Building Resilience: Why a consistent movement practice matters

by Beth Cooper, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner

dog and falling woman holly-mandarich.jpg

How do we take the discoveries we’ve made in our Awareness Through Movement® classes and Functional Integration® sessions and deeply weave them into the fabric of our daily lives?

In the teaching of sitting meditation, we are told that one of the reasons you practice your meditation each day is to build your skills. With consistent practice, you get better at bringing yourself back to the present, better at noticing when you get caught in your thoughts and your stories. And you work on these skills, not to become brilliant at staying present while you are sitting in a quiet, peaceful corner of your home, but so that these skills will be available to you as you navigate the chaos of your daily life. So that when you are confronted with challenging situations, you don’t automatically respond from your anger, or fear. Rather, you breathe, you notice how you are getting hooked, and you have a little window of time to choose to respond differently.   

One way that the Feldenkrais Method® works for me is as a moving meditation—using the lessons to expand my awareness so that I can notice when I am caught in habitual patterns of effort or organization and directing my attention to the present moment—what am I doing right now? And as with a sitting meditation practice, I am not just working on my ability to organize myself well while lying on the floor in the quiet of my home or my studio. I want to strengthen my self-organization skills so that they will be available to me as I meet the challenges of an unpredictable world.

So, how do we build a consistent movement practice? How do we make time for that work with all the many demands of our busy lives? 

  • Sometimes, I’ll take a section of a lesson that really resonated with me, or really challenged me, and I’ll explore it, maybe just for a few minutes, over several days. This can be as simple as exploring weight shifts over my sitz bones while sitting on my work stool.

  • If I can’t fall asleep, or if I wake up in the night and get stuck in that awful, anxious place (you know, at 3am…), I’ll do parts of a lesson in my imagination. Or making the tiniest possible movements. (So as not to awaken my partner.) It is not uncommon for some of my most profound discoveries to show up in these very subtle explorations.

  • If a lesson makes me aware of a particular habitual pattern—say, elevating my shoulders toward my ears—I might spend a few days noticing when that pattern shows up in my daily activities: When I’m driving? When I’m cooking? When I’m rushing to meet a deadline? Maybe during some completely innocuous activity like brushing my teeth? Once I notice the pattern has shown up, I’ll play with softening it, letting it go a bit, and seeing if I can continue my activity without it.

  • You can approach any activity in the spirit of a Feldenkrais lesson. During “Snowpocalypse 2019,” I did a LOT of snow shoveling. The first time I went out, I wasn’t particularly mindful. And my back was sore later that afternoon and evening. When I went to shovel the snow the next time, (and the next, and the next…), I focused my attention on the “how” of the shoveling. I paid attention to my stance, my sense of support through my bones. I listened to my breathing. I played with how many different ways I could shovel that still felt well-organized and comfortable.  Not only did I avoid the sore back, I was much less bored with the shoveling.

 But, does it really make a difference? (After all, doing all those things I just described takes some work.)

Just this week, I was reminded that, yes, it does make a difference. I was walking in my neighborhood park. A medium-large and rambunctious dog took off after a ball just I was passing, and she ran straight into my leg. Although it happened very quickly, I had a sense of time slowing down: I could feel myself losing balance, and then, instead of falling backward over the dog, to land on the concrete walkway, I could feel my system organizing itself to come back over my feet. Instead of needing a trip to the ER with broken bones and/or a concussion, I continued on to enjoy my walk in the sun.

When the dog ran into me, there wasn’t time for a conscious recovery of my balance. The skills I needed were available, I believe, because of consistent practice. Daily attention to our self-organization builds a more resilient system. And this resilience, this ability to meet the unexpected, is a major factor is our sense of health and well-being.