Abby, Denise and I were leaving the gym together after class this week when Denise asked, “Is Feldenkrais good for relieving stress? There’s so much going on in my life right now, and I am waking up with my jaw clenched.” She demonstrated. “It’s so intense.”
Denise is new; this week’s class had been her third. Abby is an old-timer; she has been coming for several years.
I was just opening my mouth to respond, when Abby jumped in. “Let me say something, Maureen.”
Turning to Denise, Abby said, “I began several years ago with group classes, and at the same time I did a series of individual sessions. I got a lot out of them. I remember one session especially, when I came in and my arm was really bothering me.”
After a little pause, Abby turned to me and said, “Maureen, I think we know each other well enough by now that I can say this.” Looking again at Denise she said, “Maybe I was complaining, but that day Maureen was pretty short with me. She touched me in a couple places and said, ‘It’s because you’re tense all over.’ The way she said it … well, it stung. But that was probably good because it made me shoot back, ‘That’s because I am dealing with a lot of stress right now!’
Turning again to look at me, Abby said, “And then you said the most amazing thing, Maureen. You said, ‘Well, maybe your body doesn’t have to get all knotted up just because your mind and your emotions are upset.’
Abby continued: "That was the most amazing idea to me! I had always thought, not consciously of course, that if you’re upset, your shoulders just have to go up to here,” and she pulled her shoulders up and her head forward and made her face tense. It looked pretty bad! Then she let that go.
I said, “Yeah! Usually in Feldenkrais we’re working on connecting
the mind to the body, but it’s also to good to learn how to disconnect
them. The body doesn’t have to
always get tense when the mind is upset. It could be that the mind is upset – that’s how it is – but the body stays relaxed.”
Abby responded, “I’ve thought about that a lot. It’s a big job! But I’m working on it, and it’s making a difference for me.”
Here is a quote from Moshe Feldenkrais:
An action becomes easy to perform and the movement becomes light when the huge muscles of the center of the body do the bulk of the work and the limbs only direct the bones to the destination of the effort. (1)
As you can see in the photo, the woman is reaching for something with her left hand. She is also pushing with her right foot, rolling toward the reaching side, elongating her belly muscles and shifting her chest forward so she can more easily bring her head backward. The right arm helps to pull her head backward, and her eyes focus on her hand.
I find the quote and the woman's movement beautiful.
Healthy children have this coordination naturally. Through various causes in growing up, those “huge muscles” in the center of the body quit being activated, and the person -- you and me! -- becomes stiff. And then the smaller muscles have to take on “the bulk of the work.” It’s too much for them.
Feldenkrais is a way to re-active those central parts of yourself, regain beautiful, integrated movement and reduce strain on the smaller body parts.
(1) Feldenkrais, Moshe. Awareness through Movement. New York: Harper & Row, 1972, p 91.
After class this morning Darlene told me a story. She began by holding her hands up near her face and saying, “I figured I could count to 5,000 on my fingers.”
A couple weeks ago, during the break between Quarters, Darlene had an MRI. Because she was worried about it in advance, she had made a plan: she would use her long-time, personal strategy of counting on her fingers.
Darlene did count, and in 50 minutes she got almost to 5000.
But Darlene needed more than counting. She hadn’t anticipated the clanging; the noise was awful. She knew the space would be small, but her claustrophobia was worse than expected. The technician inserted dye into her right arm, and she could feel the warmth of it as it moved through her body; it was creepy.
In response to all this, Darlene felt her jaw tense, her shoulders hunch, and her abdominal muscles tighten. Breathing was coming to a halt.
Then a memory kicked in! At the beginning of each Feldenkrais class, which Darlene has been taking for about 5 years, I ask the students to lie on their back, close their eyes, sense themselves, and relax any tensions that are not needed while lying down.
It was a breakthrough for Darlene when she realized: “Being in this tube is just like being in the beginning of the Feldenkrais class!” She closed her eyes and directed her mind to focus on relaxing all her body parts.
Memories of the class came back, and through the associations she felt the tensions ease and herself growing calm. By the end, the MRI tube wasn’t such a bad place. And she didn’t go out of her mind with the clanging or with the anxiety.Thank you, Darlene, for sharing this story. It helps us all to be reminded that, often, when the natural response is to tense, the better response is to relax. And it does help to have practiced in advance.
After class this week Helen told me a story.
Helen is in her mid-thirties. She sits at a computer all day. A year ago she came to me for private lessons because her hands were numb.
In a few sessions, I was able to show her that the problem in the hands came, in the first place, from her neck. When she looked at the screen, she craned her head forward. Secondly, she was collapsed in her torso, and this also brought the head forward. The misalignment was cutting off the blood supply into her hands.
With each session, the tensions eased, her alignment improved, and circulation returned to her hands.
After a while Helen shifted into the group class. Week by week she felt herself relaxing in her life and better able to sustain good posture on the job.
Within this context Helen told me the following story.
“This past weekend," she said, “I was at a party. I was standing quietly by myself when I noticed a very pretty woman, about ten years younger than me. Her smile was so beautiful. And she had the most amazing upright posture.
My own posture has improved, Maureen, but I know I still hunch, somewhat.
As I observed this younger woman, something funny happened. My body slowly straightened up. I could feel it happening. It was like my body was following a cue she gave. For a moment I just stood there, taller and with a lift chest. I was looking around me from a higher place. It felt a little odd, and also good. It was like I was trying something on. Then a voice inside said, ‘But that’s not you.
’ Slowly the better posture collapsed – I could feel it! I returned to what felt familiar.”
“Oh, my gosh!” I said to Helen. “This is what Feldenkrais meant when he said, ‘Correction is perceived as error.’
Sorry, Helen, the phrase is a little stiff. But what he meant was that the new thing, although one could agree, objectively, that it is better, feels wrong
. It feels like ‘not I
“Just continue,” I said. “From my own experience, I know that with repetition, gradually, to the new and better way, that little voice inside will say, “This is me
One of the axioms of the Feldenkrais work is that the whole body is a system.
As an idea, this may seem simple, but to make it effective in practice takes detective work.
Claire, a professional woman in her 50’s, came in this week and said, “Oh, thank you, Maureen, for last week. I have been remembering to stretch out my left ribs, and my neck feels so much better.”
I was glad to hear it.
Do you know what’s the connection?
The previous week Claire had come in and after the briefest hello, and while rubbing the right side of her neck, had reported, “Maureen, this weekend was so bad. My neck just seized up.”
She shared that after a full work week she had taken a long drive to spend the weekend with family. On Saturday morning there she was having fun with everyone, except that her neck was killing her. Over the course of the next few days, some of the tension eased up by itself, but now, home and back at work, she still hurt.
What could I do about it?
I asked Claire to walk. I saw my clue right away.
Claire was holding contraction in the left ribs. It wasn’t extreme, but the desired fluid shift among the central muscles was missing. The contraction naturally pulled the head to the left. But Claire didn’t want to walk lopsided. So, something inside – some part of the brain – automatically pulled on the right neck muscles. They brought her head to the middle. But the tactic overworked the neck muscles, and they hurt.
I asked Claire to lie down on my table. I explored what was happening in those left ribs. The muscles were tight! They were happy to let go! When Claire stood, she felt that she was taller and that her neck was fine.
Over the next week, the left side contraction would come back in again. But Claire noticed it. She could move in a certain way and let it go.
More Recent Articles