The FP Weekly Zoom Class
The Science & Art of “Effortless” Strength
Five Tuesdays in October, 2023
Nick Strauss-Klein led all dates
Feldenkrais sometimes seems full of paradoxes. Whether you’ve done a few Awareness Through Movement lessons or hundreds, I bet you’ve entertained thoughts like these:
You said to make the movement effortless, but of course my muscles are working!
How *did* my pelvis get lighter??? It obviously weighs the same now as it did 45 minutes ago!
Can sensitivity really make us stronger? Really?!!!
If you’ve had similar Felden-thoughts then October’s lessons are for you! We’ll explore these questions – and many more like them – in the laboratory of our own selves, as we illuminate the curious intersection of the physics and the experience of Feldenkrais ATM study.
In facing these questions directly, we can free ourselves from ideas about our bodies and movements that hold us back from feeling our best. We’ll discover that learning to move well – and even powerfully – requires us to think more like artists than engineers, and that the art of effortless strength can be applied to almost any activity.
We’ll explore and discuss specific strategies suitable for Feldenkrais lessons and regular life, so we can enjoy moving with easy potency in almost anything that we do.
Themes of skeletal support, distribution of effort, and proportional tone will carry over from our recent Resilience lessons, but newcomers are welcome.
See you on the mat!
Now that this course is over, here’s a brief summary of principles and techniques we explored.
The science of “effortless” strength
Discussed frequently before and during class (in the recordings), and in the unrecorded discussions:
- Humans don’t perceive our weight accurately. When we’re functioning well, we may feel almost weightless. Yet in a moment, with something as slight as a shift of attitude, we can become aware of the incredible force of gravity.
- Humans don’t perceive work, in the physics sense of the word, meaning mass over distance.
- What we perceive well is effort in our muscles, particularly if muscular contractions aren’t leading to efficient movement. Well-organized movement can feel “effortless,” or nearly so, in the same sense that we can feel weightless.
- If something feels like we must try hard to accomplish it, feels like it takes a lot of effort, this is more often a reflection of our poor organization for the task we are attempting than an accurate reflection of the difficulty of the task.
- In this case 1) we may not be efficiently using the support surface, 2) we may not be distributing the the efforts throughout ourselves, and proportionately (big muscles creating big forces, small muscles directing the force precisely), 3) we may be stuck in unsensed cross-motivation (examples: activating your bicep and tricep simultaneously, or being unable to inhibit your flexors when you want to extend), or 4) our efforts may be creating shearing forces in our bones, joints, or soft tissue instead of delivering force efficiently through our skeletons, or 5) any combination of these and other undetected physical inefficiencies.
The art of “effortless” strength
Where we actually spent most of our lesson time:
- We can learn to reinterpret sensed effort as a cue to curiosity, to try the action another way. This is a refinement of common Feldenkrais advice about pain. What if we interrupt our intention before pain comes, responding instead to effort itself with curiosity about how we’re doing what we’re doing? Our lessons explored our options, moment to moment, to move in ways that reduce and reduce the sense of effort.
- Sensed effort has complicated origins. In addition to all the physics mentioned above, there are cultural forces: we may have been subtly trained to look like we’re working hard – in school for example. We may have been financially rewarded for the appearance of suffering at our labor. We may even feel more satisfied in ourselves if we feel we’re trying hard, even if we accomplish little. We may have been taught the diabolical mistaken message of the gym: that feeling strain is the point of exercise.
- A sense of compassion for ourselves helps. Several lessons used the imagery of being a baby, too small and weak to be very strong. And yet babies learn to do profoundly sophisticated things: organizing their tiny bodies to lift very big heads, for example.
- We spent some time discussing exercise, which many people and gym trainers mistakenly think should feel hard. I put forth that it needn’t, that even in exercise circumstances we can start slow and small, pay attention to our quality of movement, use a sense of effort as a prompt to try another way, and only then push ourselves stronger, faster, more in the way that improves our health and performance.