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Friday, March 18, 2011

How to prepare for an Awareness Through Movement® class or workshop

By Carole Bucher, BA, GCFT

Feldenkrais is VERY different from other movement modalities in several important ways, not the least of which is its skeletal, structural orientation.  The information below will help you reap ongoing benefits from your Awareness Through Movement classes and workshops.

1. There is No Form to Follow
Your body dictates how you move in Feldenkrais.  Unlike Yoga or Pilates, there is no form or right way to do any movement, other than to pay attention to yourself and to do move only in comfort.  In a class of 15 people, all 15 will do the movements differently.  Some people may even need to visualize the movement or part of a movement, and so do the movement in their minds. Visualizing can be hard work but is great for the brain and forging better body-brain communication.  In every case, each person finds their own tempo, rhythm, speed, size of movement -- you will find your own 'right way.'  You will be learning to listen to the information your body has for you. Whatever works for your comfort and attention is the only 'right way.'

2.  Go Slowly
Time is an extremely valuable tool in the Feldenkrais Method.  The movements you learn may seem unusual and unfamiliar to you.  You will need time to assimilate them, to feel the way your body is moving and changing. Above all, DO NOT RUSH OR HURRY.  Stop or pause when you feel the need; take breaks when your body tells you to.  Fatigue is not your friend in Feldenkrais--your attention, however, is very much your friend in this journey of self exploration and relearning.  Movements can feel interesting and pleasurable as you begin to listen to your body and experience yourself in new ways.

3.  Comfort Only -- NO PAIN or DIS-comfort, EVER -- instead:  smaller, slower, visualize
There is no reward in doing any of the movements in an uncomfortable position or way.  If a guided direction is not comfortable for you, you must feel free (and even responsible) to modify your position or the movement in whatever way works for you. Make the movement smaller, slower, or do it in your mind, by visualizing.  All are equally good.  Pain is NOT GOOD.  Pain is entirely counterproductive to the restorative process of Feldenkrais. Pain is a signal from your body that you need to find a different, new way to move. Learn to respect that and listen to your body.

4.  Don't Test Your Limits
Feldenkrais is not about seeing how far you can move, how high you can lift, or how long you can stretch.  Your goal is to discover how your body completes or performs a movement now, so that you can learn to make that movement easier.  Your movements should always be light and as effortless as possible.  Imagine how good it will feel to do simple, daily tasks without trying hard or working inefficiently. Effortlessness can apply to every activity you engage in.  As you develop more capacity to sense yourself subconsciously and make better movement choices, you will find this for yourself.

Thanks to Dr. Frank Wildman, GCFT, for his clarifications and ideas.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Heightened body awareness aids efficiency of motion and freedom from pain
All Norman Goodman wanted was to be able to golf again. But Goodman's MRI showed that the stroke he had suffered caused so much damage to his brain that holding a golf club was now all but impossible. While Goodman retained motion in his shoulder and elbow, his right hand would not cooperate.
Twelve long months of sophisticated OT and PT designed to restore function to the hand showed limited results. Goodman's physiatrist and rehab team told him to accept the fact that he might never play his beloved game again.
That's when Goodman began treatment with Sandy Burkart, PhD, PT, certified Feldenkrais practitioner (CFP), who came at the problem from a different angle.
"We were able to capture the hand's function through movement patterns in the trunk, cervical spine, head and eyes that were associated with a golf swing," said Dr. Burkart. "His functional retraining program began with postural retraining coupled with muscular tone reduction techniques on his uninvolved side, and the facilitation of selected movements on the involved side. Essentially, these movements bypassed the damaged areas of the brain and provided an opportunity for his central nervous system to use pathways away from the damaged site in his brain," he said.
Dr. Burkart likens the unusual methods he used with Goodman to current research into constraint-induced movement therapy for people who have had a stroke, which trains the uninvolved side of the body. "We relaxed the uninvolved side so that it basically did nothing except be quiet," he said. "I then went to work on the involved, spastic side, decreasing the tone in the spastic muscles by selectively facilitating the extensors or antagonists of the spastic muscles. As I tried that with Norman, first one finger moved, then two, three, and soon the hand was opening and closing.
"Norman plays 18 holes now with his wife and friends," Dr. Burkart continued. "He dropped an eight-foot putt the first time he went out. He still has a lot of sensory motor neglect in the arm and hand, but at least he's able to golf with his wife and friends and to do the things he wants to. It's a whole new life for him."
This cutting edge approach to integrating all aspects of motor control and motor learning makes up the basic tenets of the Feldenkrais Method, an education-based approach to movement and sensory accompaniment that even today remains largely misunderstood and is often met with a raised eyebrow.