Roll into Ease

Have you ever exercised with a foam roller? If so, was it recommended to you as part of your rehabilitation from an injury or as a strategy to help you manage chronic pain? How did it feel when you did it?

“Foam rollers are everywhere in fitness facilities, physical therapy offices, and in personal training settings as a method for ‘stretching' the iliotibial (IT) band and other body structures,” says Becky Behling, a Feldenkrais® practitioner who has been involved in fitness and athletic training since the early 1970s. She adds, “Many people, however, don't understand what they are doing or why, only that the process is painful. Although many people say they experience relief after rolling, it is usually temporary.”
But it doesn't have to be this way, Becky says, and she plans to prove it at the conference of the Feldenkrais Guild® of North America, to be held July 8-10 in Asheville, NC. Her workshop, “A Feldenkrais Spin on Foam Rolling,” will be open to the public, as well as to Feldenkrais and other somatic practitioners.
Feldenkrais practitioners who attend will walk out with a proposal that they can bring to fitness facilities for a 45-60 minute foam roller class based on the Feldenkrais Method. Everyone will take away many new ways to use their foam rollers.
Your conference workshop draws a direct connection between the Feldenkrais Method and a currently popular fitness trend, exercising with foam rollers.  How did you first make this connection for yourself and why do you think it is important?

Although little research has been done on foam roller use, applying Feldenkrais principles to foam rolling may enhance outcomes for anyone.  People with pain from exercising or injuries are often told that the foam roller will solve their problems. They are told they can use it for self-massage to stretch tissues, release trigger points, and change fascia. They think they are getting a benefit by creating more pain. Sometimes foam roller use causes bruising, an indicator of tissue trauma. It's one of the reasons why I treasure the Feldenkrais Method, because change happens so quickly – without pain!
I teach at a fitness-oriented resort that likes to offer cutting edge classes to its guests. I was brainstorming with my supervisor about new classes. Since most foam rolling is done with a hard roller. I suggested trying a Feldenkrais approach using a soft roller. The guests' responses have been overwhelmingly positive. 
I have also been teaching a three hour “pain free foam rolling” workshop in the University of Texas Informal Classes. To demonstrate how quickly Feldenkrais Method can induce change, I tape a piece of typing paper on the wall to measure people's height at the beginning and end of class.  Some people would see a change of as much as inch and a half! Of course, it wasn't always that dramatic, but most people would have an improvement in their height, and they found it almost unbelievable. People are thrilled to find out that just lying on the roller for three minutes and focusing on breathing can produce profound changes, such as better expansion in the rib cage and improved mobility of the shoulder blades. A woman being treated for a frozen shoulder told me, “This has alleviated the problem more than anything else I have done.”

Before becoming a Feldenkrais practitioner, you already had extensive training, certifications and teaching experience as a fitness professional. What changed for you when you discovered the Feldenkrais Method?
I began studying physical education in 1972 and partially dislocated my left patella in a golf class. I had to wear a cylinder cast hip-to-heel for five weeks. I didn't have any rehabilitation after the cast came off and the only person who knew what had happened and how to help was the university's athletic trainer. I was fascinated by what he knew and subsequently wanted to study athletic training. I had to petition to take the class because, in the era before Title IX, it was closed to women. As part of the course requirements developed for me, I became the first athletic trainer for the women's field hockey team. Following graduation, I went to the University of Arizona for a masters degree in athletic training, one of the only two graduate level programs admitting women. Two years later, I passed the National Athletic Trainers Association exam at a time when the group had certified fewer than eighty women.
After our daughter went to college, I went back to school to start a PhD in kinesiology. By then, I had been teaching group exercise classes for fifteen years as well as training new group exercise instructors and personal trainers. Around this time I was invited to a weekend Feldenkrais retreat.  In my first ATM lesson, I noticed immense changes in my spine and was astonished at how slyly and quickly change had occurred. In spite of the many years of studying movement, I knew nothing about this Method or the man who developed it. I hoped to investigate non-traditional approaches to physical activity for older adults, including the Feldenkrais Method.
In school, my most challenging courses were motor development and motor learning. I was puzzled by the theories presented, which were incomplete representations of human movement potential. They were often based on the idea that our nervous systems are hardwired with pre-programmed movement options that the brain selects from.
It was reading about Esther Thelen's work in
dynamic systems theory that brought me the “ah, ha!” moment. In her exquisite research with infants, she proposed that movement patterns are not fixed. Instead, she said, “Movement patterns are softly evolving and dissolving.” It is this principle of “self-organization” that made sense to me, although many questions about human development remain. It is no surprise that her exceptional work continued to be affirmed and informed by her own experience with Feldenkrais Method as a practitioner.

Only now are we finally beginning to understand through neuroscience what Moshe tapped in his work: the incredibly complex ways in which the brain senses, feels, thinks, and acts.

How do you feel about the idea that the Feldenkrais Method is approaching a “tipping point” where its benefits could become more widely recognized by the general public?

“The Tipping Point” is a perfect theme for this year's conference. The American population keeps getting pounded on the need for preventing disease through regular physical activity. Unfortunately, less than 25% of the US adult population exercises enough to attain benefits - and many don't exercise at all! This is especially true with people age sixty and older, the fastest growing segment of the population. Many chronic diseases and disabilities are sedentary-induced. It's a costly lifestyle choice that diminishes health and quality of life. Nursing home care is very expensive. So, if we can use the Feldenkrais Method to help people to access a more active lifestyle...yay for us! 
Several years ago, the ACSM came out with the position statement that “exercise is medicine” and urged doctors to talk to their patients about how to become more physically active. Although more physicians are themselves becoming more active, they often don't know how to specifically counsel their patients. And many people are afraid to go to gyms because they know friends that have been injured. I always tell people they should be more fearful of what will happen if they don't move!  The Feldenkrais Method can help them restore their confidence in movement.
The value for older adults who regularly do Feldenkrais lessons is the potential to  become more comfortable in their bodies so they can learn to attend to internal signals and cues. We know active aging keeps people living independently in their communities a lot longer. Lessons can improve motor skills, reduce pain, and enhance cognition, all which affect every aspects of life. When people are able to maintain the functional activities of daily living such as housekeeping and social interactions, they can grow old with dignity. A student in her late sixties, who has come for lessons for several years since a stroke, told me, “You saved my life!”

Find out more about Becky's workshop!

Seth Dellinger is a certifiied Awareness Through Movement® teacher, a 4th-year student in the Feldenkrais Training Program of Baltimore with David Zemach-Bersin, central organizer of the DC Feldenkrais Festival, and writes a regular blog at