How To Benefit From Awareness Through Movement® Lessons
By Lawrence Wm. Goldfarb
The following is a sample Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) lesson—one of the two way of learning from the Feldenkrais Method® of movement education. (The other—Functional Integration® lessons—are personal, hands-on, lessons with a certified practitioner.) ATM lessons are equally applicable for those who want to recover from injury, illness or accident, improve athletic or artistic performance, prevent injury, and improve the quality of everyday movements.
The Feldenkrais Method of movement education is not therapy and should not replace medical attention or treatment. As with all movement-based programs, every person interested in using the program, especially those with pain or movement limitations, should follow these instruction only under medical supervision.
Moving Beyond Habits
Each Awareness Through Movement lesson consists of a series of movements that fit together to form a meaningful sequence. These lessons are not exercises in the normal use of the word. Instead, Feldenkrais® lessons are guided formats, carefully constructed to bring you to a new sensory appreciation and conceptual understanding of your movement abilities. The main obstacles to easy, efficient action are the habitual, unconscious aspects of our movements. As the lesson guides you to a new awareness of self-limiting habits, you learn to move beyond these restrictions. A central theme to each sequence, even those that emphasize the small motions, is how the whole person—all of you—can be involved in every action. Other themes include learning about your capacity for easy and pain-free movement, changing through awareness rather than effort, learning to learn, and tapping into the possibilities for further improvement.
The purpose of this text is to guide each person through the movements to find his or her own way of doing them. The text is a script that presents the lesson exactly as a Feldenkrais practitioner might give the lesson to a group of students. For many people it is easier to read the text into a tape recorder and follow the directions while playing the tape back. One important aspect to remember when doing these lessons is to allow yourself enough time to repeat every movement at your leisure. You also want to allow ample time for each rest period. When done in an easy, unhurried fashion, this lesson should take at least 45–50 (forty-five to fifty) minutes.
No Pain, More Gain
How you approach these movements is of utmost importance. If you were to perform the sequence as some sort of exercise, repeating each movement a certain number of times, straining, moving against resistance, and not paying attention to how you move, you would receive little, if any, benefit. Unlike strengthening or flexibility exercises, these lessons do not require struggling, making great effort, and forcing. These lessons are for learning how to improve the way you move. Do every movement slowly and gently, without forcing, pushing, or stretching. Direct your attention to the quality, rather than quantity, of your movement. In each action, use the minimal amount of effort possible and strive for a smooth, continuous movement. That is to say, perform the movement without any little stops and starts, without unevenness in effort or motion. Do only as much as is comfortable and easy for you, stopping before you experience any strain. If, at any time, you notice discomfort, further decrease the range and effort of your movement until it is comfortable. If you cannot make a specific movement without discomfort or strain, do it only in your imagination. Do all the movements at your own rate. Move at comfortable pace, as long as you move slowly. As Feldenkrais was fond of reminding his students, "Move slowly to learn quickly." Do only as much of the lesson as is easy for you. You can always return to the lesson later to find out if it has become easy to do more. If a particular movement turns out to be very difficult, it might be a good idea to consult a Feldenkrais practitioner to learn more about what you’re doing and what you could do differently. You will notice that there are many rests in each lesson. The design of each of these lessons allows you the opportunity to reflect upon the effect of the movements just completed. The rests also serve to break the rhythm of moving and to give you a chance to notice if the contact with the floor, or whatever the supporting surface you are on, has changed. You are encouraged to take a rest if you get tired or distracted, or at any other time you like. This gentle way of moving is necessary for learning to move differently: more easily, more efficiently, and more comfortably. Though you will notice that the lesson leads to everyday actions becoming easier, these lessons are not meant to suggest that you should perform everyday movements at such a slow speed. You are, however, invited to explore decreasing the effort in everyday movements to find out if you can make those actions easier.