During a session with a yogi, I use Feldenkrais strategies to facilitate people's comfort in getting into the various beautiful yoga postures, or "asanas", as they are called. Adaptable to all levels of ability or experience, working hands-on with clients, I present a Feldenkrais approach to "stretching" in order to improve their yoga practice.
We all know that Feldenkrais® is a wonderful body-centered self-discovery process. Yoga can be also. An obvious difference is that Feldenkrais uses movement for self-exploration and awareness while yoga uses asanas, mudras, and intentional kinds of breathing. Therefore, I've found it sometimes to be a beautiful union between two different forms of self-exploration.
Complementing my primary passion of Feldenkrais, I've discovered in recent years a strong fondness for yoga. It's interesting how my love for one ignites my passion and application for the other. Within my own personal time, each occasion in which I design a Feldenkrais lesson around a certain yoga pose, I find that I enjoy the yoga even more so. I'm also discovering that the more I do yoga, that returns my interest to Feldenkrais for more movement exploration. What a serene blend between process-oriented and goal-oriented kinds of work!
Feldenkrais can dynamically help improve your flexibility and comfort within an asana. Some of the asanas I have worked with clients for improving have been, in their English name: Lotus, Cat, Camel, Hero, Plough, Spinal Twist, Head to Knee, Smiling Cow, Cobra, and the Bridge.
"Sensible Feet, rather than Sensitive Feet"
Each particular session with a client is unique with that particular person and on that particular day. However, to give a tangible to what I do, I'll give a physical example of when I work with a yoga student who approaches me for improvement in sitting cross-legged, or sitting in Lotus. Often times I am able to improve the yogi's flexibility by "working the client's feet". More accurately, I am working through the client's feet, sensing for connections to the rest of the Self (body). As I am working, I am asking within myself, "How does this (foot) connect to the rest of the Self?" I may never actually articulate an answer. However, it is this indulgement into this Inquiry Process that is the Feldenkrais® work. I may also begin to gently turn or "play" with the client's toes and foot, as I am "into the process" of being aware of the connections throughout this individual as I am "exploring" the feet. At some time during our "dance" together, I may find that I am even able to ultimately interlace the client's toes together, only if it is easy and comfortable to do so. However, this is not a direct goal of the session. As a practitioner, I am into the moment. ... I am into the process ... not the goal.
Clients, afterward, are often amazed at how much more comfortably and easily they can sit cross-legged, or even in some form of Lotus. What an improvement! It's wonderful how this strategy can open oneself up for sitting. One reason for this is because of the coherent connections between the toes/feet and the rest of the Self. The toes/feet are instrumental in balance, which influences the organization of the Self.
An especially enjoyable moment in my practice occurred when a yoga teacher in the area, Deanne Shower, age 56, came to see me out of curiosity. In the beginning of our session, she expressed that she was experiencing an intense tightness and pain in her right buttock when doing any Head-to-Knee pose. This was unfortunately affecting her practice and teaching of yoga. I guided her through a gentle “Head to Knee lesson". Instead of having the intention of bringing her head to her knee (while the legs are straight), I built our session together around having her first explore bringing her head toward her knee while her leg is comfortably bent. Then I would ask her to maintain the same relationship between her head and knee, namely that the two remain touching, while she slowly extend her leg in order to straighten it. Instead of the traditional “hamstring stretch” that is taught to almost every American in our school system, this Feldenkrais strategy teaches the relationship between the hamstrings, back, neck, and the rest of the Self (body) for more efficient movement.
At the end of our session, Deanne was overjoyed. She told me that she no longer had ANY pain when performing the “hamstring stretch”. She then amazed herself by proudly showing me that she was actually able to wrap both legs behind her head, exclaiming “I’ve never been able to do this. This stuff really works!”
If you are just starting to develop an interest in learning yoga, I would advise you to first find an instructor that you feel comfortable with, and that you feel comfortable enough to be allowed to slowly go and learn at your own pace. It’s important that you do not feel compelled to have to be able to pre-maturely force yourself into a yoga pose. Be sure that you do not feel that you are, before you are ready for it, overly-stretching, in order to attain a, supposedly, certain level of fitness. Find a teacher that you feel is nicely pacing you, and you do not feel is rushing you beyond your immediate abilities.
Guan Yin Acupuncture & Feldenkrais® Center
Dr. Lin Cheng Speer, LAc, OMD, PhD
James Speer, Guild-Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner®
1003 Wilshire Blvd. Suites #203, 208
Santa Monica, CA 90401
"Health Is All that Matters!"