Tripping on Injury Prevention

In News by Ira Feinstein

by Paulette Dolin, GCFP

One of my new students asked me how doing Feldenkrais® lessons would help in daily life. Among the benefits of doing Awareness Through Movement® lessons, injury prevention is high on my list. My first vivid experience of this was during my practitioner training. As I was going down some steps, I noticed rather calmly that I had missed one. Instead of falling, my foot gently landed, and I kept going. That sense of ease and coordination was new to me. Growing up, I had been the kid in school who always had skinned and scabbed knees. People described me as athletic, but never graceful.

Years later as a practitioner, I had a student who worried about injuring herself. When we initially started working together, stairs scared her. After a series of private lessons and group classes, I noticed a shift. She was walking back to her car, tripped slightly at the curb, laughed it off and kept going. She was fine. She hadn’t twisted her ankle or collapsed, or criticized herself and ruined her day.

By practicing movements in a safe environment and connecting with ourselves, our nervous system learns how to adjust to changes in our environment. We regain our balance when we lose it and use the right amount of effort, so we don’t strain or hold excess tension. We also come to know our limits. That’s a different approach to preventing injuries than most workplace videos demonstrate!

It’s easy to take for granted how brilliant our coordination is as we move about our day. The margin of error for an accident or injury can be a fraction of an inch, and miraculously our brains and nervous system adjust in split seconds. Watching robots learn to move provides insight into injury prevention as we see how difficult it is for them to place a box on a shelf.  

As the video demonstrates (and as anyone watching babies learn to walk has observed), learning occurs with successive approximations, and those variations create options that are available for action whether in day-to-day activities or under exceptional circumstances. Awareness Through Movement lessons done gently, slowly, incrementally, and attentively invite the same kind of learning. We practice not hurting ourselves and cultivate our kinesthetic sense.

Think about the phrase “no pain, no gain.” Many of us were taught to tough it out: to overwork our muscles until we feel the burn and then continue to push ourselves through that pain to build stamina. Awareness Through Movement lessons teach us to perform activities with greater ease and power without the pain. Pain is sometimes an indication of injury. Being able to notice the discomfort before damage has occurred reduces injury. Additionally, muscles less strained are less prone to tear. Gain without pain.

Had I stressed or been afraid as I missed the step, I could have easily fallen, as I’d many times done before and skinned my leg or worse. Stress or fear would have interfered with my nervous system’s ability to regain balance and land more gently. Perhaps you can think of a time when you tensed as an accident was about to happen or when you were hurt and didn’t take care of yourself, both of which made the injury worse. Or maybe you were acutely injured, and the pain became chronic, or there was a form of compensation that caused other pain. Taking the time to retrain our coordination one step at a time leads to preventing injuries, lessening the damage when an injury occurs, and healing better. I know this to be true from my own experience, observing my students and hearing their stories.

Paulette Dolin, GCFP, came to the Feldenkrais Method® through the human potential movement while in college in the ’80’s, then experienced firsthand the benefits when recovering from car and ski accidents. She graduated from the SFII training in 1996 and now practices in Northern Colorado where she loves bringing comfort and joy into people’s lives.