Mystery physical pain in the years after sex abuse

As a young woman Marilyn Van Derbur, born in Colorado in 1937, achieved great honors: she won the Miss Colorado Pageant in 1957, the Miss America Pageant in 1958, graduated from the University of Colorado with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1961, and then moved to New York where she was the host of several television shows, including Candid Camera and the Miss America Pageant. This radiantly successful persona was her “day self.”

Then there was her “night self”. From the age of 5 through 18 Marilyn had been the helpless sexual partner of her predatory father. During the abuse she pretended to be asleep. She also dissociated, so successfully  that during the day and in public she and her pillar-of-the-community father acted like a normal, affectionate father and daughter.  There were many costs to this deception, including back pain that began in fifth grade and progressed to ulcers, severe anxiety and, beginning at age 39, intermittent paralysis. For a long time, the origin of the pain was mysterious. But then, gradually, Marilyn opened up to the memories that she had so effectively repressed.

Marilyn’s experience of mystery physical pain in adulthood is common to many people who have survived sex abuse during childhood and adolescence. The origin of the pain is rarely understood when it arises.

The gentle, functional, at-your-tempo pace of the Feldenkrais Method can help women and men regain contact with the body from which they have dissociated.

You can learn more about Marilyn’s painful and inspiring story here on YouTube.

I also recommend her biography, here at Amazon: Miss America by Day.

Quarterly Essay: Fall 2018

Printable Fall Essay

“The purpose of the skeleton”

“What is the purpose of the skeleton?”

Many years ago I was sitting on the floor with a group of colleagues, like myself, fairly new Feldenkrais Practitioners. Facing us, on a chair, was our senior colleague Jeff Haller. We were together for continuing education, and Jeff was the teacher. He had asked the question and now was waiting for a reply. Several suggestions were offered, but it was clear they weren’t hitting the nail on the head.

After a while, Jeff answered his own question: “The purpose of the skeleton is to make the body light.”

There was a collective breath, and it all made sense. Our training and our experience so far could be focused through this single lens. If a human were like an amoeba, all tissue, no matter how muscular the person was, he, or she, could never stand up. There could never be enough strength to counteract gravity initially or energy to maintain the effort.

So, the bones are there to give something for the muscles to pull against and to give strength without having to spend energy.

Secondly, the bones give a way to efficiently transfer power. When you throw a baseball, you use, say, your right hand – and your right arm, back and legs, etc. But the real force comes from the earth, channeled through the feet and the whole body. If the force had to travel with only muscle as a pathway, it would be take much more effort.

To share a quote from Moshe Feldenkrais:

“Any posture is acceptable in itself as long as it does not conflict with the law of nature, which is that the skeletal structure should counteract the pull of gravity, leaving the muscles free for movement.”

With these truths steadily in front of us, in the Feldenkrais Method we work to develop in each person a clearer awareness and more optimal use of the skeleton. Many pains are relieved by this route, and much vitality regained.

Success Stories: Introduction

Girl lying on her sideWhen you hear of Feldenkrais the first question naturally is, “What is it?” It is such a basic question! And yet it is hard to answer. This is so for two reasons: 1)  the Method is about sensed experience and 2) people have different experiences.

Happily, over the years, many students and clients have shared about a success in their life in which Feldenkrais has made a contribution. Some clients have shared short reviews through Maureen’s online booking tool Genbook.Here are reviews that clients have been written through my online booking service Genbook


Others have given longer accounts and photos.  You will find these below.

Success Story: In Good Hands

Sue with newly finished quilt

Sue is a fairly new, but very accomplished quilter. In the photo she is pointing out a detail on the quilt she has just finished for a friend’s wedding.

Before Sue got into quilting, she had some discomfort in her neck and hands. But when she really got rolling with quilting, the pain intensified. She was waking up in the middle of the night with pain, and also sometimes felt it during the day. Sometimes her hands went numb. She was already doing Feldenkrais at this point but, as she put it, “just for fun.”Continue reading“Success Story: In Good Hands”

Success Story: Happy Trails!

Amy running through water
Photo by Will Ramos Photography

“Here I am, Maureen, doing what I love — running on trails.

A professional photographer took this photo –after I had just waved at him — during the ‘Backyard Burn’ at Fountainhead Park this past Sunday. The trail was mud from start to finish. Just the same, I loved it!

Thanks for your help in keeping me limber.”

Amy from Arlington.

Success Story: The benefit of making small changes in behavior

Bruce is getting ready to walk across the room

Bruce is in his early 70’s and has been living with Parkinson’s Disease for 25 years. He takes an active approach to maintaining fitness. He trains with different people five days a week. One of those days he comes to Feldenkrais.

Through Feldenkrais, Bruce is seeing a definite improvement in his gait. He feels more at ease as he walks and that his balance is better. Also, he is finding that his step is lighter; this makes life easier on his low back.

One thing that Feldenkrais has highlighted for him is the benefit of making small changes in behavior. For instance, while walking forward, when he focuses on the fact that the heel lands first, then you roll through the whole foot, and at the end you push off through your toes, when he focuses conscientiously on all that, then his balance is better.  “There are no miracles”, he says. But conscientious application is making a difference.


Success Story: Better Posture

Vaughan O in a boatHi Maureen,

This is a picture taken Sunday a little before a race that our boat won. I have to admire, and thank you, for that lovely upright spine! And shoulders not rounded or up by ears!

Thanks for your excellent teaching, which is always with me.


Vaughan from Arlington

Success Story: Paris Marathon

Cherry Gaffney, MD ran the Paris Marathon in April 2012. Kept at a steady pace by her music and profiting from her methodical conditioning and regular Feldenkrais sessions, Cherry kept a smile on her face and a song in her heart throughout a long, cool run.


Success Story: Greater self-awareness for music students

Professional musicians have more repetitive-use injuries than the lay person may know. It’s a big issue, and it often gets worse as the musician gets older. Increasingly, it is also cropping up among young musicians.

Music students at George Mason University are getting their first taste of the Feldenkrais Method.
Music students at George Mason University getting their first taste of the Feldenkrais Method.

At George Mason University they are taking preventive measures. In 2002, Professor David Sternbach founded the Center for Arts and Wellness. Courses within the Center help young musicians cultivate healthy habits for practice and performance.

Professor Sternbach invited me to present the Feldenkrais Method to two sections of undergraduates. One had 20 students, and the other 10. Both sessions were fun and productive.

At the start of this 75-minute class, three volunteers from the 20 students played their instruments. One played violin and two piano. This was the Before. Then the whole class did a number of movements standing, then lay down and was quiet for a while then there were movements while on the floor. For the After, the same students played again. The result? Each of the three, all men, was amazed by how much more relaxed and confident he felt. Then I asked the listeners for feedback. All agreed that for each player the quality of the sound had improved.

In the second class the volunteers were a percussionist, a singer, and a trumpet player. The feedback was the same.For me, the change in the singing was the most dramatic. One woman’s voice filled the whole room. That quality of singing lifts you up! That’s me in the center background, sitting on a chair and wearing a yellow sweater.

Success Story: Always Willing to Try Something New

To his credit, John Flanigan is always willing to try something new. We are working together regularly on improving his balance and limberness.

John is in his eighties and lives in assisted living in Arlington, where he is President of the Residents’ Council. John is happy to acknowledge that he stills drives — and not his own car, which he gave up when he moved into assisted living a few years ago — but a Zip Car, which he schedules online. He walks to pick it up at various locations, never knowing what kind of car he will get, but confident that he can adapt to the moment.