Practitioners Q&A: Breaking it Down, Part 2

by / Saturday, 07 June 2014 / Published in Feldenkrais Practitioners

In the last post for practitioners, I showed how a musician might approach learning a challenging passage beyond his/her current capabilities. The idea of breaking complex actions or tasks down into smaller and doable parts (chunking it down), then putting them back together is a widely used concept in many fields.


For FM practitioners, I want to present two simple, yet concrete examples of how you might use the technique of chunking down in your ATM class or when you’re working with your hands. This technique can be applied to many different parts of an ATM or even in developing a series of lessons leading up to a more challenging lesson. This idea is already built into most lessons, but you’ve probably encountered others or parts thereof that were too complex or confusing for some of your students.


For this example, imagine that your student is lying prone with both knees bent so her/his soles are facing the ceiling. You instruct your student to bend at the ankles so the forefeet go closer to the floor and then away from the floor. Perhaps you notice that they’re also moving their toes as well, with somewhat jerky motions. You say, “Bend and straighten your ankles without moving the toes in relation to the feet, i.e., the toes are passive.” Because you see they’re still moving their toes, you see that this still doesn’t make sense to them. Have them stop and rest, and then just curl and lengthen the toes. If that seems to work without moving the ankles too much, you might have them go back and try bending the ankles with passive toes. Let’s say that this doesn’t work and you can see their movements becoming even more jerky because they’re trying harder.


Sometimes, how people use their feet effect how they can differentiate them.

Sometimes, how people use their feet effect how they can differentiate them.


You could tell them (for the sake of brevity, I’ll leave out the instructions to rest) to bend just one knee and move the toes again. Then have them keep the toes curled or extended while gently moving the ankle. Repeat the process with the toes in the other position, and then work with the other foot. If that works then you could go back to the original movement.


How people treat their feet effect how they can sense them.





Perhaps they still don’t find what you’re asking. Have them roll onto their back and bend up the knees so the soles are resting on the floor. You could have then just curl and extend their toes while the feet are resting and/or have them move the ankles and toes in the opposite and same directions. Using the additional sensory input from the floor can help fill in some of the sensory gaps so that when they go back to lying prone with their feet in the air, they may have a better sense of what they’re doing with their toes and ankles, so they can choose how they want to move.



An example in FI might go as follows. You want to lift your student’s arm and bring the palm of their hand to the forehead, a classic FM “technique.” However, you notice that their elbow and wrist stiffen as you begin to lift and the movement isn’t very smooth. Lie the arm back down and wait. You might ask them if they noticed how their arm moved as you guided their hand towards their forehead and repeat if necessary so they can get a feel for what you were sensing.


So now you start by lifting their hand, bending gently at the wrist and putting it back down (this will of course depend upon how the hand is lying). As this gets smoother, you can include the forearm, bending at the elbow as well. As the movements become smoother, you can ask them to notice the difference from when you first started. Eventually you find a way to bring their hand to the forehead in one continuous and smooth motion. Again, you got there by chunking the larger movement down.


This process can be taken into greater detail and as your student learns, you will be able to make finer and finer distinctions. Being ready to simplify a movement or pattern will help you communicate more fully with your student and take your lessons to deeper levels. This is also something that is never “finished’ or “done,” just like the musician who’s constantly working to refine her playing and expressive skills. Doing this with your students can also serve as a model for how they might go about challenging tasks in their work or daily lives. This thinking process can be adapted to many aspects of our own and our students’ lives.

There are many benefits to having supple, lively and capable feet.

There are many benefits to having supple, lively and capable feet.



Did you know that I offer a free Question and Answer resource—to give you an opportunity to ask questions related to your Feldenkrais practice and get answers that will help you learn and grow into a more competent and successful practitioner?

Every two weeks, I’ll send my answers to your questions in a newsletter so that we can share the knowledge. Your questions will always be welcome, and I hope you’ll join me in exchanging information and learning together in a supportive and safe environment. If you’d like to ask your question right now, click here to go to the Q & A page.

If you know someone who would also benefit from these posts, please share. We’ll both thank you!

If you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter for Feldenkrais Practitioners, click here.


Leave a Reply