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Calling all Feldenkrais Practitioners: Learn how to Partner with Fitness Professionals

Valerie Grant is a Feldenkrais practitioner who brings decades of experience in the fitness industry to her teaching. Since completing her Feldenkrais training in 2011, Valerie has used her previously established connections and credentials to bring the Method to new audiences in gyms, clubs and fitness conferences around the world. Her own busy practice is a testament to her belief that learning to explain how the Feldenkrais Method can complement and enhance the work that athletic coaches and personal trainers do with their clients can open up significant opportunities to build and sustain a successful Feldenkrais practice.

Among the many presentations she has made to audiences of fitness professionals, Valerie has taught workshops at conferences of the Pilates Method Alliance, the SCW, DCAC, and the Asian Fitness Conference and teaches next month at IDEA World. At every event, she offers participants a direct experience with Awareness Through Movement lessons and always concludes by sharing the contact information of local Feldenkrais Practitioners. 

Valerie strongly believes that other practitioners could have similar successes to hers. Her workshop at this year's conference of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America, is intended to provide participants with the necessary tools to help capture the attention of fitness professionals who can open many doors to them and their clients.

Why do you place so much importance on presenting the Feldenkrais Method to fitness professionals? In your experience, what are some of the key points to keep in mind when speaking to these audiences?

Fitness professionals already have an established base of clients, so partnering with them creates a “foot in the door” to expand your practice. Not enough Feldenkrais practioners know how to speak to fitness people. Sometimes we think we're “above” fitness trainers - and this is not attractive! We should be thinking about how to attract, not how to promote. It's a beautiful thing when someone gives you something without the need for remuneration.

When I found the Method in 2003 I already had decades of experience as a personal trainer. But, with the Feldenkrais Method, I learned how to figure out what exercises don't serve me. Also, I slept on my belly for first time in seventeen years! So, my training opened up new perspectives on fitness that had previously eluded me.

There's a hierarchy in exercise, just like when you build a house. We start with the foundation – not the wallpaper!

First we need to get organized - then we can exercise safely and effectively. From there, you can progress to reach higher levels. But if you don't understand this, you can hurt your clients. And, of course, if you hurt clients, you will lose clients. So, when we understand each other, Feldenkrais practitioners and fitness professionals can be great partners.

I was first encouraged to do presentations at fitness conferences by people like my friend Lawrence Biscontini, who is an internationally recognized fitness trainer and author who frequently speaks at these events. Before I worked with him, Lawrence had received numerous Functional Integration lessons from different practitioners, but it wasn't compelling for him. He used to joke to me about how they waved their fingers in front of his face and asked him to take his eyes in the opposite direction of his head. “You're missing the whole point!” I told him, and I was able to draw him to study further because I put things into a practical context that made sense to him in terms of fitness. Subsequently, he has written about the Method in fitness magazines and quoted me in his articles.

You have to talk to fitness professionals on their level without denigrating their intelligence. Because of their training, they think they can explain the results we get by saying that the movement helps loosen the muscles or increase the flow of synovial fluid. I like to teach them what I call “microwave lessons” (some people call them “ three minute miracles), ATMs with some “wow” moments that really get their attention by showing them something new.

For example, I'll lead them through the cat-cow movements from yoga with just one eye open. First I have them determine their more dominant eye (and everyone is surprised because they never think about that). Then we do the lesson, and afterwards I have them see that they can look up farther. The purpose is not to change their dominant eye, but to open up a whole new door for them, to show them that if they work with the eyes like that, they have more extension and flexion availability.
 
They need it – and they don't even know that they need it! It's very powerful for people who make their livelihood out of helping others become more functional and fit.

Will participants at your conference workshop gain a better understanding of how to connect with fitness professionals?
 
Yes! I will give be giving examples of how I've done these presentations and I'll demonstrate some of those abbreviated lessons that I've found to have an impact.
 
I want other “Feldies” to understand that we're not in competition with these folks. We need to work together. We need to make nice with each other and respect what everyone does. We need to be able to explain to personal trainers that their clients will stay with them if, for example, they hurt their shoulder and the trainer can say, “Here's someone that you could see that might help you with your shoulder,” instead of just saying “OK, let's just work with the abdominals and legs for a while.” It's not the same as sending the client to a physical therapist for a short term fix that may not last because there has been no change on the neuronal level and their movement habits are still the same.
 
At the same time, it doesn't behoove anyone for a practitioner to try to convince a group of people that all they need is the Feldenkrais Method. But, all too often, that's what we do! Sometimes we act like we're going to help all 7.5 billion people on the planet ourselves.  And that's not fair. That's not working to a higher purpose. That's not right!
 
We've got to get over that. We've got to refer out. We've got to share. Because some people want both things: they want a work out when they feel good, and they want to feel better when they feel bad. And the Feldenkrais Method doesn't help people lose weight or build their muscle strength or endurance.

One thing that I think would be useful for many practitioners is to find a personal trainer that you like. Take them out to lunch! Talk about what you do and learn more about what they do. Maybe you even make a trade: you give me five sessions of personal training, and I'll give you five Feldenkrais lessons...

Do you believe that building a stronger relationship with fitness professionals will help our community bring to life the theme of this year's conference, “Propelling the Feldenkrais Method into the mainstream”?

Yes. I believe that if Moshe was still with us he would have continued to evolve. He would have quit smoking! He was a genius but he wasn't omniscient. I think he would have made the connection between the Method and fitness even clearer – and, when you learn to do this, it's not difficult to find new clients. Retention of clients is also easy if you can help people feel better.

The main thing is we have to be nice – even to each other! This whole division between the Anat Baniel crowd and Feldenkrais crowd since the lawsuit - that's not nice! And we do basically the same thing - we are all people who want to help people. I'm glad that this year's conference is open to ABM practitioners.

My son Ian is coming to the conference with me. He became an ABM practitioner because of the life-altering impact of the work I did with him. When he was a teenager, Ian tore the labrum in his shoulder. At the time I was in training and practiced on him daily. He was my guinea pig! Two weeks post surgery he went to the physical therapist at the gym. When he demonstrated full range of motion they were amazed. His recovery was what they would have expected for someone at the six-week mark and they told him not to bother coming back because he was already beyond what they could do for him!

Then they began sending their difficult patients to me for sessions. Thanks to Ian's injury, I had over 250 people referred to me by the gym's PT (who I also received lessons from me). The word out that there was something folks could do for persistent or difficult problems.

Today, I have a very full practice. And a lot of people have heard about me through fitness. They come to me for fitness or because they've gotten hurt in fitness. I'm starting to turn some people over to Ian. I have a studio in my home and am part owner of a new gym called Purenergy in Berwyn, PA, that we opened in April of 2015, combining all aspects of wellness including featured classes and workshops in ABM and the Feldenkrais Method.

I am in Europe now, teaching and traveling at the invitation of gyms in Italy, Turkey and Greece. I've received numerous messages from friends, clients and Facebook contacts about “Feldenkrais” being the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It's super gratifying to know that so many people are now hearing about our work!

At a moment like this, I think it's important to think about attraction, not promotion. And you can't think - with blinders on - that you're right about everything. If you think you know all the answers, you probably didn't understand all the questions. My goal is to always remain teachable! The words, “Believe me” hold no water for me. But  - “Do you feel this?” - now that's compelling!


Find out more about Valerie'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 www.MoveLikeAChild.wordpress.com.

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