Learning to Move Freely
By Nola Obee
You’ve heard the advice to exercise and some of you take it for granted. For others it’s just another should. No matter which group you belong to, the Feldenkrais Method movements may be something you want to do.
Feldenkrais is a set of movement lessons (and there are thousands) where students are guided through slow, gentle movements they don’t do in ordinary life. This teaches the brain it has other options and it begins to organize the body more effectively. Feldenkrais comes in two forms: In Awareness through Movement, a teacher orally guides a group of students through the movements. Functional Integration is individual where the teacher guides the student’s brain by gently touching the body. The Method is based on neuroplasticity of the brain—the brain’s ability to change—though Moshe Feldenkrais designed his Method fifty years before brain scientists invented the word.
I came to Feldenkrais when I saw an ad for a weekend workshop. Because a couple of friends had mentioned it, I signed up. After that weekend I had an appointment in a larger center for a biopsy on a thyroid lump. I am almost psychotic about medical facilities and personnel, and yet I was so calm at that appointment, I decided if that was all I got from Feldenkrais, I wanted more. (The biopsy was negative.) I went to the teacher’s town and had lessons with her for three weeks. After that, whenever I traveled, I looked for a Feldenkrais teacher.
A little background about me: As a child I missed out on crawling and the developmental stages that come with that. After three unrelated traumatic experiences, I was a basket case by the time I started school. Nowadays teachers would probably have spotted PTSD (I hope), but not in 1949 in a small town far from any large center. I struggled on with the way of walking I’d cobbled together at the age of 2, and all the bullying that came with being odd.
I was fifty-five by the time I found Feldenkrais. One of my early Feldenkrais teachers called my posture severe kyphosis. I liked the sound of the word, but not the sensation. If you like opera, think Rigoletto, or film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.
Now, twenty years later, I can be upright most of the time, and when I’m not, I have lessons I can do that help me. One of the things I like about Feldenkrais is that I don’t have to change clothes to do it, and I can pick my own time. I pull out a CD lesson, lie on my blanket, and start moving, gently.
With the media explosion, there are both sources of information and lessons on the internet as well. I’ve included some links below.
The questions I’m most often asked: Is it like Tai Chi? Is it like Yoga?
It’s more gentle than either. I would say it’s pre-Tai Chi, or pre-Yoga, or pre-any other activity, since if you have a disorganized body (and we all do to a certain extent), you’ll take it into any other activity you do. From what I’ve heard, many performing artists, especially dancers, are doing Feldenkrais. It’s valuable to them not only to improve their movement, but also to keep them from injuring themselves. Gradually, it’s seeping into the sports world. Compared to Tai Chi and Yoga, it’s a young method, developed in only the second half of the last century, and as with anything new, it takes time for it to become common.
I’ve done only a smidge of Tai Chi and no Yoga, but what I understand is that they have an ideal they try to move you toward. Feldenkrais starts with whatever bodymind the student has and leads toward improvement from there. Each student’s benefits are different. What I like about it is that it respects me, a 76-year-old, as I am whenever I start a lesson (at home, usually six days a week). As well as increasing my physical suppleness, it calms my mind and I think more clearly.
I may have given you the impression Feldenkrais is for extreme situations. Not so. The purpose is “To make the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy elegant.” While my posture is still moving toward possible, my ability to lift things is easy, and my ability to fall is elegant. I live where winter brings ice and I fall at least once a year. My body slides nicely into “side sitting” with my weight on my padded thighs. I rarely even bruise myself.
Feldenkrais is about changing habits in the way the brain organizes the body to bring more comfort and ease into our lives. That has carried over into my daily life. I’ve changed where I put things in my kitchen in order to make them more convenient, and simplified some of the steps in my cooking, baking, and cleaning.
I am one of many people who are grateful that Moshe Feldenkrais hurt his knees playing soccer. His knees were painful only sometimes. A physicist, he wanted to understand why. Married to a pediatrician, he watched babies to find out how humans learn movement. Taking what he felt and what he saw, he developed the Method that bears his name. I believe, over time, the attention and self-care it teaches could change the world.
Information and Resources:
feldenkrais.com The Feldenkrais Guild has a listing of teachers so you can find out if there is one in your area.
You Tube: feldenkraistv One teacher has chained together many of the bits and pieces of information and lessons he found on the internet, and in the right margin there are many other items about Feldenkrais.
openatm.org Several teachers have contributed audio lessons.
FeldenkraisResources.com A source to buy CDs, DVDs, and books.