Moving With Awareness - FELDENKRAIS

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by Dora Hildebrand

“Through Awareness we can learn to move with astonishing lightness and freedom.” --Moshe Feldenkrais

Life is about discovery and possibilities. Imagine a baby lying on her back, stretching her legs, quietly investigating the surface she’s on and the space around her. She begins to move her hips one way and then the other, exploring how pushing against other points of contact can support her in initiating movement. She gains momentum as she rolls back and forth, now moving her arms, too. She sees a toy just out of her reach. She wants that toy. She extends her arm as she rolls toward the toy and voilà, she gently rolls over onto her tummy. With a smile on her face and the toy in her hand, she discovers for the first time a totally different view of herself and her small world — the beginning of new possibilities.

The Feldenkrais Method ® is based on the way we all learn at the beginning of life, through movement exploration and curiosity, by discovery through trial and error. This is learning at its most basic — how to function in and with the world around us. This approach to learning is for people who want to reconnect with their natural abilities to move, think and feel. Whether you want to be more comfortable sitting at your computer, lifting or playing with your children and grandchildren, or performing a favorite pastime, these gentle lessons can improve your overall well being.

Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc, a physicist, engineer and accomplished athlete, developed this unique approach to self-improvement after suffering a debilitating knee injury. Drawing on his background in anatomy, physics, biomechanics, psychology and human development, he taught himself to walk again without pain. He recognized the vital link between body and brain, the role it plays in change and improvement, and how, with focused awareness, we can overcome our habitual limitations and learn to move and think in more effective ways.

As an accomplished dancer, Peggy Gallagher participated in a Feldenkrais class during a modern dance workshop. “I still remember that session,” she says. “After 45 minutes on the floor, gently moving my pelvis, I stood up and I couldn’t believe how different I felt.” After a four-year, 800-hour training program she became a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (GCFP) and now practices in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Al Wadleigh, GCFP, was drawn to Feldenkrais in his mid-thirties because of severe back pain, back spasms and difficulty breathing. After about seven private sessions, things began to change. His posture improved, he could breathe more easily, and the back spasms stopped. Today he teaches the Feldenkrais Method in Longmont and Loveland, Colorado.

Awareness Through Movement® group lessons are experienced while lying on a mat, sitting in a chair or standing. Participants are verbally guided through exploratory movement sequences that, like puzzles, stimulate the brain to find the easiest, most efficient way of achieving the intended action. The practitioner guides the participants to move slowly and gently within their comfort zone while observing the quality of their movements. Understanding self-imposed limitations and how to release unneeded tension opens the way to discovering new options in how to move and function in life. Gallagher continually reminds her students that the Feldenkrais Method is a learning process, not a technique. And it is definitely not an exercise program.

According to the Feldenkrais Institute of New York, research is showing how our brains change as we learn. The brain has an extraordinary ability to acquire efficient patterns of movement and function if given the right environment. The Feldenkrais Method works to create this environment by generating the precise conditions that access the intelligence of the nervous system to enhance learning and functionality.

Sheri, a concert violinist, understands the importance of enhanced functionality. She, like many professional musicians, uses this method to enhance her performance and extend her career. She chose Feldenkrais because it gives her options in the way she moves her entire body while performing so she isn’t continually using the same muscles. These lessons have also helped her replace performance anxiety with a sense of calmness.

Karen, a New Yorker, has been a Feldenkrais student since the mid 1990s. “This gentle technique has demonstrated to me that I have options — physically and mentally. I used to climb stairs to my fourth-floor apartment on the balls of my feet, for instance. I never considered that it might be more efficient if I put my heel down and used the full foot to support my weight.” Since benefitting from her experiences, she has introduced her octogenarian mother to Feldenkrais so she can stay vibrant and flexible.

Functional Integration® private sessions are customized to each person’s specific needs. These sessions usually take place lying on a wide, comfortable table while the practitioner uses a gentle, non-invasive quality of touch to guide and support the client in discovering particular movement patterns. Once these patterns are recognized, the nervous system is encouraged to learn and reorganize for more optimal ways of moving and being.

Bonnie has been participating in private sessions for six months, referred by her chiropractor. She is so excited by how this somatic education has allowed her to move with greater freedom. As a child, she yearned to dance; something her Mennonite upbringing frowned on. Her body never got the message about the efficiency of flexibility. Now she’s learned that her body has options to go beyond her old habits and create new ways of moving, giving her a sense of greater possibility in her life. At a recent performance she watched someone do a dance step. “I immediately knew I could do that step,” she said. “And I did. It feels wonderful to have the flexibility to move like that!”

Feldenkrais is for people of all ages and abilities, and allows each person to learn at her own pace. You can find a certified guild practitioner at Feldenkrais.com.

Dora Hildebrand, co-founder of Spellbinders Oral Storytellers, Larimer County, is a storyteller, writer, and editor of the book Pioneer Journey, published in 2006. She’s a former legal administrator, now retired, who loves living in Fort Collins. <dmhildebrand29@gmail.com>