How the Feldenkrais Method and Somatic Education Create Possibility

by | Jun 12, 2018 | Integral Human Gait, Somatics

Moshe Feldenkrais once said, “If you don’t know what you are doing, you can’t do what you want.” Perhaps no other phrase so captures the challenges that the Feldenkrais Method and Somatic Education, such as Integral Human Gait™, help students overcome. Phrased differently, it might read, “If you don’t know your options, how can you know you’ve chosen well?” To put this in more concrete terms, let’s consider something that seems simple but that is actually quite complex—walking.

One foot in front of the other, over and over from point A to point B. That’s all that walking is, right? Yes and no.

Like a book is just a series of chapters, one after the other, so too walking is just one foot in front of the other. But that is obviously an oversimplification. A chapter is composed of paragraphs. These paragraphs function together to create meaning, tone, plot, setting, character, dialogue, etc. Broken down even further, paragraphs depend on smaller packets of information—sentences and words—to pull off their intended effects. When all these elements and structures combine in just the right way, we get Jack Kerouac’s On the Road or Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha or Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

The same goes for walking. In fact, the same can be said of every movement you make. You are a book and each move you make contains intention and meaning and ramifications for your body and thoughts.

Somatic Education and the Feldenkrais Method in Action

As a Feldenkrais Method Practitioner, I have learned to sense the patterns of the relationships of the body. When working with clients, I think in these patterns to find inefficiencies and bring that awareness to the fore. To do this, I have to set up movement experiences for my clients so that they can feel the intrinsic connectedness of movement.

Let’s take a look at an example.

I recently had a 72-year-old client come in with chronic knee pain from a degenerative bone-on-bone condition. The pain was limiting her ability to stand up from a sitting position, especially from soft or low surfaces. More and more, she had to rely on her husband or daughter to help her stand. She chose to forego total knee replacements (who can blame her?), and she didn’t want to resort to any sort of mechanical assistance, such as a lift-chair.

I approached her in my private waiting room where she sat in a comfortable but soft chair. Since she could not get out of the chair without straining and risking injury, I chose to do some exercises with her right there. Instead of asking her to try to get out of the chair, I had her focus on how she was sitting—most of her body weight was on her left sit-bone, she told me. After I asked her to shift her weight even farther onto her left side, she realized that she couldn’t without leaning her torso to the left and pressing her left forearm into the armrest while pushing with her right arm from the opposite side. I watched her face begin to understand how much she was struggling to perform a simple movement.

The Learning Process

I asked her to imagine that I needed to place my hand under her right sit-bone, and she intuitively tilted her right pelvis upward. She began exploring her pelvis’s range of motion for a few minutes, after which I told her to visualize her pelvis as a “very full pitcher of sand.” She was to repeat the lifting motion on each side of her pelvis to try to dump out as much sand as she could. As she performed these movements, I suggested that her pelvis what becoming lighter and lighter. Once she started to feel the lightness, I instructed her to “walk” her sit-bones forward then backward in the seat. I could tell that she was growing aware of the relationship of her thighs, feet, and the stacking of her torso with the surface of the chair as she moved with more and more ease. Her body was self-organizing to compensate for the shifting center of gravity.

When she arrived at the front edge of the seat a final time, I told her to imagine that it was possible to come to a standing position without lifting herself with her arms. I told her to pour the rest of the sand from her pelvis pitcher onto the ground between her feet. As she did this, she could feel her pelvis lift effortlessly from the seat. She stood up.

By involving my client in the self-learning process, I gave her a chance to differentiate when she was actively sensing movement and when such movement required effort. It is possible that the chronic posture she had been holding while sitting, down and to the left, had contributed to the degenerative condition of her knee joints, but as she left that day, I saw possibility open up before her. She had begun writing a new draft of a chapter with those first movements thanks to Somatic Education and the Feldenkrais Method.