written by John E. Franklin, DVM, GCFP

“Look, if we don’t know it already, chances are we aren’t interested in learning it.”

The Milagro Bean Field War (movie)

An octogenarian with thirty-nine years of military service, Max maintained his own home and lawn. He walked daily for one to two hours with Gael, his standard poodle. Post-retirement, he’d taken up golf, playing at a local course in a senior’s league where the minimum age was sixty. Most of the ninety plus members in his group were in their seventies.

Max had one hip replaced, and despite his orthopedist’s recommendation, he decided against having the other side done. Instead, he took one pill a day for pain, attended my Awareness Through Movement® lessons weekly, and visited his physical therapist to keep moving. During our classes, Max had learned to stand from lying on the floor without the need to hold onto something. He reported diminished hip and low back pain after lessons.

Max suggested I teach from Jack Heggie’s CD set, Total Body Golf, which he had purchased upon my recommendation. He ended up feeling that the lessons were too challenging without supervision. Though I wasn’t a golfer, I was a huge fan of Heggie’s Running with the Whole Body, so I decided to give it a try. I discovered that running, walking, golf, and racket sports have a lot in common—rotation and shifting your weight from one foot to the other.

I posted a few flyers with the silhouette of a man swinging a golf club beneath the title, “New Country for Old Men…Movement Lessons for Men over Fifty.” Max showed up with a golf club in hand for the inaugural class. Two weeks later, his friend Bill showed up with an eight iron. Short with the robust chest of a weightlifter, Bill was two years older than Max. His cervical vertebrae had been surgically fused several years prior. Bill said that he was a horrible walker and runner and that he’d always been slow. He enjoyed golf, though his game was dismal. Tennis was his favorite sport.

I watched Max and Bill swing their clubs. We were brothers of the same cloth–men who learned as boys to stiffen our chests and never, ever walk like a girl. If rotation and shifting weight from one foot to the other was key to a better golf swing, I realized that a successful drive would have to travel through their ribs. Despite Max’s ingrained military posture and Bill’s cervical fusion, their ribcages could still yield enough degrees of freedom for improved performance. I believed this because of what the Feldenkrais Method® had done for me.

Several months later, a close friend, Dick, joined our class. In his sixties, he had a strong desire to play golf with his circle of friends, all experienced golfers. Dick thought our class might help develop a proper swing. He was a real estate developer who could see possibilities that others might not. His survival from leukemia, which required a bone marrow transplant four years prior, was helped by his ability to visualize positive outcomes. His enthusiasm for golf made him a perfect fit for our class. He became one of our most vocal advocates.

We picked our way through Jack Heggie’s golf lessons with Max as our resident coach. His kind and positive suggestions came with a clarity that commanded respect. (Max was a major general when he retired from the military.) “The key to a straight shot is to keep your eye on the ball throughout your swing.” This made sense to me. The fixed gaze was the point around which the body must pivot to drive the ball down the fairway.

Max influenced the students in and out of class. Our lessons were kept to around forty minutes. Within that time frame, Max felt energized. Any longer and he felt fatigued. He shared that he kept a club on his back porch and stepped outside at different times of the day to practice the lessons from class. He suggested that his fellow students practice hitting the tiny yellow flowers off of the dandelions.

A camaraderie common among friends blossomed in our small group. Swings started to travel through the chest as the men learned to shift their weight from one foot to the other. They swung their clubs with a cadence that bore witness to total body golf.

We made our way through spring and into the summer. Max came into class one day, saying he just played the best golf of his life. He had hit his first hole in one. Weeks later, Bill announced his first hole in one. Not only had he played his best game of golf, but the most amazing thing happened in his weekly tennis match. He gave chase to a ball that traveled into another court. Were it not for the fence and his in-progress game, he would have kept running. Bill experienced a stride that he had never felt before.

Dick had his own story. I knew he practiced his golf swing late into the evening in his backyard. He would text me afterward that he had made par over eighteen holes of golf, without having hit a single ball. The power of visualization had its moment when he and his golf friends vacationed with their wives. With no course nearby, they practiced swinging oversized clubs at oversized balls. Even the experienced golfers hooked or sliced their shots. But not Dick. Every shot he made flew straight. The person who had won the club championship the past two years stopped and looked at Dick. “You have played some golf, haven’t you?” he said.

Bill is now moving to out of state and into assisted living to better care for his wife and to be closer to their daughter. He has already made friends with a new group of golfers and tennis players. When I asked what he gained from our Awareness through Movement lessons, he wrote the following:

  1. Walking has become much more graceful and joyful. My wife even comments on the difference that she has noticed.
  2. Running is much smoother.
  3. I have been hitting the ball farther on the golf course. My handicap was very high. It improved so much that my partner and I had won 4thplace in our golf league. We were amazed.
  4. My tennis game is gaining power by letting my body work my arms.

I was happy, though not surprised to hear about Bill’s changes. I’ve taught the Feldenkrais Method for over fifteen years; profound changes at any age are a common story.

To all those who keep the Method alive so that even octogenarians might play, thank you!

Special thanks to Beth Scott, PT, GCFP and Whole Health Physical Therapy for providing the space for our class free of charge.

After twenty-one years of veterinary practice, John Franklin, DVM, GCFP, changes his focus from four-legged creatures to those who uniquely travel through life on two. He graduated from the Santa Fe Feldenkrais® Professional Training Program in 2003 and currently spends his days exploring the joy of movement. Contact John.