More Precise Hips and Spine

Back-lying, knees bent, with a floor-seated frame at the beginning and end. Preparing for and clarifying an important primary relationship in the body: arching the spine while flexing the hips.

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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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Study tip: Comfort first! Carpeted floors usually work well, but it’s great to have an extra mat or blanket nearby in case you need a softer surface in some configurations.

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Study tip: Wear loose, comfortable clothes that are warm enough for quiet movement. Remove or avoid anything restrictive like belts or glasses.

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  • At the very beginning, the seated instructions refer to sitting on the floor, not a chair.
  • The first 30 minutes of the lesson stands well as a learning experience on its own. You can stop there if you find the movements in the latter half are uncomfortable at this time, or perhaps just do the movements with whichever leg is more comfortable to hold over your body (don’t switch sides when prompted to).
  • In the second half of the lesson, as your interlaced fingers are holding a knee, feel free to explore to find the most comfortable distance of that leg from your midline.
  • During the ankle-resting-on-the-other-knee variations, your ankle may rest anywhere on your thigh, as needed for comfort. It doesn’t need to be on or near the knee if that doesn’t work for you.
  • If you have trouble staying comfortable in the second half of this lesson you may benefit from first working through (or revisiting) our Lessons for Better Posture, Walking, and Running, then returning to this lesson.

It’s notable how this lesson includes movements of the jaw and tongue in service of reorganizing the spine. There’s some very low-level mammalian relationships that are rich to explore.

For Feldenkrais Practitioners or experienced Felden-fans, after your first listening there are two valuable variations Moshe Feldenkrais uses that we didn’t get to in class:

  • At 44:00, after exploring the first hugging-the-knee configuration on both sides, you could experiment by doing the step you just completed again, except have the other leg lying long instead of knee bent, foot standing. So it’s the same movement as before: hugging the knee, drawing on it exactly at the same time you arch the spine, but the leg you’re not holding is lying long on the floor.
  • At the very end, after the “tree hugging” variation, let your left hand rest in front of you and hold onto your right lower leg or pants cuff with your right hand. As you arch your back, use your right hand to help lift your right leg while you push your right heel forward and straighten this leg. Try this a few times, gently. Here’s a classic Moshe comment about this challenging movement: “Whoever wants to tear a muscle can do an abrupt, powerful movement. Everyone else can make a delicate, fine movement.” Try it on the left side too.

There’s some discussion of this lesson in a newsletter I wrote called Learning to Learn, and Reflections on Teaching Feldenkrais.

This lesson is found in the collection called Learning the Limbs, from the Center.

Like most of our lessons, this one can be studied out of context, but you may find additional learning value by approaching it in the order of the collection it’s in.

It was also featured in Nick’s blog post called Learning to Learn, and Reflections on Teaching Feldenkrais.

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18 Comments

  1. amira on March 21, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    what tenderness. what finesse.
    like music. thank you deeply for restoring the sense of being human.

  2. Gisella Warmenhoven on April 2, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    fabulous lesson; twice in a short time makes a huge difference

  3. Chris on August 20, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    I did this lesson over a year ago and didn’t like it. It seemed to aggravate a problem. Nick suggested doing it really gently, almost in imagination because it hit my issue pretty directly. I did it just now and it was amazing. Delightful and transformative re: my thoracic spine pain. The suggestions about gently doing it were right there all along but I didn’t heed them. Thanks again Nick for your skill and wisdom.

  4. Jo on August 25, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    I first did this lesson a week ago. Straight away I was aware of very tight hip flexors, and I had to stop the lesson half way through and then just listen to the rest, as my hip flexors were so fatigued. I did it again the following day, and got through it with micro movements. A few days later I did it again and it felt much easier. The interesting thing is that I have noticed my walking is different in the last few days. My hips and lower back are much freer, although at the same time I am very aware of my hip flexors still being tight. I’ll do this one again to see if I can continue to release these tight hips that I didn’t even know were an issue until I tried to do these moves!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on August 27, 2019 at 3:55 pm

      Thanks for sharing this detailed learning story. There’s so much uncovered and discovered in ATM study, much of it in the “didn’t know I didn’t know” category. And yet, when change begins to happen we feel the functional improvements…wonderful!

  5. MJ on October 15, 2019 at 7:13 am

    I was able to go into folded leg yoga pose after the first 45 minutes of this practice without pain and was able to allow the lengthening of the leg so the knees were able to go further to the floor! In one session.
    I will try this evening after a full day on my feet. Thank you.

  6. Ursula on May 26, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Nick this is actually the one I was searching for! Very very difficult for me to arch back when sitting with legs in front. I can do it with legs crossed in tailor position but not in legs straight out. Is it ok to do test movement In tailor position. It’s a good one. Probably many people struggle with this one as we all sit with a rounding lower spine.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on May 26, 2020 at 5:16 pm

      I like this lesson and I experience the same challenge as you and many others: sitting on the floor with my legs in front of me and arching my back is very difficult. As always, alterations are not just ok, they are recommended! You might consider all the possibilities between tailor position and legs in front (for example, legs in front, but knees bent a bit, leaning out to the side). Then when the test movement returns, just do your own version of it and see how it’s changed.

  7. Lorraine on October 23, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    For me to manage this movement in a relaxed and natural way it needed to be very small. Even so it is still sometimes more jerky or forced than feels good. Nevertheless the learning involved was enormous.
    For many years I did dance classes and my right side was always stronger and my left side more coordinated. Observing myself in this lesson I now know what I do that makes this so.
    Immediately there are many changes in my functioning. My walking is freer and easier.
    I have a number of compression fractures in my spine. As I lay on my back at the end of the lesson my spine approached much more natural curves and it moves more easily.
    This is one of those lessons for which the benefits are so much more than I anticipated.
    Thank you for your sensitive delivery of a lesson that I may have found impossible with a less able teacher.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on October 25, 2020 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks! Yes, there is a tricky movement at the core of this lesson and I love your description of how you needed to approach it, and what you got out of making it tiny! Less = more: this wisdom is as consistently true as it is difficult for newcomers (and even Feldenkrais longtimers, sometimes) to trust!

  8. Pam Merten on November 14, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Wonderful lesson!

    During the body scan on most lessons, you ask how our hips joints relate to the floor. I don’t know – it’s as if they are non-existent. I can easily locate and “feel” the other bones scanned. Any advice?

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on November 17, 2020 at 6:11 pm

      I’m glad you asked, as I felt similar questions and I’m sure others have, too. Consider this question a curiosity for future lessons, especially if you feel your hips are involved or have changed during the hour. Does your ability to locate them in your perception ever change? Is it always a flat no, or sometimes a more vague no (for example)? And most of all, don’t worry: it’s not unusual that some of the sensation/perception scan questions won’t “land” with everyone every time.

  9. lorraine stone on June 17, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    I did this lesson again today and in the interim this movement has embedded in my mind. Arching my back while moving my leg towards my arching back seemed like the most natural way to do it . Truly amazing!

  10. Shelley on May 18, 2022 at 9:51 am

    After a very annoying and stressful week leading to some grouchy backs, my husband and I decided that only the dulcet tones of Nick will help us this late afternoon. So we set about doing this ATM and found it quite challenging. However, we proceeded with softness and minimal movement which made is all thatmuch easier. When we got to the part with sticking the tongue out a little with the loose jaw, we both couldn’t resist sneaking a peak at each other … and we just burst out laughing. All the form was lost under this mirth but a great time was had. Thank you Nick. We did recover and finished with noticeable results. After doing at least a year of Feldenkrais, this was the flattest our backs had ever become after an ATM. So soft and flat. Funnily enough, when we put out legs down to lie on our backs, we both got a cold rush of sensation behind our lower back. What an adventure. Thanks

  11. Ursula MacKinnon on September 9, 2022 at 4:08 pm

    Hi Nick, couple of questions. As I hold my knee from escaping and minutely (and I mean minutely) arch my back is it ok that my knee is more pointing towards my armpit instead of straight up over my chest. Also, I was very aware of tightness in the line across where my legs join my butt as I neared the end of this lesson, what is that? I did not do the holding the leg like chin-up bar part…that is beyond my scope right now, but I did lay the ankle across the knee. Thank you once again for this website, it has been my salvation when I don’t know where to turn with my pain issues. Also is it ok to practice this one daily or should I leave a day between?

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on September 11, 2022 at 11:38 am

      Great questions.

      • Yes, because of the round shape of hip joints most folks will find it more comfortable if they let their knees be a little wider than the feet (pointing more toward your armpit, as you described it).
      • Not sure about the “leg/butt line” tightness but the extensors are asked to length a lot in this lesson as you gently and repeatedly flex the hip joints. Just something to watch over time. Did you have the feeling the day after of having “overdone it”?
      • Repeating the same ATM daily is ok if there’s a lot of curiosity and it’s not becoming rote or performative. You might sometimes work from memory instead, just reassembling the lesson in your own order and pace. It’s important to always be generating sensations – and especially new sensations/connections/relationships in the body – that you’re interested in. If you’re getting too “bored” of a lesson it’s time to move on. Or, of course, if you’re physically fatiguing from repeating it. Then just take a break and come back later if you’re still curious.
  12. Ursula on September 12, 2022 at 10:31 am

    Thanks Nick, very helpful. Does this one help the psoas muscles too or is there another lesson you would suggest? Afterwards I feel less pain than I am in when I start, but my legs and hips feel weak…like once things have lengthened that are tight all the time I feel how truly weak the hips or glutes have become…does that make sense.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on September 25, 2022 at 7:09 am

      There’s often a “fitness” required for new organizations, even improved organizations. It’s possible the weakness you feel is just not being used to being in that state. Lots of rests are recommended when you feel like that, so you can nurture the new and not overwhelm it. Also, see if you can foster skeletal awareness when you feel like that: sense the heels supported by the floor, the feeling that the legs and back support you. Bones don’t get tired, so it’s great to turn to little weight shift experiments to see if you can find places where the skeletal support is clearer. On your other question: the psoas is very sophisticated, and yes this lesson in particular may be helpful for it.

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