One of the things we think we know best is our pain. The American Chiropractic Association reports that 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time. And yet, our sensation of pain dulls all of our other sensations. We go on “auto-pilot,” go-go-go, trying to ignore or conquer ourselves — and then wonder why we feel worse instead of better.
Here’s an interesting idea — what if your current discomfort is something that you are experiencing right now, rather than something that you “have?” Ever notice that when you try to “get rid of something,” it just sticks to you like velcro? The Feldenkrais Method uses your ability to learn and pay attention to yourself as you do slow, subtle movements. You always have the power to change the quality of your experience.
If you have low-back pain, try these gentle movements from the Feldenkrais Method. Each one takes less than five minutes — but the “catch” is — you have to pay attention. Do one, or two, and save the rest for later.
Guidelines: resist the urge to “exercise,” at least for this moment.
Go gently and easily, don’t push into or through a painful range. The Method uses these gentle movements as a way to improve the communication and connection between your brain and your body. The best way to get your brain to stop sending a repetitive “pain message” is to help it learn what a “comfort message” FEELS like. You can’t do that if you keep pushing yourself into pain. SO here’s my list.
1. Tilting legs. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and soles of your feet in contact with the floor. Gently let your knees tilt a little bit to the left, and then smoothly move to tilt them to the right. Do this movement many times. Don’t go as far as you can — consciously AVOID a stretching sensation for right now. Just a few inches to either side is plenty. Make each repetition a little bit different — smoother, softer, easier, more comfortable. Try slowing down your breathing so that you are inhaling when you tilt your knees, and exhaling when you bring them back to the middle. Smooth, continuous movement is your intention. Feel yourself gently rolling over the back of your pelvis. Is it possible to pay attention to the parts of yourself that contact the floor as you roll? What parts of your back do not contact the floor? Could they? Go easily, and rest (STOP MOVING) after every few movements, whether you are tired or not.
VARIATION 1: try the movement a few times with your knees very close together. Try the movements with your knees comfortably apart. Which movement feels more comfortable?
VARIATION 2: Cross your right knee over the left. Re-position your foot on the floor if you need to so that you can be comfortable. Begin to tilt your knees slowly and easily to the right. Don’t go as far as you can. Pay attention to the way your left side peels up off of the floor, and then sticks back down. Make it feel good. Rest. Slowly stand up, walk around a little. How do you feel? Same or different? (Total time expenditure: 5 minutes or LESS.)
2. Pelvic tilt. This movement has been appropriated by other modalities as an “exercise” to strengthen or stretch something. In the Feldenkrais Method, our intention is simply to have you feel yourself as you do the movement. That. Is. All. You’ll find that is a lot! Lie on your back, with knees bent and soles of your feet in contact with the floor. Notice how closely your low back comes toward the floor. Can you flatten your low back into the floor a little bit? You’ll find that you roll on the back of your pelvis, along the bone called the sacrum — your back will come closer to the floor, or even press into it slightly — notice how your pelvis has rolled. Then, roll downward along your sacrum until you feel “neutral” again — your starting point. You can explore rolling your pelvis a bit farther in this direction so that your low back lifts up off of the floor a little bit. Only do this if it is comfortable. Don’t stretch or go to extremes. You are simply reminding your spine that it can change shape. The muscles will get the message and relax for you — no pounding, stretching, strengthening, or heroic intervention required! Slowly and easily stand up, walk around a bit. How do you feel? Same or different? (Total time expenditure: 5 minutes or LESS.)
3. Spine like a chain. This is kind of a continuation of #2. As you roll your pelvis so that your low back begins to flatten into the floor, keep going a little farther in that direction. You’ll feel your tailbone peek out into the room a little bit. Roll back down, take an easy breath, and then roll again, but a bit farther this time. Perhaps you can feel your sacrum is now angled relative to the floor, with the tailbone end clearly off of the floor! Roll back down, slowly and easily. Next roll — see how you might BEGIN to allow your pelvis to get lighter and begin to leave the floor. Your feet will feel heavier as they press into the floor to take the weight of your pelvis, and you will come to rest on a different vertebra each time you roll up. Roll back down, and continue with the idea that you simply lift one more vertebra each time. Don’t worry about doing this perfectly. Feel which vertebrae like to travel in groups. Feel where the movement is easy and distinct. Do not force anything to be anything other than the way you find it. Be gentle and curious with yourself. Only continue as long as this is interesting AND comfortable, then rest. Stand up, notice how you feel. Same or different? (Total time expenditure: 5 minutes or LESS.)
4. On all fours. Get on your hands and knees. See if you can have your arms at a right angle to the floor and a right angle to your torso. Protect your hands by resting on fists if you need to. See if your knees, likewise, can be directly below your hip joints, so that the angle of your thigh to your torso is as close to a right angle as you can get it and be comfortable. Let your belly loosen and hang down toward the floor. Did that change the shape of your back? Could it? Then, gently pull your belly in. Does your back round, like a cat’s, toward the ceiling? Could it? Let this be easy, and keep the movement small enough and gentle enough that you feel entirely comfortable the whole time. Just do a few movements, then rest, lying on your back once again. Walk around a bit. How do you feel? Same or different? (Total time expenditure: 5 minutes or LESS.)
5. Gekko. Lie on your front. (If you are not comfortable when you lie on your front, don’t do this movement.) Turn your face to the right. (If it’s more comfortable, turn your head the other way. Just adjust these instructions accordingly.) Rest your arms on the floor on either side of your head. Let your legs be long and extended, comfortably apart, with feet resting so that you can feel your toenails on the floor. Gently begin to turn your heels to the left, and then to the right, slowly rolling across the tops of your feet. Can you feel that your legs are rolling along their entire length as you do this? Just be easy, no speed or strength, no struggle. Notice that letting your heels turn from side to side also rolls your pelvis a bit, as you roll across your tummy from one hip-bone to the other. Then, keep rolling across your tummy to roll your pelvis, and see how your heels can follow. When your heels are pointing to the left and your right leg has rolled onto its inner edge, see how you can easily draw up your knee toward your abdomen. Then, easily let it straighten again. Do this several times, rest. See how this is on your other side. Be sure to turn your head so that you face in the opposite direction. Feel how your pelvis rolls across your tummy, and when you can easily drag the knee on that side toward your middle. Go very easily, and stop at the first sign of discomfort. You can either stop completely or do a smaller or slower movement next time. Roll onto your back and notice how you contact the floor now. Stand up easily, walk around a bit. How do you feel? Same or different? (Total time expenditure: 5 minutes or LESS.)
The effects are subtle. Be curious, and notice what you notice. If you were my client, coming to me with low back pain, I would start with these movements. I believe they will start you on a path out of pain.
MaryBeth Smith, GCFP, (Feldenkrais Center of Houston) has lived long enough to experience grief and loss. Recently, she actively used the Feldenkrais Method to navigate a complicated grief process. She is eager to share her story and to inspire others to find their own way of healing.