Feldenkrais, Language, Writing, Yoga

Yoga is a Four Letter Word


Y                       O                          G                      A

I’m surprised by the ongoing reaction to my article, “Why I Do Feldenkrais Instead of Yoga”.

Most feedback has been supportive, affirming and encouraging. Yet some people who do Feldenkrais and yoga have objected, not to the article itself, in which I describe my personal experience, some of which they even relate to, but to the title. They wished I had chosen a different one, one in which ‘yoga’ did not appear.

“You’re comparing apples and oranges,” they say. 

Which is odd, because most of my article is a description of how doing Feldenkrais made me realize that I no longer wished to do yoga. I included a few examples to illustrate my point while avoiding direct comparison as much as possible.

Still, apples and oranges are both fruit, round-ish, grow on trees, are usually sweet, have skin and seeds and yield juice. They might seem more similar than different to a person who had never heard of either. Having established similarities, one could next explore differences in texture, color and taste between them, or even amongst different varieties of apples (or oranges). There is no end to making subtler distinctions, which do not contradict shared traits. For the many people unfamiliar with Feldenkrais, both the name and the method, I thought it would be useful for them to know that it shares basics characteristics with yoga as a way of offering a rough mental map, a first approximation. Both activities involve (slow) guided movements done on a mat or a blanket, often while lying on the back, sometimes while kneeling or sitting in various ways. Both require some investment of time and money. That the similarities might end there does not negate their broad sameness in the grand scheme of things. They have more in common with each other than they do with bowling, for example.

“But the yoga you were doing would not be considered yoga by people in India,” they say (ergo, I shouldn’t have used that four letter word).

I agree that in being transplanted to the West, yoga has morphed into something else, and I practiced some of its more vigorous and Americanized forms. And yet, that four letter word is and was used to describe sequences of movements that are taught around this country, just as “Chinese” food that is served here might barely resemble what is eaten in China. Yet for the sake of simplicity, we say, “Let’s go out for Chinese food,” rather than, “Let’s have a third generation adaptation of Szechuan cuisine with some quasi-Cantonese appetizers.” The latter might be more accurate, but it’s a mouthful.

“But Feldenkrais and yoga are not exclusive,” they say. 

I scratched my head, wondering if they had even read the whole article. They are not exclusive and never would I make such a claim. Indeed, I wrote that Feldenkrais helps with all movement, including getting into chaturanga (a yoga pose).  Still, I no longer wish to do yoga anymore. Apparently, that I have chosen one instead of the other and decided to share my story has pushed some buttons, as if I had used a four letter word. Which, I guess, I did.



About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais champion, Aikidoka and explorer of internal and external landscapes.


10 thoughts on “Yoga is a Four Letter Word

  1. Hang in there, Ilona. Anytime one writes a simple declarative sentence – especially if it comes authentically from personal experience – you open yourself up to attack from people who feel attacked. It is hard for them to read ideas that differ from their own, and they take offense that someone “made them wrong.” Which you did not do, in any way. It’s their stuff, not yours. Still a head-scratcher.
    When I read “instead of” in your title, I thought that might push some of the aforementioned buttons in some of my readers. So I shared your article with what I hoped would be a reassuring introduction about the two not being exclusive. Don’t know whether that helped, or not.
    Keep on keeping on! People are reading, and talking about, what you wrote. Can’t control it from there.
    all the best to you —

    Posted by divamover | February 15, 2015, 4:29 pm
    • Thanks for your support! This was the first time that I shared my writing with more than a small group of people so I was unsure what to expect, and had no idea that some folks would be threatened by a simple declarative statement. Huh! Anyway, 90% of the response has been incredibly positive. Anyway, lesson learned: I will keep writing and ignore the comments section. 😉

      Posted by ilona fried | February 15, 2015, 5:46 pm
      • Hi, I liked your article and I understand why you might not want to do Yoga. People who do Yoga will very definitely be threatened by your statement – I understand that – we all want to do something that is credited by others. As a Yoga teacher for many years, I have explored Hanna Somatics and Feldenkrais – I love both, but often feel that there is an unspoken preference for Feldenkrais, as if were better somehow. I notice my hackles come up then. We feel protective of what we love and don’t like any sniff of disapproval. Some might say that is ego-driven – I say it makes me human –

        Posted by craniodoc | April 28, 2016, 9:17 am
        • Thanks for writing, Craniodoc! My wish is that whatever modality people practice gives them a sense of satisfaction and ease that feels so “right” that it doesn’t matter whether others recognize or approve it. Ultimately that is the path I hope people are on … one of radical self-acceptance, no matter what others say. Not easy, but hopefully possible!

          Posted by ilona fried | April 28, 2016, 11:36 am
  2. Very good points, Ilona, on both sides. People love to get sidetracked by semantics. I have a history of injuring myself with Americanized yoga. I had a couple of private lessons once with a teacher who had studied in India and considered American yoga to be inauthentic–but the teachers in his studio nevertheless taught American yoga. Market demand, I guess, and I can’t afford private lessons, at a studio that’s 45 minutes away, no less. Part of the problem with the Internet, of course, is that people communication that is not face-to-face and held immediately responsible to the speaker is less mannered, if that explains what I’m trying to say. To me it underscores the need for face-to-face, not media-filtered, interaction between human beings.

    Posted by Sarah Longstaff | February 17, 2015, 7:46 am
    • Thanks, Sarah, for your comment. Yes, semantics can offer the opportunity for “excursions” from the main point, and an excuse to shut someone down. It is so culturally acceptable as to be invisible. Most of the comments I received were well mannered but also a bit too insistent, as if they were trying to get me to admit a “mistake” or change my mind. If I’m going to continue to write more publicly, I’ll need to put on my flak jacket.

      Posted by ilona fried | February 17, 2015, 8:58 am
  3. This reminds me of the sometimes ridiculous comments that follow articles about Apple. Apple comments look like emotional over investment by the posters and I wonder if there are yogis who do the same.

    I felt the original article was primarily about your experience, a field in which you are the world expert. I also share your view that Feldenkrais can help becoming one’s authentic self: as my experience deepens, the cognitive changes are as exciting as the physical.

    Posted by Matthew Henson | March 14, 2015, 1:24 pm
    • Thanks for commenting…agree with you about emotional over investing. I had to chuckle about the Apple analogy; I switched to an Apple platform last spring and, despite some advantages (lighter weight laptop, longer battery life), it’s not as seamless and “intuitive” as touted.

      Posted by ilona fried | March 14, 2015, 3:48 pm


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