By Mary Lynn Smith, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
8:20 PM EDT, March 20, 2013
By the time people come to see Lisa Walker, they're usually desperate.
These injured athletes, dancers, musicians or office workers are trying to fix what's broken. Some are looking for a way around the limitations caused by a stroke, Parkinson's disease or cerebral palsy. Others just want to run faster, notch up their golf game or improve their horse riding.
"In a nutshell, I help people move better," said Walker, who practices in Minnesota.
She does this by breaking down a single complex movement into smaller ones, which helps her clients learn how to use their entire bodies to make any movement easier.
"It's about sensing for yourself the difference between what is efficient, effortless movement and what's not," she said.
The method is called Feldenkrais.
"Felden-what?" is how people usually first react, said practitioner Nick Strauss-Klein. While it sounds like a religion or maybe even a cult, it's just the name of the guy who founded the method.
Born in Russia, Moshe Feldenkrais was a physicist and mechanical engineer and a judo expert with a debilitating knee injury. After rejecting surgery because it might not keep him out of a wheelchair, Feldenkrais used his extensive knowledge of the body and the mind to come up with a way to move more easily and walk pain-free. He brought his method to the United States in 1977.
"The lessons teach better alignment and more coordination between the muscles and the skeletal and soft tissues," said New York practitioner Julia Pak.
Some practitioners offer group classes, in which students lie down on mats and then are guided through a series of movements. There also are one-on-one sessions that zero in on the places where a client is unwittingly restricting movement. A slight change — sometimes inches, maybe millimeters — can cascade into effortless movement that helps resolve a high school athlete's chronic running injury, alleviates a violinist's neck pain or allows an elderly woman to roll over in bed with ease.
"I'm finding the places where people are stuck neurologically," said Walker. "It's really about learning."
For example: "If you have tight hamstrings, it's because the way you're moving is causing them to be short and tight," she explained. "There are other muscles that should be working but aren't. So the hamstrings are overworking, and the other muscles are sleeping."
While the method is very good at what Walker calls "rerouting old habits," Feldenkrais has limits.
"If someone has a torn ACL, I'm not your person. The medical profession has perfected that," Walker said. "But this is phenomenal for people who don't want to wear out their joints so fast, because when you move better, you're not putting stress on those joints."
Find a practitioner: For more about the practice, and to find a practitioner, visit feldenkrais.com.
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