Feldenkrais Method + Yoga= a win for students!
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
by: Barbara Anderson, GCFP

Section: Professional Develpment

The Feldenkrais Method® and hatha yoga are an excellent marriage. By bringing them together the student wins.

The ancient practice of yoga is very much present in the United States. Twenty-five years ago, I was one of a handful of yoga teachers in all of Kansas City. Now there are at least eight yoga studios within a four-mile radius of my studio. This interest in yoga is a testament to how much people want to move and feel better.

If you haven’t taken a yoga class yet, you should. However, beware. There are as many styles and approaches to teaching yoga as there are yoga teachers.
 A teacher might focus on athletic strength, details of placement, or restorative poses. If you aren’t ready for headstands or backbends, look for an awareness based yoga class.

When I’m teaching yoga, my intention is the same as when I’m teaching an Awareness Through Movement® class: I want to offer people a fuller and clearer connection to their bodies. In both cases, I’m using movement to create awareness, and awareness to facilitate choice. Yoga poses, which are called asanas, have the potential to be done with fluidity and ease from the get go. As Feldenkrais® practitioners, we have the tools for taking the struggle out of the poses.

In my yoga classes, we begin with 15 to 30 minutes of slow movements, usually while lying down, and always done with the instruction to focus one’s attention inward and feel the body in movement. Students are asked to make the movements lighter and softer and slower in order to really feel what is happening. Do LESS- LESS being an acronym for LIGHT, EASY, SOFT, SLOW, SMALL, and SMOOTH. Sound familiar? We begin class by creating an environment for discovery and awareness.

For example, if I’m teaching a pose that involves full spinal extension such as
 Urdhva Dhanurasana or back bend, early floor work involves either movement of the thoracic area, range of motion of the shoulder girdle, or spinal awareness. I incorporate parts of an 
ATM® lesson that will assist the student in feeling the area of the body we’ll be focusing. 
Of course, the particular movement is secondary to the awareness the student brings to it. The “what” that is being done is secondary to the “how” it is being done. Awareness first!

We usually begin class with a simple twisting action.
After lying on the back to check in with the body and breath, students bend their knees and place the feet about shoulder’s width a part with the arms open directly to the side from the shoulders. As they sink their knees slowly side to side, they are told to follow the feeling of how the twisting action moves in the body: feet, sacrum, pelvis, ribs, shoulder girdle. At some point, they begin allowing the head to move in the opposite direction.

Using the Feldenkrais concept of minimal effort, students are instructed to imagine their back arm long and feel the connection of the arm to the shoulder girdle and the torso. Since the movements are done slowly and softly with attention inward, in just a few minutes their chest and arms are ready for the full extension of standing poses such as Trikonasana/Triangle pose or the Warrior poses. Additionally, the spine and the nervous system are prepared for twisting poses such as Parivrtta Parsvakonasana/Revolved Side Angle pose.

Here’s what a couple of students say about this beginning “body/mind” warm up part of class.

“I love the first part of class; twisting, flexing, and moving with gravity. Paying attention. It gets me back into my body and I’m ready to go.”

“I look for that moment when I feel my shoulders let go into the floor. Then I’m ready for the rest of class.”
Below you see a progression that takes the student from the Feldenkrais lesson “5 Points” to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana/Updog and finally into a full backbend//Urdhva Dhanurasasna.

Since students come to class 1-5 times per week and often for years, I trust that the experience of ease will become firmly grounded in their nervous system. Once the students have developed a vocabulary of sensory experiences, they begin to teach themselves to self-correct.

Eureka! My job becomes easier. I don’t have to work so hard and the students are improving and growing and can relate the feelings of balance, openness, and strength to everyday life.

Just a word on stretching.
There is a concept that yoga is stretching but as Feldenkrais practitioners, we can see an asana as a particular function that involves sensory motor learning. I try not to use the word stretch at all. Stretching may apply to fascia, but I doubt muscles really stretch or that an asana is ever about elongating one muscle. The Feldenkrais Method brings a much-needed functional point of view to yoga.

Many of Moshe’s classes from the Alexander Yanai lessons are based on Yoga poses:
  • #37 Sliding Along the Length of the Leg (teaches ease in flexion)

  • #96 Sinking the spine between the Shoulder Blades (a great prep for cat pose and Bhujangasana/Cobra)
  • #134 Rolling into a bridge with the hands on the ankles (I am just beginning to work with this lesson to facilitate back bending poses such as Ustrasanana/camel pose and Dhanurasana/Bow pose.)

  • #71 & #72 Preparation for headstand
#9 & #11 Preparation for shoulder stand
  • #124 Working with the dominant hand
If you are teaching a restorative yoga class, this lesson is the perfect way to end the class. It is deeply relaxing.

You get the idea. Function is function and Moshe left us a legacy on how to improve function.

Each Awareness Through Movement lesson is a gem for teaching ease in function. People wanting to do yoga are the very people who are open to sensory connection and awareness.
The applications of the Feldenkrais Method are immense, useful, and marketable. Use your skills at every opportunity.

Barbara Anderson, GCFP, owner and director of Body and Soul of Kansas City, has been teaching people to move better since 1975. Her credentials include an MA in Dance from George Washington University, Yoga Alliance teacher certification, Stott Pilates training, Certified Sounder Sleep Instructor, and 
Licensed Massage Therapist.
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