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By Tom Rankin, GCFP
“Feldenkrais is more than just movement.”
-Carol Kress during the second year of the Berkeley V Training Program
I did not know it at the time, but those words would invite and inspire me to explore deeper into the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education. For most of my life, I thought of movement as specific muscle actions. Tight muscles were to be stretched and weak ones need strengthening. Now the process of creating movement was intriguing me. But this was just the tip of the Feldenkrais iceberg.
The essence of the Method is movement. Yet its benefits go far beyond moving: into life itself. How does it work? Why does it make life dramatically better? I pondered these questions during Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®) classes, study groups and while reading Moshe’s words. After many years, in an enlightened moment, the answer came to me: Feldenkrais is like a bicycle.
How? They both create unique environments that enable a learning experience. No one teaches you how to ride a bike. They may help you get started, but at some point you have to teach yourself. First, you are confused and do not know what to do. Therefore, it becomes necessary to explore a variety of options. Questions arise, such as: Where do I start? How do I find support? What moves? What does not move? How much effort is needed? By being aware of the differences between choices, it is possible to discover answers. Answers lead to discoveries. When enough discoveries occur there is an A-ha moment: “So this is how you do it.”
The Feldenkrais practitioner also constructs a setting for self-education. Either by words (ATM lessons) or touch (Functional Integration® lessons), she helps you explore and discover a variety of possibilities. Much like learning to ride, the beginnings of lessons are elusive for a student. Yet through awareness, solutions soon become obvious. Each moment becomes an opportunity to learn how to learn. This process works so well that it sometimes feels like magic.
Why do bicycles and Feldenkrais make life better? They both improve our self-image. Self-image is the idea, conception or mental image that one has of oneself. It both creates and is created by actions. Or more simply, you are what you do. Every action contains the ingredients of movement, sensation, feelings and thoughts.
Learning to ride a bicycle has a great impact on the self-image of a child. Babies do not walk, big kids ride bikes. Achieving this childhood milestone upgrades the self-image. You are no longer a little kid. You have gained more independence and have more choices in life.
Like the bicycle, the Feldenkrais Method provides the opportunity to use movement to clarify and enhance self-image. A man with chronic pain may see himself as limited and dependent. Feldenkrais lessons teach him how to improve his every day activities (getting up, walking). This enhances his self-image, which in turn creates more potent action. He is no longer imprisoned by pain and is free to create a more fulfilling life.
My trainers were right. Feldenkrais is so much more than just movement. It is the bicycle we can ride to discover who we are and how to create the life we want.
Tom Rankin lives and practices the Feldenkrais Method in Mountain View, CA. He is a member of FGNA and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Tom also teaches Feldenkrais-influenced fitness classes for Stanford University, General Dynamics and the El Camino YMCA.