LESS: effort, strain, injury, pain, stiffness, stress, suffering…
MORE: ease, agility, power, creativity, flow, flexibility, pleasure, satisfaction…
These claims are made by Feldenkrais teachers (including myself), as well as by teachers of other mindfulness-based approaches to self-improvement. But how exactly is it supposed to happen?
Here’s how it works in the Feldenkrais Method®.
Less effort = more awareness
Imagine yourself at a train station, trying to hear someone speak while a train goes by. Now imagine that you are holding the same conversation by a quiet lake. Your nervous system will have a much easier time taking in your friend’s words in the quieter environment.
The same holds true when the “noise” is your own effort, and the “words” you are attending to are the sensations in your body. Here’s an experiment I often use as a demonstration in my Less is More workshops, which you can do yourself right now:
- Pick up a small, light object, such as a pen or envelope. Notice that in addition to its shape and texture, you can also feel its weight. Your hand feels slightly heavier holding this small object, doesn’t it? (If it doesn’t, choose a slightly more substantial object).
- Now pick up a heavier object, such as a chair or large book. Notice its weight.
- Add the small object on top of the larger one. Can you feel the change in weight?
Even if your objects were close enough in weight (or your nervous system sufficiently sensitive) that you could feel the difference in step 3, you certainly could not feel it with same detail and clarity as you could in step 1.
In the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons, we intentionally reduce the effort as we move to a minimum so that we can gain the most awareness of what we are doing as we move.
More awareness = more choice and more freedom
Moshe Feldenkrais was fond of saying (in various ways): “when you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.”
When we act or move “on auto-pilot” we are not making choices. Destructive patterns of which we are unaware are set in motion before we even know what we’re doing. When we slow down our movements and reduce our effort we can become aware of the elements of a pattern, such the way we brace ourselves or hold our breath. Only then can we begin to inhibit the unnecessary (or “parasitic”) effort, and discover ways to move and act more freely.
Another thing Moshe Feldenkrais liked to say on the topic, was that if you have only one way to respond to a certain stimulus (and this stimulus could be something as simple as an intention to, say, lift your hand), then you are experiencing a compulsion.
Once you begin to become aware, you may be able to inhibit that compulsion. You might learn one way to, say, lift your hand, that is more satisfactory. But you are still not entirely free. What you have now is a dilemma: do I do it the old way, or the new way? What if the new way doesn’t work in a particular new situation?
You are only free once you have several satisfactory ways of carrying out a certain action.
More choices = all the other benefits
Well, once you can do what you want, the question becomes simple: what do you want to do?