Feldenkrais®, Volleyball, and Reciprocal Motion

My absolute favorite Feldenkrais® lesson is called “Movement in Opposition.” Or, “When Something Goes Forward, Something Goes Back.” It might sound intuitive, but it’s not, especially when it applies to a challenging or complicated movement pattern. This one single lesson helped me get rid of my chronic headaches, healed my low back pain, and made my ballet technique easy and almost effortless. But, my most satisfying application of this lesson was when I shared it with my adorable niece.

She called me last month for a phone consultation regarding an onset of back pain she was having during volleyball practice. When she reported it to one of her coaches, she told my niece that it was common for girls to have back pain with volleyball, and it might go away if she got stronger and worked harder. Hmmm, that didn’t make sense. No one should have back pain at the age of 13, no matter what they are doing. Besides, she was already strong enough and certainly worked hard enough. Perhaps she could work smarter, not harder, and my favorite Feldenkrais® lesson could show her how.

However, my efforts to help her were hampered by the fact that I live 1,500 miles away. Fortunately, I was going to be visiting her family the following week. Seven days later, I was sitting in my sister’s living room with my niece pointing to her left sacroiliac joint, which was where she had pain whenever she served or spiked the ball. I asked her what that meant, and tried not to notice when my niece and sister shared a look and tried to hide their grins. What can I say….I am not known for my athletic prowess and I don’t know much about sports. However, I do know a lot about movement.

Right there in the living room, I had my niece demonstrate her serve and her spike, minus the ball and the net. I immediately saw the problem. When she tossed the ball in the air to serve it, she was in a position of spine extension. When she hit the ball with her right hand, she was still in the position of spine extension, resulting in the force of her strike going back into her left sacroiliac joint. Well, that explained a lot.

We spent the next 15 minutes discussing the laws of physics, the mechanics of a serve, the power of a strike, and reciprocal motion. I showed her how her lower back could move backward as her arm moved forward to serve or spike the ball. We practiced a bit more in the living room with the imaginary ball, and then ended the lesson. It was up to her to figure out how to put it all together for herself. And indeed she did!

A few days later, she sent me a text letting me know that her back pain was gone, her serve (and her spike) were more powerful than ever, and even her coach noticed her increased level of awareness when she played. I wondered if it was the same coach that told her back pain was common in young female volleyball players, but for once in my life, I kept quiet.

When my precious niece asked me, “Aunt Cheryl, is it magic?” I said, “Well, it is, and it isn’t . It’s Feldenkrais, combining the magic, science, and intelligence of your own nervous system.” It’s a beautiful thing, and “Movement in Opposition” is still my favorite lesson. Maybe even more than it was before. Feldenkrais®….it makes everything easier, effortless, and stronger. Fascinating, isn’t it?