Skip to main content

The first time I ever did a real live Feldenkrais class, I have to confess I hated it. I was in many ways the Feldenkrais student from hell

It was 1991 and I was 26-years-old. I was studying at a circus school (Circomedia) and I was on a crazy strengthening and stretching routine recommended by my old-school trapeze teacher. 

One day, my more enlightened movement teacher did an exercise that seemed to reach right into my core and do something extraordinary. I asked her for more of the same, but she didn’t have anything else. What she did say though was that it was something called the Feldenkrais Method.

Such an anti-climax

I felt I needed this Felden-thing in my life. I was lucky to find a teacher (Shelagh O’Neill) who lived 20 mins walk from my house. I had no idea she was one of only four or five active practitioners in the UK at the time.

The classes took place on her living room floor and she only sold blocks of five classes. I was so excited to go to the first class, to experience the real thing for the first time and … I hated it!

The benefits of a Scottish upbringing

I can’t begin to describe how disappointed I was. All these little movements, done incredibly slowly, with long pauses to “rest” every five or ten minutes. What use was that to me with my 150 sit-ups a day, power-stretching, no-pain-no-gain routines? 

In the second class it was the same story and worse. This time I was continually being encouraged to move half as much at half the speed.

Luckily, I was brought up in Scotland where folk have a reputation for being somewhat careful with their resources. I reasoned that since I’d made what at the time seemed like a large financial investment in the classes, I should at least attend three of them before dropping out.

The Eureka moment

But halfway through the third class, my brain lit up. And I haven’t looked back since.

Maybe it was precisely because I’d given up hope that I’d ever get to experience again something like I’d experienced in that movement class at the circus school. 

It’s hard to put into words. What I remember were moments of sensing my body in such exquisite detail that it felt unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, and at the same time it felt incredibly familiar. 

And, I had an experience of this Feldenkrais Method being about sensing how all the parts were interconnected. When I stood up I felt relaxed, energised and ready for anything.

Stronger without strengthening

After this I became somewhat obsessive. I attended every Awareness Through Movement class and took as many individual lessons as I could.

The more time I spent working with the smallest of movements, the easier the much bigger and more powerful movements of circus trapeze became. Small movements are after all the beginning of large movements. Every journey begins with a step.

And not only was I getting stronger without strengthening, but I was getting more flexible without stretching too. Though the process was deep and complex and not without its setbacks.

Revolutionary spirit

Much to the annoyance of my trapeze teacher, my strength and flexibility grew more rapidly than my fellow students who were busy continuing with their stretching and strengthening routines.

I refused to do all that and instead I’d roll around on the floor before going on to the bar. Even worse, after some months some of the other students started turning up in Feldenkrais classes too. It turned out I’d started a revolution of sorts.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • My first experience was like a lightning strike! I lay on the floor doing all these strange slow movements & thought what on earth am I doing( Physio background!) When I stood up at the end I couldn’t believe the way I felt! I was 53 & felt tall & light & powerful! I vowed there & then that whatever this was I wanted it for the rest of my life. I acquired some taped lessons as there was no one in Australia teaching then. When I heard that there was an FPTP starting in Brisbane in 1990 I was the first student to sign up. Those 4 years were the best learning experience in my life. I’m now 83 & still play on the floor every day. I was also inspired to write my Marvellous Movement Feldenkrais workbooks available from Thank you Moshe!

  • Hey. Thanks for your post. It speaks to the importance of offering a series of classes. And of commitment. Cheers to being Scottish!

    My own first experience with Feldenkrais: I had a class in Seattle with Jeff Haller, now a legendary trainer of the method. I got off the floor and felt completely different. My arms so light I could fly away!

    I had no idea what to do with the experience. So I didn’t go back, just kept on dancing, hiking, doing my other movement-geeky things. 10+ years later in Austin, I had time at the end of grad school finally, and wanted to get back into my physical self. I started doing Feldenkrais classes and never stopped. I found my weekly practice was improving everything I did: my modern dance, Nia, Pilates, and simply my sense of ease in the world.

    Now I’m a teacher of Feldenkrais myself, and my practice continues to deepen and enrich my self-understanding and my capacity to manifest in the world in the way that I wish, as my best self.

    So here’s to playing on the floor and taking what you learn into the rest of your life!

Leave a Reply