Less is More – reduce effort to notice differences
“If you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.”
– Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc.
If you’ve been to a Feldenkrais class, you know that “small, slow, less effort” is a primary focus of most lessons. And that’s not so easy, especially in our high-speed, high-achievement culture. One student once told me, “I’ve never moved that slowly in my life!” Another admitted that she had a hard time slowing down for the first few classes, but once she was able to do it, she was surprised at how much detail she noticed about herself.
Going fast is not a bad thing! In certain situations, speed can be important for safety; in others, it can be useful, or just plain fun. And the same thing goes for using power in movement. The question is when to go fast, when to use a lot of effort. When you are learning something new, you may be doing some major remodeling of your nervous system. From a Feldenkrais perspective, you learn something more thoroughly and with more enjoyment if you proceed slowly and mindfully than if you try to push and do it full-size the first time.
In part, this is because when we move fast and with a lot of power, we also go on automatic, using what we already learned in the past to make things happen…which gets in the way of the openness and curiosity that are important for learning. Learning a new skill or refining a familiar one both require the ability to differentiate between what works and what doesn’t, and the best way to improve your perception of difference is to slow down and use less effort.
Slow, mindful movement is really the “stock-in-trade” of a Feldenkrais practitioner. What makes a Functional Integration session so special (the individual lessons that usually involve hands-on teaching) is the practitioner’s ability to really “listen” to the subtleties of movement. This creates a sense of safety and trust. At the end of a session, people often express surprise at how much change they feel when it seemed like I didn’t really “do” anything.
This sense of safety is a major reason why the Feldenkrais Method is such a great tool for working with persistent pain. When you are in pain, less really is more. Pain is basically an alarm system letting you know you’re in danger, and we develop patterns of self-protection by restricting movement – for very good reasons. If you move slowly and lightly, there’s an opportunity to expand your ability to move in different ways without sounding the pain alarm. It’s as if you’re telling your body “it’s OK right now.” Then, when your nervous system is able to feel the enjoyment of pain-free movement, this further eases patterns of self-protection and persistent pain.
This principle can also create safety in areas outside of what we call “movement.” In my counseling practice, I use the idea of slowing down in the area of emotional regulation. When you’re being hijacked by an emotion or a thought, everything starts to move really fast, and sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re doing – or even remember what you did, later on. If you’re able to slow down enough to feel what’s going on, then you start to have a choice about how you respond to people and situations. To me, this is an important area for us to apply the idea that “if you know what you’re doing you can do what you want.”
Addendum 12/6/13: Remember the first principle? Be cautious with principles. Here are some important exceptions, when effort or speed can actually help you to organize yourself in a more efficient way.
Homework (if you want it):
1. Do something slowly: Something familiar, or something new you’re learning. Notice the details about how you do it and find out if there’s any way you could make it more enjoyable. For some inspiration in this area, learn about the Slow Movement.
The “Weber Fechner Law” explains why using less effort helps you sense more difference. Read up on psycho-physics and the Weber-Fechner Law:
The Wikipedia description of Weber-Fechner is a straightforward introduction and even includes some mathematical equations!
Todd Hargrove’s take on Weber-Fechner is down-to-earth and practical in his post Why Slow Movement Builds Coordination. Todd is a Feldenkrais Practitioner and Rolfer, and one of my favorite bloggers on issues having to do with movement and the nervous system.
Feldenkrais trainer Dennis Leri has a more philosophical treatise on the subject. He further unpacks Fechner’s work and its influence on the Feldenkrais Method.
- And here’s another take on the subject by Stacy Barrows, a Feldenkrais Practitioner and Physical Therapist who blogs about Feldenkrais on the Huffington Post.