Avoiding Balance Pitfalls with Grace: An Introduction to the Feldenkrais® Method
Summary of a public talk given at a BC Balance and Dizziness Disorders Society (BADD) meeting at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on November 20, 2014.
Speaker: Vita Kolodny, RN, MSc(A), Guild Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner and Director: Feldenkrais® Centre Vancouver. Vita is an independent training and coaching professional and nurse with expertise in geriatrics. She works as a Community Health Intake Nurse at Vancouver Coastal Health, Feldenkrais® Practitioner at Feldenkrais® Centre Vancouver, and Adjunct Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Vita has led workshops at the Feldenkrais® Centre Vancouver for over ten years. She teaches people how to move with awareness through exploring slow movements done with attention.
The Feldenkrais® Method is a movement system that is learned through awareness. It enables one to move with ease and grace. Feldenkrais® isn’t a therapy; no diagnosis or treatment is involved. As Vita said, “I can’t fix anybody, but I can help them to learn to do things differently.”
Feldenkrais® combines mindfulness with body mechanics and brain plasticity to access all potentials in our lives. Its founder, Moshe Feldenkrais, said, “What I’m after are flexible brains, not flexible bodies.” Practitioners teach people who have pain or other difficulties that affect their ability to move with comfort and ease how to learn to do things differently.
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais was an Israeli engineer who was born in the Ukraine in 1904. After suffering a serious knee injury playing soccer in 1929, he declined surgery and developed a successful method to treat himself. He used the principles from his engineering training and he observed the children in his wife’s pediatric practice. Children aren’t taught how to move, they very gradually develop movement habits through trial and error.
Feldenkrais was a contemporary of Freud and Erikson; he set out to change behaviour through movement. His system is predicated on the idea that everything we do has four components: thinking, sensing, feeling, and movement. Vita said, “In every interaction I have, I can use all four realms, so I’m really looking at how I might change everything when I’m changing habits.”
Feldenkrais® can help you avoid balance pitfalls with grace in three different ways:
- First, by paying attention – when you pay attention to what you’re doing, you can do what you want.
- Second, by doing small movements – slow and subtle movements lead to profound changes.
- Third, by challenging your brain to develop new patterns and habits – for example, if you’re right-handed, try to brush your teeth for just a few strokes with your left hand.
These three strategies can challenge your brain to learn new patterns and new habits. And it’s really habits that we’re trying to change. We can change our habits throughout our whole lives, even as we age. As Vita said, “Sometimes it’s our willingness to change, not our age, that’s the issue.”
One of the pieces of the Feldenkrais® Method is awareness through movement. Vita had members do a short awareness-through-movement sequence in sitting.
First, she laid out a few ground rules:
- Less is more: keep movements small and slow.
- Working through pain is not learning – if you aggravate an injury you can’t learn anything.
- Pay attention to your breathing – you can’t do anything easily if you’re holding your breath.
- Take small rests – resting lets your brain assimilate information.
- Pay attention to your whole self while doing something.
Saying, “Let’s be curious and have some fun,” Vita led the group through a head-turning sequence. At first, most of us just used our neck to turn our head. In a short time we learned how to use more of ourselves, including our pelvis and knee, to greatly increase our range and ease of head-turning. When we broke down the movement components to use our head, eyes, shoulders, and pelvis, our brains said, “Oh yeah, I can include more of myself when I do this!” And that’s the Feldenkrais® message: you can include more of yourself in all that you do.