by Rebecca Roman GCFP, ABM, E-RYT 500
Originally published on Thursday, October 13, 2016
It seems to be that more than ever, people are looking beyond traditional medicine, sports, performance arts, and exercise routines for alternative paths to well-being. With more research in the sciences of consciousness, movement, and neuroplasticity, we are seeing a shift in the old health paradigm. Yoga and the Feldenkrais Method® both offer to facilitate this shift on an individual and cultural basis. Together and individually, they offer flexibility, strength, stress reduction, enhanced posture, refined focus, healing, and recovery.
“Yoga posture should be steady and comfortable, easeful and joyful. Relaxed without dullness and alert without tension.”
-Patanjali (Sutra 2:46)
Yoga means to bind, yoke, connect; to direct one’s attention. Yoga consists of a specific philosophical system involving certain principles, breathing practices, meditation, and postures. Focus is generated by the wherewithal of the yogic postures, although it depends on the style of teaching as to how much of the backbone philosophy is introduced. The sutra above suggests that training the nervous system to function, under study of the postures, is core to the pursuit of health. Health, in this instance, includes the ability to return to homeostasis while engaging in the world and with respect to one’s biology and environment.
“Make the impossible possible, the possible easy, the easy elegant.”
Becoming aware of previously unknown limiting action and belief patterns is both a proprietor and product of health. Learning to function steadily; with ease; while alert and without unnecessary tension, is also important for health. I see the ideas of the ancient yoga system and Moshe Feldenkrais being similar and comparable.
I was fortunate to be introduced to the Feldenkrais Method as a child because my mother was a practitioner. Under her tutelage, I learned an effective way of understanding what it means to learn. I began practicing yoga when I was 19 years old and decided to teach a few years later. Once I began teaching, I felt that it was important to also become a Feldenkrais practitioner in order for me to establish a practicum for the autodidactic process that began in my childhood. In my own yoga practice, I was deconstructing what I was learning through a Feldenkrais process. This made my studies more enriching and clear. I realized that when I provided a Feldenkrais-inspired process for my yoga students, whereby we slowed down and really feel what we were doing, we reduced the unnecessary efforts and habits that were getting in the way of learning. The outcomes were greater ease in movement, fuller breathing, healing, and enjoyment.
“In all areas of human activity there is the potential to develop individual habits and tendencies. Some will be more obvious than others.”
-Pantanjali (Sutra 3.18)
Our culturally inherited values at least occasionally contradict what is best for us as individuals. A forward bend from standing can be a great challenge for yoga students, especially when we feel that we have to touch our toes with our legs straight without sufficiently addressing the How and, at least rudimentarily, the Why. In the case of a forward bend, to reach the toes or some other measure, beginning students will most likely stiffen their chests and unnecessarily strain muscles that could be relaxed, and limited mobility because the importance of initiating the movement by tipping the pelvis over the legs is not clear. In our culture, it often seems that we are not used to sensing ourselves until we are hurt. We cannot tell if the way we are doing something is effective or healthy. We think that we need to experience pain and hardship in order to assure ourselves that we are working towards realizing our dreams. This attitude can bring ruin to the delicacy of a yoga practice if not addressed and accurately appraised by the American student, who is so susceptible to the brutal trend of “no pain, no gain.” It is surprising how frequently we injure ourselves doing yoga, especially when considering the practice is intended to help us connect, understand, and learn to be at ease with ourselves and the world.
In a Feldenkrais lesson the student is guided through a metamorphosis of movements that generally leads them to experience fuller capacity and easeful functioning. As an example, a lesson might begin with movement variations of the pelvis that eventually translate to more efficient ways of standing up, sitting or walking. From this register, creativity and compassion give a profound treatment to the brain’s play of generating new neural connections and rhythmical firings. These experiences lead to a refined functioning of the entire nervous system and the human being.
“To help ourselves, the victims of the passing social order, it is essential to realize fully that emotional instability and behavior disorders are the result of faulty and exaggerated technique of habit formation.”
To help my students feel the nuances of a forward bend, I have them do movement variations with their pelvis and spine related to the legs, notably from the position of lying on their backs. They have a chance to sense differentiated movement and how it all comes together in a forward bend. From a comfortable position, they learn to sense subtle yet informative sensations that discern between over stretching and lengthening. Then, when they come back to the standing forward bend, they move more fluidly and clearly about the intention to bend down. I have noticed students continuing to practice this way gain a somatic clarity regarding the language used to guide them through the yoga. Now, they have felt what it means to lengthen their spine or lead with their pelvis and that it makes sense. So, even if we don’t do a specific Feldenkrais lesson for each part of the class, it has already provided them with a new body awareness and language.
“Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions”
-Patanjali (Sutra 1.2)
Of course it is up to each of us to decide how we want to approach yoga; if we want to be aggressive and habitual or clear and compassionate. This decision can be difficult to make when we are just trying to get the pose right and follow along passively with the class. The Feldenkrais Method offers an opportunity for yoga students to imagine possibilities and envision the intentions of their practice clearly. By asking that we embody the movement inside ourselves without expressing it, students begin to make adjustments in their perceptions and open to new possibilities. The lessons ask them to recognize what they are doing through sensation on all levels and, thus informed, to choose: is that what they want to keep doing?
“…we can understand that improving the learning ability of the person is the real foundation of good acture and therefore the foundation for the good health of (what cannot be said otherwise) the ‘mind-and-body’.”
-Moshe Feldenkrais (The Potent Self)
“The practice of yoga is essentially a practice of self examination.”
“In yoga we try in every action to be as attentive as possible to everything we do.”
sutra 2.16 patanjali
“Yoga as a process of examining habitual attitudes and behaviors and their consequences.”
-TKV Desikachar (The Heart of Yoga – Living in the World)
Finally, the Feldenkrais Method can shine a great light onto some of the beliefs that we have about how we should move or be (some typical notions: standing erect; holding shoulders back; tucking the tailbone; pulling the stomach muscles in and being nice all the time). As the pursuit to health through yoga evolves, the propensity to bring these habits into our practice is viable. The ambition and habituation, if not addressed, can likely lead to confused and frustrated efforts. The Feldenkrais lessons help us discover for ourselves these unnecessary tendencies, and the freedom to choose and refine how we are being. Feldenkrais shows us that learning, healing, and changing doesn’t have to be hard, impossible, or boring, but endlessly interesting, and inspiring.
“Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.” -Moshe Feldenkrais