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I was invited to speak to a group of ballet students in a summer "Ballet Boot Camp" recently.  I decided to give them an Awareness Through Movement(R) lesson for improving their flexibility in the classic straddle stretch (sitting on the floor with the legs spread wide).  It was a great pleasure to watch this group of teenagers, many of whom believed they simply weren't flexible enough and never would be, improve in small increments throughout the lesson.  Afterward, I gave them a brief discussion on stretching.  

One of the main principles of the Feldenkrais Method(R) is to use the entire skeleton to support an action.  Although it may seem strange, this includes a stretch.  Awareness Through Movement or Functional integration (R)  lessons subtly communicate with the nervous system to make connections with other parts to gain support.  For example, showing the nervous system how the legs can use the pelvis for support could allow the hamstrings to lengthen and allow for higher battements (kicks). 

Another principle is to help the nervous system differentiate between the various parts.  Often, when one muscle moves, others contract as well, to support the action.  Dr. Feldenkrais called this "parasitic contractions."   In this case, moving the other parts around the stretched muscle can help it to release more.  For example, if you were in a forward lunge to stretch your psoas muscle, you could make tiny circles with your back heel or very subtly tuck and release the pelvis while in the stretch and you will find you will easily deepen the stretch. 

Static stretches are the least effective way to lengthen your muscles.  The traditional manner of going to your limit and holding there only helps to set that point as your maximum stretch for your nervous system.  Instead, add tiny movements to any and all of your stretches.  If you are stretching your calf muscle, play with lightly moving your ankle around while in the stretch or wiggling your toes.  If you are stretching your shoulders, turn your head from side to side, rotate your wrists or bend from side to side.  

If there is a particular stretch you'd like to improve, ask your Feldenkrais practitioner if he or she can teach you and ATM that would help you to improve that area.  

 There is a published study on how Awareness Through Movement lessons can lengthen the hamstrings.  

 
 
I've been thinking a lot about how to interest people in Awareness Through Movement classes.  I've had better results with my themed workshops-- holding a series of classes around a single topic, like "back pain" or "hip flexibility" and yet I find this to be limiting.  I don't believe people should only take an Awareness Through Movement class when they're in pain and need relief.  I believe Awareness Through Movement has benefits that go beyond moving out of pain. So why would you choose an Awareness Through Movement class as your activity?  What benefits does it hold beyond the theme of the lesson?

Remove Outside Authority from your Inner Life
Awareness Through Movement asks you to listen to your whole self-- you become skilled and feeling where there is unnecessary tension or restriction.  And the more you listen to the feedback your body provides, the better you will be able to to follow your body's lead in all activities in your life.  You may find you don't want to push as hard as you usually do in yoga class, or you may find you feel more confident to "go for it" on your run.  The important thing is that you will know the answer for yourself, without relying on a teacher or trainer to make a decision for you. Moshe Feldenkrais said "The object of this learning is to remove outside authority from your inner life."  This is an enormous gift you can give yourself by taking Awareness Through Movement class.

Reduce the Noise in Your System
Awareness Through Movement releases chronic contractions that don't serve your movement.  Feldenkrais called it "parasitic action".  Like any parasite, it takes a toll on you.  It may not be causing you direct pain, but it's a noise in your system.  It keeps your movement from being fully functional or clean.  We all have them in all parts of our movement.  My focus recently has been to allow my tongue to be soft in my mouth.  Apparently, It thinks it should work hard, pressing itself to the roof of my mouth at all times.  The first time I released this contraction was in an Awareness Through Movement class here in Tucson with Bonnie Angelie.  As my tongue relaxed it felt so thick in my mouth that I felt I would choke!  Now, more and more often when I am able to let it rest and be easy I have the feeling of "home".   Of "this is the real me".  Not the one that is striving hard to be something else, but the true, authentic me.  And that, to me,  is an enormous gift.   As you release the "noise" in your system, you will find yourself more grounded, less stressed or anxious and more at home in your body. 
 
 
 
Last week I traveled up to Phoenix to teach a workshop for a group of dance majors at Grand Canyon University.  It was an excellent learning opportunity for me-- I'd forgotten how, like these enthustiastic movers, I used to be impatient with slow body awareness exercises too.  I could've gone in with a big movement theme (like headstands, for example)-- something to challenge them and keep their interest, but instead I opted for making ankle/knee/hip connections.  It turned out to be a hard sell.   I found I needed to explain a lot about WHY we were doing what we were doing, to keep it a bit more goal oriented. 
What I hope they discovered was that their attention to their movement does matter.  Simple awareness can make huge differences. 
 
 
After four delicious years of Feldenkrais training, I am now a practitioner.  I am getting set up with classes at the DanceLoft, the University of Arizona Campus Recreation and Bodyworks Pilates Studio. 

As a new practitioner, my goal is to get my hands on as many different people as possible, so I'm opening a "low fee community clinic" during the times when my two year old is at preschool.  For only $25/lesson, people can receive the benefits of a Functional Integration lesson for greater comfort and ease of motion. 

I am also available for afternoon appointments and appointments at the client's site, as well.