Feldenkrais Blog, Uncategorized

Skeletal Awareness

johnny_automatic_dancing_skeletons“…the skeletal structure should counteract the pull of gravity, leaving the muscles free for movement. The nervous system and the frame develop together under the influence of gravity in such a way that the skeleton will hold up the body without expending energy despite the pull of gravity…” (Awareness Through Movement, p. 68)

“What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible brains.”

-Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc.

“Feldenkrais is about posture, right?”

This is a common question I get when I tell someone I’m a Feldenkrais Practitioner. It’s a hard question to answer, because in a way it is about posture … but then again, it isn’t. “Posture” is an externally-evaluated, static concept, and the Feldenkrais Method is about a personal, dynamic experience; it’s about finding enjoyment and improvement in movement – and in life generally.

When we try to have “good posture” we usually put ourselves into a rigid, often unenjoyable position that’s painful to maintain – and ends up disappearing the minute we turn our attention to something else. In the real world, we are constantly moving, and a more fluid, responsive and satisfying stance can adjust to many different activities and environments.

Feldenkrais practitioners use the skeleton as a primary reference and understand principles of biomechanics. Your skeleton is the architectural support for the rest of you, providing leverage to move around. If this architecture is well-organized and aligned, there will be less wear & tear on the soft tissue, reducing the effort it takes to do any basic action, and reducing or preventing pain. But as the above quotes above illustrate, skeletal alignment is only half the story. The other half is self-awareness and the ability to choose from a variety of options – a flexible brain. Feldenkrais lessons can help you distinguish between different ways of organizing your skeleton and to discern which way is preferable to you in that moment, for a given activity.

Just as any posture – no matter how well aligned – becomes bad when it’s held rigidly, there’s no posture that’s inherently bad. Posture is emotionally expressive, so slumping your shoulders to express dejection or stiffening your spine to express indignance are both important in communication and expression of feelings. Also, almost every posture you can think of has some useful applications – rounding your spine can help you tie your shoes, inspect your bellybutton, or do a somersault.

Every body is different in its organization and ability, so it works better to start with what you feel internally than to compare yourself to someone else’s idea of what correct posture is. There are plenty of people who have major physical difficulties and yet live beautiful, creative lives. It’s important not to get carried away by the idea of moving toward some kind of physical perfection. I have found that when I get caught up in trying to “fix” someone’s pain or teach them what I think the “correct” movement is, the lesson is actually much less helpful than when I stay with the person’s experience and follow what’s actually happening for them in the lesson. Then they learn to distinguish for themselves what feels right for their body.

This month’s lessons will focus on finding support through the skeleton and moving toward more efficient movement. And since a connection to your skeleton in gravity also connects you to the ground, the lessons will also be a great way to stay grounded during these short, dark December days. See below for more details.

Homework (if you want it!):

  1. Seek improved skeletal alignment by using awareness: For example, if you’re sitting at a computer, instead of pushing your shoulders down and straightening out your back, spend a few minutes finding how your feet and pelvis can support your spine in a way that feels good to you. Standing in line at the grocery store, pay attention to your feet and ankles, and play with changing how your weight travels through to the floor. Then try the same thing while you’re in motion: shoveling snow, out walking, rolling over in bed. If being aware of your skeleton is confusing, come to class!
  2. Further reading about posturefrom Todd Hargrove, Feldenkrais Practitioner and Rolfer: on Posture, on Skeletal Awareness, and on Efficiency and Coordination
    and from Stacy Barrows, a Feldenkrais Practitioner and Physical Therapist who has a blog with the Huffington Post: on Posture
    and from Ralph Strauch, Feldenkrais Practitioner and philosopher: on Posture
  3. Is there really a connection between poor skeletal alignment and pain? (remember, we’re holding the principles lightly). Here’s one challenge to that belief, a research review that finds “Many postural–structural–biomechanical (PSB) factors have failed to show an association or to be the cause of lower back pain.” (Lederman, CPDO Online Journal (2010), March, p. 1-14.)