I have a complicated relationship with my body and have since adolescence. I’m a professional actor, so I use my body to tell stories and embody the lives of other people. However, from a young age, I often felt disconnected between what I was trying to express and what my body was expressing. My teachers and mentors diagnosed this as an issue with posture and alignment.
I tried so many tactics to “fix” my posture. I went to yoga, saw a chiropractor, took private Alexander Technique lessons, and attempted physical therapy exercises on YouTube. These are all completely valid holistic treatments for addressing posture. But I felt like something was missing because the disconnect was still present. That’s when I found the Feldenkrais Method®, or rather, it found me.
Feldenkrais was part of my curriculum at the School at Steppenwolf. The purpose of the class was to improve the physical awareness of actors through movement. I went in with an open mind but wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful, because nothing sustainable had worked before. After just one lesson, I felt my neck elongate, and my breaths drop into my body. And for the first time since I was a kid, I felt like my mind and body were in conversation with each other.
Feldenkrais isn’t just for actors. When I asked my teacher, Suzanne Thompson, who she thought Feldenkrais was for, her response was, “It’s for anyone who wants to improve some part of their life.”
Here’s how Feldenkrais can help you start a whole new chapter.
What Is The Feldenkrais Method?
The Feldenkrais Method was developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais over many years. With degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and physics as well as a love of physical activity, he utilized his abundant knowledge to create this methodology in response to a personal knee injury.
Through the principles of physics, body mechanics, neurology, learning theory, and psychology, he developed lessons that incorporate gentle movement and directed attention to improve an individual’s physical wellbeing and the mind/body connection.
Feldenkrais helps you gain an understanding of your habits. Some motions take place on a foam roller where you’ll gently explore the range of motion in your arms or legs. Other motions focus on establishing connections between different parts of your body, like the connection between your left arm and right leg. Unlike yoga, where various poses are held and there’s a considerable amount of strength, balance, and flexibility involved, Feldenkrais focuses on smaller, repetitive movements designed to promote body self-awareness while improving simple functional movements like walking, sitting, and standing.
While simple movements like circling your arm one way or another above your chest may seem too small to do much for your body, the difference you feel moving about the world after a lesson can sometimes be quite profound. Through acknowledgment of where you hold tension, you can find a gentler, more efficient way of moving and thinking.
What Should I Expect When Going To Class?
If you’re interested in trying out a class, here’s what you can expect:
What You’ll Use:
In class, you’ll often use a Styrofoam roller (or rolled-up towel if you’re uncomfortable on the roller), a towel for head support, and a floor mat. You’ll want to wear clothes that you can move in that preferably don’t have any ties or belt loops. Ties and belt loops can cause unwanted pressure on areas of your body when lying on the floor. Be sure to leave your jeans at home.
How You’ll Learn:
An hour-long group session is usually broken up into two lessons. As Suzanne Thompson explains, “We call our class sessions ‘lessons,’ because by learning new ways of moving, we learn to problem solve and living gets easier.” After each lesson, you’ll walk around the room with your class to integrate your learning. You and your lesson-mates will have the opportunity to discuss the changes you’re feeling post-lesson.
How You’ll Move:
You’ll be participating in many of the lessons while on the floor. These are called Awareness Through Movement® lessons, or ATM. The movement is gentle, usually quite slow, and isn’t about practicing a full range of motion. Unlike exercising, Feldenkrais isn’t about pushing yourself to your limit. By moving comfortably, you’ll learn to feel the potential of the movement, instead of the limitations. You’ll feel how efficiently your body can move, not only during class but in your everyday routine.
When I get on my foam roller and do the “beach ball arms” lesson, I feel the release and ease of movement in my neck and sternum. It releases tension in those areas and reminds me that I’m carrying unnecessary tension. My body has a greater potential for ease of movement than I sometimes allow. For an example of a lesson, check out: Freeing the Shoulders and Neck.
If you’d find individual attention helpful, you can sign up for Functional Integration® with your instructor. These are one-on-one sessions where your practitioner will lead you through lessons specifically curated for your individual needs and concerns. Taking time for a one-on-one session can improve your overall development because you have your instructor’s undivided attention.
If you’re not ready to go back to an in-person class due to the pandemic, you may be able to find an online Feldenkrais class that’s taught through Zoom! That’s how I’m currently taking lessons from the comfort of my own kitchen. You can do this in a group setting or individually.
What Are The Benefits Of Feldenkrais?
People of all ages and movement abilities can benefit from the Feldenkrais Method. When my instructor took her first lesson 30 years ago, she had muscle and joint pain, short-term memory loss, brain fog, and overwhelming exhaustion. After her first class, she was “able to stand up on [her] own and was without pain for the first time in a year and a half.” The pain came back after the first class, but through consistent lessons, she was able to get well physically and mentally. Her memory improved and her physical discomfort for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome dissipated.
If you’re hoping to reduce muscle pain, joint discomfort, elongate your posture, improve your mental health, or simply have a better relationship with your body, Feldenkrais can help you. If you’re an athlete or yogi, Feldenkrais can strengthen your practice through body awareness and aid in your recovery. For those with neurological movement disorders, like Parkinson’s Disease and MS, Feldenkrais can bolster existing physical therapy by helping you find new, better ways of moving.
An Aging Body
Maybe you’re concerned about your body aging and want to retain or regain mobility. In that case, Feldenkrais is perfect for you! You could be like me, and want an alternative to meditation. Feldenkrais keeps your body and mind “in the moment” through visualization, and it consistently reduces my anxiety.
If you feel like you’re falling into old habits that aren’t serving you, Feldenkrais provides alternatives. My instructor explains:
This habitual use of self not just causes us pain, but also can put us in an “automatic pilot” state of living. We plod through our day using the same physical, mental, and emotional tactics that were successful for us at some critical point in our lives, and when those tactics no longer work, we don’t know what to do. How do we access another part of ourselves in order to choose a different course? Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais says, “We have four things going on at all times: thinking, sensing, feeling, and moving. When one of those four things change, the other three have the potential to change as well, and the easiest to change is movement.”
Where Can You Find A Class?
There are over 10,000 trained Feldenkrais practitioners. So there’s a good chance there’s one in your area if you’re interested in taking a class. You can find one close to you by using the official Feldenkrais Method website and entering your zip code. To learn more about Suzanne Thompson’s work, purchase her recorded lessons, or contact her about Zoom group lessons, visit her website at Motion and the Artful Life.
For me, what started out as simply a quest for better posture turned into a rewarding shift in ideology. Through Feldenkrais, I’ve learned to judge myself less. Now I drop my shoulders back and hold my head a little higher. Through my practitioner’s guidance, I’ve learned that by leading with discernment, rather than judgment, I open myself up to possibilities, because “discernment opens a door, [while] judgment slams it shut.”
The Feldenkrais Method is a journey, rather than a final destination. Never forget that, in Suzanne’s words, “You have a brilliant brain that is eager to learn something new. Give it the chance.”
Jessica Ervin-Eickhoff is an actor, children’s author, and freelance writer based in Chicago, IL. In addition to her work with Eve’s Disclosure, she has written for McMillan & Phillips, Mighty Scribes, and Escape Mocktails. Jessica is an ensemble member of Rivendell Theatre, the premier equity theatre company in the nation championing women’s voices and stories on stage. You can also catch her in an episode of the popular television series Chicago Fire.
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