Natural Movement and the Feldenkrais Method

What is Natural Movement?

In my last post (click here to read), I talked about how seemingly natural movements are not necessarily so natural. I also said that I would write about how to make your movement practice more natural, or effective. However it’s taken me quite some time to get this post ready because defining what is natural movement for humans is not so easy as we are capable of learning and developing a vast array of movements. If you compare the movements of a ballet dancer, to a strong woman competitor, to a surgeon to a musician, you will find high levels of vastly different skill sets and abilities.

What I can glean from researching articles and advertisements from natural movement proponents is that natural movement is the ideal movement from our evolution as a species. The reasoning goes like this: Our species reached its highest level of movement development as hunter/gatherers and since that time, with the advent of agriculture and later, the industrial revolution and now smart phones, we’ve been declining in strength and ability ever since. Therefore, in order to regain our optimal health, we need to return to doing things like our ancestors did. So that means, the dancer, the strong woman athlete, the surgeon and the violinist should all possess some common movement abilities, as should the rest of us.

What are those basic movement abilities?

Advocates of more primal or natural types of movement practices have identified several movement patterns that are essential to our existence: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement (crawling), climbing, equilibrium (balancing), throwing, lifting, defending and swimming [from the Wikipedia article on Georges Hébert  (ébert)] seem to be the most commonly touted capabilities we should all possess.

But what about: communication, gathering and preparing food, dancing, play, prayer or ritual, singing, painting and caring for others, are those moments not also natural to our species? But I digress.

Even if you can: walk, run, jump, crawl, climb, balance, throw, lift, defend and swim, are you doing it naturally? The reason I ask this is that I see many people walking, running and balancing in ways that seem anything but natural. What’s often left out of the discussion is the quality of movement and that’s what fascinates me.

To find out more about what makes up ideal human and therefore natural movement, I turned to Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, who gave us some important clues in his teachings and writings. In his book, “The Master Moves,” he talks about ideal movement in the scope of our evolution, which fits nicely into this discussion of natural movement.

Here are three relevant concepts.

1. Ready to move

We examine movement from the point of view of self-preservation, and find that the quality of the movement has special ingredients, particularly that there is no preliminary reorganization. Then any movement which has one preliminary change, and a second and a third, is a bad movement. 1  (emphasis mine) (p. 24)

What Dr. Feldenkrais is saying here is that the ideal posture is one from which you can move in any direction without a preliminary adjustment. This idea should be the first goal in teaching or coaching natural movements. Helping students learn to be able to,

…Undertake any movement, from 6 different directions; up and down, right, left, forward and back, without any preliminary movement. Therefore, the ingredient of good posture is the one that… allows you to be direct, swift, efficient and harmoniously satisfactory to yourself.” (p 25)

Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais

2. The movement must originate from the pelvis

The body is constructed so that the powerful part, in which all the strong muscles work and carry your weight, is the pelvis. The muscles with the biggest cross section including the gluteals, the quadriceps, the psoas, the stomach and lateral muscles, are around the pelvis, and therefore the hands and legs only transmit that power to the place where you need it. (p. 25)

Strong arms and legs, no matter how good they look will only be effective if the power can be transmitted from the pelvis. This is very obvious if you compare pushing someone with the strength of  your arm or use your arm to transmit the power from your pelvis and legs to push against the ground.

3. The head must be mobile

Movements were first invented by nature for self-preservation. You’ll see that there’s no animal who does anything without keeping the head mobile. A cat after a mouse sits there, and twiddles his eyes; the tiger watches to get an animal, but his head keeps on turning. If he doesn’t, the gorilla with a branch can open his head with one strike. A zebra may stay within ten or fifteen feet of a lion and feed, but you’ll see that during the feeding his head is mobile, and he listens, and turns the eyes and you can see it’s enough for the lion to move his tail and the zebra— fast—is away. No animal fixes the head and if you don’t fix your head, you can get up swiftly and easily as you did and can do any bloody thing. And when one fixes one’s head while the pelvis is unable to carry out the action, then one cannot do anything. (p 27)

Without a free head and eyes, you are vulnerable to attack. While this may seem unnecessary to some, those who want to regain their natural movement abilities would do well to work on this quality. When balancing on a log or rail, many people will fix their eyes on a point to aid their sense of balance. While this may make it easier to stay on the rail, what is also being practiced is fixing the head and eyes, which makes for less natural movements. Weight lifters will often strain their necks in order to get “that last rep.” Again, this may accomplish getting the weight up, but at the cost of rehearsing strain and inefficient movement.

So if you truly want to make your movement practice more natural, you need to include the above mentioned ideas in your training. At any time during a movement or even in your ordinary day, you can stop and ask yourself:

“Can I move in any of the 6 directions without preparation?”

“Am I initiating the movement from my pelvis?”

“Are my head and eyes, ears and nose free to orient themselves to the surrounding environment?”

If you have a hard time answering yes to any of these questions consistently, I suggest that you seek out a good Feldenkrais Method practitioner and begin to experience and incorporate these concepts in your training and life. Not only will you begin to move even better, you will enjoy yourself more, and that’s natural as well.


Book source:

Feldenkrais, Moshe, 1904-1984. The Master Moves / by Moshe Feldenkrais © 1984Published by Genesis II Publishing, Inc. P.O. Box 2615, Longmont, CO 80502

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