Fill in the Gap
Even for those with injuries and chronic pain, Feldenkrais's gentle method allows the body to remain in an easeful, and therefore receptive, state—so the information you get through a teacher's touch or voice isn't drowned out by discomfort and can be integrated on a neurological level.
As physical therapist and Feldenkrais teacher Jane Diehl of Redondo Beach, California, explains, "We want the body to understand that it's possible to move and be comfortable. Once you understand that, you have more options for movement creating flexibility."
So when we're stuck in our asana practice, Feldenkrais can offer a way to move ahead. "The purpose of Feldenkrais work is to allow you to do whatever you do better," says Diehl. As a complement to your yoga practice, Feldenkrais can help your body to understand the range of actions possible in an asana, so you can move more deeply into poses you find difficult.
For my final somatics exploration, I made an appointment with Diane Elliot, a Body-Mind Centering teacher with an eclectic yoga background, including the Iyengar and Kripalu styles. "What would it be like," she asked, "if your sense of yourself included an awareness that went right down to the cellular level, so that you could imagine the movement between the cells? Wouldn't that provide a much deeper and subtler way of entering into movement or posture?"
As Elliot explained, a basic premise of Body-Mind Centering (BMC) is that we can develop awareness, receive information, and learn to move from each of the body's systems—from individual cells and their components up to the larger, more obvious systems like the skeletal, glandular, circulatory, and nervous systems.
"Somebody might be very tuned into their muscles or their skeletal structure," says Elliot, "but they might only ever enter movement from those systems, because that's what they're familiar with. Those are the systems that tend to get worn out. So I'll look for the systems that aren't being used. We use the term 'the shadow' for that which is less expressed."
BMC also explores the movement patterns that develop from the time we're in utero through fetal development, birth, and the early years of life. The founder of BMC, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, sees all of these movements as echoes of nature and of other animals that form the evolutionary chain. For example, she compares the fluid patterns within our body—like the ebb and flow of craniosacral fluid—with the fluid patterns in nature, such as ocean currents.
Understanding such subtle complexities takes more than one lesson, Elliot cautions. Rather than trying to explain them intellectually, Elliot starts with the concrete. She asks me how I feel about my yoga practice. What do I enjoy? What do I find difficult? Then she asks me to lie down on the floor and begins touching me lightly. Once she touches a student, she explains, she can get a sense of which systems and movement patterns operate strongly, which may be hidden, and which may be in distress.