photo by Consuelo Castro
unpolished thoughts 3/25/2019
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to teach two workshops at a local yoga studio. In the first workshop, I presented a full-length Awareness Through Movement lesson to a group that was mostly new to the Feldenkrais Method.
That’s always an enjoyable experience because I get to return to my own first experiences with this practice. I love to see others experience that same surprise and delight when they feel so much better in such a short time, by doing so little.
However, the second workshop was even more fascinating to me because it took me a little out of my comfort zone. After hosting me for a previous workshop, Sharon Neubauer, the director of Opus Yoga, requested that this time around I offer something more specifically tailored to improving yoga asanas.
Because I’m not a yoga teacher myself, I teamed up with Margarita Castro, who is reintroducing me to asana practice after many years of hiatus. I knew I could count on Margarita to help me deconstruct yoga poses and find ways to improve them, so that wasn’t the main challenge for me about the workshop.
The biggest question was how to adapt my pacing.
In the land of Feldenkrais, a movement like Downward Dog (or Adho Mukha Svanasana, if you prefer) provides more than enough to material to study for an entire hour-long class. In fact, I can easily think of a dozen full-length Awareness Through Movement lessons that could be directly applied to this pose.
But how many asanas are explored in one typical yoga class? Depends on the teacher, of course, but I think it’s safe to say a dozen or more – would you agree?
Margarita and I only chose to focus on three asanas in this 2-hour workshop – Mountain pose (Tadasana) and Tree pose (Vriksasana) in addition to Downward Dog.
We knew that we had to greatly reduce the number of poses from a typical yoga class if we could hope to preserve the basic learning strategy of the Feldenkrais Method: to move slower and smaller with more attention and less effort than what we typically do.
Still, we wanted to use those three asanas to demonstrate something more general about Feldenkrais practice that could be applied by workshop participants to any asana the next time they go to a yoga class.
The way we did this was to focus on the principles of ideal movement that can be clarified with such precision through the Feldenkrais Method.
They aren’t necessarily ideas that would astound any experienced yogi, but what did surprise the workshop participants was how much their experience of the asanas could change by spending a few minutes using Feldenkrais to zero in on these essential elements.
Some of the key questions we looked at during the workshop that made a remarkable before/after difference in every asana we explored were the following:
- Are you able to maintain maximum length in your spine?
- Do you have a clear connection to the surfaces that support your body with the ability to clearly send ground forces upward through the middle of every bone and joint – all the way up and through the top of your head?
- Could you easily maintain your breath and balance in this asana while freely moving your head and eyes to observe any point in your surrounding environment?
During the workshop, we bounced between exploring these asanas and playing with snippets of Awareness Through Movement lessons. The Feldenkrais material was designed to clarify these principles in shapes that would remind the body of the yoga postures without being exactly the same.
When they returned to their asanas, the yogis had a sharper kinesthetic sense in the parts of their bodies that were key to the expression of those same principles in the context of yoga.
A key strategy we also used throughout was to provide much more time for self-observation than what would be typical in a yoga class.
Because every one of us carries unique asymmetries in our bodies – whether because of our daily habits, old injuries, or any number of other reasons – it’s useful to notice what those patterns are before we ask our body to mold itself into one very specific shape.
Because if you and I do the same asana, we might look the same when we do it- but if you tend to be a little turned to the right in your everyday posture and I tend to be tilted a little bit to the left – our journey to find the posture is going to move through two very different trajectories.
Several of the yogis in the workshop also remarked on discoveries they made about their own movement patterns that they had never previously noticed. They now have a new way to understand each posture they practice as a dance with their habitual patterns.
A couple of comments afterwards show how effective Feldenkrais strategies can be for improving a yoga practice.
One experienced yogini said yesterday that her balance and ability to breathe in tree pose had not felt so clear for over two years, tracing back to injuries she suffered in a car accident.
A yoga teacher at the workshop said that she has come to expect tension in her hamstring attachments when she goes into Downward Dog, but that it simply wasn’t there this time. She said that discovering Feldenkrais had made her realize how “forceful” her yoga practice was and had made her see that actually, there might a different, easier way.
This morning, an online conversation with an overseas client underlined for me one more very important lesson coming out of this workshop.
Like the yogis at this workshop, Feldenkrais is not her primary movement practice, but the more she engages with it, the more she finds increased clarity and connection with herself every time she moves.
Today, she talked about her growing realization that Feldenkrais offers an entire universe for self-discovery. She said that while she had previously thought of it as a supplement to her other movement work, now she sees that Feldenkrais can be an entire practice on its own.
She’s right – but what I’ve realized is necessary to emphasize is that, like any practice, you can choose your own level of engagement with Feldenkrais.
If you already have a movement practice that is important to you, the discovery of Feldenkrais Method might lead to a new appraisal of how you approach that practice, but it doesn’t have to supplant it.
Margarita, for example, is primarily a yogi, but has found immense value in exploring Feldenkrais work.
As she said at yesterday’s workshop, “Feldenkrais helped me fall in love with my yoga practice again.”
In my case, after not having attended a yoga class for years, I am beginning to explore asanas again – with a much clearer idea of what I’m doing and how to improve than the last time around.
The completely different context that comes with practicing yoga challenges me to deepen my understanding of the movement principles I have previously studied through the lens of the Feldenkrais Method.
I personally love to use the Feldenkrais Method to “dive deep” – to slow down and discover the infinite world of detail in each and every movement we make.
But the fact is, just by dipping your toes in Feldenkrais waters, like the crowd at Opus Yoga yesterday, you can dramatically refresh your experience of whatever activity in life you find to be the most satisfying place to spend your energy.
Some people want “more action” than might typically be found in a Feldenkrais class where movements are usually slow, small, and explored at length. But it’s worth keeping in mind that all this “subtle” stuff makes a not-so-subtle difference when you return to high-energy activities.
So you decide: dive deep or dive shallow to begin with. Then, over time, you can decide where Feldenkrais logically fits it into the overall balance of what you do.
But whatever you decide, just know that if you practice strategically – using Feldenkrais Method to focus on the principles of ideal movement that are essential in any context whatsoever – every time you engage you can expect to gain in clarity and discover how to do more of what you wish with less effort.
Feldenkrais himself put it this way:
“When you give the body one taste, you learn it better than with a thousand explanations.”
Would you like a very quick “taste” of Feldenkrais that could change the feeling of your shoulders in Downward Dog? Check out this one-minute video. [for best results: read the caption!]
Would you like to understand your personal movement patterns better by exploring how they show up in Downward Dog? Check out this seven-minute video.
Want to try to a full-length Awareness Through Movement lesson that could dramatically shift your ability to lift your pelvis up into Bridge pose? Check out this video.
Want to really “dive deep”?!
That’s what my 2019 online program ¡Reimagine Yourself! is all about:
How to make your movement practice into a vehicle for rewriting the story of how you move through the world.
Module 1, “Tapping Deep Body Wisdom” starts today Monday, March 25.
(But if you don’t make the first class, you will still get the recording and can easily catch up!)
To learn more about ¡Reimagine Yourself!, click here
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