Friday, July 15, 2005

Introduction to the Feldenkrais Method, 4

Moshe Feldenkrais lived from 1904 to 1984. He was born into a Hasidic Jewish family in what is now Poland and died in Israel. When he was fourteen, in 1024, he walked, on his own, from his hometown in Poland to Palestine and began his life as a laborer. By the time he died he had achieved a doctor of science in physics from the Sorbonne, had worked as both an engineer and a physicist in France and Israel, had become fluent in four or five languages, had been trained as the Western person to bring judo from Japan to Europe by the top Japanese judo master, and had invented a system of mental/physical improvement that has helped thousands around the world.

This system, the Feldenkrais method, has been useful in enabling children with cerebral palsy to walk for the first time without crutches, for enabling people who have had a stroke to regain use of both sides, for radically increasing the rate of improvement of people recovering from accidents. It also has helped highly skilled musicians like Yo Yo Ma and Yehudi Menuhin, and star athletes like Dr. J, formerly of the Philadelphia 76ers. In between it has been of great use to those feeling the various aches and pains of growing older, or those with sore backs, shoulders, hips and knees, and then also people wishing to add more ease to walking, skiing, dancing, golfing and so on.

So what is the core of this system that can be useful to people at so many levels of physical ability? The core is our innate human ability to learn, and the vast reservoir of forgotten and untapped connections in our brain that have to do with efficient and clear movement in our whole organism. This method is about re-learning and deepening our learning of such relationships as right hip to left shoulder, relationship of toes to spine, relationship of breathing to bending forward and arching back, and the hundreds of other relationships that go into walking or skiing and pushing a wheelbarrow.

One way to understand this is to examine the stimulus for Dr. Feldenkrais’ invention of this system. Knees. It was his knees, deep in trouble for repeated soccer injuries. For all his intellectual skills, he couldn’t stay away from judo, soccer and other activities. He once said that exercise was for lazy people, because if you lived a full and vital life, your zest for living would take you dancing or gardening or all the many fun things we can do, and that would keep you as in shape.

Anyway, his knees were a wreck and this was back before fancy surgery, at the end of the forties, I think, and the doctors told him an operation would yield a 50/50 chance of improving or crippling him. He thought this was the same as flipping a coin and opted to figure it out himself. Immersed in anatomy, physiology, movement systems existing, learning theory of the time, he put full attention of his own knees and what small movements there could reveal. What he discovered not only cured himself, but began to be useful to his acquaintances, and then, as it developed, to wider and wider groups of people.

What did he discover? The title of one of his few books is The Elusive Obvious. All his discoveries where of this nature. Movement in the knee must involve the ankle and the hip. Movement in the ankle must involve the foot and the toes. Movement in the hip must involve the pelvis, and that the spine and that the ribs and that the neck and that the eyes. And all of it, the brain, with its patterns and habits of neck and ribs and spine and pelvis, all having limiting effects on the knees moving in a free and natural way.

Also elusively obvious: as creatures out of the womb, our connection to gravity and to breathing shapes everything we do. Also elusively obvious, especially to anyone who has studied marital arts, the pelvis as near the center of our movement, and central to our balance, and the eyes as the key to our orientation as we go about moving. From his pediatrician wife, he may have tuned in on the amazing journey an infant takes from being able to suck and turn the head, to being able to walk as a toddler. Each of those stages was full of movement that had to be efficient because the baby didn’t have a lot of extra muscle to fling around the body in off kilter ways.

Basically, this is the Feldenkrais method, the use of our attention to discover more of ourselves, how we relate from one part of our marvelous organism to another, what are our habits and what can be possible if we begin to break free of those habits. Learning who we are, and more important, how we are, and how we could be if we had more options in our movement repertoire.

Enough theory. Feldenkrais work is nothing if not concrete. Let’s start with knees. The right knee to be specific. Move the right knee to the right. No wait. Close your eyes, and sense your legs and arms and spine. If you can do this lying on the floor with your right foot on the ground so your right knee is raised, even better. But start by scanning your whole body, and noticing what the right leg feels like, and the left, what the right arm, and the left. How your spine is resting on the floor or holding you up as you sit. How your breathing is going.

Now, begin to move your right knee to the right and back to center. Slowly. Enjoying it and noticing what else is involved. Now rest. Lots of rests in this work, to give the brain and nervous system time to learn whatever is available to be learned. Now resume the movement of right knee to the right and back to center. Pay attention to what is happening in the foot as you do this. See if you notice the shift in weight from the big toe side of the foot to the little toe side. Now notice the effects in the hip. Now rest. Now resume the movement but add on moving the toes to the right, while leaving the heel on the floor as it is. So, knee to right and toes to right and then back to center. Notice if this has a bigger impact on the hip. Now rest.

Now, turn the head to the left. Easily, gently, with awareness and no attempt to push. Awareness is key. A tiny movement with awareness is worth hundreds of times more than a big stretching movement without awareness. Keep turning the head and noticing what else is involved. Now rest.

Now combine the two movements. Move the head to the left and the knee to the right. And then move the head to the left and both the knee and the toes to the right, as before keeping the heel stable. Notice how these two movements can become one. Try this. For three times breathe out as the knee and toes and head open out and see how that feels. Now, for three times breathe in as the knee and toes and head open out. See if one way feels easier and then adopt that breathing with your movement. Now rest.
Now with eyes closed, imagine a spot in front of you that you will keep the eyes on as you move the head to the left. Then, keeping the eyes fixed forward, move the head to the left and back to center, so eyes stay “looking” straight ahead while the head turns to the left and then returns to center.. Do it enough so you can do it and breathe smoothly while you do it. Now rest. Now, with eyes closed again, imagine a median line going straight out from you and make little movements so the head turns left from that median line and the eyes shift to the right. At the same time, not one after another. Eyes right, head/nose left, little movements with breathing, comfort and awareness. Now rest.

Now, put it all together. Right knee and right toes go to the right. Head goes to the left. Eyes go to the right Breathing in the way you discovered earlier was most comfortable to you while you do this movement. Now rest. Now do this again, head to left and knees and toes to right, and with eyes closed, but as if the eyes are following the knee. Do this until it’s comfortable. Then rest.

Now, let everything go to the right together, head, eyes, knees and toes. See how that feels. Then rest.

Now, imagine moving the right knee and toes to the left. Then imagine moving the head to the right and the eyes to the left. Then imagine moving the right knee and toes to the left, head to the right and eyes following the knee to the left. Breathe along with this as you imagine it. Then rest. Then do the various movements with the right knee going left, head going right and eyes going left Then rest. Then do with right knee, right toes, head and eyes, everything to the left. Then rest. Then scan yourself and notice the difference between the right and left leg. Notice any other difference from when you started.

Now get up and walk around and notice differences.

If you wish to imagine or do this series with the left knee, so slow and enjoy each movement.


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