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The skeleton, the feet and the foundation of our movement

There’s a video interview on my video page of a highly regarded Feldenkrais Trainer from Seattle called Jeff Haller. He is asked at the beginning of the interview why, when giving Feldenkrais lessons, he is so interested in the feet. In his answer he talks about the some crucial aspects to the Feldenkrais method. If you have half an hour to view the interview, Jeff gives some interesting insights on the importance of the body's connection to the ground forces and the importance of the skeleton in supporting us. Click here to view. If not, I summarise many of his insights below:

Dr Feldenkrais said that good posture is being able to move in any direction without hesitation or preparation. That is determined by how specific we are in our relationship to the surface from which we’re moving. So, when, for example, we are standing , if we are not clear about the points from which we sustain ourselves from the ground - i.e. if we don’t use our feet well - we have to engage our musculature to stop ourselves from falling.

As vertebrates we have been endowed with a skeleton. One of the main functions of the human skeleton is to keep us erect in our natural environment where gravity is constant and is pulling us toward the ground. If the forces coming up from the ground into our body equal the forces going down, we can neutralise the effect of gravity which will give us an experience of moving with ease and efficiency, lightness and elegance. If, however, our relationship to the ground forces is compromised, we tend to use our musculature more and more for this job, which is obviously inefficient, because it reduces the availability of our muscles to engage in other activities.

In the Feldenkrais Method, we work a lot with the feet because as bipeds we learn from the feet how to find this sense of support - to find the effective use of the skeleton. We can’t teach people how to use, say, their shoulders effectively until they have learnt to use their skeleton effectively. If the support is not there, the muscles must compensate. As soon as we have to compensate, our whole system will be compromised, whether it's how we use our shoulder or any other action.

One of the functions of the motor system is the process by which we organise the skeleton to act. We create images in our brain so that the brain can then send signals to the body to carry out an action. The first muscle fibres that are innovated when we begin an action are already preparing the skeleton for movement. The degree of accuracy which we can carry out this function determines whether we move our skeleton in a refined and efficient way.

It’s not easy finding the support from the skeleton. We can’t feel our skeleton directly. There’s no representation of the skeleton in our brain. It’s an implied sense. We know our skeleton is supporting us when we require a minimal amount of muscular effort for this support. When we feel heavy or we have a sense that we walk with a shuffle or we have the sense that we are falling into ourself, then we do not have that quality which is evident when we are engaged through the skeleton

In terms of finding this support through the feet, it’s a question of how to efficiently utilise the structure of the foot.

There are 3 arches in the foot:

  1. The lateral longitude arch is the longest of the foot which runs from the heel to the metatarsal head of the 4th toe. It is the foundation for the other two arches.

  2. The medial longitude arch is on the inner edge of the foot

  3. The anterior transverse arch is the one that creates the tunnel in the foot.

It’s our natural ability to use the arches in a way that is sequential that helps organise our skeleton in an efficient manner. As we walk, the pressure should go from the heel to the head of the 4th metatarsal and then across the ball of the foot to the point between the 1st and 2nd toes as the foot leaves the ground. Shoes unfortunately tend to get in the way of this natural movement … but that’s for another blog!

Moshe Feldenkrais compared walking to the way a tire rolls. In other words there is a relationship with the ground. And considering the potential different surfaces which a tire has to be able to deal with, the way the wheel adjusts to the conditions on the ground is important. The same goes for the foot. It therefore becomes a question of how we use this relationship with the ground to our benefit?

As mentioned, if we are not moving efficiently, if we fall into our feet, then our whole system has to protect us from falling further and it does this in part by engaging my muscles. My muscle tone increases to keep me from falling!! And when the muscles are engaged in keeping me from falling then they’re not available to efficiently assist me with the simple act of moving where I want to move.

In order to be efficient the brain looks for the simplest, most elegant organisation through our skeleton, so that in any point of time we can move in whichever way we desire. The clear skeletal contact we make with the ground informs our degree of alertness, our sense of being present in the moment, the sense of being available. I’m not available if gravity has a hold of me and I’m falling in on myself.

The Feldenkrais Method helps with this efficiency because it engages our prefrontal cortex through paying attention in a way that helps us feel and therefore learn this efficiency. Our prefrontal cortex is our evolutionary advantage. It’s interested in novelty and spontaneity and can make high level distinctions. It can discriminate - through attention - to assist us with our intention. Not only does our brain send out messages to our musculature of how to move us, sensory messages are also sent back to the brain, so we are getting feedback as to our progress. So if our intention is to move more freely and gracefully we can get into a continuous feedback loop (between movement and sensation) where we can distinguish whether it’s pleasant or not, easy or not and thereby make constant adjustments and release ourselves from the habit which we are in and have been in ever since we acquired our personalised story. Because our brain is facile (think brain plasticity) we don’t have to wear this suit of our history - what we might call our "self image". While we all have a self image, it’s important to realise that we are not bound by it. Our brain has incredible capacity to create new variabilities, new matrixes of movement and action in order to live multi-dimensionally, to expand our sense of self.

When we wear our habitual tone, that is how we identify; we think “this is who I am”. But after a meaningful Feldenkrais lesson, when we realise that the “cocoon” we’ve been living in has been opened, and we begin to experience ourself or a quality of ourself that we haven’t experienced for a long time, then our world view is suddenly expanded and we begin to bring forth the potential that’s been hidden in us for some time. We also recognise that our muscle tone has changed (in most cases we have relinquished some unnecessary muscular activity) and this will make the use of our skeleton more efficient. Each Feldenkrais lesson will affect our muscular tone and make us a little more efficient. And you can’t be more efficient without reducing the burden on yourself. Of course, when we reduce this burden, it comes with a sense of relief and/or joy*.

*To read more about the importance of Joy In Movement, read my blog with that title.

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