Why Feldenkrais?

A note from Erin:

Is it worth taking the time to slow down and learn from what poet Hafiz calls “the most insignificant movements of your own holy body?” I believe it is.  I have a lot to say about why this work is important. For starters, here are seven perspectives in answer to the question: Why Feldenkrais?

1. Embody mindfulness. I’ve been surprised in conversations with friends recently to hear that for many people, they think mindfulness is a mental practice. Perhaps the word itself is misleading. An open mind, (not a full one), available to experience the living moment with full presence is the essence of mindfulness. If you’re not present in a bodily way, I’d argue that your mindfulness is missing any real ground or roots. It’s ignoring the very foundation of your experience of life!  Mindfulness is not a conceptual practice. It’s a practice of being in this moment of life with presence and awareness, rather than lost in concept. When you learn to practice being present to the nuances of sensation in and through your moving body, while also being open to the moment around you, your mindfulness is far more rich and rewarding. The Buddha himself said, “There is one thing that when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.” Elsewhere, Buddha said, “If the body is not cultivated, the mind cannot be cultivated. If the body is cultivated then the mind can be cultivated.” Growing a deeper relationship with your own body is a profound ground for authentic mindfulness.

2. Cultivate less effort and more pleasure. People who take our classes hear this refrain like a broken record. It soon becomes repeated in their own inner life. “How can I make this less effortful and more pleasurable?” Please don’t misunderstand. This is not about becoming precious and avoiding any challenge. Quite the opposite. It’s about bringing our attentive presence to all our actions, however simple or challenging – whether bending over to load the dishwasher, running a marathon, skiing down a mountainside, or typing on a computer. How could you make it less effortful and more pleasurable? This intelligent impulse is inherent in babies learning to walk. They are learning sponges, continually noticing how to grow their skill through following what works, adopting the actions that have less effort and more pleasure. Asking this question frequently activates our innate bodily intelligence and our embodied presence. It’s a question to live into again and again. And one that can powerfully transform your life.

3. Decolonize your body-mind. Removing outer authority from your inner life – this was one of Moshe Feldenkrais’s stated aims of this work, and one that is so dear to my heart as a teacher and student. There are so many invisible rules we follow, often unbeknownst to us. Whether it’s an instruction your father gave you in childhood about sitting up straight, or someone scolding you about holding your knees together as an expression of modesty, or a yoga teacher’s advice to  pull your shoulders in a certain way they thought was “right” once upon a time – often we are walking around carrying loads of conscious or unconscious instructions about how to be in a human body. I believe in liberating us from these. Choosing how we inhabit and move our own bodies from a place of conscious sovereignty and not because an “authority” told us to do it like this 30 years ago… I believe this is an essential facet of adult development.  One definition of decolonization includes the “complete removal of the domination of non-indigenous forces.”  This is important on a macro scale for indigenous peoples. I believe it’s also important on the micro-level of your own inner life. Regardless of your genetic and cultural history, one place you are indigenous to is your very own body. The slow, gentle, inquiry-based practices of Awareness Through Movement help you to remove the often invisible domination of non-indigenous forces in your own body, mind, and life. It doesn’t mean all advice from others is harmful. It means we get to choose, from our own embodied sovereignty, what is actually life-giving for us and set aside the rest. You can trust your naturalness.

4. Do what you want. As Feldenkrais famously said, “You can’t do what you want until you know what you’re doing. Once you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.” He also mused on the humbling fact that it’s much easier to do what someone tells you to do than to actually notice what you’re doing. Awareness Through Movement offers a powerful process for helping us to know what we’re doing so we can do what we want. This can be as simple as knowing that we’re clenching our jaw so we can choose to unclench it, or noticing that we’re holding tension in our shoulders, which we could choose to drop once we know what we’re doing. It can then translate into noticing we’re being an emotionally reactive jerk in our relationship and then choosing to do something different, rather than just indulging the not-so-conscious impulse.  Many people would rather someone just tell them what to do than enter the long and exacting (and deeply rewarding!) process of knowing what they’re doing so they can do what they want. Feldenkrais can help you become much more free. As Victor Frankl famously said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”  This is exactly the territory we explore in Feldenkrais lessons.

5. Learn to trust something other than your thinking mind. A profound benefit of delving into this kind of somatic exploration comes when you make the powerful discovery that there’s something trustworthy and reliable and it’s not your thinking mind – it’s your feeling body when inhabited with awareness. What a relief to learn you don’t need to use your thinking mind to manage all aspects of reality! What a blessing to discover there’s an intelligence in every cell in your body which reveals itself when we simply slow down and pay attention to it and through it. Feldenkrais lessons teach us how to do this. It’s not about haranguing yourself with instructions on how to be and move. It’s about freeing yourself from that habit and trusting your intelligent feeling body. No matter how long you’ve ignored it, the resilient body-intelligence is there, humming beneath the surface of awareness, waiting to welcome you home. Wahoooo!

6. End the culture of domination. When there are so many things deeply awry in the world – misogyny, racism, climate change, environmental degradation, sexual abuse, and more – could it really make sense to spend time slowly rolling around on the ground, moving your body with gentleness and precision? I would argue YES. Unequivocally. The kind of relationship you’re invited to cultivate with and through your body via practices like these is one of non-domination. It’s not about doing movements to your body but as yourself. Kyriarchy (and its philosophical underpinnings) lives in our relationship with ourselves as well as the world at large. We can begin to end the culture of domination by ending the habit of being a mind dominating a body. Treating one’s own body and life as an object is at the root of all objectification, which is at the root of every problem I listed above. Surprisingly, most fitness, exercise, yoga, and other modern physical practices serve to deepen this sense of domination rather than liberate us from it. It’s invisible and pervasive… Until it becomes visible, and we choose to liberate ourselves from it. The practice of Awareness Through Movement offers a profound invitation into a radically new and non-objectified relationship with your own body-mind. It’s not only good for you but good for the world at large.

7. Befriend yourself and embody lovingkindness. Loving-kindness is a lovely ideal. It’s even more potent when it’s embodied. Poet David Whyte says “start close in.” What closer or truer place to start than your own body? In any moment, in this crazy world, one thing you DO have control over is the quality with which you move your own body, whether you’re reaching for the salt, carrying the groceries in from the car, or busting a move on the dance floor. You can treat your body like a workhorse or choose to act in a more sustainable manner – moving today in such a way you’ll feel good tomorrow and beyond. How hard you push, how much you’re willing to sacrifice your moment-to-moment bodily well being to accomplish an action is not only a reflection of your relationship with yourself, it’s a way to influence and improve it. Can I just say? Martyrdom is so not sexy. Embodied self-respect is. You can embody self-respect and lovingkindness in the way you move all day long. (See “less effort, more pleasure above!) Why not? You’re worth it. Feldenkrais can help you learn to do just this.

Hafiz says it so well:

I know the voice of depression

Still calls to you.

I know those habits that can ruin
your life

Still send their invitations.

But you are with the Friend now

And look so much stronger.

You can stay that way

And even bloom!

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun

From your prayers and work and music

And from your companions’ beautiful laughter.

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun

From the sacred hands and glance of your Beloved

And, my dear,

From the most insignificant movements

Of your own holy body.

Learn to recognize the counterfeit

That may buy you just a moment of pleasure,

But then drag you for days

Like a broken man

Behind a farting camel.

You are with the Friend now.

Learn what actions of yours delight Him,

What actions of yours bring freedom

And Love.

Whenever you say God’s name, dear

My ears wish my head was missing

So they could finally kiss each other

And applaud all your nourishing wisdom!

O keep squeezing drops of the Sun

From your prayers and work and music

And from your companions’ beautiful laughter

And from the most insignificant movements

Of your own holy body.

Now, sweet one, be wise.

Cast all your votes for Dancing!

With love,
(and to be continued!)

Learn more about our home study program “Fifteen Fantastic Feldy Lessons” right here! 

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.