The "no pain, no gain" philosophy has been thriving in our culture for at least half a century. If we don't feel pain, did we push ourselves hard enough, go fast enough, far enough? We search for the pain to reassure ourselves that we have pushed, that we have battled. Pain is the body's warning light. When the check engine light comes on in your car, you are not likely to ignore it for long. Yet, when it happens in the body, we ignore it and think that it will somehow work itself out. But pain is a useful sign that we need to step back from what we are doing.
If we can view pain as the messenger rather than the enemy, we can begin the evaluation process that precedes learning and change.
For instance, if you experience pain while running, it doesn’t mean that you can't run anymore. It simply means that you need to change the way you are running.
Changing Our Movement Habits
Our skeletons are made to be strong and supportive. They are even equipped with shock absorbers to withstand the daily blows of our activities. Yet many of us do not use our skeletons properly to keep us upright. Instead, we use our muscles—or rather, we overuse them. Check out your abdominal muscles as you read this. Can you sense some muscular engagement there? Is it possible for you to let that go simply by thinking about it? Probably not. It’s probably something that is so ingrained in you that it will take more than a suggestion to put an end to that extra effort you make during every waking moment. This chronic engagement of muscles is responsible for much of the pain people experience on a regular basis. So, what can we do? We must get back to basics.
The most efficient way to change our movement habits is through the brain. Our brains are constantly sorting for the easiest way to do things, so if we can present it with a few different movement options, our natural intelligence can take over and choose the one that works best for us. The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education® is organized around this principle. During a Feldenkrais lesson—which is organized around a specific function such as walking, reaching or turning—each person is invited to make slow, gentle movements adding in different parts of themselves as they move, so that in the end, they have learned to use their whole selves in each movement. We are intended to move as whole beings, rather than as an arm or a leg or a hip or a knee. When we reach for something, we should be able to feel movement all the way down to our toes although most of us just reach with the arm and shoulder. This tendency to isolate parts of ourselves as we move rather than using the whole self in every movement creates a lot of wear and tear on the joints.
Using the Feldenkrais Method
The Feldenkrais Method gives people an opportunity to reverse this cycle and begin to move with the whole self once again. When you see a baby moving, notice the ease with which she rolls or turns to look at something. At some point in our lives, we lose this ease because we get into movement habits that interfere with the very things we are trying to accomplish. But this sense of ease can be relearned if the conditions are right. Awareness Through Movement® classes are geared towards this possibility. During this group-style Feldenkrais class, students lie on mats and a Feldenkrais practitioner verbally leads them through a series of movements designed to wake up the parts of themselves that they have forgotten how to use. Students often notice that they move better, think more clearly, sleep better, experience much less pain, and eventually begin to recognize some of the habits that lead them into discomfort.
In individual Feldenkrais lessons, the practitioner moves the student gently and easily so that she is reminded of what it was like when movement was easy and pain-free. These lessons are specifically tailored to each student with progress often being quite pronounced even after just a few lessons. Often, those who go for private lessons can transition into an Awareness Through Movement class after a time, where they can continue to progress and grow.
It’s time we leave the "no pain, no gain" philosophy far behind in search for a healthier standard. If we can rediscover our bones as our main source of support as we move through each day, everything we do will become easier, more efficient and far more enjoyable.
Lynn Kenny is a Feldenkrais practitioner who works out of MoveBeWell Studio in Bloomingburg. She holds group classes in Pine Bush and Montgomery as well as giving individual lessons at her studio. For more information, call 978-6506 or visit MoveBeWell.com.