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Life Re-Newed: Discoveries from the Feldenkrais Method®

By Cookie Murphy/Pettee, GCFP

Over a period of 30 years, from being an athletic, active woman who danced, skied, enjoyed long walks and loved to garden, I became a woman plagued with chronic pain from osteoarthritis. Then I was led to the Feldenkrais Method® and enrolled in the 4-year Feldenkrais® Professional Training Program. 

One day in the first year of training, I had a glimmer of my coming transformation. Our class was doing an Awareness Through Movement® lesson that involved the ribs, pelvis and spine, slowly building towards the possibility of a back bend.

While I never fully arrived there, the physical memory of how it felt to be in a back bend position returned from my childhood, so that my ribs and vertebrae felt different than at the beginning of the lesson. I knew at that moment that I was starting to experience what the instructor had been telling us: I didn’t have to be able to execute or perform the directed movements to reap the benefits; I could be “aware through movement.” The key lies in the process of sensing what’s happening when we move: in our skeletons, in our nervous systems, in our whole selves.

While during the four years I regularly faced my pervasive insecurity around physical limitation and pain, experiences like the “back bend” lesson deepened the breadth of my understanding. Gradually, and yet sometimes in lightning-bolt moments, I would move beyond frustration, fear or pain to learn and experience what was important for me—not just in the training, but in life: who I am, how I learn, how I help others.

Within me, a continuing redefinition of success also evolved. Success was not “doing” a back bend. It was re-discovering my core strengths and then re-defining how to use them along with my new skills— those of the Feldenkrais Method.

While other learning experiences and knowledgeable people in my life had suggested that I am primarily a kinesthetic learner, the training fully corroborated this part of my identity: I best comprehend new learning through physical example and experience. When this path is available, I breathe freely and feel whole. When it is not—when I don’t grasp something that I want to understand—often I literally feel a knot at the base of my neck or in my chest. Moshe seemed to be speaking to me when he explained, “Pleasure relaxes the breathing to become simple and easy. Excessive striving-to-improve impedes learning…master the way to learn new skills. You will get to know new skills as a reward for your attention.”

While the compensation and other rewards of the public service career that I left several years ago were ample, they came at the cost of intense and often debilitating physical pain. It was a key reason for my financially risky decision to leave, to retire from that profession quite early. These problems had spilled over into my private life, as I became someone who could no longer garden for more than 20 minutes nor walk more than a few blocks. I started the Feldenkrais training mainly for my own well-being and growth. But as I rediscovered the joy of working with people in nurturing ways that cause me no harm and that provide the framework for my continual learning and improvement, it was clear that I wanted to move in the direction of a practice. 

I have already begun Functional Integration® work with clients, and in January 2010, a colleague and I will start an Awareness Through Movement class in our neighborhood. 

While I still have limitations and chronic pain, both are significantly diminished and the progression of the osteoarthritis has been slowed. I’m happier and I move through life in a more integrative way, with more ease. My life of debilitating pain is in the past. I’m not skiing again—but I do snowshoe! I live a life of possibility with much greater optimism.

From the training, I have been given a promising set of tools and processes to help me live out—and live in—my nurturer self, I’ve regained some of my lost physicality and I’ve gained knowledge of how I best learn. Moshe Feldenkrais died in 1984. I never met him, but he has “spoken” directly to me in many ways, including:
“I do not intend to ‘teach’ you, but to enable you to learn at your own rate of understanding and doing. Time is the most important means of learning.”

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