Monday, March 28, 2011

Free to Move with Feldenkrais

The first time I met the near-famous Oli Wiles at last year's Global Mala (I later discovered that nearly everyone in Wellington already knows him), he told me that his practice, the Feldenkrais Method, is hard to put into words.

Some would say that it's also hard to pronounce. It's not, really: /ˈfel-dən-ˌkrīs/. But since our initial conversation Oli has described Feldenkrais quite eloquently on his website, and I thought I'd also share my experiences with this subtle and deeply affecting practice.

One of the qualities unique to the Feldenkrais Method is its openness. It doesn't prescribe ideal states for the human musculoskeletal system. It doesn't say that you have to move in this way and not that way. It doesn't say, for example, that your rounded shoulders are bad and that you need to balance your pecs with your traps, or your ability to extend and depress your shoulder blades. Instead, it recognizes where you are, how your body is moving now - without concerning itself with past circumstances, or the stories you may have invented around perceived limitations or injuries - and asks you to try something new. To listen and "tune in" to how your body feels. To consider your options.

In a group class, for example, Oli might have you lie down on your mat and then ask you to very slowly raise your right hip off the ground. You do that, and then let it down. And then you elevate the left hip and let it down. Very simple. Then you do those movements in varying combinations: with the soles of your feet on the ground, while also moving your head left and then right or elevating one or both shoulders. Again, very simple stuff taking very little coordination or skill, like rubbing your belly and tapping your head at the same time!

What happens through these gentle movements, however, is an integration of both sides of your body. I realized very clearly, after only a couple of Oli's Awareness Through Movement group classes, that my body positioning was actually quite asymmetrical. This is a common experience, apparently, and can be a first step towards taking some "corrective" measures.

Sometimes, however, the experience is hard to put into words. Oli stresses that you are in a feeling space here, trying to tune in, and you may not be able to consciously articulate - yet - what it is your body is learning. You will be keenly aware, however, that you're taking in new information and processing it, integrating it. It's like you're five years old again and learning how to ride a bike! You're engaged in a holistic process, a subtle art that takes time and patience to fully appreciate.

In a one-on-one, or Functional Integration, session, pretty much the same thing happens, only the movement patterns and choices are specific to your particular needs. What if you tried this? What if, in my case, I squatted not by tucking the pelvis and focusing on the hips but by allowing the knees to rise? By bringing my attention to my knees I could suddenly squat without the usual tension. I was literally free to move in a way that had not been available to me.

In my experience, the Feldenkrais Method is about cultivating inner awareness, listening to your body and identifying and owning the choices you make with it as you move through the world. It's about bringing consciousness and intention to your movement . . . which leads to grace.

As Jenifer put it - and she's an experienced yoga teacher - "I haven't felt my skeleton in this way . . . ever!" Here's a clip of Jenifer and Oli working together:

No comments: