Movement patterns are one of the cornerstones of physical well-being. Feldenkrais is a supportive therapy that accentuates personal awareness of your body's mobility patterns and its fixed purpose is to assist you to re-learn / supplant old habits with more proficient ones.
Your Feldenkrais Advisor is Graeme Lynn GCFP, CSTAT
Feldenkrais & The New Paradigm
by Graeme Lynn, GCFP, CSTAT
No one who has had a stroke or heart attack or broken bone or any number of other health crises would rightly object to the usefulness of conventional medicine. It isn't that the conventional medical model is not useful, but it is limited, in the same way as Newtonian physics is limited where quantum physics accounts for more events. Similarly, the holistic or systemic view of the human process accounts for more health problems, and subsumes the conventional medical model.
The human process is not merely a sum of its parts - as it is so understood and treated in conventional medicine - and so cannot be explained and treated by signs and symptoms only. There are dynamic relationships between the parts within the system, which are not typically accounted for in the medical view. Further, from those dynamic interactions arises an 'emergent whole' which cannot be found in the parts or their summation and which is qualitatively and unpredictably different and greater than the parts or their summation.
(Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life)
The word, 'health', derives from an Old English word meaning 'the state of wholeness', which indicates that the modern medical approach represents a partial view. But modern medicine falls short in other ways because of its collusion with the materialistic model of reality, specifically, that whatever is real is a thing. In fact, the reality of the subtle realm, in the form of emotions and thoughts, for instance, is obvious, as is the factuality of process, in the senses of functions, patterns, and relationships.
Healthcare, to be effective, must account for the factuality of process, the non-material dimensions of reality, and integration (in both senses, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts and of the complex interactive dynamics of those parts).
In cutting-edge quantum science, an evolving understanding of fractals supports the idea that, not only is the whole greater than the sum of its parts, but it is expressed in each of its parts. An analogy can be drawn to the cauliflower where each floweret, no matter how small, looks like the whole vegetable. This is believed to be true of every life-form (Capra). Thus, if any function is approached and understood as the whole in microcosm, then that function can be used to treat the whole.
It is necessary in such a consideration of healthcare to come to an effective analysis of how the human process can be understood as an integrated totality. A view suggested by the wisdom of Adi Da Samraj, founded on the ancient Hindu model of the koshas (or coverings of the free soul, or atman), is that attention, intelligence, intention, thinking, feeling, sensing, and action, all together, define the human individual. This profound modern spiritual understanding provides an excellent and workable model. So, any strategy of healthcare should account for this entire range of human functions, from the root of the individual in attention to the outer expression in action.
There are many unconventional methods of treating human health. Not all express this understanding and, thus, are a different kind of incomplete than the conventional medical model. A complete approach to human health should be holistic, should access all the functions of the human process, both the material and subtle, and acknowledge that the universe and its constituents are processes and not merely entities. And such an approach must involve consciousness, which appears as attention, and self-responsibility, because to be alive necessitates it. Not to be able to respond at all is death. As response-ability grows, one's aliveness grows. For a person to find health, he or she must participate consciously and responsibly in the process: it cannot be 'done to you'. The doctor-patient - or interventional therapist-passive therapee - model cannot work.
The Feldenkrais Method is an approach to human well-being that, rightly practiced, can fulfill these requirements. Developed by Moshe Feldenkrais from his own mastery of judo and an extensive knowledge of neuroscience and the movement sciences, it is a way of positively intervening in the human process via the sensorimotor function of the nervous system - how we sense and how we move. Feldenkrais learned from F. M. Alexander that we are a unified psychophysical event wherein every action involves mind and body inseparably. He further contended that every action is a single or integrated process of thinking, (emotional) feeling, sensing, and moving. Feldenkrais also understood that the way we move and act represents in part our feeling and thinking, and that, without changing the former in a therapeutic process, habitual movement patterns or ways of using the body can serve to reinforce, or even reinstate, old patterns of feeling and thinking.
The Feldenkrais Method recognizes that action shapes the body and the body shapes action; that the human process is a systemic one in which every part or sub-process is related to every other part; that every action involves some measure of attention to what one is doing, intention towards the goal of action, intelligence relative to the means of action, an emotional motive that instigates the action, and sensing of what one is doing as a means to refine the quality of one's response. The greater the measure of these qualities, the better the quality of one's response. It conceives of movement as a potential microcosm of one's action or life altogether and, thus, as a ground for general improvement. By intervening at the level of movement, which Feldenkrais argued was most accessible and amenable to change, and effecting enhancement in its quality, a positive shift can be thereby made within the system as a whole.
In the 'laboratory' of a Feldenkrais lesson, one explores oneself, in the context of pleasurable, interesting, and intelligently designed movement - either self-generated in an Awareness Through Movement class, or practitioner-generated in a one-to-one lesson of Functional Integration.
By skilful handling and/or teaching strategies, each of these modalities stimulates awareness and intelligence relative to the body in action. They then bring about, through guided sensorimotor learning, a refinement in our ability to sense ourselves and move efficiently. In this way, not only are there generated improvements and expansion in the effectiveness and quality of movement, release from pain, and greater sensitivity, but also, remarkably, in time, there come greater equanimity and clarity of thinking. The body becomes a source of happy pleasure. We find, with practice, that our relationships and our manner of engaging many common activities of life come to be spontaneously more playful, less stressful. We take a more relaxed attitude to our daily life in general. Curiosity reaches into areas of our lives where there was fixity and confusion. The whole system that is oneself changes, a different whole emerges.
These life changes were in fact part of Feldenkrais' genius. They develop naturally from sensorimotor exploration as higher learning, holistic health. And as we are systemic wholes, and this process of sensorimotor learning makes fundamental shifts within our wholeness, no one can really determine in advance where in one's life these changes will manifest. But because all learning is, by definition, positive, any changes wrought in the process of self-exploration stimulated by the Feldenkrais Method can be welcomed most assuredly as benign and good.
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The Nature of Water
by Graeme Lynn, GCFP, CSTAT
Stretching, strengthening, and aerobics are common methods for attaining functional health. Their fundamental drawback is that they do not effectively improve the way we characteristically move. You may be able to stretch yourself into many positions (but move poorly); you may have strength in many muscles according to some external model of attractiveness (which model rarely provides a useful support to your daily activities); you may be aerobically fit in terms of cardiopulmonary capacity (but be neither breathing well nor relaxed). In spite of such exercise, the manner in which you carry out any common activity tends to remain founded on your habitual coordination or self-organization, which may be ineffective and harmful. Conventional exercise seldom facilitates functionally useful improvement. It can even aggravate habitual patterns.
This has two significant implications. Efficient everyday action is inherently pleasurable, aesthetically pleasing, and regenerative. In contrast, inefficient action is destructive, through wear and tear over time, and leads to the ailments associated with ageing: stiffness, aches and pains, fatigue, arthritis, and limitation.
The Feldenkrais Method offers a truly holistic, healthy alternative to conventional exercise. Simply described, the Feldenkrais Method is an exploration of movement possibilities. It is grounded in awareness and intelligence - genius really, for Feldenkrais was a genius of the movement sciences. Remarkable results of such intelligently designed self-exploration are functionally integrated flexibility and strength, and cardiopulmonary health.
The sensorimotor nervous system, which governs self-sensing and movement, is designed as a cybernetic-like feedback circuit so that as self-sensing improves, movement likewise improves, and vice versa; that is, as self-sensing becomes truer, movement becomes mechanically sound (thus, by-passing pain) and maximally effective. The self-senses are the senses of balance, articulation, felt movement, tissue pressure, tissue tension, and pain. If you sense yourself well in movement, then you have effective control of the related musculature, that is, it can be used optimally in response to an intention to act, and otherwise be relaxed. Relaxed musculature is the essence of flexibility. And it is an integrated, functional flexibility that is part of one's daily life. You are also more sensitive to yourself, so that as tension arises or when you find yourself going wrong, you can then know how to un-do your pattern of tension or explore the ineffective response and find better options.
When you learn to use all of yourself in an harmonious way when carrying out any action, you bring to bear upon that action the unified strength of the whole body. So, in lifting, for example, all of the body's musculature will participate, not just the arms and back. Obviously, six hundred-odd muscles working thus together as one are stronger than several dozen. In addition, optimally released musculature is inherently stronger than chronically over-toned musculature, because a released muscle has more available contractibility.
When the body is well organized such that unnecessary tension is released and the anti-gravity mechanisms respond reflexively, the body buoyant and relaxed, and ease the context of every action - rather than effort - the heart works without strain and the body allows full and spontaneous breathing.
Ideally and potentially, breathing is relaxed and naturally full. We learned to breathe badly, as we have learned stress and tension, and how to use ourselves piecemeal rather than as a whole. Fortunately, what has been learned can be unlearned, and renewed learning can replace inefficient habits. Such learning is the purview of this method.
Happily, the Feldenkrais Method is more interesting, pleasurable, and life-affirming than stretching, strengthening, and aerobics, where you are, effectively, fighting your own body. This is profoundly significant because we find pleasant sensations enjoyable, and as our ability improves through such enjoyable self-exploration, we will want to continue to improve our ability. Whereas when we do what is not pleasant, even if the result seems to represent an improvement, we will not choose it naturally and, without the effort of misplaced will power, we will give it up as soon as we can. So, one chooses this kind of self-improvement over conventional exercise because one values effortless pleasure in learning more than stressful effort.
And that is why the quality of the Feldenkrais Method is of the nature of water. Water always finds the easiest way to the boundless strength of the sea. Like water, effortless flow is both the means and the goal of the Feldenkrais Method. It is, thus, uniquely modern and scientifically sound, and congruent with traditional practices for enhancing human well-being.
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When Adults Play
by Graeme Lynn, GCFP, CSTAT
Remember - and probably you can't! - what you could do when you were a newborn...
Anyway, it wasn't very much!! But in a matter of a few years each of us learned to talk, walk, run, swim, skip, skate, and manipulate all kinds of tools. If our functional development had continued at that pace, we would all be Michael Jordans by now, or better.
Unfortunately, many of us, as we grow older, interrupt the huge and continual improvements of childhood or, worse, lose abilities we once had and find ourselves curtailing our daily activities. In some cases, this regression or termination of sensorimotor learning is simply due to a loss or suppression of interest in and curiosity about the body or even a failure to rightly value the body as the temple of the soul. Sometimes this self-limitation in our lives is because, instead of our organic learning being nurtured as children, we went to school - where we learned to disregard our functional needs in favour of intellectual or social gains or acquisition of power and where we learned to act upon our bodies rather than as them. For many of us as inheritors of a culture founded on most organized religions' eschewing of the body and the emotional concomitants of that attitude, we learned to not enjoy or to be embarrassed about or even dismissive of bodily life.
There is a cure for physical limitation, and it can be found in the work of one of the geniuses of the twentieth century, Moshe Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais was a true Renaissance man, a renowned physicist, a brilliant mechanical engineer, master judoka, Gurdjieffian, neuroscientist, and educator. After a debilitating knee injury where the recommended surgery offered a doubtful success, he began a tireless and in-depth exploration of his movement capabilities and, eventually, of human movement in general, and thereby not only regained his own ability to walk but established a technology of human movement which has found universal applications.
The Feldenkrais Method, which grew out of his decades-long investigation into human movement, is a complex and evolving system grounded in modern neuroscience and the most up-to-date studies in the movement sciences. It uses sensory awareness stimulated by intelligent movement or manipulations to facilitate alternative patterns of action that are harmonious with one's physical structure (thereby bypassing pain) and rightly conformed to the mechanical requirements of the surrounding world (and so, maximally effective). The movements and manipulations used in this method are founded in a sophisticated scientific understanding of human psychomotor development and function and of the integrated or systemic nature of human movement. It has successfully treated many conditions resulting from such diverse conditions as stroke, neurological impairments, asthma, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia, as well as common sensorimotor deficiencies associated with deterioration of any kind in structure or function, such as headache and backache, neck and shoulder pain, poor breathing, movement difficulties, and ailments commonly associated with the ageing process: stiffness, aches and pains, fatigue, limitation. And in cases of incurable conditions, it often provides significant symptomatic relief through re-educating maladaptive patterns built upon the untreatable problem.
The Method thus provides help to the healthy and the disabled, the young and old, because we are all fitted with brains and nervous systems which are the most advanced learning mechanisms on the planet, the greatest portion of which is devoted to sensing and moving, and whose limits have never been seriously tested.
The Feldenkrais Method has two forms: Awareness Through Movement (or ATM), which is group work, and Functional Integration (or FI), which is individual work:
ATMs are carefully designed movement sequences in which the teacher verbally guides students through a coherent series of developmental or functional movement patterns (for example, reaching, bending, turning, or rolling), draws attention to the sensations elicited by these movements, and thereby creates a space for sensorimotor learning, that is, improved coordination and a widened self-awareness. The lessons are interesting, refreshing, and relaxing. They increase flexibility and suppleness without strain; improve efficiency while actually reducing effort; and in many cases free individuals from chronic or acute pain. Because ATMs take ingenious advantage of the virtually unlimited learning potential of the human nervous system, anyone can begin to improve his or her movement capabilities and, through practice, this improvement can be continuous. As Feldenkrais once wrote, 'the lessons are designed to make the impossible possible, the difficult easy, and the easy pleasant.'
A Functional Integration lesson or FI is a private lesson tailored to an individual's particular learning needs, or presenting limitations. Using refined touch and skilful handling, the practitioner gains an intelligent sense of the person's unique neuromotor functioning, and thereby initiates, stimulates, and directs a process of sensorimotor learning, clarifying and then undoing patterns of habitual tension and stereotyped movement, and leading the person to better coordination options. The Feldenkrais practitioner uses primarily gentle passive movement and mirrors or 'goes with' the pattern of movement that the client manifests (a strategy Feldenkrais drew from judo). By sensitively mirroring and using the client's own patterning, the practitioner enables the person to know better, or become aware of, how he or she is thus characteristically moving, which pattern of movement is realized to constitute a causative factor in his or her limitation. This growing awareness is the foundation of coming to sense oneself better, and thus to move better, and thus to feel better, and so on. The effects of these lessons range from improvement in well-being and vitality, ease and efficiency, to alleviation of pain and enhanced performance. Like ATMs, FIs are founded in the understanding that a person changes most readily when the new means of action are more pleasant than the old, that effectiveness comes through reducing effort - by working 'smarter' not harder - and that learning is natural and native to the human process.
But you don't have to analyze the complex strategies of the Feldenkrais Method to benefit from it. Really, all you need to do is play - begin again, as you did as a child, the playful and curiosity-filled exploration of your own movement through the artfully devised and scientifically sound patterns created by Feldenkrais and the teachers certified by the Guild founded in his name.
As children we learned so much so fast partly because our involvement in our activities was playful, present, without a goal, exploratory, grounded in the physical, open-ended. When we bring this same attitude to the movements of the Feldenkrais Method which in turn brings to such sensorimotor exploration a sophisticated technology that eliminates a large portion of the trial-and-error investigation of childhood, our learning or re-learning of effective and refined movement is greatly quickened. And it is very interesting and enjoyable. Soon, this bodily play returns us to the easeful quality of a child's movement but with an adult's maturity and understanding.
In time and with practice, not only do we become easier in our bodies and more graceful in our movement but, remarkably, we find that our relationships and our manner of engaging many common activities of life come to be naturally more playful, less stressful. We take a more relaxed attitude to our daily life in general. Curiosity reaches into areas of our lives where there was fixity and confusion. The body becomes a source of happy pleasure. We broaden our horizons.
These life changes were in fact part of Feldenkrais' genius. They emerge spontaneously from sensorimotor exploration as higher learning. As we are systemic wholes, and fundamental shifts are being made in this process of sensorimotor learning within our wholeness, no one can really determine in advance where in one's life these changes will manifest. But because all learning is, by definition, positive, any changes wrought in the process of self-investigation stimulated by the Feldenkrais Method can be welcomed most assuredly as benign and good.
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Yoga, Feldenkrais, & Self-Mastery
by Graeme Lynn, GCFP, CSTAT
Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It was collated, coordinated, and systematized by Patanjali. Yoga is so called because it seeks, by skilful means, to unite or 'yoke' the individual soul or atman to Paramatma, the Supreme Self of which the atman is a part. Patanjali enumerates these means as the eight advancing stages of Yoga: yama (moral commandments: non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence, non-coveting); niyama (self-purification: purity, contentment, austerity, study, devotion); asana (posture); pranayama (control of the breath); pratyahara (freedom from sense-based mind); dharana (concentration); dhyana (meditation); and samadhi (Realization).
In this article, I wish to briefly discuss asana or that part of the yogic system called Hatha Yoga, by which one keeps the body healthy, strong and in harmony with nature, and compare it to the Feldenkrais Method, which accomplishes the same by much different means.
Hatha Yoga addresses the physical body through asanas or complex poses or postures, which are combined together in intelligent sequences and mastered according to a certain prescribed form. This combination and mastery of asanas is the ground of functional health from the yogic point of view. (Organic health is addressed through niyama, purity via right dietary disciplines.) Generally, in the learning and practice of these asanas, some breath control is taught and a certain level of concentration is required. In addition, individuals who take up this kind of practice seriously, usually engage moral and functional self-discipline in most areas of their lives. Some also seek through meditation to disengage their attention from the agitations of emotional reactivity and mind. Unlike typical Western approaches to physical health such as sports fitness, aerobics, circuit training, and calisthenics, Hatha Yoga is thus laudably embedded in a spiritually oriented lifestyle.
In order to master any particular asana, there are a few working strategies used in Hatha Yoga practice. The beginning practitioner is shown the form of the posture, ideally by an experienced practitioner, which form the beginner seeks to duplicate. When one attempts this, of course, one comes up against the limit of one's ability. At this point, one will be directed to reach (beyond oneself), or try harder; release and relax; work with one's 'edge'; breathe through or into the stretch; use certain mechanical assists such as straps or pads and so on to approximate the posture and continue to work with it; or look for where one is holding and work to release that; or use another asana or part thereof to work more directly with the area that is not releasing. In addition, the combination of many asanas works as a whole to facilitate the mastery of individual asanas. All such approaches can be rightly described as direct: that is, one works directly with the form of the asana for the sake of mastery. By continual practice, the body becomes more limber, stronger, and aligned, which is the goal of Hatha Yoga practice. B. K. S. Iyengar, one of the great Yogis of the 20th century, says that, by these means, one 'conquers the body and renders it a fit vehicle for the soul.'
The Feldenkrais Method seeks self-mastery of the physical mechanism through the indirect means of using the complex learning capabilities of the human nervous system and the understanding of the body as a unified process.
The human nervous system is, as we know, an extremely sophisticated learning function. In an experiment done in an American teaching hospital, they took, in one case, a muscle-bound athlete, and, in a second, a stiff elderly man; and, under general anaesthetic, with huge care, moved them into various yoga-type poses with ease. The conclusion: there are no stiff joints or muscles; inflexibility comes from the nervous system. And so, you do not have to conquer the body but learn anew.
From the Feldenkrais Method's point of view, strength is derived from the whole body's musculature working together as one. So, any posture or action is ideally carried out with the conjoint use of all six hundred-odd muscles of the body. This conjoint use of all the muscles necessarily implies that those muscles not being used in the moment of action are spontaneously released or controlled. This ability to release those muscles not in use is the essence of flexibility, which is not thereby gained by work against oneself but rather by learning a unified coordination or 'self-organization'. Alignment comes from using the skeleton to support the body, which alignment is achieved and felt when the large muscles learn to do the large work and the smaller muscles, the refined work.
Movement is composed of a combination of basic functional patterns: bending, arching, twisting, turning, side-bending, sitting, standing, walking, reaching, and so on. What organizes or coordinates these movements is the nervous system, the greatest part of which is concerned with the sensorimotor functions, that is, self-sensing and moving. Clarified self-sensing is the very ground of right movement, because the sensorimotor nervous system is designed as a cybernetic-like feedback circuit, so that as self-sensing improves, movement likewise improves, and vice versa; that is, as self-sensing becomes truer, movement becomes harmonious with one's physical structure (thereby, by-passing pain) and rightly conformed to the mechanical requirements of the surrounding world (and so, maximally effective). The senses that we seek to re-educate and refine in this method, in order thereby to improve movement, are the senses of balance, articulation, felt movement, tissue pressure, tissue tension, and pain, the senses of embodiment, of the bodily self. Such refinement of self-sensing then facilitates improved self-organization in movement.
In the Feldenkrais Method, one explores, by one's own participation, basic and complex functional patterns through carefully designed movement sequences, and then synthesizes them in interesting ways such that one comes to feel oneself more completely, and thence to move more effectively. (These movement explorations also take strategic advantage of various neuromotor reflexes, which indirectly mobilize and integrate parts of a pattern, and so, parts of the body, by evoking the whole pattern.)
Take, as an example, the yoga pose, paschimottanasana, or sitting forward bend, which could be described as a forward bend at the hip-joints, the legs maximally straightened, the spine harmoniously lengthened, the forehead resting on the knees, the hands grasping the feet. From the musculoskeletal point of view, the muscles and joints of the spine, shoulder girdle, hips, knees, and ankles must all be capable of maximal flexion and lengthening; and one can 'work' to stretch oneself into the pose. From the point of view of awareness and control, one can playfully explore the patterns of flexion, extension, and twisting through sophisticated movement sequences, which will clarify (to awareness) how and where one bends, extends, and twists, and how one can do so in an integrated, harmonious manner. Such learning of a unified process of twisting indirectly lengthens the flexors and extensors; and learning of integrated flexing and extending clarifies the bodily means of forward bending. And behold, the asana is much more easily achieved! And this is accomplished playfully, because the necessary attitude brought to the learning process is one of exploration or play. This, in fact, is one of the hallmarks of the Feldenkrais Method. Instead of working on oneself - in real contrast, one is playing (with oneself).
The above description greatly simplifies the nature of a lesson in the Feldenkrais Method. The Method involves a complex of learning strategies, one principle of which is that the whole is the greater than the sum of its parts, or that from a combination of intelligently designed events 'emerges' a greater whole. Thus, not only will a lesson involve a greater complex of strategies but also it will achieve a greater emergent whole than merely a more easily accomplished movement or posture.
Of course, the interim goal of Yoga is, like many Eastern approaches, withdrawal from the body as a step towards union with the Paramatma, which is conceived as 'within and above'. Westerners, by contrast (and the Chinese and Japanese, to some extent), value bodily life. Yoga thus tends toward stillness whereas the Feldenkrais Method sees life as process and seeks mastery of that life process, what Feldenkrais called a potent self. However, from any spiritual aspirant's point of view, this idea of a potent self or power in life could be rightly regarded and used as the very strength that one requires for making the body a fit vehicle for the soul.
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Graeme Lynn, GCFP, CSTAT
Graeme Lynn is Canada's most highly qualified somatic educator, certified in the Feldenkrais Method, the Alexander Technique, structural bodywork (Hellerwork) and Hanna Somatics.
He has studied in California, England, and Israel, under such renowned teachers as Thomas Hanna, John Nicholls, and Dan Armon. With his partner, Christine Ohlms, he teaches at Kinetix, The Studio for Somatic Learning, at 585 Bloor St. W. at Bathurst subway station in Toronto.For further information or to schedule lessons, please call 416-964-7026.