Spine and Chest Side-Bending, Lengthening Limbs

Framed by standing explorations of how we shift weight onto one foot, this mostly back-lying lesson (often one or both knees bent) is designed to free the torso and improve awareness, suppleness, and integration of lateral movements of the spine and chest in walking. Includes explorations of sensing and initiating movement from the spine.

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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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You’ll need your regular floor or mat setup for a Feldenkrais lesson, but this lesson begins in standing. Please have a chair nearby so that you can touch the back of it for balance if you need to, as described in the recording.

The movements in standing, described at the beginning and end of the lesson, are all in the frontal plane, meaning you move your hips and shift your weight sideways without turning your body. This is true even when I say something potentially misleading near the very beginning: “a slow small swing to the left.” I don’t mean to turn.

As always, “up” and “down” refer to you in your present orientation (even when lying down), so, when you’re asked to “lay your arm upward on the floor” or “sweep your arm up your mat, around overhead,” it means it will be on the floor, or travel along the floor in the direction of your head, like a child making a snow angel. Down the mat is toward your feet.

Late in the lesson, as you’re invited to slide your hand down your mat in search of your foot, if you find your hand easily reaching your foot you may simply slide past it.

Regarding the minute of discussion at the beginning, studies have shown that while we’re standing, at least 90% of our nervous system’s work is related to standing. Our brains (and habits) are wisely focused on us not falling over! This is the reason I mention that “our habits are more malleable when we’re not maintaining our balance.”

I used a classic Moshe Feldenkrais phrasing: “parasitic efforts.” By this he means the unintended efforts in an action which are unnecessary to it. When we become more aware of them we can learn to let them go, and act more efficiently, effectively, and pleasantly.

This lesson is found in our Miscellaneous Lessons collection. Like most of our lessons, it can be studied out of context. See the comments below for more context.

It also appears in three Deep Dive courses: Better Balance and Walking from Your Spine and The Pelvic Floor: Less Is More.

The week after this recording was made our class went on to incorporate ideas from this lesson into Walking with Your Sternum (Patrons-only), which is also in that second Deep Dive.

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  1. Nick Strauss-Klein on June 20, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    This lesson is an alternate teaching of an older Feldenkrais Project lesson called Bending Sideways, from our Freeing the Spine, Chest, Shoulders, and Neck collection. I’m considering replacing the older one with this one, if listeners like it. I’d love your feedback about which version of this lesson you prefer!

  2. Julie on June 27, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Nick: In response to your comment above, I haven’t made my way to the Bending Sideways lesson but I really like this one. I clearly sensed the connection between my hip bones and cervical spine (which is arthritic) and found it easier to turn my neck more fully left and right after the lesson by using more of my spine and skeleton. This has great implications for merging left while driving a car. In fact, I’m practicing in my chair right now: “Shorten my left hip, push on my right heel, twist from my right hip, slide the rib basket and shoulder blades.” Thank you!

  3. ren renren on July 11, 2019 at 9:36 am

    I don’t exactly remember all the parts of the other version, but i really liked the standing intro and ending of the lesson.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on July 15, 2019 at 1:03 pm

      Great. The other one has a different version of the standing frame for the lying down lesson. If you try it sometime, let me know how you like it!

  4. Sue D on September 18, 2019 at 1:54 am

    Hi Nick, I am delighted with this lesson and am enjoying bending sideways too. So both are good for me! I had been having trouble with side bending in the side lying position, my side ribs don’t like being called into action to support but they’re getting the idea now. I wonder if you have a lesson leading into side to side rolling which builds on these lessons? Thanks very much for your excellent project.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on September 18, 2019 at 10:11 am

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the Feldenkrais Project! Members and Patrons can see Related Lessons, in the blue tabs above, which has lessons directly related to your question. Please consider joining the Project!

      There’s also some nice inclusion of side-lying, limbs-calling-on-ribs, in Connecting Shoulders and Hips, Parts 1 & 2, in our Learning the Limbs, from the Center collection.

      Thanks to your comment I’ve added these lessons to our to our Related Lessons tab. Your question has improved this study resource!

  5. Mila on July 11, 2020 at 11:52 pm

    Nick, I haven’t done the Bending Sideways lesson, but will do that to compare and leave feedback. Some comments on this lesson: 1) I loved visualizing the bend initiated by one side of the spine, and moving from there. I’ve never thought of/experienced bending that way, and I think it added fluidity to my movement. 2) I had a lot of difficulty understanding the instructions while standing, both before and after the lesson. Still, it was a wonderful lesson, I did it to ease my back after a spell of gardening, and it sure brought relief and ease. Thank you, Nick.

  6. Lorraine on October 4, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    I did both lessons in two days. I did bending sideways first and then this lesson.
    I had done lessons similar to the Bending Sideways before but still found it challenging. I made many changes during this lesson and found it really made me aware of what I was doing in walking.
    Later the same day I did about half of this , Spine Bending lesson. I finished it the next morning. When I began the second half of the lesson I began in standing and tested shifting my weight from one foot to the other. The movement had become really clear and without effort, either physically or in my thinking.
    I really got great benefits from both and would like access to both. They complemented each other very well.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on October 5, 2020 at 10:57 am

      Thanks for this feedback! I’ve received a few similar emails but I’m glad for your public comment so others can see. I’ll be keeping both lessons, and recommending them together!

      • Lorraine on October 5, 2020 at 3:16 pm

        This is a great way to present two wonderful lessons.

  7. Muriel Soriano on March 22, 2021 at 4:36 pm

    That was great Nick! my “central body” feels so much freer to move and breath! thank you!

  8. Jean-Pierre J Dagenais on October 15, 2022 at 9:25 am

    I have been doing Feldenkrais lessons for about a year, with very good results.
    Is it advisable to do strength exercises, such as lifting weights, or is it preferable to abstain from such activities when following a Feldenkrais program.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on October 16, 2022 at 10:11 am

      Just be sure to put a few hours between your ATM studies and weight lifting, both before and after the ATM. This allows you to be sensitive enough to maximize benefits of ATM study (since heavier efforts make us less sensitive). Strength training, while paying attention with a focus on the “how” of the movement (just like in ATM lessons) is great if it works for you, especially free weights or moving your own bodyweight: pushups, pull-ups, TRX kinds of things. I’m not a fan of machines for strength training. They decide your mechanics for you, and there’s not enough variability in the repetitions.

      • Fay on April 20, 2023 at 3:00 am

        Interesting, thank you, especially the note on allowing time before/after an ATM lesson. Makes sense, now you mention it – that sort of semi-wobbly feeling (not unstable exactly but things sort of up in the air, movement patterns resettling?) seems like it would not mix well with adding significant load.

        • Nick Strauss-Klein on April 20, 2023 at 8:42 am

          Regarding “semi-wobbly”: yes, old patterns integrating with new information your nervous system (NS) has received in the lesson. There is a kind of relearning to balance and walk that happens when we come back up into standing. It’s important to go slow, because hurrying will cause your NS to play the old, familiar cards it trusts most. There’s a biological wisdom to this effect (since not falling is priority #1), but it dampens learning available new patterns after a lesson. That’s why it’s best to go slowly enough to “wobble” a little as you find new ways of moving in gravity.

  9. Fay on April 20, 2023 at 3:12 am

    Since the “please compare lessons” note is still up: have been doing this or the other sidebending one weekly for the last month and change. I like that this one brings in the arms early, and that there’s more explicit suggestions around easing the effort in the lower back and letting everything flatten. I don’t remember whether the other had us link the hand and foot – don’t think so – but that was really helpful, as was the explanation of what you were doing adding motion in the transverse plane back in. Both lessons had a feeling of trying to push rope in the beginning with the instruction to lengthen limbs without particular effort in the limbs themselves – I can easily increase the slack in the limb, but it’s much harder to move the tip of the fingers down the mat. I’d have to go back to the other again for what was particularly good in there but there was enough that I wasn’t bored doing it a few weeks in a row – appreciate that you kept both!

    Mechanically, I’ve been working on figuring out how to extend at the hip and not so much at the lower back, and my right mid-lower back has been cranky for at least a year now. I noticed that the side-bending was significantly more comfortable if I could convince my lower back to be flatter/less lifted. Interestingly, even if my back was still uncomfortable at the end, my balance and stability are generally noticeably better in the reference movement at the end of either of these lessons. Like “ah! it’s easy to just pick up that foot and wave it around a bit. fantastic.”

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on April 20, 2023 at 8:43 am

      Just want to say thank you for sharing your process and experience with these two lessons in detail. It’s inspiring to others!

  10. Sara on September 10, 2023 at 3:02 pm

    I enjoyed the two dimensions to the side bend that introduced a twist as it developed. The process of developing recruitment of different parts really made a difference to the more global (and secure) feeling in the movement from standing test at the beginning to the end test.

  11. Gertrude Schmidt on March 25, 2024 at 6:34 am

    This lesson is just meant for dancing. It’s such a great feeling like limbs and torso are moving together smoothly afterwards. Going through your DD ‘Walking from Your Spine’ this week it is the 3rd lesson now and I already feel like starting a dance career at the age of 64 – it’s so much fun.
    Thanks for your wonderful work!

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