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The Feldenkrais Method for "Silent Sports"

By Ruth Jaeger

I doubt if I’m alone in my frustration as I read about involved, time consuming training programs on how to succeed in citizen ski racing, ultramarathon, bicycling, paddling, sailboat racing, etc. For those of us who are passionate about a different recreational pursuit for each season, those time, money and energy consuming approaches leave us wondering how we can hope to improve in anything when we love it all!

Articles about sports performance frequently mention the importance of technique but fail to give direction on how to achieve this often elusive efficiency. Is it acquired only through repetitive practice? How can we know if we are practicing well or practicing mistakes when we are often out on the rivers, roads, and trails alone?

There is a way. The Feldenkrais Method® for improving mind/body awareness can provide recreational sports addicts with adequate skills to feel good and have fun while participating in many activities. The Feldenkrais Method is being used in Colorado by ski instructors; in Hawaii and Australia to teach surfing; at the Olympics to help injured paddlers; at a premiere southeastern paddling school to teach kayaking; and it is available in most areas of the U.S. Its practitioners can help you learn to feel good, have fun, and improve, while actually holding down a real job and maintaining peace in your household. The Feldenkrais Method is rich in its ability to assist in improvement in multiple activities and many realms of life because the commodity it offers is AWARENESS.

With refined awareness of your body and mind, you can notice immediately when your weight is not balanced over your ski or centered in your boat. You can learn to feel the difference between one leg that is rarely or never injured through overuse while running, and the other that collects aches and pains more quickly than finishers’ T-shirts. Once the difference is known precisely, things can start to change. Have you ever taken a lesson in your favorite sport, repeat what the instructor shows during the lesson, only to “lose it” almost immediately? That too can change. When your brain learns to more precisely monitor movement, the internal sensation of the new learning can be retained and applied.

How is this awareness taught? Awareness Through Movement® lessons make use of attention to the sensation of gentle, novel, playful movements. Most are done lying on a comfortable floor so there is no concern of falling, tipping over, looking silly, drowning or other unpleasant results of mistakes. Experimentation and mistakes are actually encouraged as an important part of the learning experience. A lesson might work with a simple movement of reaching out with a leg and sensing the connection of this movement into your pelvis and lengthening of the side of your waist and ribs. The clear sensation of this simple combination of movements helps a cross country skier balance on one ski; a paddler balance her boat; and can reduce strain in the knees in walking and running.

Movements can be specifically chosen to match a particular activity, simulating skills such as rolling a canoe or kayak, or walking or running. Or lessons can be more general: addressing basics such as relaxed breathing, differentiating movements in the spine, (feet, shoulder girdle, pelvis or other areas of the body that are unfamiliar), balance, and coordination of eye movements with head, neck and spine.

Individual lessons are especially useful if there is injury or if what is needed is to develop awareness of a movement pattern or body region that is quite inaccessible to your awareness. If you have ever been told to do something in order to alter technique and no matter how it was described or demonstrated it made no sense, this was probably because the movement or body area involved is not available in your self-awareness.

Many people do not have adequate awareness of the ribs, upper back and chest. They therefore inadequately use the potential of this area for movement resulting in balance problems, excessive use and strain in the shoulders, neck, lower back, and knees. The same holds true for the hip joints and pelvis. These are large joints with powerful muscles that often could be used to great advantage if the recreational athlete has a clear sensory knowledge of the multitude of movement combinations possible. The key word here is sensory.

Feldenkrais lessons use unusual movement combinations and sequences to clarify unfamiliar, non-habitual possibilities. Improvement in your favorite recreational activities can occur once these possibilities are acknowledged by your brain. You will automatically use the more efficient, easier way once the option is known.

As a recreational cross country skier I had an experience of decreasing fatigue in my lower leg while I was skiing! This was possible because I had been doing Awareness Through Movement regularly and was able to sense that my body weight was on the inner border of the foot as I glided on one ski. The other foot and ski was flatter. By moving my attention upward, I learned that I was balancing more easily on one ski than the other because my hip, waist, and ribs were lengthening more easily on the more balanced ski. This discovery made my day of gliding through the woods much more enjoyable. This piece of learning was exciting because it was discovered by independently sensing a basic technique error - no coach required.

The beauty of this method of improvement is that the awareness gained applies to everything you do - even sitting in the car on the way to have fun. Learn to learn from internal sensation that you will retain instead of by visual imitation that is more quickly forgotten. Learn to imagine movement so that you can mentally practice the perfect low brace or cross stroke in your white-water canoe instead of physically practicing your mistakes.

While practicing physically, make the most of your time with refined attention to your movement precision.

There are bonuses to using the Feldenkrais Method to aid in your sports performance. The lessons are often as relaxing as a massage, therapeutic for injuries, assist in preventing injury, and are a fun, gentle way to improve flexibility. When you learn to learn about yourself you have the key to continued improvement. Learning plus improvement equals fun!

Ruth practices in Rhinelander and Woodruff, Wisconsin, where she also assists in coaching the high school cross country ski team that won the state meet last year.

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