Remember how your mother always told you to stand up straight, don’t slouch and hold your head up? For optimal posture and balance, it turns out she was right. So why is it so difficult? Aside from the natural pull of gravity, the answer might simply be that we were never taught how to manage our bodies in space.
Try standing up straight with your eyes closed, and don’t move. After a few moments, you’ll likely find that you’re swaying, and you might feel unbalanced. Your body is actually fighting to stand up straight.
“Holding the weight of our head where it should be on the spine can be challenging,” says Alina Tudor, a licensed massage therapist (LMT) and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (GCFP), of Rehoboth Massage and Alignment in Rehoboth Beach. “Over time, poor posture can lead to chronic pain, including neck and back problems, and the body becomes misaligned.”
Over time, poor posture imprints on the nervous system and affects our movement.
After years of practicing massage and bodywork, Tudor and her husband, George, also an LMT, continually saw clients at their practice who had the same recurring pain. They wanted to find a solution that would allow their clients to remain pain-free over a longer period of time and so began looking at methods of treatment that focused on posture and the manipulation of the myofascial system, or connective tissue, that supports the body.
“Every body has its own story,” George explains. “The way we use our bodies in daily life is often not a conscious decision. We sit for hours at a time hunched over a desk or reading at a computer, drive long distances, work long hours … and then wonder where our pain is coming from. Over time, our poor posture imprints on the nervous system and ultimately affects our movement.”
Through the course of their work, the Tudors came across the Feldenkrais Method, a somatic, or body-oriented, intervention created in the 1940s to help people reconnect with their bodies and learn ways to move with greater efficiency. Pronounced “fell-den-krice,” this method uses hands-on and verbally guided movements to help practitioners develop body awareness, and is designed to increase the range of motion and improve balance, flexibility and coordination.
After years of playing soccer and practicing martial arts, particularly judo, a chronic knee injury prompted Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. to apply his knowledge of physics, biomechanics, neurology and psychology to a new understanding of human development and function. His Feldenkrais Method, as it would come to be known, used guided movement to improve physical and emotional well-being. Over time, the method has a positive effect on the nervous system that promotes change in difficult-to-break postural habits that may be affecting individuals’ daily functioning.
The Tudors trained for four years and are now certified Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement Teachers, providing group lessons that guide students through a sequence of slow, gentle movements in a variety of positions while on the floor, sitting in a chair or standing. The movements are designed to communicate with the person’s nervous system, teaching participants how to reduce unnecessary muscular effort and improve awareness of the body in action.
For Anne McDonald, a doctor of occupational therapy (OTR/L) in Lewes and a former dancer, the Feldenkrais Method has been a life-changer. After one class, she was hooked.
“Afterward, I found my body was moving in a different way,” McDonald says. “It was freeing. I had more choices of movement, which felt much more natural.” She went on to become a GCFP, as well as a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, a similar method of using movement to focus on how people can perform their daily activities with less tension and more awareness of how their bodies are moving in space.
She describes the practice as more of an educational system than a therapy. “While it does lead to therapeutic outcomes, such as reduction in pain, reducing inflammation and improving circulation, it also teaches us how to listen to our bodies, tells us when to stop, get up and walk away from the computer, take a break to reduce fatigue, and pause before reacting to situations in order to respond with less muscular tension,” McDonald says. Once you get in tune with your own body, she adds, you can learn to relax, reduce stress and anxiety, improve balance and coordination, and move in ways you never have before.
“Applying the Feldenkrais Method to my life has not only improved the quality of how I go about my day but it has lengthened my 25-plus-year career,” McDonald says. “Feldenkrais is a great way to stay independent for as long as possible.”
To find a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, visit the Feldenkrais Guild of North America website at feldenkrais.com.