Awareness Through Movement® – A Truly Slow Movement

S-L-O-W…. slow food, slow money, slow parenting, slow travel, slow art and slow body movements are just a few examples of a new trend which Wikipedia defines as a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace. Our current life style is hurried, busy, with lots to do.  Our advances in technology continue to speed us down the fast lane.  This isn’t necessarily all bad but we do need balance and the slow movement may have much to offer.

Moving our bodies slowly with awareness through such modalities as tai chi, qi gong, yoga and the Feldenkrais Method® have been shown to be beneficial for dealing with stress.  There are also a growing number of pain clinics and Integrative Health centers that offer slow movement, awareness-based modalities for pain including pain caused by cancer and cancer treatments, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions. “Some experts suggest that these slow methods…increase the parasympathetic relaxation response which in turn reduces the stress response, promotes immune function that inhibits inflammation and stimulates healing…Slow movement is like Slow Food in which all acts related to eating – shopping, preparing, ingesting, and digesting – are done with awareness and presence.” (Slow Movement with Awareness: Better than Exercise? by Alan Fogel)

The Feldenkrais Method® group classes called Awareness Through Movement® is slow movement. In these classes you are encouraged to move slowly, to take time to feel how you are moving and assimilate it. The movement sequences that are taught are unusual or novel.  This encourages you to break free from the habitual ways that you move.  It also encourages you to feel how you are moving in order to become aware of yourself.

Moving slowly also allows you to notice if you are using unnecessary effort, what I refer to as parasitic action.  A simple example of this might be holding your breath while you are learning a new movement or activity, or even tightening your jaw, or clenching your fist.

Research and evidence suggest that it is not only moving slowly that is beneficial—but it is moving slowly with awareness. Awareness of how we act is essential if we are to change.  The Awareness Through Movement® aspect of the Feldenkrais Method® helps us to actually use movement to become aware of our thinking, sensations, feelings and how we move (It’s not Awareness OF Movement, but Awareness THROUGH Movement).  The way we act/move can change once we are aware of what we are doing.  That was one of the brilliant realizations of Moshe Feldenkrais over 50 years ago that led to the development of the Feldenkrais Method®. With ample research now supporting this understanding, perhaps the Slow Movement Movement is ready to gather momentum.

Feldenkrais: The Power of Movement

The Feldenkrais Method® is unusual, unusually deep, subtle, and powerful.   It’s a revolutionary approach to understanding how we function both physically and mentally, as well as providing tools for our improvement.

So for example, if you are someone who experiences pain and have been told to exercise it is a step but it may not be enough. Our tendency to move in the same ways, guided by the same postural habits, sensory cues and mental images are strong.  What an individual needs to learn is how they are moving and how their way of moving may relate to their pain or problem.  Feldenkrais Practitioners are trained movement specialists, who help people move and live with greater comfort, flexibility and ease.

Before being introduced to Feldenkrais in 1975, I had spent about twenty-five years getting ready for it.  I started with dancing— tap, jazz, ballet, whatever.  I danced through my entire childhood, compelled by the sheer pleasure I experienced through movement.  I didn’t think much about the importance of movement for health or well-being when I was young; I just knew that it made me feel good and gave me a sense of confidence.

In college I became interested in science, but continued to dance off and on.  I yearned to find a way to combine the two, somehow.  Then I took this workshop consisting of simple but unusual movement sequences that seemed so trivial—yet after each class I felt great!  I still remember one of the classes, just turning our heads around to look behind us and then back to the front, repeating it several times.  We then turned our heads while moving our eyes in the opposite direction, still very gently, repeating each movement.  After a series of these strange variations, we were asked to repeat the original movement:  I was shocked to discover that my range of movement had doubled with almost no effort, just be paying attention to my movement in new ways. This was my introduction to The Feldenkrais Method®.

After completing my degree in Zoology, I continued dancing, while looking for ways to integrate my two passions—scientific inquiry, and movement.   When I heard about a training program with Moshe Feldenkrais, I knew that I had to do it.  The four-year program began in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1980, and culminated in Tel Aviv, Israel, where Moshe Feldenkrais lived.

That was almost thirty years ago.  Today, most people have still not heard of the Feldenkrais Method®, but many folks have tried it, and have been helped by it.

The Feldenkrais Method® consists of two basic forms—one on one individual sessions, called “Functional Integration®,” and group movement classes known as “Awareness Through Movement®.”

In Awareness Through Movement® classes, the Feldenkrais practitioner verbally guides people through a sequence of gentle movements.  Many of these movements focus on simple daily actions such as reaching, looking behind yourself, breathing, sitting, improving balance, bending down, walking, or more complicated patterns such as yoga postures.  Regardless of the specific movement, the point is always to move gently, and work at your own level.

Functional Integration® is the one-to-one, hands-on session in which the Feldenkrais practitioner and client work together to increase the client’s movement awareness and capacity, in supportive and non-invasive ways. Usually, the practitioner works with the client (fully clothed) on a low table, using gentle touch and verbal direction to guide the movement sequences that encourage new awareness and learning.  The result is improved pain-free movement and improved performance in almost any area—be it sitting, walking, running, playing tennis, playing piano, gardening—whatever involves movement.

Moshe Feldenkrais was a true innovator, developing thousands of movement lessons that produce impressive changes.  Worldwide there are more than 6,000 Feldenkrais Practitioners, using movement awareness to help people with all sorts of challenges, ranging from back, neck, shoulder, knee, hand or foot pain, to neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy; head injuries from accidents or strokes; chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia; to musicians and athletes who wish to improve their performance.  Some practitioners have even applied their work to animals with impressive results.  My favorite quote from Moshe Feldenkrais sums up our approach nicely: “To make the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy elegant.”

This post originally appeared in under Alternative Health.