The following article appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch on January 30, 2011, and features one of our Feldenkrais teachers at the Open University, Cas Overton. Feldenkrais is taught on Thursdays at the O.U.
Feldenkrais positions help body and brain to allow more mobility
By Maria Howard
Published: January 30, 2011
Mary Frances Hobbs had hip-replacement surgery in 1998. She started taking Feldenkrais Method lessons a year later.
“I wanted to be mobile, and arthritis and bad hips were keeping me from doing that,” said Hobbs, a chemistry teacher for the MathScience Innovation Center in Richmond.
Feldenkrais got her moving more freely again. And so far, she hasn’t had to have the second hip replaced.
Hobbs was one of the participants at the group Feldenkrais lesson led by Cas Overton at the Shepherd’s Center this month. Feldenkrais lessons, which involve positions that help the body, nervous system and brain to allow for new movement, are most commonly done one-on-one with an instructor.
That’s where Hobbs started. Now, she’s maintaining her mobility and flexibility with the group lessons. “I really walk out of here feeling taller,” she said with a laugh. “It never hurts.”
Hobbs said her scientific curiosity makes her wonder how and why the lessons are so helpful.
“I know that my body is positioned where it needs to be … and I’m not sure how it all works, but I just know it works,” she said.
Overton, who has taught Feldenkrais since the mid-1990s, had a background in dancing and tai chi.
“Movement has just been imperative for me,” she said. So when she discovered this method for helping people to regain mobility, she decided to become trained in it. She has worked with all types of limitations, including paralysis and debilitating diseases. More often, she sees people with neck, shoulder and lower-back problems.
The result is not necessarily full mobility. But Feldenkrais usually helps, she said. “It can open up synapses in the brain that are just dormant.”
Feldenkrais is also used by athletes looking to increase speed and coordination. Because the positions and instruction stimulate awareness of the body and the brain’s role in controlling it, many athletes get significant results by adding these lessons to their regular workout regimen.
Overton showed me some basic positions and stretches used in Feldenkrais. Although I didn’t have a particular area of injury or immobility, I did feel that the short lesson helped me feel less stiff and tight.
The system was designed in the early 1900s by Moshe Feldenkrais, a physicist, engineer and judo master who suffered crippling knee injuries and had to learn to walk again.
Physical therapists often take an interest in Feldenkrais, Overton said, because the method approaches injury and immobility in a slightly different way.
“It’s never fast,” Overton said. “It’s never uncomfortable.”
The goal with Feldenkrais is to link the body and brain with nonpainful movements that will lead to better healing.
For instance, at the Shepherd’s Center, Overton did a whole class on lower-body awareness, balance and “walking with attention.” Toward the end, she asked participants to roll their ankles one way and then the other, being aware of what the ankles were doing and their role in supporting the body.
“Awareness is the big word” in Feldenkrais, Overton said. “You need that neurological connection.”
Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond. Her column runs every other week in Sunday Flair.
Check out http://www.feldenkrais.com for a list of certified practitioners as well as classes and events