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Movement & Emotions

by Buffy Owens

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 completely 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 Rolf, Alexander Lowen, and books like Emotional Anatomy (the source for the image above.)

You see, at the time, I was really interested in how different patterns of 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 certainly a glorious piece of this wonderful dynamic experience called life.

Tweet-It 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, being 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 in 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 in order 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 a key. And awareness is a key 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 not only improve 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 really began exploring the Feldenkrais Method. But once I started doing Awareness Through Movement lessons on a regular basis, 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. To be perfectly honest, 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 strong 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 main 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 own sensation. All of this combined with re-exploring some of the most basic forms of functional movement created an opportunity for me to adjust my own organization without force and with a compassionate softness that 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, emotional expressions you are likely familiar with.

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

I had been doing a very simple Awareness Through Movement lesson of how to take my forefoot away from the floor—with my toes, pressing through my heel, from the forefoot itself, and other variations. A few minutes into the movement exploration I started to have intense discomfort in my ankle combined with a very strong urge to cry (to wholeheartedly sob actually). So I stopped and rested. Then came back to the movement again. Then stopped. 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. My intention was 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 had an argument 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 awhile 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?

  • Ioanna Petropoulou says:

    Hi Buffy
    I am a psychologist currenlty living and working in Barcelona. Your article reminded me an amazing book that very clearly illustrates the impact of trauma on the body. Thought maybe you would be inerested to check it out (if you haven’t read it already!) 🙂


    • Hello Ioanna! I have not read this book although it looks wonderful. Thank you for the suggestion!

      There is so much wonderful information on trauma and the body. Have you read much of Peter Levine’s work?

  • Thanks for sharing. You now have me thinking back and about past physical and emotional traumas. From the time I was first diagnosed with a chronic medical problem that follows me to this day, a head-on car collision approximately 35 years ago, to the long, awful and drawn-out end of a 5 year relationship 30 or so years ago, and more. As for how they impacted me and where they fit into my life now is something I’ll be exploring. I’ll be asking you for how they might still effect me and how best to go about figuring it all out.

    • Hi Bruce!

      It sounds like you’ve had some new insights on how the past may still persist. As you know, I am not a psychotherapist and so I am not really qualified to dive deep into the world of emotion…but I can certainly provide you with some resources. I can also support you in exploring yourself through movement–which can often shed a lot of light on our emotional world.

  • Susan Grimble says:

    I remember my first 10 days of the FeldenkraisTraining . I had been a Rolfer for 15 years and the work had been hard on my body and in the Rplfing mindset being “straight ” was important. Also years of yoga and meditation had also misprinted on me thatI needed to hold myself in certain ways. It was such a relief to just let go of all those ideas about how I should be. As I explored all the many ways I could move and relearned how to soften, the emotions just flowed out. I remember it as a time when I was either crying or laughing.

    I did many years of Gestalt, Bioenergetics etc. and had done my share of yelling and crying about people and events in my life. The release always felt good but I felt the grooves in my brain around those experiences were getting deeper. When I was angry or sad those 5 or 6 “life traumas” would just be there and add fuel to what I was going through. What I found interesting about the release from the Feldenkrais work was that there were no stories around the feelings just sensation and more and more softening and more ability to be in the present moment.
    I feel very fortunate to have Feldenkrais in my life.


    • Susan,

      Thank you for sharing your experience! I fully agree with you about the beauty of the “no stories around the feelings, just sensation” However, sometimes those sensations trigger a strong memory. For my own practice I appreciate these moments as sort of acknowledgement of the past…but I don’t necessarily take those stories to tea or think of them as the whole picture. The human experience is way too dynamic for that 🙂

      I too am deeply grateful to have Feldenkrais in my life. The softness, the curiosity, and a direct access point to the present moment. So much goodness!


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  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you Buffy for sharing your experience and observations. I love how this encapculates it for me: “I believe that one of the main 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 own sensation.”

    I too have found big emotional shifts with the Feldenkrais Method. One of my tell tale “it’s working its magic signs” is when I start humming after a lesson.

    • Buffy Owens, GCFP says:

      I am so glad that some of my words resonated with you! I also love that you find yourself humming after a lesson….. especially as some suggest humming is good for the vagus nerve, so it seems you get the joyous continuation of further integration. Yay!

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