Feldenkrais and Parkour, is that possible?
Some years ago, I felt that Father Time was prematurely catching up to me in the inevitable race. I know, at least intellectually, that I’ll lose this race, but I was falling behind too soon for my taste. Adult life, with its responsibilities and spoils had turned me into sluggish blob. The worst part though was that I didn’t like the way I felt.
By society’s standards, I wasn’t unhealthy. I wasn’t obese and I could walk and run but for me, something was missing. Most people in my age group complained of similar discomforts but would usually shrug their shoulders and say, “we’re getting older and that’s just life.” But by my own standards, I wasn’t healthy either.
Being that I work with movement, self image and learning, I couldn’t just resign myself to what I felt was premature decay. I had been fairly “fit” in my younger years so I knew that I just needed to start “getting in shape.” Back in the day, you had free weights, machines and aerobics. None of those appealed to me so I started perusing the internet. It turned out that the exercise world had changed a bit during my sabbatical.
I began trying to get in shape using the old mindset that had prevailed when I was in college, “no pain, no gain.” I can tell you that this is very stupid. I have a theory that people who’ve known what it’s like to exercise hard when they’re young are at danger starting again when they’re older. Why is this? because the in their minds, they’re still young enough to punish themselves but too old to recover. Sadly, I fell into that trap.
In fits and starts, I began trying to whip myself into shape. This went badly for a few years (and yes, I’m slow to learn). Finally realizing that this approach wasn’t getting me anywhere, I decided to start from ground up, so to speak. I found a simple routine that involved moving myself in various configurations, mostly on the ground. After a training session, I felt more awake and alive, even though there was that voice in my head that was berating me for not “killing myself.” Over time, I began to build some mobility and most importantly, some confidence.
This was in the winter and as spring came around, I wanted to get outdoors. Nearby where I lived at the time, there was a forest with trail that had exercise stations, known as parcour (not to be confused with parkour). I began running and then doing some pull-ups and the other things. I also began exploring things like balancing on logs, jumping and crawling. What I noticed was that when I was finished, I had this sense of calm and quiet in my mind and body. I couldn’t really explain what I was doing because it didn’t fit in with any of the exercise forms I knew about. Nonetheless, I was enjoying myself and began to search for likeminded thinkers.
I discovered two similar forms of movement, parkour and MovNat. Both forms involve the idea of being able to adapt and move in your immediate environment. This appealed to me philosophically and fit it with my world view as a Feldenkrais practitioner. Instead of doing several moves over and over to “get fit,” I began exploring the surroundings, and myself outside of the FM practice. I also attended a MovNat® Level 1 certification course to become a trainer. This gave me some structure and progression ideas for teaching others.
Being that I’ve spent the past 25 years studying and practicing the Feldenkrais Method, I needed something that was compatible. Parkour, which in its modern form came out of France was originally called, “l’art du displacement,” or the art of moving oneself from one place to another.
The idea of moving myself from one place to another, often over, under or through some kind of obstacle as efficiently and safely as possible is very appealing to me. Plus, there are an endless number of variants in any given scenario. So instead of lifting a weight the same way, over and over or running on the same hard flat surface for miles, parkour is a way to develop through exploration, trial and error and variation. If you’re familiar with the Feldenkrais Method, you will note some similarity.
Similarities to the FM
When I talk about my interest in parkour, I’m often asked, “but isn’t parkour just about doing crazy, death defying jumps from tall buildings?” What could be more dissimilar to the FM than needlessly endangering your own life? Well, if you watch YouTube, then yes, you’ll see much of that. Fortunately, like many things, the practice of parkour is much deeper than just spectacular jumps over rooftops.
At the end of this post there are some links if you want to learn more.
Parkour uses constraints, auxiliary movements and aims to develop the person as whole, which is similar to the FM. Parkour also employs progression, experimentation and variation, and encourages each person to develop at their own pace. Sound familiar?
Differences from the FM
Of course there are some differences and that is what I find particularly interesting. In the FM, you rarely get yourself into a succeed or fail situation. This can happen in parkour. In some instances, you can miss the jump or lose your balance. Of course, those examples don’t really need to be considered failures if you can learn from them. There can be an element of fear in parkour and learning to deal with that fear in a constructive manner can be very useful. Ironically enough, I’ve been experienced and witnessed fear while practicing the FM, but it’s usually the fear of change or the unfamiliar rather than immediate harm. But wait, I thought I was listing differences, as I write this, I find even more similarities!
Ok, here’s one big difference, the FM is usually practice in a controlled environment, the floor and parkour can be done anywhere, forest, city and gym.
My long experience with the FM is a great asset in my humble learning of l’art du displacement. The awareness while moving helps me greatly. I’ve never been a very coordinated person but the years I’ve spent on the floor have helped me better develop my sense of proprioception. Also, being able to break things down into manageable, doable bits helps me “make the impossible possible.” Variation, constraints and examining a movement from many different perspectives enables me to “make the possible easy.” Soft focus, taking rests and keeping mostly within my comfort zone will hopefully someday “make the easy elegant,” but I’m not sure I’ll ever reach elegance.
That’s ok because as a musician, I know that there’s always something to learn and improve. However, I haven’t mentioned the main benefit yet: joy. Yes, quite often, I experience moments of great joy and a flow like state when I’ve been outside practicing. And this is the real reason why I’ve started l learning parkour. I see the world differently now and occasionally have the feeling that I can elude Father Time’s grasp just a little longer. More importantly, I hope my quality of life by being able to move better will follow me into my later years. And even more importantly, I’ve seen others take inspiration from my folly and begin to explore what makes them find joy in movement.
I hope we’ll train someday, until then be well!
Links for more on parkour/natural movement:
Read an Amazon (this is not an endorsement of Amazon on my part, just good and short) preview of the book, “Art du Displacement” here
This is not parkour per se but a nice 3 1/2 half minute video of what’s possible later in life.
The global organization Parkour Generations uses the art of freerunning to help members of the community integrate their untapped physical and mental potential into their everyday lives in a holistic way.
A documentary that’s 25 minutes long and about how bringing parkour to a community of less privileged youth can change their lives. (Click here to watch)