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By Anna Haltrecht, GCFT
For eight years I have been studying and practicing Pilates mat work, learning the movements and the form, enjoying the process of making shapes and keeping the pace with the counting. At the same time, I wondered how this work could fit into my Feldenkrais® thinking. In class, I found I was focusing on obeying the teacher and getting it right. While practicing on my own, I allowed myself to be more playful and spent time feeling the movement from within.
I have chosen to stop taking Pilates classes but continue to explore its relationship to the Feldenkrais Method. I am moving “outside the box,” letting myself “smudge the lines” of the shapes I am creating, making it more of a discovery rather than strictly adhering to “correct form.” I don’t need to do preparatory actions. When I lift my head from the supine position, I notice the path my head wants to make rather than first imposing a line by lowering my chin to my chest. I follow the response in my skeleton and muscular system from the initial moment of the lift. I don’t need to do a set up before I begin the movement. I have changed the cues I use; I am not concerned about counting or breathing in a specific way.
Now that I know the rules it is time to break them. In the Pilates exercise called “the Hundreds,” I let go of the position of the arms I originally learned, I move them through space; likewise I move my legs and even my head and eyes. I vary the patterns my limbs make while maintaining a constraint of keeping my torso stable or vice versa. It becomes a dance. I find I am using my core without having to work hard. My focus is finding flow through the movements by differentiating my ribs and moving from my center.
I also incorporate movements from Awareness Through Movement lessons. This gives me greater variety. The sitting exercise “Spine Stretch” is more interesting when I play with different sitting movements from my Feldenkrais training, such as: “Sit and place the soles of the feet together. Interlace the fingers and put them behind the head. Lower the head and elbows towards the floor while bending the lower spine and then erect the head by arching in the lower back.” Doing the “pelvic clock” while seated in the “V-position” is especially challenging: “Sit and lift the legs in the air. Roll the pelvis on the floor, rolling across the sit bones.” However if I protrude my stomach and arch my back as I roll my pelvis forward and pull my stomach in and round my back as I roll backwards, as Moshe Feldenkrais suggested, it is much easier.
I integrate Feldenkrais movements when I do “the Swan,” thereby making it more dynamic as opposed to my tendency, when I do Pilates, to keep it static and rigid. For example: “Lie prone, bend the knees and bring the feet towards the ceiling. Lift the knees alternately from the floor. When one knee lifts, let the other knee press into the floor. Let the movement be very minimal while increasing the speed.”
I also play with the classic Feldenkrais Method idea of differentiating the eyes from the head: lift your head up as your eyes go down and vice versa. Rotations of the pelvis, spine, shoulders, and head are other interesting movements I add.
I feel I am truly practicing Pilates for myself. I am having more fun. By bringing the Feldenkrais Method into my Pilates practice, I find alternatives to holding my belly in a particular way. My trunk becomes less rigid, I breathe with more ease. It is less a physical endurance test and more an exploration in how I can think and move at the same time. Not only do I become stronger, I become better organized!