn’t available,” she says, “it finds another that is available.”

Now, the micrographia is gone and Greta writes with ease.  Her voice is still soft but improving as we have been working on breathing and voice projection recently. Her bladder control has stabilized.

The most dramatic changes have occurred in Greta’s posture and facial expression. She now walks with the grace and ease of a dancer.  Her face has lost the “stony” look and her face is animated and her eyes sparkle; her balance is no longer a problem and she can swim again. The chronic cough has disappeared.

Although Greta finds her symptoms do resurface from time to time it is generally when her life gets very busy. However, she uses the symptoms as a sign that she needs to slow down and take care of her self.  Greta loves coming for lessons and there are always new things to learn. She is even able to do some challenging movement sequences that she wasn’t even able to do before she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Most importantly, Greta now has the tools to continue having a quality life and is able to handle the pressures and stresses of a busy lifestyle.

 

No Longer Sidelined by Sudden Injury
Soft tissue damage is not a life sentence

In her mid-40s, Mary Ellen* was active in her church and also had a demanding social life. When a car accident left her with soft tissue injury, she had to stop almost everything and was feeling quite depressed with the situation. Even working with the computer became a chore; her eyes tended to strain, putting immediate pressure on her jaw and neck muscles.

Mary Ellen had developed a lot of muscular “holding patterns,” a protective measure her nervous system first implemented as a protective measure. Now, she had to relearn what it meant to be fully relaxed.  A major change occurred when Mary Ellen realized that how she used her eyes was directly related to the tension in her jaw and neck: she tended to hold her eyes forward in her head, which made her neck muscles very tight.

On her back, Mary Ellen learned to let her eyes relax and allow them to be supported by the eye sockets. She learned to increase her visual field by paying more attention to her peripheral vision. Both of these techniques allowed her neck muscles to soften, increasing her ability to turn her head, and helping her learn how to release her jaw. Once she was consciously aware of how she used her eyes she was able to change her habits. During the next few sessions we explored other aspects of her organization that contributed to the overall tension that she felt.

After six sessions, the pressure in Mary Ellen’s jaw had disappeared and her neck was more relaxed. She was able to resume her life.

*Not her real name.

 

How Lyn Discovered Feldenkrais®
And began a journey of healing others

In her words ...

Several years ago, I learned first hand the importance of mobility. I lost mine after a serious car accident. Trying to recover to return to a very busy life was a struggle. I had to be helped out of my chair and simple tasks like making a cup of tea was a challenge. I was in my early forties but I moved like I was so much older. Sitting in my chair waiting for the next pain killer, I had time to think and watch. What would happen if I remained at this level of discomfort and locomotion? The future looked very limited. It scared me. My independence had vanished. There was a chance that I would not return to the activity level that I had before the accident. Therapists were already confirming this as a real possibility. But that was not a future I wanted.

I knew I had to do something different but what? It would have to be something that I could do at my own pace as I couldn’t move much and was still very fearful from the accident. After voicing my concerns to my mom, who was looking after me while I was recovering, she suggested a class that she was taking. She said that you went at your own pace and could imagine the things that you could not do. Well, it sounded like what I was looking for but how can you improve by doing so little. But this time I actually listened and did what my mother told me and learned that I could improve by doing less.

The class was mostly seniors who looked more mobile than I was. The group classes, I attended, are called Awareness Through Movement®. They are a part of the Feldenkrais Method® of Somatic Education which is learning through your body. The teacher gives you verbal cues and you explore the movement within your comfort range. We lay on the floor and I followed her movement suggestions. The movements were small and the focus was to make them easy. I began to notice how I was moving and the ways I could move easier. I often had to stop and rest and not do all that she asked but at the end of the class I felt more relaxed and in less pain. During the following week I discovered that I had more mobility than the week before. I returned to the classes and started my journey to joyful movement.


The movements were so small and gentle, how could they make a difference? How can doing “less” be a way to achieve more. The secret I learned was that the Feldenkrais Method® is not an exercise. The movements used are designed to interact with your brain and nervous system to create more effective movement. Brain training.

The brain is at the core of every movement so the movements you do gives your brain information along with new and better movement options and the brain reorganizes. You impact the system that impacts everything you do.

I was so thrilled by the changes in my mobility that I went on to taking private sessions working “one on one” with the teacher to focus on my unique challenges. With the lesson learned about the importance of mobility always with me, I search out more opportunities to experience the Feldenkrais Method®. I returned to the activities that I did before the accident and felt even better than I had before. Physically, I was more comfortable and more capable which was amazing.

What was more amazing was that I also found I could focus easier and had a greater capacity to problem solve. I was calmer and was less reactive. My future was full of possibilities again. It was very empowering.

My challenges had given me a gift. I decided to take the teacher’s training which you do over a four years period. Though I came to know about Feldenkrais® through recovering from an injury, there are many who have found benefit. The Canadian Alpine Olympic ski team has their own Feldenkrais® teacher so athletes striving for excellence use it to improve their sport. I have taught artists, singers, children and adults, anyone who wants to improve.

I have recently moved to Oliver and have started offering private lessons, group classes and workshops there. I know what it did for me - just think what it can do for others.

 

Feldenkrais®, Feldenkrais Method®, Awareness Through Movement®, and Functional Integration® are registered service marks of the Feldenkrais Guild® of North America. Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner ™ and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher ™ are certification marks of the Feldenkrais Guild®.