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Inside-Out Bodywork

Tap into your body's wisdom to release unhealthy patterns of movement.

By Linda Knittel

Not only has Malcolm learned to do yoga ortho-bionomically-moving slowly so the body understands and integrates each step--but she has also seen firsthand its benefits in her own practice and life. "When you use O-B principles in yoga, you do your practice more gently and move into positions the way your body naturally wants to move," she says. "You become much more inner-directed, and that new awareness brings about incredible shifts."

Retraining the Body

Each and every time a Feldenkrais practitioner watches you walk across a room, sit in a chair, or turn your head, he sees your entire history on display. In his eyes, every physical and emotional experience you've had has been preserved in the way you use your body. For Feldenkrais workers--they're also often called teachers, in keeping with the idea that the technique is a form of movement reeducation--the goal is to help you go beyond your known possibilities to discover more comfortable and efficient ways to move. "The work is about showing the nervous system that there are often easier ways to do things," says Deborah Vukson, a Feldenkrais practitioner and yoga instructor in Eugene, Oregon. "I help a student's body distinguish what is working and what is not."

Of course, the human body doesn't consciously create unhealthy movement patterns; they arise as we do our best to continue functioning in the face of physical or emotional trauma. In fact, according to the Russian-born physicist Moshe Feldenkrais--an engineer and judo master who developed the modality--when the neuromuscular system is given the chance, it will always choose the most effective way to behave. And providing that chance is precisely what both individual and group Feldenkrais sessions are all about: using gentle, repetitive movement sequences to retrain the body to move as efficiently as possible. With efficiency comes ease and comfort.

At the start of your first individual session of Feldenkrais--formally known as "Functional Integration"--the teacher will listen to your concerns and observe how you hold and move your body. Most of the work is then performed while you lie loosely clothed on a massage table, although some sequences are done while you are standing or sitting.

By very gently moving the bones, the teacher then explores the various rotations of a joint in order to detect the smoothest movement pathway for a given action, says Kim Cottrell, a speech pathologist and Feldenkrais teacher in Portland. Once found, this most efficient movement pattern is repeated several times to give the body a chance to integrate it. Occasionally, one session is all it takes for you to feel an ongoing difference, but Cottrell says working with a student a number of times is generally necessary to ensure significant change.

For example, if it's your shoulder that is giving you trouble, a Feldenkrais teacher might first show you with her hands the ways you habitually hold and move the joint. Then, by gently maneuvering your arm in various positions around and across your body, she would present your neuromuscular system with all the other ways your shoulder can move in order to remind it what is possible and what is most comfortable. "This technique can show the nervous system that it has been holding the shoulder in one place, when it really has many options for relating to the rest of the body," says Vukson.

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