The following first appeared as a July 2019 newsletter for the Feldenkrais Project email list. You can subscribe right here.
I had thought my pain was so chronic that I needed to just grin and bear it, that I would progress if I pushed the pain away and concentrated on doing the movement “right.”
Have you ever struggled with pain during movement classes – even Feldenkrais lessons – like this Feldenkrais student? Read on to learn more about Connie’s “A-ha!” moment, and you’ll also find my own reflection on pain, difficulty, and learning, below.
Scroll down for this month’s featured lesson, a Moshe Feldenkrais classic.
After a recent class in which I taught a challenging Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lesson, one of my longtime regular students sent the following email:
I’ve been practicing Feldenkrais for nearly a decade, yet I just recently learned something that will alter my approach forever. During a particularly difficult ATM that challenged a very old injury, I decided to see if I could do the lesson without gritting my teeth through the pain. I kept dialing it back, making smaller and smaller efforts until I finally was able to do a very reduced movement—without any pain. I know that all seems like Feldenkrais basics, but somehow, in regards to my SI [sacroiliac] pain, I’d ignored the fundamental Feldenkrais “less is more” wisdom for years. I had thought my pain was so chronic that I needed to just grin and bear it, that I would progress if I pushed the pain away and concentrated on doing the movement “right.”
Amazingly when I reduced the effort until my SI didn’t produce its all-too-familiar twinge, I found I could inch the movement forward and carry the increased flexibility into later practice sessions. The real test for me is always what I do outside of Feldenkrais. Instead of hampering my walking, biking or hiking because I’d reinforced a painful pattern, the “less is more” approach has me happily engaged in all those activities without pain.
– Connie Ford, age 65, enjoying a full and active retirement in St. Paul, MN
I love this letter from Connie! These kinds of “A-ha!” moments have fueled my passion for Feldenkrais for 20 years, whether I’m making new discoveries within myself, or witnessing my students’ breakthroughs.
The Feldenkrais Method is so uniquely suited for self-exploration, for digging through the layers of assumptions we make about ourselves and finding new solutions to old problems. As Connie points out, it is Feldenkrais 101 to choose, above all else, to make a personalized, comfortable version of the configurations and movements described in an ATM lesson. It’s that crucial choice that allows for the possibility of improvement. When we make the opposite choice, when we “grin and bear it” with familiar pains, we’re organizing our nervous system for defense instead of learning, and we’re reinforcing old habits.
Even longtime Feldenkrais Method explorers like me and Connie have corners of our lives where we’ve chosen to accept longterm unpleasant sensations, either with awareness or unconsciously. There’s always seemingly good reasons for these dark corners: I’ve been injured. Others are counting on me. I won’t get paid if I don’t push through. There are so many more.
Among many other benefits of Feldenkrais study, ATM lessons give us a chance to encounter difficulty in a safe, quiet environment. When we discover a movement or configuration that increases unpleasant sensations (new or familiar), we know that in the Feldenkrais study context there’s an opportunity to improve our whole selves by improving our response to that pain.
By continually turning toward comfort and curiosity, no matter what else about the lesson we have to give up, we restore pain to its natural place as a behavior modifier, and we unlock the possibility of change. When we reduce or alter or even imagine the difficult movement, we’ll likely be rewarded for our intelligent response to pain with improved awareness and ease. And better yet, we’ve gained valuable practice in responding to pain with grace and wisdom.
It can be life-changing to surrender to “less is more” thinking as you study Feldenkrais lessons. It’s my hope that, with Feldenkrais practice over time, this kind of response to unpleasant sensations becomes more and more part of your regular life, spreading throughout all corners of your experience of yourself.
For this month’s featured lesson I’m sharing an important lesson that many listeners have found difficult. In the spirit of Connie’s discovery, I hope you’ll reduce, alter, and even imagine the movements so that your moment-to-moment experience of this lesson is one of comfort and curiosity!
Then please leave a comment below the lesson player and let me know what you discover!
– Nick Strauss-Klein
This Month’s Featured Lesson Is a Moshe Feldenkrais Classic:
Lying on the back and later on the front with the limbs in a large letter X shape, learning to lengthen and lift the limbs, organizing from the torso, discovering a pressing foundation, and inhibiting unnecessary shortening and tightening responses to anticipated difficulty.
Click on the blue Comfort & Configuration and Curiosity lesson tabs below the audio player for lots of information about this important lesson!
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