Some Fundamental Properties of Movement (Patrons)

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 by organizing from the torso, discovering a pressing foundation, and inhibiting unnecessary shortening and tightening responses related to anticipated difficulty.

Before you begin read this for practical tips and your responsibilities, and check out Comfort & Configuration below.

Recorded live in a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) class, this lesson is copyright Nick Strauss-Klein, for personal use only.

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If you find early on in the lesson that you can’t get comfortable in your lower back while lifting the legs, you might do this this free flexion lesson or this rolling lesson (Patrons) first, then return to this one.

If front-lying is a challenge for you, to get more comfortable you might try our freely offered lesson called The Power of Prone: Twisting on Your Belly.

This is an important Feldenkrais Method lesson, but for many people it is not an easy one. Students with lower back, pelvis, or sciatica concerns should go very gently, simply lightening the legs instead of lifting them, and enjoying long rests between movements.

If having your arms overhead in the letter X position is not comfortable, one or both arms may be more out to the sides, toward a letter T position. Keep the palms oriented forward (toward the ceiling in back-lying, or toward the floor in front-lying).

In the front-lying parts of the lesson the hands will be closer to each other (narrower) than the elbows.

There’s never any need to make efforts with the muscles of the hand, wrist, or forearm.

Note: Below this list there are more study ideas for this lesson.

So which “Fundamental Properties of Movement” is Moshe Feldenkrais referring to in his lesson title?

I’ve drawn these out of his lesson text, then put them in an order that works better as a list.

They all have to do with how we can learn more skillful, effective, and voluntary control of ourselves:

1) Most human actions, when done skillfully (in an efficient, effective, and pleasant way) have a sense of lengthening the body, especially the spine.

2) “An action becomes easy to perform and the movement becomes light when the huge muscles of the center of the body do the bulk of the work and the limbs only direct the bones to the destination of the effort.” Movements organized like this have a sense of effortlessness. Even movements that are very powerful or athletic don’t feel difficult.

3) When some part of ourselves rises from the ground or moves relative to the ground, another part changes its relationship with the ground. These are the foundation forces for all action. We can practice sensing foundation forces, then choose to use them more consciously, and place them more precisely.

4) Slow, light, small movements, repeated many times with awareness and a complete rest between movements, will reduce “the fundamental tonus of the muscles, that is, the state of their contraction before their activation by the will.” This lower latent muscle tone assists in learning more efficient action because we learn the actions in a manner less disturbed by unintended efforts that shorten us.

A side effect of shedding unnecessary latent tonus, by the way, is that feeling of lying flatter on the ground after most lessons.

5) Perceived difficulty leads to unnecessary shortening efforts. We often go into protective contractions when we lack confidence or skill. If we then push through our contracted state using willpower, our movement “will never be graceful or stimulating, and will arouse no wish in the individual to repeat it.” Moshe concludes, “the price paid…is higher than appears at first sight.”

When we approach challenges in this costly way we learn a compromised version of the needed action. And, more profoundly, we’ve embodied exactly what we feared: a sense of deficiency. Moshe counsels that the way forward – the way to expand our skills when we perceive difficulty – is “by means of study and understanding rather than by stubborn effort and attempts to protect the body.”

6) Both kinds of unnecessary efforts (shortening related to latent tonus or perceived difficulty) “prevent the body from organizing itself correctly for action.” In Feldenkrais study we learn to inhibit both kinds of shortening while we explore non-habitual movements to learn new skills and awareness. Any movement – whether in lessons or life – benefits from reducing the sense of effort and focusing on sensations and imagery of lengthening available throughout us.


Ideas for further study

On subsequent listenings, you might wish to start by working with the limbs on the other side of the body (switching right and left in my instructions for the first 40 minutes of the lesson).

As you get to know the lesson you may want to spend a little more time on the final steps, starting lying on your back, around 54 minutes in. I paced the lesson for maximum emphasis on comfort and ease, which is essential for your learning, so we took a lot of time on the initial side and variations.

Another idea for subsequent explorations of this lesson: you could even work from memory and improvise your way through working with each side on its own in a more abbreviated form, and then start the recording around 54 minutes in, and pause it after each diagonal relationship is introduced, taking as much time as you like to develop each diagonal movement, and the full “letter X” lifts.

This lesson is one of 12 in Moshe Feldenkrais’s 1972 book Awareness Through Movement. The Feldenkrais Project has a collection of lessons from this source.

It was taught in the context of a Feldenkrais Fundamentals class which was designed to be a practical study of Moshe’s Awareness Through Movement book. Study tips for the book are here, along with info about where to get it.

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While taught in my own words, this lesson comes directly from Moshe Feldenkrais’s 1972 book Awareness Through Movement.

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  1. Christal on March 9, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    The Zoolander reference had me laughing out loud, though it did hit a little close to home; I remember watching that movie several months after giving up on my dream of being a dancer, in part because I could not ever master turning to the left, a problem that was completely obvious to any observer, but seemingly impossible to correct, indeed I had been plagued by disfunction pain and injuries on the left side of my body throughout my dance training and then there’s this Zoolander fellow up on the big screen “but I can’t turn to the left”. Well at least I wasn’t the only one.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on March 21, 2018 at 9:42 am

      I love this. Had totally forgotten that I made that reference in this recording. As always with perceived asymmetries (even strong ones), proceed lightly and kindly and curiously. Our goal ISN’T to make you symmetrical, but to help you learn to function (including dance) in a way that’s satisfying, sustainable, and effective for you!

  2. Shan Shnookal on July 16, 2019 at 2:39 am

    Another great lesson, thanks Nick. I LOVE your work! I’ve been doing Feldenkrais for a very long time, with some very good teachers, but i find your lessons fresh and new… i always discover fresh insights. I’m 69, got 2 new hips, and feel better than ever! (And i ride my horse regularly:; she gives me the feedback i’m doing WELL! (The “better” i ride, the better and fluid is her movement!)

  3. Kate Major on July 28, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Well, this was quite the lesson. I’m so glad that you have recorded some of these lessons from Moshe feldenkrais land mark book. It is only some 30 years later that I am understanding this book. I thought of breaking all the lessons down and recording them for myself and then realized what a big project that was. Certainly someone must have done this and it must be online? And yes, you have done this. While it is recommended to do these in the evening, sometimes they stimulate me and I can’t sleep. Nonetheless, I decided to do lesson 3 in the evening to see what would happen. I had incredible nightmares. Probably the worst I remember in 60 years. This is not a knock against the lesson. It is a testament to the lesson. I must have gone a little deep and unwound some bound up terror musculature in the creating flexion and resting. During the lesson, I really focused on the resting, since I think that was a big part of the lesson. I guess I must have stopped inhibiting unnecessary shortening and tightening responses to anticipated difficulty and my psyche created some difficulty for me in In the nightmares, I fought back. Upon telling my husband about the nightmares, he questioned me Oh, you mean you fought back? I said yes. He gave me a big kiss. He said that is so unlike you. And then I remembered that yes, in waking life as well as in dream life I run or freeze. In the dream, I had the freedom to use my arms. There was so much force in my fight that my real arm slammed into the edge of the night table. Even after an ice bag applied immediately after the 5 a.m. nightmare, there is a little bruising. I consider it a hero wound. I got away. And today I feel much freer. I’m going to try the easier versions of this lesson that you have suggested in your comments. I have so much gratitude for this project. A very much appreciate being allowed to be a patron at a level that is supportable for me. Thank you so much.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on July 29, 2019 at 9:33 am

      Kate, this is an amazing story, and a reminder for everyone who reads your comment that we are never just a body, nor just a mind, but always simply a whole self, a complete being. Indeed, when we change some seemingly primarily somatic aspect of ourselves we are always influencing our whole self, mind and body, and some would add spirit. In my past I too have had some profoundly psychological reactions to lessons. I honor your ability to welcome this startling experience with grace and security, and the lovely support of your husband!

  4. Lauri Sippel on October 25, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Hi Nick – For me, this is one of your most brilliant works. I love how you weave in Feldenkrais lore, your continual, soft reminders of self-care are well pleced and appropriate, and I especially like how you’ve adapted it to include both sides, and to have us stand in the middle to experience the impact of an asymmetrical lesson. Many blessings, looking forward to continuing to study with you.

  5. Jadyn Bennett on April 1, 2020 at 9:32 am

    I agree with everything you are saying. THis was a great class and I will be joining again soon!!

  6. Ramesh Lakshmamn on May 12, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Dear Nick For the past six months I have been exploring possibilities of introducing Feldenkrais certification course in Indai through my wellness center in Mumbai. Am wondering whether you can collaborate with us make this feasible. If so let the discussion forward.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on May 15, 2020 at 8:47 am

      I wish I could help but I am not a certified Feldenkrais Trainer, nor able to travel internationally to assist (four kids at home). I’d be happy to have Feldenkrais Project lessons be part of informal study there. Please email me about that, or if you haven’t found who to contact in the international Feldenkrais leadership about starting a training.

  7. Mica on July 15, 2020 at 7:47 am

    Wonderful to be guided in this. In the mid 70s tried these on my own. Reading a bit and then carrying it out. Shifting from turning within to keeping track of the count. Thank you for rediscovering that initial sense of discovery and curiosity.

  8. Steve on November 9, 2020 at 7:21 am

    First time around this just hurt (old l5/S1 herniation). After going back through all the previous lessons this time it’s just fine. The difference in spine mobility and awareness from following your sequences is quite amazing. Slightly bizarrely this time my right collarbone at the sternum end finally decided that moving is OK. Great effect on head mobility and on upper ribs that side as a bonus.

    I’m 59 and am now more graceful than at 40. Thankyou!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on November 9, 2020 at 10:36 am

      You’re welcome! This warms my heart! Our health and abilities are ongoing processes, and I love to hear about your progress over time. Thanks for commenting.

  9. Maria Gosse on October 19, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    Hi Nick,

    First of all, thank you for your wonderful lessons. I have done the whole series of Freeing your Spine, plus a couple of others, and I am thoroughly enjoying your program.
    I’m an active, 73 years-old woman in excellent health. I do have scoliosis and my right shoulder sits more forward than the left. A couple of days ago I decided to try the first of the Awareness through Movement lessons available to us, since I had read the book a couple of years ago, was intrigued by the concept, but found impossible to do the movements associated with The Fundamental Properties of Movement while reading the book!
    I was delighted to complete your lesson with some allowances made for my right arm, and felt great. However, 36 hours later I was doing some cleaning, straightened myself up from the waist and was struck with a painful stab on my L5 vertebrae area. The pain got increasingly worse over the next two days, and today the pain has moved to my left hip and down my left leg, a typical sciatica alarm bell. I haven’t had a sciatica attack in about three years, and my question is, do you think I injured my lower back in some way when I did the lesson I mentioned? I felt no pain at the time and was proceeding quite slowly and carefully.


    • Nick Strauss-Klein on October 19, 2021 at 6:05 pm

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the FP, and always sad to hear of any of life’s injuries. The short answer is: probably not. If we’ve “overdone it” in a lesson somehow, we’ll typically know during or shortly after the lesson, or at latest the next morning. It is possible that your overall physical organization is shifting and changing as you’re learning, and a spontaneous new way of behaving caught you off guard in that moment. Go especially gently with yourself right now of course, and trust that this current manifestation of an old pain is a new experience, a new context. Feel free to reach out by email if you’d like to tell me more.

  10. Luisa on November 6, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    Difficult, wonderful and very well paced lesson. I had a sensation of suppleness after working on each side, and when walking at the end I felt like an astronaut in space defying the law of gravity. Thank you!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on November 7, 2022 at 9:51 am

      What a lovely image – thank you for sharing! I think we all benefit from hearing each other’s spontaneous movement metaphors.

  11. Helen lowe on May 30, 2023 at 7:51 am

    Hi. Fairly new to feldenkries method. Thanks for recording bits from the book as reading is too hard for me. I am beginning to understand how the body begins to organise even before it actually moves. I appreciate your emphasis on the importance of this.

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