Feldenkrais Method® and Exercise: do they go together? Yes!

Is Feldenkrais exercise?

One of the questions asked from time to time is, “How is Feldenkrais different from exercise/yoga/pilates?” So let’s take a more indepth look at how the Feldenkrais Method and exercise work together. Is the Feldenkrais Method exercise, true or false? Well, depending on your perspective, the answer for this one can be true OR false. Let me explain. It’s ‘false’, in so much as the intention of Feldenkrais isn’t to give you a killer workout – at least not in the way we commonly think of it. On the other hand, it’s ‘true’ in that Feldenkrais ‘exercises’ (known as Awareness Through Movement®, or ATM lessons) do provide a graded, progressive experience in which the person is challenged to adapt to circumstances. And yet the movement directions given in each lesson focus on small and slow, on repetition for the sake of learning how we move, not to build strength.

Why gentle and slow?
The lessons are done gently for two reasons. The first reason is familiar to anyone who has used a cheap mobile phone. Excessive and incorrect effort causes ‘noise’. Noise scrambles the message. The end result is frustration instead of clarity. The second reason is – if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Simple, right? Yet we all sometimes insist on banging our heads against a brick wall In other words, the slow, gentle pace gives folks a chance to explore and become aware of alternatives that would not have otherwise occurred to them. After all, if you want different results, you have to act differently.

What are the possible results?
The outcome of regular practice of Feldenkrais Method Awareness Through Movement® lessons can be more power, grace and fluidity. So, how is this paradox explained? At it’s simplest, Feldenkrais is about adapting to the environment in such a way as to increase your ability to ‘hang out’ in challenging circumstances. Adapting to challenge can bring a wide variety of results for a variety of different individuals. For example, a person who has poor balance may be challenged to find a way to progress from a rigid, protective stability (which could include bracing, limping, guarding or pain) to graceful and dynamic motion. For someone with body image issues, this could mean getting to progressively develop trust in their own physical abilities which may result in knowing and caring more about themselves. For an athlete, this could mean finding a way to perform better and get the edge on the competition without wrecking themselves. In each of these three examples, the individual develops more ability or the kind of results we associate with exercise by engaging with and exploring an ongoing variety of novel movement experiments that are the Feldenkrais Method. 

Perceptions of the Feldenkrais Method
Some people suggest that the Feldenkrais Method is gentle, easy and….boring? These suggestions are false all around. While Feldenkrais has a reputation for being gentle, it’s in no way unlively. And although ease in movement is the goal to guide the action, the movement lessons are challenging. Bear in mind that Moshe’ Feldenkrais, the originator of the Feldenkrais Method was a judoka, soccer enthusiast, engineer and soldier. This was not a man who could be considered a ‘hothouse flower’, in fear of breaking a sweat. Feldenkrais, the man, was a do-er, and his Method reflects that.

A tradition of action and intellect
Does this mean that the Feldenkrais Method teaches folks to be limp noodles? Hardly. Recall that Feldenkrais himself came from a tradition of action and intellect. Feldenkrais created many ATM lessons that are powerful, potent and acrobatic. These lessons require just as much concentration and movement as sport – but they are performed in such a way as to promote ability and self development. Is the Method boring? Well, that depends. Do you find yourself, and how you interact with the world and your life boring? I sure hope not! If you can be interested in how you move and open to the challenges, opportunities and learning inherent in committed practice of the Feldenkrais ATM lessons, you may discover an activity that supports other activities in your life.

So what do I do?
So, do I exercise or do Feldenkrais? I do both! Doing Feldenkrais lessons will enrich your experience and ability and give you new insight into whatever exercise you love to do. Want to run faster? Lift more? Improve your golf, tennis or swimming? The answer may very well be Feldenkrais.