Awareness, Feldenkrais, Introversion, Relationships, Sensitivity, Slowing Down

Feldenkrais Off the Mat: Even Distribution


Even distribution isn’t just for math majors.

When I practiced yoga, my teachers emphasized that if our lives weren’t changing off the mat, then we were just exercising, not doing yoga at all. It didn’t matter if we could get into complicated poses if we still cursed in traffic, blamed others, were highly reactive or otherwise kept repeating unproductive habits. Ideally, the calm, peace and connectedness that one cultivated in yoga postures would infuse less predictable situations.

Feldenkrais, unlike yoga, is not explicitly a spiritual path. Yet, the more I immerse myself in it, the more I become aware that many of the ideas that apply to movement are relevant off the mat or blanket. The other day I taught a friend an Awareness Through Movement lesson focused on even distribution of effort. That core Feldenkrais principle makes an explicit or implicit appearance in many lessons: to distribute effort evenly throughout the body, or part of it, minimizes wear and tear on particular joints and muscles that might, through habit, otherwise bear the brunt. Even distribution also makes movement feel lighter and smoother, at times effortless. If we don’t know how to use ourselves properly, we can overtax some parts while underutilizing others, creating pain, injury or simply a pervasive sense of awkwardness. Evenly distributing effort requires practice if we typically rely on strength, willpower or an inaccurate image of what a movement looks like to accomplish our goals (e.g. if you think the foot is an undifferentiated slab, you’ll use it differently than if you see it as dynamic and flexible). I notice that if I’m anxious or rushing I’m likely to default to strength or will, rather than skill, when I move.

Afterwards, my friend and I had a conversation about the lesson that meandered into seemingly unrelated realms. One topic that arose was how challenged I felt when people shared emotionally charged news without any preamble. For example, when someone I haven’t heard from in a while discloses out of the blue that they’ve been devastated by a breakup (or job loss), even though they never told me they were dating someone (or had a new job), it’s as if they’ve thrown me a heavy ball. To catch it, and receive their pain, disappointment and vulnerability, strains my highly sensitive and introverted system, which doesn’t shift gears quickly. Such unexpected revelations can be triggering, too. Earlier in life I caught too many heavy conversational balls as I didn’t know any better. Letting the ball drop felt rude if not callous, and I wasn’t yet aware that I just could acknowledge the ball’s existence, neither catching it nor letting it thud, and create a boundary so I could empathize without completely absorbing the other person’s emotional state.

In an ideal world, I’d receive an “even distribution” of information or communication, so that I can take in a person’s life over time, ideally in an even tone of voice, especially if they are not yet a close friend. Should something difficult arise, I would then feel more prepared and available to respond in a way that acknowledges them and honors my own needs (and, in an ideal world, my own communication would be more even, too. It’s a practice). To take this into the public sphere: most people, I imagine, would prefer to be notified in advance of layoffs rather than appearing at work to find either a pink slip on their desk or several of their colleagues permanently absent.

Even distribution, not necessarily in a single moment but over time, is at play in other areas of life. As a college student, I preferred “even distribution” of studying throughout the term so at the end of the semester I wouldn’t have to pull all nighters, something my body couldn’t handle. Financial advisers advocate “even distribution” of investments over time, investing even small amounts regularly rather than a large sum, once, in order to smooth out returns. Ditto for car maintenance: getting oil changes at even intervals will likely smooth performance and help avoid unexpected break downs or costly repairs. Whether we follow such advice or not, I imagine that many people might recognize the value of even distribution in assorted contexts, not as a hard rule but as a guiding principle towards which one can make successive approximations.

Of course, life can deliver difficult surprises without warning. But as practiced in Feldenkrais generally, and in the particular lesson I taught, by attempting to evenly distribute effort we learn how our nervous system and body feel when there is no challenge present, when no part of us is contributing more than its proportionate share, so that we are better equipped to handle a challenge when it does arise. To slow down and learn how to organize ourselves to walk or run more efficiently and comfortably makes it easier for us to make a dash to avoid a downpour or an oncoming car. To always be working at maximum effort, or to wait until a crisis arises to make a huge effort, is equivalent to catching heavy ball after heavy ball. Inadvertently, we condition ourselves for living with tension and unevenness, for a life that doesn’t feel smooth or pleasant, either on or off the mat.



About ilona fried

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


16 thoughts on “Feldenkrais Off the Mat: Even Distribution

  1. The best parts of Feldenkrais training for me were the things that happened off the mat. I lost several dear family members during my training and had many personal challenges. The movement payoffs came in a distant second to all the ways I learned to be present with myself and others in a broader spectrum of scenarios and states. Thanks for elaborating on this connection, Ilona; it’s such an important one.

    Posted by Kim Hansen | March 19, 2015, 5:31 pm
  2. Instead of feeling shocked and not wanting to respond, my tendency was to try and help or solve in some way or bring some kind of hope. Yikes, so glad I can ponder for a minute now and determine it is not my business and let them process. It is nice to see how personalities play different roles and work through to find emotionally healthy ways to respond. I really enjoy your thoughts, thanks for posting! Thinking first before I responded was my extrovert nightmare when I started this work. The Social Worker part of me had to make some radical changes. Thanks for your posts, I really enjoy ready them and sharing them!

    Posted by Suellen Bartel | March 19, 2015, 9:56 pm
    • Thanks for commenting, Suellen. I, too, used to want to help/solve in some way, but I wasn’t skilled at it, and often said something to the other person to avoid feeling the impact of the person’s disclosure. Not to mention that people who drop difficult news probably just want to be heard or hugged. It’s a huge topic that deserves a post of its own!

      Posted by ilona fried | March 19, 2015, 10:09 pm
  3. I would like to respond to two ideas: Feldenkrais not spiritual, and the need for even stimulus. I am responding out of my own experience on the assumption that I am nobody special rather than one who knows better.

    Feldenkrais makes no claim (that I know of) to have a spiritual component. Its cognitive effects – for me first improved concentration, later increased confidence are nevertheless powerful. I think that in allowing one’s body to self-organise for the better the whole of the rest of us goes along. That may even include faculties we have no name for. Allowing the work to alter us, we can become our better selves. I have observed that on taking a mindfulness class meditation came easy – we already spend hours in wordless attention – as did the pleasure of increased ‘presentness’ when talking to people. From there it was a short step to seeing being kind as normal. No altruism required: striving to be kind is intrinsically pleasing. I don’t want to claim that Feldenkrais should be seen to be spritual, just that if you are interested in unselfish self-actualisation it will have your back.

    If you try to push over a judoka or other martial artist you will probably not do much: they know how to connect strongly with the ground. Feldenkrais has done the same for me, but in the domain of feeling. This week I recognised that I might not be able to complete an important project: the resources are not there. This might be upsetting, as I have done very well in my current job, but I notice that I am not upset. Maybe it’s the meditation, maybe the newly-started qigong but if I can learn it so can others.

    Posted by Matthew Henson | March 20, 2015, 3:44 pm
    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I wrote that Feldenkrais is “not explicitly a spiritual path.” (emphasis on “explicitly”, so that people can decide for themselves…currently, it’s not billed as such and, if it were, it might dismay many people who prefer to market it otherwise). As you point out, Feldenkrais can facilitate unselfish self-actualization. Whether it “should” be seen as spiritual…that’s a question I ponder. It’s wonderful that Feldenkrais has helped you connect with your feelings and, it sounds like, brought you equanimity.

      Posted by ilona fried | March 20, 2015, 4:17 pm
      • I agree that it would be problematic to label Feldenkrais as spiritual. The sound general principle is to underclaim, so let’s do just that.

        I think Feldenkrais brought me more than equanimity, more an improved capacity to deal with the destabilising. A dear colleague used to tell me about her experiences internet dating (TMI as I see it) and it took a while for me to stop feeling uncomfortable. The sequel is happy: now she has appointed a boyfriend I can safely admit my fondness for her.

        Posted by Matthew Henson | March 20, 2015, 4:27 pm
  4. I just love “movement as metaphor,” and you are already a master of using it as such, Ilona!

    Reflecting and remembering that, in my earliest days of experimentation with the Feldenkrais Method, if someone had said to me, “Oh, it’s really quiet and meditative, you’ll find a deepend sense of self-understanding blah blah” I would surely have said, “OK, thanks, I’m good there.” And not pursued it further. Precisely because it does not force itself to be perceived in a particular way, people can find what they will, instead of merely what they are told. As a business person, it makes marketing a bit tricky, but only if one is expecting to go with one-size-fits-all. The constant re-translating and tour-guiding (as I refer to myself) keeps the work fresh and customized for each teacher and student.

    And, I’m just curious — which lesson did you share with your friend? What are your favorite lessons that, to you, clearly illustrate this theme of distributed effort?

    Posted by divamover | March 21, 2015, 9:49 am
    • Love that you call yourself a “tour guide”! I think that’s very apt. The lesson was literally called “Even Distribution of Effort”, one of Alan Questel’s. It’s short yet illustrative, so good to practice with.

      Posted by ilona fried | March 21, 2015, 10:28 am
    • Thanks, DivaMover, for reminding me of the diversity of experience using FM. As Ilona explored in her Feldenkrais rather than Yoga article, the method is a powerful tool if we want to become ourselves.

      I live in a city with two universities and no Feldenkrais practitioners and think it’s a hard marketing problem – and I went back to work for one of the Marketing profs a couple of years after finishing my MBA so claim some understanding. I am playing around with a couple of simplifications. At the moment these are: ‘In Feldenkrais, I pull on my leg to change my mind’ and ‘The practitioner does not teach: she makes it easier for your nervous system to self-organise for the better’ Comments & criticism welcome.

      Posted by Matthew Henson | March 21, 2015, 3:39 pm
      • Kudos to you for thinking of how to market it. As Divamover suggests, it’s not one size fits all, but a constant re-translating and recalibrating to connect with the person in front of you. Connecting, I think, can be more difficult than marketing, in the traditional sense.

        Posted by ilona fried | March 21, 2015, 4:03 pm
        • Marketing needs to happen before than can be any connecting. I hope to begin training in a year and will be 61 years old when I graduate: building a client list will be challenging. But fun!

          I am rehearsing in advance of training and a doctor friend today thanked me for my suggestions about pain. This was very pleasing as she leads her hospital’s pain clinic but remains stuck with her foot pain. Being stuck can be good: when stuck we become more open to non-standard sources of help.

          Posted by Matthew Henson | March 21, 2015, 4:18 pm
          • There are folks who would disagree that marketing precedes connecting. For some, connecting happens first or simultaneously. In Feldenkrais, we often talk about from where a movement is initiated. Usually there’s a choice as to which part of the whole moves first; some choices feel better than others. Perhaps the same is true here.

            Posted by ilona fried | March 21, 2015, 4:22 pm
            • That’s interesting. Now I reflect I see that I have been better at advertising Feldenkrais through what I am that through what I have said. Perhaps I have the tough mission to ‘be an attractive human being’.

              Ever since I began to associate with Tibetan buddhists (who I generally like tremendously) I have felt the need to check that my clothes weren’t going orange.

              Posted by Matthew Henson | March 21, 2015, 11:41 pm
            • There’s a Feldenkrais Trainer, Allison Rapp, who now mentors practitioners on how to build a practice; she advocates the heart-to-heart talk as the way to attract clients. It sounds simple but not necessarily easy for folks who believe they need to have a pitch or an elevator speech.

              Posted by ilona fried | March 22, 2015, 12:12 pm

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