Movement Of Emotions

by Buffy Owens

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Recently a student approached me at the end of class and asked me if experiencing strong emotions while doing Awareness Through Movement was normal. My answer: “Yes.” Emotions don’t surface all of the time, but it does happen, and the intensity of the experience can vary.

When I first started reading Moshe Feldenkrais’ books nearly 20 years ago, I was utterly obsessed with the mind-body connections—specifically how I could shift my emotional base and perspectives by working with my body. I consumed his writings along with those of Ida RolfAlexander Lowen, and books like Emotional Anatomy (the source for the image above.)

You see, at the time, I was interested in how different patterns of self-organization played a role in establishing a ‘baseline’ of emotional experience. For instance, the tendency to be sad or depressed, angry, happy, elated, open to the world, or closed off. Then how this emotional predisposition informs how we interact with others and how others, in turn, interact with us.

How you are organized isn’t the-be-all-end-all, but it is undoubtedly a glorious piece of this beautiful dynamic experience called life.

There is no tissue that is not ‘body’ and no response that is not ‘mind.’
— Deane Juhan

Movement and Touch. 

We come into this world as moving beings who are touched. Hopefully, we can leave the same way. Whatever our experiences in this life, movement, and touch are almost always involved in some way. Each time we move, and each time we are touched, the emotions related to that moment can be stored in our mind and our bodily tissues. Sometimes these somatic memories are shifted by another experience, but sometimes they can become embodied and influence how we interact with the world around us. This is true for both pleasure and happiness, as well as stress and fear.

In my personal experience, I have noticed two distinct ways that moving and receiving touch with the Feldenkrais Method® has impacted my emotional life – both globally and acutely. It is important to note that for me (for any of us) to notice these emotional shifts; we need to be AWARE. Aware of how we move, of our habits of sensing, thinking, feeling, and emoting. Awareness is key. And awareness is a crucial element of the Feldenkrais Method.

Now back to my personal experiences…

First: The Global Shift.

If we operate under the belief that our thoughts and emotions are grounded in our physical body—the endocrine & immune system, the nervous system, the soft tissue, etc.—then changing our physical self (a.k.a. the body) can change the way we experience our thoughts and emotions.  As we experiment with both our patterns of attention and movement, we improve not only our ability to move but also the way we think and feel. For me, this dramatically transformed my experience of life on a day-to-day basis.

Don’t get me wrong; I did a lot of movement, meditation, and mindfulness-based practices before I began exploring the Feldenkrais Method. But once I started doing Awareness Through Movement lessons regularly, things changed drastically!

Previously I had experienced a sort of low-grade depression. Nothing major. But a global feeling of heaviness combined with bouts of overwhelm and frustration. To me, this didn’t seem like depression, as it was simply how I knew life. That experience of subtle depression did change a lot over the years before I started exploring movement through the lens of the Feldenkrais Method.  Probably because I had maintained a pretty active meditation and yoga practice, but I still didn’t realize how much better, how much lighter, I could feel.

I believe that one of the leading causes of this change is the delicious Feldenkrais quality of moving without an external ideal of a perfect posture, without right or wrong, and with the invitation to find a sense of elegance and ease through my sensation. All of this created an opportunity for me to improve how I moved through life. The process taught me to be less forceful and more compassionate. In the end, these qualities reverberated throughout the rest of my life.

Second: Acute Moments of Intensity

This moment caught me completely off guard!

Most of the reading I had done around emotions, and the body and most of the experiences I had were based on these ideas of certain emotions having a fairly universal expression. Like how smiling or imitating a smile can improve your mood. Or the physical response of fear or anger, and other familiar emotional expressions.

What I hadn’t given much thought to was how a traumatic event might leave its impression. For me, it surfaced through exploring movement with my right ankle.

I had been doing a basic Awareness Through Movement® lesson for the ankles. A few minutes into the movement exploration, I started to have intense discomfort in my ankle, combined with a powerful urge to cry. So I stopped and rested. Then came back to the movement again. Then I paused. This went on for a while.

I returned to variations of this lesson over several days, with other lessons woven into my exploration that both supported the movement of my ankle while not directly engaging it. I intended to continue to improve and explore this pattern in a way that also felt safe (i.e., not perpetually triggering that intense emotion).

Eventually, I flashed back to the first time that I sprained my right ankle. It was during a T-Ball game. I had just argued with my mother about which pants to wear. Likely it was more of a stubborn six-year-old temper tantrum than an argument per se. Then BAMB! Out on the field, angry that I didn’t get my way and probably still crying when I ran for a ball and twisted my ankle in a gopher hole. Carried off the field. Iced. Bandaged. Then out of the game for a while, as my ankle healed.

It was that simple. Nothing too tragic, just an emotional life experience.

So tell me, what has been your experience of movement and emotions? Of body & mind?