The Feldenkrais Method: Q&A With Stacy Barrows

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feldenkrais-stacy-barrowsThe Feldenkrais method is an educational approach to fitness that incorporates a lot into its practices…and no one knows better exactly what goes into it than Stacy Barrows, P.T., G.C.F.P., CPI-PMA-CPT. She is co-owner of CCPT, a registered Physical Therapist, Guild Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner, Strength and Conditioning Instructor, and PMA Certified Pilates Teacher.

Stacy has honed her manual therapy skills and worked with physicians world-renowned for their shoulder expertise. She is one of the first instructors to teach how to use the foam rollers, and has lectured extensively to health and fitness professionals. Stacy patented a fitness product called the Smartroller®, along with other kinesthetic props and teaches courses internationally. She enjoys writing and authored: SMARTROLLER® GUIDE TO OPTIMAL MOVEMENT, as well as co-authoring a study on Feldenkrais and pain management.

1. What is The Feldenkrais Method?

FeldenkraisThe Feldenkrais Method is an educational approach based on neuroscience, physics, child development, and sensory motor learning that cultivates a better body awareness and helps one find new ways to move as seamlessly as possible.1 Feldenkrais involves learning, which is different than training, practicing or exercising. Moshe Feldenkrais, Doctor of Science, marital artist, and pioneer in neuroscience was adamant about this. He felt that exercising for the sake of improvement had very little value if it did not engage the brain. He developed a system that used movement and perception while heightening awareness to help develop higher levels of skills and improvement.

2. How is Feldenkrais different from traditional physical therapy?

Although there are many similarities to the FM and PT with regards to motor learning, the differences are that a Feldenkrais teacher does not direct their clients learning by addressing a correct form, or modeling a preferred way of doing something. Instead, the FM teacher sets up conditions for the student (which he preferred over clients) to learn by developing a better way to discriminate for themselves what is the best movement choice. This allows the student to refer to their own sense of judgement and build choices for what is needed in times where there is not instructor. A common feature of a Feldenkrais session is to reduce effort or stress since this interferes in the learning process. Also, for learning something new, we need to proceed at our own rate, which provides us the leisure to get used to the novelty of the situation.2 Feldenkrais sessions introduce us to non-intuitive understandings to improve by guiding one’s attention to small movements and to the subtle details of a movement. We often are led to believe that if at first you don’t succeed, try harder. Force and effort can be added later on once the skill is acquired, but can run interference when addressing new strategies that are different from our habits.

3. Why did you become a Feldenkrais practitioner?

I did not embrace the Feldenkrais Method at first. Despite my own experiences with movement and movement therapies, I found it difficult to understand experiential learning from a scientific point of view. But slowly, over the course of the four-year Feldenkrais training and countless hours practicing on my own, and with patients, it made perfect sense. The Feldenkrais method helped me refine my own sense of touch with others. It also prompted my interest in neuroscience and the foundational core of self-learning.3

4. Who can Feldenkrais benefit? Any type of people in particular?

Actually, there is no unique group that benefits with Feldenkrais strategies. Anyone can benefit. We use movement in all aspects of ourselves. The benefits of knowing more about how one moves can help a golfer find his most efficient stroke, a child with cerebral palsy finding the right tools to support standing, or a person with Parkinson’s to get out of a chair with greater ease. The clients that seek me out usually have not found improvement by other means, and through the Feldenkrais Method, they discover that they become their own best resource to solve movement problems, or find ways back to doing what they enjoy.

5. What do you see are the most common posture and movement issues that busy professionals experience?

The greatest postural challenge I see for busy professionals is sitting for long periods of time, using devices that have them focus into small spaces (ie smart phones, computers, etc). This reduces the innate intelligence we have to fidget in chairs to not become rigid in our posture. Visual habits also reduce peripheral vision. When we focus in small spaces, we need to hold our heads very still and to do this, we fix ourselves in one place.

6. Do you have any general advice for busy professionals to improve their posture and movement efficiency?

FeldenkraisThe key is to start now, and follow a few tips: 4

– Observe your posture during physical activities you really enjoy. You’ll be surprised at how light and well-supported your body feels. This conscious awareness of your own fluid movement gives you an opportunity to relearn ways of moving efficiently and with less effort.

– Reverse your movements. Doing this gives you a chance to practice and sense the smaller parts and patterns to your movements. Doctor of Science Moshe Feldenkrais felt that if you could easily reverse a movement pattern, you have learned to do it well. So try this drill: Start to sit down, and then pause and reverse your movement to rise up to stand. Did you hold your breath? Return to the movement and repeat it several times, consciously reducing any unhelpful tension. Breathe slowly and regularly. Finish with sitting and notice the posture you are in. Not only is it a good skeletal support, but it is ready for action!

– Improve your movement awareness. Kinesthetic aids like foam rollers, SMARTROLLER, and SITS, can build your awareness of posture and movement by challenging your body’s sense of its position in space. When properly used, such sensory motor “toys” are designed to reacquaint you with your original ability to efficiently support yourself through your pelvis and feet — the key to a more dynamic posture.

– Learn new movement skills. Take a Feldenkrais®5

– Awareness Through Movement class (ATM). In the class you explore how to move gently while paying attention to the details and quality of your movement. Such classes help you improve your posture by refining your kinesthetic sensibility. Many neuroscientists6 Support this method of self-improvement. Think of ATM classes as a way to hit the reset button on your posture.

7. Are there a handful of stretching, or strengthening exercises that you suggest for most of your clients?

Yes. I first have my clients pay close attention to their walking and to scan their movement whenever possible. For instance, pay attention to how their two arms movement comparatively, which way do they drift, how do their feet meet the ground, do they weight more on one side….This process wakes up the sensory part of the sensory motor system and can help people immediately find a more dynamic posture through just the practice of noticing themselves this way. Then, I ask them to find the walking pattern that allows them to move with more fluidity. This will quickly help people reduce unwanted tension and to move in a more integrative way. As far as stretching, I do not teach isolated stretches. The most recent studies do not show benefits with stretching for injury prevention, better performance, etc. Instead, I teach them full body lengthening movements. Such as a modified downward dog move, using a countertop. This will address the tissue often neglected, fascia,7 as well as muscles. For strength, I help people subscribe to finding activities they enjoy, and help them make better movement choices before they add resistive training. Once that is established, I guide them towards strengthening exercises that work off their center, much like a martial artist using integrative movements with their arms and legs to engage their core strength.

8. So what should you do to enhance your workouts, exercise to reduce injuries, and develop the best muscle distribution in your body?

– Get skeletal. Take advantage of the structural support your skeleton provides. To do this you need to orient to the space you are in. Stand and sense the ground through your feet. Feel how you are holding your weight and make small movements in a few directions. Can you try this before your workout with weights? This will help you find a way to distribute your weight more evenly. Jeff Haller, Ph.D., states: “If you’re imprecise in the way you find support through your skeleton, you’re going to have to engage more of your musculature to maintain your orientation.”

Feldenkrais

– Find a way to get to know your everyday movement better. Maybe you are already doing this when you push or lift something heavy, but being mindful with all of our daily movements is challenging for even the greatest athletes and may even be impractical. Take a class that allows you to improve your ability to discriminate how you move, make it fun, playful8 and pleasurable like a NIA class. Consider studying an internal martial art such as Qigong,9 Bagua or Tai Chi to develop power by moving from your center in a more dynamic way.

– If you are working with a trainer, Pilates or yoga teacher, have them help you find ways to vary your movement strategy. This can help you discriminate better movement choices on your own. Guido Van Ryssegem, ATC, RN, CSCS, says to vary your movement, range of motion and timing to support resilience in ones athletic training. Try and notice the variations in your breath patterns. By noticing the differences, see if you can find the most efficient way to breathe under varied conditions.

– Play with symmetry. Physical therapist Gray Cook is a great supporter of refining movement symmetry before loading strength. Try this. Pretend you are throwing a ball in your dominant hand. Now switch and do it with your non-dominant hand and repeat the movement pattern. Was it as graceful, smooth and effortless? Did you stop your breathing? Before you address what muscles you were not working, feel for the differences in the whole movement and find ways to move towards a more symmetrical pattern.

9. How can Feldenkrais benefit people who are looking to improve body composition and fitness?

I think I have addressed the fitness question. However, body composition is much more than exercising isolated muscle groups. If we have a better body sense (the ability to feel our movements, body sensations, and emotions in the present moment) we are able to engage the best muscles with our daily movements. A little awareness goes a long way.

10. Is there anything we did not touch upon that you would like to mention?

I suggest that your readers find a Feldenkrais Awareness Through movement class. Keep an open mind since this will offer a new way to look at self-improvement. One more thing, be patient when you try and learn something new, this insight is how we learned to move in the first place.

FeldenkraisStacy Barrows, P.T., G.C.F.P.,CPI-PMA-CPT. She is co-owner of CCPT, a registered Physical Therapist, Guild Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner, Strength and Conditioning Instructor, and PMA Certified Pilates Teacher. Stacy patented a fitness product called the Smartroller®, along with other kinesthetic props and teaches courses internationally. She enjoys writing and authored: SMARTROLLER® GUIDE TO OPTIMAL MOVEMENT, as well as co-authoring a study on Feldenkrais and pain management.

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