Constructive Disobedience: The Feldenkrais Method in the Yoga Classroom
Thursday, October 13, 2016
by: Sheri Cohen, GCFP

Section: Professional Develpment





There is a delicate duet we dance in the yoga classroom. How do I, as a teacher, lead without stepping on my partner’s (my students’) feet? If it is my goal—and it is—to encourage my students’ personal development along their own path, how do I achieve that during drop-in classes at an urban yoga studio? How do I provide for each individual’s unique process—their unique sense of time, learning styles, interests, and all the things they brings into the classroom of which I have no knowledge? In the authoritarian teaching model we have inherited, (and which serves a purpose; it is orderly and serves many at a time), how do I acknowledge each student’s autonomy? Their precious selfhood?


Our material is not movement, but one’s experience of the self in movement. How do I help my students move through the movement material I offer them to that deeper place of self-inquiry? How do I help them experience themselves inside the movements, and experience the movements as their own? The Feldenkrais Method of somatic education
 has given me many tools to work with, but the yoga classroom is not a Feldenkrais classroom. While the two share some goals—like yoga, the Feldenkrais Method is an awareness practice in which we come closer to knowing our true selves through self-observation and refinement in movement—there are some distinct differences.


Students coming to yoga expect to move, stretch, and experience some intensity of sensation. In the Feldenkrais Method, we move small and slow, to experience the subtler sensations. Many yoga students prefer to use their eyes for learning movement, watching a teacher at the front of the room lead them through the yoga poses. With the Feldenkrais Method, instructions are verbal, not visual. In yoga, we ask the teacher to carry us along energetically through a series of challenging poses, and to pace our movements like a choreographer or a DJ. In the Feldenkrais Method, students move at their own pace, doing as much or as little as they choose and resting when they want. Excluding gentle and restorative classes, yoga classes are generally expected to be challenging, delivering us beyond our limitations. Feldenkrais classes cultivate effortlessness in movement. These are generalizations, and many yoga classes share Feldenkraisian qualities, but I believe my description above holds truth.


I have taken it as my challenge to use some of my Feldenkrais tools in the yoga classroom. My goal is to “walk the walk” better. If I really am interested in cultivating an environment in which one’s learning path is not the same as the path of the student on the neighboring mat, I need to accomplish this however I can. For a while, I stumbled around applying the wrong tools at awkward times for reasons of which I was unclear. Now, I am beginning to find adaptations and creative solutions that honor the positive qualities of the yoga classroom and serve the students I have before me. One example follows.


Recently, during several months of weekly yoga classes, we have practiced constructive disobedience. In constructive disobedience, students stay present with what is happening in class, and are told to take the instructions of the teacher as invitations, not commands, so that there is space for individuals to make choices. Another way of saying this is, “I am the queen/king of my kingdom.” or “I am the lord of my dominion.”


I begin class by enunciating our constructive disobedience practice clearly, making eye contact with my students, and pointing to a little poster I taped above the alter where the words are written, “I am the queen/king of my domain.” (I mean business!) I talk about how I can’t know their experience. Although I’m well trained and intuitive, I am not them. Only they know what is happening inside. I tell them to practice being constructively disobedient, even if that means doing something different than what everyone else is doing in class. When they need to rest, they can rest in child’s pose, in standing, or in any other comfortable position. They can kick back and lie over bolsters for the remainder of class if they want to. “You are the lord of your dominion.” If they need to adjust a pose to make it more comfortable, they are free to do so. If they need some ideas about how to adjust, they can look around the room and see what others are doing. They can call out and ask for help from me. I tell them to make the class work for them.


In order to prepare for this practice, our first movements are “choice time.” After we sit and focus our attention, I ask the students to lie on their backs, and take the next two minutes (or some clear measure of time) to move in any way they wish. I encourage them to ask, “What does my body want right now?” This begins class with deep listening—asking a question, and listening for a response in the form of sensation, desire, image, or impulse. I sometimes make suggestions if people look lost: “Maybe there’s some part you want to stretch, or maybe it would feel good to roll side to side. Some of you may want to just rest on your backs and listen to your breath.” This is a very small gesture toward self-governance, but it is a very long two minutes for some. Many welcome it, while others anxiously wonder what to do. All are meeting themselves in the process.


During our asana (yoga poses) practice, I offer choices as often as I can without making the instructions so muddy that students get lost. I take time for this; my class doesn’t flow in one rhythm from beginning to end. We often stop to sense ourselves. During rests and during movements, I refer regularly to the students’ experiences, “What do you sense?” “Do you notice a difference?” “Observe your breath.” “Observe the pressure of your feet in the floor.” “Sense your bones.” “Follow the pathway of… (your right foot, your tail bone, the back of your heart).” All of these cues encourage deep listening. When I see my students pushing too hard, I don’t say, “Don’t push,” as often as I used to. Instead I ask, “Is it enough?” “When are you done?” “What’s the just right amount of effort for you right now?” I ask them to take responsibility for their own experience. I lead them through movements, rests, observations and partnering. There is a give and take between us. As in a truly great duet, the dance emerges in the middle space between leader and follower.


Constructive disobedience is the ground on which all my classes stand. My students often need gentle reminders to do less following and more self-inquiry. When I make that reminder, there is always the sense of a deep sigh in the room. The bodies get a little heavier, the feeling-tone gets lighter, and activities diversify. Ironically, there is a greater sense of shared experience in the room when this happens. We are all on our own individual paths—together.



Sheri Cohen is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm, dancer and yoga instructor in Seattle, WA. For more about Sheri, please go to
www.SheriCohenMovement.com.
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Comments (2)
Moti Nativ
10/30/2016 2:08:29 AM
Sorry, I found a mistake in my translation of Moshe's writing. Here is a corrected comment.
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais was a Yoga master.
In 1958, when a Yoga book was translated and published in Hebrew, for the first time, it was Dr. Feldenkrais that wrote a foreword for this book.
In his foreword Moshe also criticized the author. Among other things he wrote:
“The essence if so is to learn the “how” and not the “what” to do. So, the essence is to learn how to practice in Yoga, and not this exercise or another is important. ..As a first book in Hebrew language, I would want a book more loyal to the Indian origin.” (Moti’s translation to English).
In January 1960, when an Indian Yogi visited Israel and lectured in a Theater in Tel Aviv, it was Dr. Feldenkrais that was on stage to introduce Yoga before the lecture.

While Dr. Feldenkrais developed the FM he integrated Yoga into it. I would say that he took from Yoga some principles and ideas, and some techniques that he “converted” to fit the learning according to Moshe’s way.


Marg Bartosek
10/21/2016 1:06:55 PM
Love the title! Thanks too for the questions: is it enough? etc. Will be nice additions to my ATM classes.


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