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The Feldenkrais Method with Yoga and Tai Chi

By Josef DellaGrotte, Ph.D.

Yoga, a practice that was developed well over three thousand years ago and formally organized into a methodological discipline is based on finding pathways that connect and integrate body, mind, and spirit. Taoist yoga, now known as Tai Chi qi gong, came from India to China, had a similar intention, and its own special application. Both utilized and cultivated a process of body movement awareness.

Hatha Yoga took functional movement actions of life, human and animal, and turned them into structural postures (asanas) that are then held in stillness and concentrative attention to cultivate a meditative awareness state. The greater purpose was to create a somato-spiritual process which would serve the cultivation of higher levels of consciousness and mastery in the service of awakening. This later came to include higher levels of healing, health and wellness by enhancing energy flow (prana ).

Tai Chi, however, kept the essence of functional actions (martial arts) and turned these into a Taoist-oriented awareness of effortless movement flow in combination with structure, strengthening, internal relaxation, mindfulness, and energy circulation (chi). As with several practices, from sports to performance to meditation, Awareness Through Movement®, considered as a complementary process, can be used to enhance both. The only requirement is that the practitioner has a good grasp, an experiential familiarity with the traditional or conventional forms of each discipline.

Take any yoga or Tai Chi posture and you can see the basis on which it is constructed, and that basis is natural biological movement with all its biomechanical, physical, and psychophysical aspects: resonant frequency of motion, ever-present, even in apparent stillness.

Contemporary yoga is changing. Yoga teachers, long accustomed to the holding of structural postures, are now showing interest in functional movement dynamics; how the body works; and how yoga postures can be facilitated through this different view. In modern society, natural functional movement is being compromised by too much sitting and sedentary tendencies. Structural stillness which once worked now needs to be balanced with functional flow. The Feldenkrais® process has the potential to greatly enhance the learning, the awareness, the experience, and the benefits of yoga practice.

Tai Chi is based on awareness, structural integrity, strengthening through energy flow (chi), meditation and application. Tai Chi looks flowing, but is often stylized into fixed functional sets. The common human ground of true functional resonant motion is not so easy to teach by traditional methods. Many students who begin with fascination and enthusiasm succumb to the stresses and strains of the discipline. They need to learn how to access a different sensory-motor feeling, and to modify uncomfortable or even painful sensations.

The Feldenkrais Method provides just what is most needed: getting in touch with the natural functional patterns of action; experiencing differentiation and contrast; connecting disparate parts, and letting the resonant, oscillatory movement improve the integration.

The larger context which the process serves is quality of life: in somatic terms, quality of movement. What is good movement? It contains many elements, from balance to strength to effortless grace and poise. The Feldenkrais Method seen as background process supports more viable yoga and Tai Chi practices.

Josef DellaGrotte, Ph.D. Feldenkrais Trainer, also teaches yoga and Tai Chi using the Feldenkrais Method.

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