Feldenkrais: Health in Motion
Poor walking, standing and sitting habits can often result in problems and pain including repetitive use injuries. For example, repeatedly sitting incorrectly at a computer can put stress on back, neck and stomach muscles, causing them to hurt, and in some cases result in herniated disks or even spinal distortions. If we could learn to move in better ways with less effort and without fighting our body’s design we would not place ourselves in such jeopardy.
Welcome to the Feldenkrais method of bodywork.
Thomas Claire, in his book Bodywork,’ describes the Feldenkrais Method as "…a comprehensive approach to movement reeducation that aims to restore and optimize a full range of human functions."
Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984) was a professional engineer who also studied and wrote on a variety of subjects including jujitsu. After suffering from a soccer-related knee injury, he began to use his knowledge of science to examine the ways in which the body is constructed and functions.
According to Claire, Feldenkrais theorized that humans learn almost all of their movement patterns within the first few years of life, and that these learned patterns compile only about five percent of the motion of which our bodies are capable. The task of the trained Feldenkrais practitioner is to help each client, referred to as a student, retrain his or her nervous system to break out of these learned patterns and go beyond them.
To experience Feldenkrais for myself I visited Guild Certified Feldenkrais practitioner Bob McGrath at All About Movement in Redding, California. McGrath has over 15 years of experience treating clients in Feldenkrais technique.
Each session is designed to address the needs of the individual client. My need stemmed from restrictions within the pelvic girdle forward rotation of the upper pelvis. This is a common issue. When I stand with my toes pointing forward, my legs feel like they are pointing inward. I have to look down to check them.
McGrath began our session with me facing him. He gently moved me in a rocking motion to test which ways I moved easily and which ways I didn’t. It felt like I was floating on my feet, but I could definitely feel in which direction my body was more hesitant to travel: The hip joint sort of grinded when I leaned forward and to the left.
Next I lay down on the padded table, fully clothed in exercise gear. McGrath’s assessment had made me so keenly aware of my body that I felt my right leg rotating outward more than my left. This definitely stemmed from a problem in the hip, not the foot.
Using a very gentle pressure, McGrath relaxed the muscles of my back, shoulders and neck so that my body would be prepared to move more fluidly. It took little time to accomplish this and with no pain at all. I felt very comfortable. His pressure was light and my muscles relaxed quickly.
Comparing my pelvis to a clock, McGrath had me gently and slowly rock from noon at the top of my pelvis to six near my tailbone on the clock face. I was to use my feet to push myself toward noon, not my abdominals. It’s not as easy as it sounds: I really began to feel where my body was restricted in its natural motion.
I repeated the exercise several times before almost all of the restricted movement was gone and the motion came with ease. Then McGrath instructed me to gently make circles with the hips, rolling the sacrum gently around the table. We started with quarter-circles, then half-circles. When we got to the full-circles they were small at first. Still no pain, but I could clearly feel my body resisting the portion of the circle between three and six. I kept making the circles, noticing that with each few passes, the resistance lessened.
By the time my session was over I felt really relaxed and had experienced no pain at all. When I stood up I became aware of how much my posture had changed. When McGrath repeated the rocking motion I moved much more freely than before.
McGrath reminded me that I needed to continue to do this gentle circling exercise. I also needed to stay aware of my body’s ease of motion or lack of it.
An hour later I was in line at a coffee shop and suddenly realized I was uncomfortable. I looked down and realized that out of habit I was standing on my left leg with my right leg forward and to the right, and was turning it out so that the instep of my foot was facing forward. Usually this felt good, but not today.
I thought, I don’t have to stand that way anymore. In fact, I don’t even like being in this position anymore.
I brought my feet closer together, and felt very even and comfortable with both feet pointing forward and supporting the rest of me.
That evening I did my exercises and noticed that I moved with greater ease than before. I never had any pain from the session or after, and I had a real sense of wellbeing.
I think I’ll be visiting McGrath again.
Contract Bob McGrath at All About Movement in Redding, California at (530) 604-0442.