Whether you teach yoga or are a therapist of any kind, here are a few things to know about Feldenkrais.
Feldenkrais is not exercise
Feldenkrais is an advanced version of the new Mind-Body fitness. It is a way you can learn to move with increased coordination or improve skills you might already practice. This includes the skill of moving our of pain. It is not meant for losing weight or looking cool.
The more I practiced Feldenkrais, the more I appreciated its premise. In a society acculturated to fast, dynamic or sexy moves, the Feldenkrais Method can seem baffling. But the idea behind the small and sometimes barely perceptible movements is simple: moving very slowly, in a limited range and with awareness helps the brain discern differences so it can choose the easier pathway…
The more I immersed myself in Feldenkrais, the more I valued its low frills culture. That students often wear regular clothing was a huge relief from the Lululemon “look” infiltrating the yoga world. That I didn’t break a sweat meant I could attend class without needing to shower afterward, simplifying logistics. That there are no poses, only suggestions for movement, allowed me to find my own way of doing things, without comparing myself to others or being adjusted.
In most yoga and fitness classes, students follow the movements that are modeled by the teacher. In other words, monkey see, monkey do– the most primitive way to learn how to move better. In Feldenkrais, the relationship is more like that of a coach. You could think of it as a movement counselor, who guides you into sensing for yourself how you can improve any skill or learn to better manage or eliminate pain and stress.
The session will last 45 minutes to an hour. You may sit or stand for it, but most commonly you’ll lie down on a low padded table in the office. The practitioner will move your body in small ways, perhaps with a mere nudge to one hip, perhaps by picking up one of your limbs and rocking it back and forth. Nothing should hurt; the motions stay in the range your body allows. (Tell your practitioner right away if something feels bad.) Feel free to close your eyes and zone out. The tenet is that your body absorbs the information — you don’t need to consciously process it.
A lot’s been written about how skinny-centric the world of yoga can be.
Anecdotally, yoga teachers are reporting seeing more cause for concern, including noting students who are underweight taking multiple classes a day, fainting in class, or practicing while on a low-calorie juice cleanse. “Many yoga practitioners struggle with disordered eating and negative body image,” says Bo Forbes, a yoga teacher and clinical psychologist who specializes in the therapeutic application of yoga for psychological disorders. “It’s not enough to be thin; female yogis often feel the pressure to be thin, strong, and flexible. They’re critiquing their bodies with unattainable ideals.”
It’s strange because differently shaped bodies can, in fact, complete yoga poses.
There is no such bias in Feldenkrais. Because the practice is focused on finding what works for each person’s body, all body types are inherently included. It can help people lose weight, but there is no emphasis on criticizing people for not being athletic or slim.
Feldenkrais can complement Yoga
According to many, incorporating Feldenkrais into Yoga practice creates a more enriching yoga experience.
Much of the time, many of us in our lives and in our yoga practice are using more effort than is needed and we do not realize it. By slowing down, so that we can sense and feel more clearly how we are moving, we begin to experience the yoga postures as dynamic, rejuvenating and endlessly interesting. Flow, fluidity, and flexibility—supple strength and repose-in-action—become our experience of yoga.
Michael Curnett is a Feldenkrais practitioner in Santa Cruz, California. Curnett thinks yoga students sometimes encounter difficulty in yoga poses simply because they don’t understand how to perform one of the needed actions—say, for example, they struggle with Headstand because they can’t get a lift through the spine. Because Feldenkrais lessons break down activities into very small components and don’t require much muscular effort, they can help yogis learn to integrate the spine into movement one vertebra at a time.
Feldenkrais can be an effective tool for supporting your yoga practice, massage therapy, physical therapy or personal health and fitness.