Helping people learn to help themselves is the reward for local Feldenkrais® practitioner

Helping people learn to help themselves is the reward for local Feldenkrais® practitioner

by Deborah Stone, Staff Writer, Woodinville Weekly, Edition Date: April 23, 2007 – contacts updated below 2018
Photo courtesy of Annie Thoe, Feldenkrais® practitioner: Annie Thoe works with a client.

Annie Thoe will tell you that she literally fell into her profession twenty-two years ago.

After a successful, injury-free collegiate athletic career, her knees began bothering her and she experienced pain while walking and even swimming. Top sports injury specialists confirmed there was nothing wrong with her knees, but they couldn’t explain why she was having pain and couldn’t do anything to help her.

At the time, Thoe was studying martial arts and yoga, and although her teachers tried to find alternative ways for her to move to avoid the discomfort, they, too, were at a loss.

After a year of debilitating pain, the Woodinville woman was getting increasingly more depressed and afraid that she would soon be unable to walk or lead an active lifestyle. Then one day, everything changed. Thoe happened to mention her situation to her training partner, Jeff Haller, at an Aikido martial arts workshop one day. She says, “I told him about my situation and how desperate I was feeling and he smiled ear to ear and enthusiastically invited me to come and see him for a Feldenkrais® lesson. I subsequently learned that he was one of the most prominent practitioners of this type of bodywork in the Northwest, though at the time, I didn’t really know anything about Feldenkrais®.”

During Thoe’s appointment with Haller, she was asked to stand and walk. Haller appeared to be noting everything about Thoe’s stance and her gait. He then asked her to sit and proceeded to move her knees side to side with small and subtle movements.

“His touch was different than the doctors and physical therapists,” explains Thoe. “His hands seemed to disappear so I just felt my movement. Everything felt smooth and easy, surprisingly comfortable. I could feel he was looking for something, though, as if I was a fish dangling on a line that was pulling.”

To Thoe, the whole session was akin to an adventure. At the end of the session, Haller moved Thoe’s knees again and they swung back and forth easily. He then held her head in his hands and gently pulled her up and as she rose to her feet, she felt as if she was floating. Although she could feel her bones underneath her, she had to look down to see if the ground was really there.

“With all the meditation and martial arts training I had had, I had never felt such an enormous change in my body,” comments Thoe. “I knew at that moment that I had found my work and my profession.”

Thoe went on to study the Feldenkrais Method®, but got sidetracked for seven years by the opportunity to teach and develop curriculum for a massage therapy school. She officially finished her Feldenkrais training in 1996 and since then, she has been practicing and teaching exclusively Feldenkrais. She opened her own business, Sensing Vitality, in Seattle, and then moved her practice to an office in Woodinville three years ago. (She moved her Woodinville practice back to Seattle in 2018)

Thoe explains that the Feldenkrais Method® focuses on the use of movement and sensory awareness to help people learn to coordinate, align and use their bodies in a more efficient manner. She emphasizes that it is based on the premise that if people don’t change their habits and patterns of movement, they will continue to have the same difficulties or chronic conditions. She adds, “By learning to move with greater ease and alignment, people get better and learn how to retain this quality of life. I know personally from my own injuries and difficulties how well this method works.”

The method is named after its originator, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian-born physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator.

After suffering crippling knee injuries, Feldenkrais used his own body as a laboratory, merging his knowledge of the sciences with human development and systems theory. Eventually, he taught himself to walk without pain and was able to avoid surgery. In the process, he developed a system to access the power of the central nervous system to improve human functioning.

He eventually integrated and refined his ideas into the practice that became known as the Feldenkrais Method. Unlike massage, where the therapist works directly with the muscles, or chiropractics, where the practitioner focuses on the bones, Feldenkrais deals with the nervous system.

Thoe says, “This method teaches clients how to help themselves by learning to move using sensory awareness. The process may take longer than a quick fix, but after six to ten lessons, or perhaps a year’s worth of sessions, a client may become so self-reliant, they won’t be dependent on adjustments, repetitive exercises or massage for relief from pain.”

Anyone can benefit from Feldenkrais lessons, according to Thoe. It’s especially helpful for those with movement limitations and those experiencing chronic or acute pain of the back, neck, shoulder, hip, legs or knee. The practice has also aided individuals who have central nervous conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and strokes, and those with repetitive strain injuries, whiplash and other trauma.

Even those who are physically fit, but who are stuck in a plateau in their sports performance, can find Feldenkrais beneficial. And musicians, actors and artists have utilized it to extend their abilities and enhance their creative juices. The method has been documented in helping to ease and minimize pain, enhance flexibility, balance and coordination, develop greater awareness and focus, reduce stress and fatigue and improve cognitive abilities, such as thinking and problem solving.

“Many people who contact me often seek me out as a last resort,” comments Thoe. “They have tried everything, but nothing’s really worked for them. They eventually realize that they need to learn to move differently – to move out of a pattern that’s clearly not working for them.”

Most clients tell Thoe that she is a miracle worker and that they are astonished that something so gentle and subtle can have such profound affects.

“People notice the results almost immediately,” adds Thoe. “They might be skeptical in thinking that they’re only temporary, but then after awhile, they realize that the changes are long-lasting. They’re actually life-lasting.”

In Thoe’s experience, the number of clients who are using the services of a Feldenkrais practitioner have gradually increased in recent years. She attributes this rise to greater awareness of the method and to its success rate.

The number of practitioners is also growing, but not as quickly, due to the depth of training involved in becoming certified in the method.

The program is extensive and arduous and takes a serious commitment on the part of the student. It involves 800-1000 hours of training over a three to four-year period.

Trainees develop a deep understanding of movement and its formation and become aware of their own movement patterns, as well as those of others.

They must be keen observers and adept teachers at being able to instruct people to enlarge their awareness and movement skills. Thoe finds the practice of Feldenkrais rewarding and deeply satisfying.

She says, “Watching people do activities they never dreamed of because they thought they never could is an amazing feeling for me. For example, I had a woman in her seventies who was blind in one eye and who had poor balance. She gave the appearance of being very fragile and she also had low self-esteem. I worked with her and over time, she became a different person. She actually ended up modeling for two benefits and she wore high heels! She told me that she would have never believed she would be able to do something like that in her life.”

Thoe finds the work challenging because no two people are alike and each person has his/her own movement patterns. She must study to find the keys to unlock the possibilities that lie within. Each session is an exploration for both her and her client. But it can be frustrating at times because learning is involved.

“You’re trying to find these connections and direct the client to find or make these, as well,” explains Thoe. “It’s all about awareness and sensory learning, sensory experience. You can’t force things to happen. It’s that ‘aha’ moment that you’re seeking. But frustration is a good sign, as long as you don’t stay there too long.”

Thoe works with all ages and has a strong background with injuries and neurological pathologies, athletes and children. She teaches workshops and classes and consults with a wide variety of businesses.

They must be keen observers and adept teachers at being able to instruct people to enlarge their awareness and movement skills. Thoe finds the practice of Feldenkrais rewarding and deeply satisfying.

She says, “Watching people do activities they never dreamed of because they thought they never could is an amazing feeling for me. For example, I had a woman in her seventies who was blind in one eye and who had poor balance. She gave the appearance of being very fragile and she also had low self-esteem. I worked with her and over time, she became a different person. She actually ended up modeling for two benefits and she wore high heels! She told me that she would have never believed she would be able to do something like that in her life.”

Thoe finds the work challenging because no two people are alike and each person has his/her own movement patterns. She must study to find the keys to unlock the possibilities that lie within. Each session is an exploration for both her and her client. But it can be frustrating at times because learning is involved.

“You’re trying to find these connections and direct the client to find or make these, as well,” explains Thoe. “It’s all about awareness and sensory learning, sensory experience. You can’t force things to happen. It’s that ‘aha’ moment that you’re seeking. But frustration is a good sign, as long as you don’t stay there too long.”

Thoe works with all ages and has a strong background with injuries and neurological pathologies, athletes and children. She teaches workshops and classes and consults with a wide variety of businesses.

Recently, she did a presentation for the University of Washington Drama Department on the use of Feldenkrais for stage fighters. She also held a series of workshops on improving hiking coordination and balance for members of the Seattle Mountaineers.

“I love what I do,” says Thoe, “because I enjoy watching people learn to help themselves and move more easily and elegantly in the process.”

 

For more information visit Ms Thoe’s website at: www.sensingvitality.com or her youtube Channel:  Sensing Vitality.  She has self-help audio lessons available on CDbaby, iTunes and Amazon.  For referrals to national programs contact www.feldenkrais.com.  Since this article was written in 2007, Ms. Thoe’s private practice is in Seattle area in Greenlake.

About Annie Thoe

Owner of sensingvitality.com, offers nature and Feldenkrais Method® retreats, private lessons and download products for self-help, movement and vitality.

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