“Make the impossible possible,
the possible easy,
and the easy elegant”
By Paul van Kaldenkerken
I got interested in the Feldenkrais Method early on in my Parkour practice. It’s core idea to make movement more efficient and effortless seemed to be directly applicable to Parkour’s intention to travel across the urban terrain as fast and efficiently as possible. The first session I attended was a huge disappointment. You lay on a mat, do very slow movements and rest a lot. My 17 year old self was not yet able to really enter into this discipline.
As begin to take up the practice again after 8 years all the intricacies and details reveal itself. I will not go into how the practice functions but this video gives a quick look at how the practice looks from the outside.
I will rather concentrate on what carry over the method has for Parkour. If you want to find out more about the method itself head over to the International Feldenkrais Federation.
My Personal Practice
In my own practice Feldenkrais makes me tune into my body in ways I rarely do. In Parkour sessions I catch myself ignoring signs of fatigue in order to complete the challenges I set myself. There is a subtle difference between the body that i have, the one that manipulate and use as an instrument, and the body that I am, meaning to simply be aware of the bodies phenomena and affects without the intention to manipulate or change. To practice Feldenkrais means to tune into out embodied existence, the basis of our consciousness and experience. It doesn’t matter what the body can or can’t do. Ideals and goals fade away, I don’t try to attain anything. I just observe the becoming of my embodied existence.
Parkour and the Feldenkrais method share the same open and curious attitude. Through Feldenkrais I learned to explore minute movements in almost endless ways. Repeating movement not as repetition but iterations, paying attention to small changes and how they affect the whole. There is no right or wrong for movements, just different qualities. They can be harder, softer, efficient, tiring, aesthetic but never wrong. Doing Feldenkrais truly feels like movement research and I find challenges in the smallest movements.
I have also become a lot more aware of my automatic movement patterns. Feldenkrais thought that every dysfunctional movement once was a useful solution to a problem. They become automatic over time and create other problems. The goal of the method is to unveil those automatic patterns and find other, less taxing and more efficient ways of moving. This has helped me for example with my running gait. The method helped me first to gain awareness of my automatic patterns and now to find new variations through slow experimentation.
More than my training my coaching has benefited enormously from the Feldenkrais method. Moshè Feldenkrais was not interested in movement or even training but in learning and in awareness. He was interested in the personal and even spiritual growth that movement has the potential to enable. He wrote alot about learning in general and what makes a good teacher.
To him mindful and sustainable learning can only reliably happen in certain environments across all aspects of life. This environment has to be safe, supportive and nurturing. Parkour to me is a discipline that is not about competition or ideal movements but about self exploration and discovery. Therefor I try to create an environment where people can start developing what is already in them instead of trying to attain external goals.
My cues become more suggestive than authoritative. Feldenkrais believed strongly in the self regulatory powers of the body and so there is never an ideal to chase. You approach the body in an open, inqusitive and curious way, trying to sense subtle differences and qualities.
My coaching has become a lot more resource and systems oriented through my exposure to Feldenkrais’ writing and practice. I make it a point that in Parkour differentiating between right or wrong is not very helpful. I try to highlight that movements we practice in Parkour have proven over time to be applicable for certain situations, but that students should experiment and see for themselves what works and what doesn’t. Instead of right or wrong, there are only different situation and different qualities. These qualities need to be explored. Therefor we should be less interested in goals but in journeys. We don’t focus on how a movement should look but try as many variations as possible to find unique variants for unique people. Everyone has their unique history, set of abilities and disabilities, injuries etc. Instead of the students becoming copies of the teacher it is more important for the students to develop themselves into their own unique individual.
Feldenkrais views the body as a complex and interrelated, self regulating system. Within every movement the whole body works together. Changes in one element can change the whole system. These changes are not linear, but circular, complex and often impossible to predict. With this knowledge comes a humility and a curiosity to explore new and always individualized cues for my students.
If students are injured or in other ways unable to perform a movement in a specific way I try to take attention away from the “problem” and guide their attention towards the possibilities that are still there. Because elements within a system are interconnected this might solve problems not directly associated with it.
Even though the body and its movement is a complex system we can identify dominant or leading elements that guide a complex movement. To find this dominant element can help to execute a complex movement. It can also lead to interesting experiences to change this leading element, to lead movements from different elements. Always change, always research, always be curious. A powerful tool to shake up habits and engrained patterns according to Feldenkrais is confusion, disarray and chaos. They force new ways of thinking and moving. Sometimes giving less precise cues can actually help more.
Through starting I Feldenkrais I started to dive deeper into mindfulness and other practices that build awareness. Learning happens through noticing difference. I try to build an explorative and curious environment without mindless repetition but curious iteration (I stole this idea from an Instagram post of Caitlin Pontrella). I found awareness to be one of the most essential tools, maybe even the only truly “basic” skill. To be aware of what you are doing, on all levels, so that you are able to make choices, to change and therefore to progress. Awarness is a crucial yet hard to grasp thing, simple and complex, that deserves its own seperate blogpost.
Every Feldenkrais lesson is characterized by many, many breaks, because it is in those moments, that we learn and integrate. I started to implement some mental training during breaks and after sessions to reflect on the days material. To close your eyes and go through the movements of the day again strengthens the neural patterns, because the brain does not differentiate between movements being done or being imagined.
All in all my Feldenkrais experience has been extremely fruitful and helped me to grow in many ways. I became fascinated with systems theory and its relation to Parkour. More on that in an upcoming blog post. But what I truly value about Feldenkrais is that it allows me a break from the constant pressure to perform and achieve. The prevelance of virtual and digital worlds and the acceleration of time are contrary to our embodied existence. The Feldenkrais method offers time and space to come back to that experience.