How Mind Body Studies Can Empower the Athlete and Enhance Ability
MBS Program Director Leora Gaster explains how the principles of MBS can translate to more beneficial physical activity, whether as part of a regular fitness regime, social sports or simply when taking a stroll around the neighborhood.
High-performing athletes who walk into class expecting to break a sweat are often surprised by MBS group classes, which can often involve small, thought-focused movements. However, the principles behind the classes are directly applied to high-intensity forms of movement and workout routines – whether on the treadmill or in a boxing ring. Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais’ own background in sports, as a boxer and one of the first western Judokas, vastly contributed to how he developed his system. Far from prescribing gentler or more limited forms of activity, Mind Body Studies is designed so that you can actually do more by initially doing less: quantity, effort, and speed, with more intense focus and attention.
All too often, the legacy of Dr. Feldenkrais is lumped together with therapeutic and healing modalities. The methods he developed do improve mobility, agility, coordination, and overall quality of life. However, the Mind-Body-Studies system he devised is, above all, a set of tools, which enables you to work more efficiently and effectively toward your goals. It empowers anyone, at any level, to access complete insight into what they are doing and how they do it – enabling them to expand the boundaries of their physical and mental capacity. Whether the aims are recovery from injury or Olympic-level performance, the principles remain the same: becoming aware of how you operate at your best and building on those patterns to operate even better, faster, easier. Greater awareness leads to control, freedom and resilience, which result in a streamlined and powerful approach to fitness.
Finding One’s Center
Exercise is known to elevate a sense of well being, getting endorphins and circulation going. MBS goes above
and beyond that. With this methodology one can utilize in any workout routine to connect with your entire network of human abilities: nervous system, brain activity, feelings, physiology.
One fundamental principle of MBS is that once you notice how you make a movement, you gain more control of yourself, becoming more in charge of what you do and, thus expanding your options. Instead of being confined to habits, which are often unconscious and disruptive, you find and create new possibilities. This flexibility in thinking and moving frees you toward efficient and effective action.
During a weight session, people usually only think about the part which is making the effort: the place of lifting, pushing or pulling. MBS trains you to notice your entire physical and mental organization, including the areas of which you need to let go, so as not to waste unnecessary energy which you need for your desired goal. As people learn to notice how they are using every part of the body, “blind spots” come into the light, creating a coherent system. Leora emphasizes this union of intention, explaining that MBS focuses the training to bring into awareness and into action as many parts of the entire system as possible. Everything is involved in some way. “The more we notice and monitor ourselves, the more effective we become and the better we can reach our optimal abilities.”
This process of developing a more unified and expansive use of one’s own body marks both neurological and physiological growth. When you master more parts of your body, you master more parts of your brain. Often in MBS classes, students immediately experience the empowering sense of activating unified self-knowledge in action, which instantaneously increases ability.
In a typical exercise regime, movements are larger and more vigorous. MBS routines often begin with smaller, highly analyzed, movement sequences, which are usually even more challenging than a normal workout, requiring concentration and precision. These movement-sequences are designed to bring attention to the increments of exactly how you move. Your workout offers an ideal setting for MBS practice: For people leading busy lives, an hour on the treadmill may be the only opportunity for paying attention and focusing only on oneself. In every other setting in everyday life: at work, with family or socializing, you can’t shut out the world and focus on ‘What am I moving in my body?’ or ‘How is that connected to my thought process?’ So here is the opportunity to observe and gain insight about one’s own unique ways, learning through personal observation, sorting between habit and options and deciding if and how to change. This is a unique process of gaining mastery over the entire self: activating un-used brain cells, body cells, and muscles. The workout becomes not only a healthful activity to the body, but a golden opportunity through movement to gain real self-knowledge.
Variety and complexity of physical activities provide an opportunity to explore different patterns, which we do not use to do in day-to-day life, for instance when we walk, turn and bend in rote habitual ways. Developing patterns early in life is important for survival. It streamlines our actions so that we can get on with daily tasks. It would be highly inefficient to figure out how to do necessary things such as walking and turning each time from the beginning. However, frequently we develop constraints as well, due to cultural pressures (‘sit straight’), after injury, or through social issues, such as insecurity, or even being the tallest in the class and unconsciously stooping during our teen years. Exercising with attention to patterns and giving oneself the opportunity to explore alternatives opens doors to untapped potential – in body and mind, since they are tied together. We explore complex and interesting patterns within ourselves, so we can discover more of ourselves, which strengthens confidence, enhances a sense of identity, and shows us what it really means to be centered. We are then able to take these new discoveries and insights into all of our other activities, becoming more complete and successful people.
Stay tuned for PART II of this Fitness Series!