I just completed teaching a three week series applying the principles of Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement(R) lessons to Pilates. I began each class with two or three classic Pilates mat exercises, followed by a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson (ATM). After the lesson, we repeated the Pilates mat exercises to notice any changes that may have taken place in the student’s experience of the exercises.
The first workshop began with the Pilates mat exercises The Hundred and Leg Circles. I taught my favorite ATM “Movements in Opposition.” The basic principle of this lesson is, quite simply, when something goes forward, something goes back. After the lesson, we repeated The Hundred and Leg Circles.
The second week we began with The Hundred, The Swan, and The Single Leg Kick, followed by the ATM “The Spinal Chain.” The basic principle of this ATM is how to access individual segments of your spine through spinal flexion. It explores flexion from the bottom of the spinal chain verses the top of the spinal chain. After the lesson, we once again did The Hundred, The Swan, and The Single Leg Kick.
The third week we began with Pilates mat exercises The Hundred, The Saw, and The Spine Twist, foolowed by the ATM “The Five Lines.” This lesson facilitates the concept of sensing the length of your spine, arms and legs. Once again, after completing the lesson, we repeated the Pilates mat exercises.
None of the workshop participants had previous experience with the Feldenkrais Method. However, all of them had experience with Pilates, both with reformer work as well as mat classes. While the focus of Pilates is on stretching and strengthening your muscles, Feldenkrais focuses on moving from your skeleton and accessing your nervous system in a gentle but powerful way to allow for new movement patterns to develop.
During our discussions at the end of each class, all of the participants stated that the Pilates exercises were easier, lighter, and more fluid. They reported less neck strain when doing The Hundred and a stronger, deeper contraction of their abdominal muscles. Interesting, isn’t it? Especially since Feldenkrais focuses more on moving from our skeleton rather than moving from our muscles. Many of them were surprised to find less shoulder strain and improved range of motion when repeating The Swan and The Single Leg Kick. Especially since “The Spinal Chain” is a lesson in spine flexion, and The Swan and Single Leg Kick are exercises in spine extension. It was a beautiful example of how movements in flexion facilitate extension. I love this stuff!
One of the ladies exclaimed “It’s like magic!” It’s not magic, it’s really quite simple. It is the intelligence of our own nervous system that finds more efficient ways of moving when we create the environment for it to happen. We can then move through our Pilates exercises effortlessly and elegantly, while working smarter, not harder.
“Feldenkrais….making the impossible possible….the possible easy….and the easy elegant!”
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP