Yoga and Feldenkrais

 

by Nikhila M Ludlow
Feldenkrais Practitioner

 

This article refers to the lesson that can be heard here: Exploring the Cat-Cow or Marjayasana Pose

 

One of the major differences I have found between Yoga and the Feldenkrais Method® is that while in Yoga movement is often focused around Asanas or poses, Feldenkrais focuses on movement per se. It is the experience of moving that increases sensory experience; sensation is the language of the nervous system, and it is the nervous system that organizes us in our responses to life’s demands and experiences. Feldenkrais offers the possibility to re-educate the nervous system toward healthier habits in movement and posture and away from pain and dysfunctional movement.
 
Equally there are many similarities between the two systems: the word Yoga means Union — and Feldenkrais unites too — every lesson addresses the whole person. Mr BKS Iyengar, famous Yoga Master from Pune, India, says many things in his books that mirror what Dr Feldenkrais says. Two examples of this: both men stress the importance of awareness, and the capacity to move attention at will. While Dr Feldenkrais speaks of finding the weak spot, ‘the Achilles heel’, in a person’s organisation — a martial arts teaching for finding the best way to attack/throw an opponent — Mr Iyengar says that in practising Asanas, the injury will occur where the awareness is not.
 
Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lessons are guided only by the teacher’s voice. Students usually have their eyes closed, and they are always moving unless they are resting at neutral, so there is more of an opportunity to have a stronger sense of internal experience than there is when teaching is verbal and accompanied by imitating demonstrated movement/posture — for which the eyes must be open and focused on the teacher. Because Yoga tends to be based on Asanas/postures, students are often trying to achieve correctness in a certain position, whereas this is simply not required in an ATM. ATM also emphasises effort reduction. This is to increase capacity to sense and feel, through which it is possible to re-educate habitual movement patterns — working on the premise ‘Less is more’, and ‘Pain = No Gain’. In ATM we are asked to explore, rather than do, and we are encouraged to realize that exploration is more fruitful when we stay within our limits of comfortable movement, avoiding doing anything that hurts. This challenges our need to achieve, but the internal experience that is then fostered is one of enjoyment and pleasurable sensation. Students are supported in creating healthier ways of moving.
 
Dr Moshe Feldenkrais, founder of the Feldenkrais Method, taught many Awareness Through Movement lessons — thousands, literally. Among them are many that explore various Yoga Asanas. For example, during my Feldenkrais professional training, we did a lesson a day for a whole week exploring the Headstand, and spent another week on the Shoulder Stand.
 
My own journey with Feldenkrais began on a Yoga Retreat in India. Yoga had been my passion for many years and, finally there I was, living my dreams and studying in the land of its origin. Yoga probably quite literally saved my life. So strange then, to find myself there and discovering an attraction to a different system of working with my body/mind! There’s a long story there, suffice to say that recently in the last couple of years I have started to practise Yoga again, this time of course alongside my practise of Feldenkrais, and I am enjoying it more than ever before — having developed my capacity for self-awareness, discarded many old inefficient movement habits and learned new ones giving me a broader movement repertoire — and the asanas are more pleasurable than ever before and have taken on a whole new level of meaning. I put this change entirely down to my practice of Feldenkrais — now in its 25th year, 15 of which have been as a professional, running my private practice in Dartington, Totnes, Devon.
 
To sum up, since becoming a Feldenkrais teacher I have had many yoga teachers and yoga students in my classes — their comments always echo the same thing: it is the re-education of the nervous system that Feldenkrais offers that especially enhances and supports and deepens (note: not replaces) their Yoga practice. The lesson I have chosen for our 2020 International Feldenkrais Week is based around the Cat / Cow / Marjayasana Pose, which you will find in our free audio library — chosen because hopefully it is familiar to many of you and therefore one that will best allow me to show you something of just how Awareness Through Movement can inform and support your Yoga practise. I hope you benefit from and enjoy it!
 
 

© Nikhila Ludlow 2020
 
Feldenkrais Method® is the registered trademark of the Feldenkrais Guild UK Ltd., Reg No. 1563759.