A Feldenkrais Experience

In a top floor studio space that felt more like a cozy attic, I had a revelation. A soft-spoken yet commanding gal led me into my own body with an almost story-time cadence and tone. Knowing I was new, she crouched down to explain that Feldenkrais is made up of tiny, repetitive movements designed to bring attention and awareness to the interconnectedness of our parts. She asked if this was what I was ready for. I smiled and said yes, wondering how many must have come in with blind expectations and disappointed her.

The class began with simple standing. We were asked to notice if we were pressing into the ground with one leg more than the other. (I was. My left was doing considerably more work.) Did one leg feel shorter? What about the feet? Was there more pressure on one particular area? Was this constant with both? The standing turned to turning. Feet kept in place, look over your left shoulder and twist. What was moving? What was not moving? Was there a certain part you were relying on? How did this change or stay the same when turning to the right?

There is a difference between turning naturally and turning to maximize range of motion. One is effortless and unconscious. The other requires scanning and extra tension. Neither is superior, but the information they provide discerns between present habit and possibility.

The next thirty or so minutes consisted of lifting or sliding the arm from a side-lying position. Deftly guided toward particular points of interest and consideration, we became entranced with our own fascinations. Watching while feeling your body move in real time is almost surreal. Simultaneously mixing internal and external perceptions, both listening and conducting, created a harmonious sense of consciousness and control.

As someone who delights noticing things, I was absolutely enthralled. Paying attention to the neglected has become a calling of mine, both personally and professionally. It’s in the different where all the possibilities lie. Being directed seemed to give me limitless focus. Instead of using mental energy and capacity to find what to look for, I was pointed in a direction and simply told to ‘see’. There I could detect the smallest details I would otherwise miss.

We raised the arm and paused when it started to get heavy. We slid the arm on the ground and rotated different parts of our body, admiring its effects. We turned the head. We kept the ribs still and pushed through the shoulder blade. We rolled the ribs and tried again, without moving the head. What would a pelvic shift do?

The process was a grand experiment in compare and contrast. Again and again we manuevered and manipulated, trying to find the path of greatest ease. The relationship between the head and the two gyroscopes of the torso was one I didn’t think about much. This series both reminded and retaught me that the three are irrevocably intertwined:

The work gets easier the more of yourself you use.

A final investigation sought to make rotational connections between the pelvis and hips. Each joint can move in all three planes of motion, and their relative freedom also gives them great influence and responsibility. Coupling knee drive forward with hand slide forward, familiar rotational patterns proved additionally insightful. As we pushed and pulled back, we tested whether knee lift or heel lift fit into the respective movements. Pelvis forward morphed into hip internal rotation (foot raise) and pelvis back shifted into hip external rotation (knee raise):

After getting to our feet and performing standing rotations one last time (though I didn’t notice an increased range of motion, I did feel much more fluid and permissive), we ended class by walking and turning. We progressed from slow and careful to abrupt and sharp-angled. The head lead the body. In recreating this for film, I found that an excessive, emphatic rotation of the head can prompt it to tilt, throwing the body off its axis and making things more difficult:

A second, slower version felt much more correct. Nothing was trying too hard. Integration of the head, neck, and pelvis seemed symbiotic, even effortless. The result is a much more graceful and visually pleasing aesthetic:

I felt an exceptional lightness as I left the room, got my things, and walked downstairs to the street. Though I was physically tired, I was mentally buoyant, clear, and invigorated. I needed to start studying the way I used my head. My companion, on the other hand, felt heavy. The limitations on her left side were affirmed. Though we did exactly the same things in exactly the same environment, we came away with completely different action plans and applications — the gift of an individualized experience.

Exposing a weakness makes training more purposeful and important. It’s how we make our practice meaningful. Trying something new exhumes our faults and biases. It forces us to be present, take pause, and get to know ourselves better. There is a deep and personal relationship between moving and being. Feldenkrais invites you participate and insists you take your time.

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