The Power Of Play

In Art of Living, Athletes, Featured, News by Mary Rudd

Shari Lee, MS, GCFP

We played to learn. We learned through play; not only how to have fun, but to develop our sense of self, our relationship to others and the world around us. Playfulness stimulated our sense of curiosity, our development of strategies to access what caught our attention and interest.  It cultivated a sense of value within us for ourselves and others through interaction with and connection to our playmates and caregivers who created a mirror reflecting back to us our value through our actions, our responses and interactions. The more playful and joyful, the more positive and stimulating our experience and the greater the likelihood of branching out and expanding our repertoire of new experiences, our self confidence, skills and abilities.

Like play, Feldenkrais® lessons stimulate our sense of curiosity and encourage venturing into the unknown. Gentle, playful non-judgmental movement explorations improve our ability to move and feel better. Many of the movements resemble how we moved as infants and young children to explore our new world. Freedom, gentleness, and curiosity are encouraged through Feldenkrais lessons to remind us of deeply familiar but often forgotten internal processes that naturally emerged during our earliest interactions, explorations and discoveries which led us to learn and create possibilities. 

Skiing on the hill in my backyard as a kid, I’d always dreamed of being a ski instructor, although I didn’t think I’d ever be a good enough skier to become one. Family ski days in the hills of Wisconsin and Minnesota found me racing the chair I’d ridden uphill, back to the bottom of the hill. Despite the cold, I rarely stopped to go inside and it took the call of “last chair” to finally get me to stop. 

A playful approach to Feldenkrais lessons, not only stimulates natural learning, but improves how you move and feel. Rediscovering your own ability to access ever increasing possibilities goes a long way toward reclaiming self esteem, self confidence and your own self image as a fully functioning human being. 

Not knowing what major to choose in college started me on the path of following my interests and simply trusting where they would lead. I loved athletics. Without having had the opportunity to pursue them in high school, I became a three sport athlete in college. Despite knowing I never wanted to teach school, I got my degree in physical education. 

My first winter interim in college I took Downhill Skiing as my course. After graduating from college I drove to Colorado to find a job at a ski resort and became a lift operator so I could ski every day. From there I went to graduate school where I earned a Masters Degree in Physical Education, with an emphasis in environmental studies, outdoor recreation and motor skill learning. I happened to see a “help wanted” ad in the school paper for ski Instructors, with training included, which became the start of my well loved career as a ski instructor, making many mountains in the U.S. and Europe “my office”. 

Meanwhile, a new summer sport had been born – Windsurfing. Although I’d never seen it done, I saw an ad in a magazine and asked a friend with a pick up truck to drive me from Bend to Portland so I could buy one. The only instruction that came with it was outlined on an 8 1/2″ X 11″ piece of paper. I spent that summer working for the Forest Service in a remote location on a lake, so much of my free time was spent in a friend’s wetsuit using the trial and error method of learning to windsurf. The only feedback I got was from a camper standing on the end of the dock one day who yelled, “You’re doing better than the guy we saw up at Elk Lake!” as I passed by.

Because of my “experience” in something that most people had still never heard of, I became employable as a windsurfing instructor. (This was my first approximation at explaining something that almost no one had ever seen or heard of at the time. An easy warm up for the as yet unknown challenge of explaining Feldenkrais!) I went on to teach and develop and lead windsurfing programs and instructor certification programs. I landed in Santa Cruz, where high wind surf sailing was in its infancy and we began pioneering some of the local surf breaks. I was hired to develop new teaching and rental programs to generate interest and participation in this new sport. In time, I became the owner of the Santa Cruz Sailboard School, thanks to the encouragement and confidence instilled in me by a ski instructor colleague.

Then one day, I felt drawn to the sight of a fishing boat heading north along the coast late in the season. I decided to go north to Alaska for the winter and got a job as a Ski School Supervisor. While training my instructors to ski deep, heavy, wet snow and making some of the most powerful turns of my career, I hurt my back, resulting in chronic pain. Perhaps more painful and equally debilitating, I lost my sense of self and my joyful pursuit of living life to the fullest. With no progress toward recovery through conventional methods, the life I loved was over. In my refusal to give up, I was eventually introduced to the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education. Although it took me close to 7 sessions before I felt any changes, once I did I knew I could get out of pain. There was no one teaching Feldenkrais in Alaska at the time, so I sought out a 4 year Feldenkrais® Professional Training Program to get out of pain, reclaim my ability to participate in activities for work and play that I loved, to resurrect my sense of self worth, re-open my avenues for interacting with others and developing relationships, and possibly to develop a new profession. 

As I got better, I joined a local boating club that offered classes. My teaching background made it easy to volunteer as an instructor and I was invited to give presentations about the Feldenkrais Method, which I related to developing paddling skills and injury prevention. Having seen my presentations, one of the guiding company owners asked me to assist in guiding a seven day wilderness sea kayaking trip.

They had a journalist coming from a magazine that focused on health oriented living and recreating. I jumped at the chance as working as a wilderness guide was also one of my dream jobs! I talked with the journalist during the trip about Feldenkrais and how it had gotten me out of pain and back to an active life. I gave her an Awareness Through Movement® lesson to offer her an experience of how easily improvement could occur in how she felt and to enhance her comfort and skills while kayaking, all of which I hoped would further inform her article about sea kayaking amid icebergs, seals, glaciers and bears in Alaska. The last night of the trip, the owner invited me to guide more trips, which became my new summer job along with my Feldenkrais practice. It was on those trips that I introduced Feldenkrais lessons to my guests and gave them a demo Awareness Through Movement lesson on some rock or beach to help them with their kayaking skills and with any aches or pains that may have been surfacing. 

Much of my self esteem, my sense of value as a person, my outlook and ability to interact with others was linked to, and dependent on my own ability to move, to feel something other than pain and to participate fully in life again. Much of the reward is in the exhilaration of joyful movement. This is an essential human need. I wanted to help others bridge that gap between simply recovering from pain, injury and limitation and building their confidence to pursue activities, adventures and new experiences. They could truly find their passion again and experience life to the fullest!  I decided to create Feldenkrais-in-Action Retreats and Eco-Adventures for others who had undoubtedly experienced similar aspects of uncertainty, fragility and loss. 

These retreats create opportunities that offer aspects of adventure and new experiences, with the reassurance that guests would be fully immersed in a supportive environment in alignment with the Feldenkrais Method. Providing these opportunities outside of one’s habitual environment creates a window for change that is supported by gentle, reassuring acceptance and encouragement.  We explore playful possibilities through Feldenkrais lessons, accompanied by enjoyable activities and interactions. Making adventurous activities more doable, skillful and more satisfying through the reassurance, ease and confidence that comes through the gently guided discovery process involved in Feldenkrais lessons offers a unique opportunity to flourish in the retreat environment. It is inspiring to see the development of new levels of relationships within the group, enhanced regard for self and others as people grow and extend so many aspects of themselves while learning and experiencing new people, places and activities, along with new aspects of themselves and their own capabilities interactions, ability to change and grow while having fun in the process. 

Join Shari Lee at the Feldenkrais Online Conference.

Feldenkrais® Strategies to Make it Possible, Easy and Fun to Get Out and Play!

Learn to play more freely, fully, and confidently using some of the same principles we all naturally engaged in during our earliest years. Clarify your image of action and the accompanying movement patterns to develop and improve balance, power, proportionally efficient effort, whole body fluidity, overall enjoyment and enhanced self-reliance in your recreational pursuits. More details – hyperlink to conference page