Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learning about "Running With the Whole Body"

I am looking forward to trying the Feldenkrais Method to try to get proper movement and running patterns back and to learn to run with my whole body. What is the Feldenkrais Method? (from their faq)
The Feldenkrais Method is named after its originator, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. (1904-1984) [about], a Russian born physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator.

The Feldenkrais Method is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. Through this Method, you can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. These improvements will often generalize to enhance functioning in other aspects of your life.

The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an empirical understanding of learning and human development. By expanding the self-image through movement sequences that bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness, the Method enables you to include more of yourself in your functioning movements. Students become more aware of their habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and expand options for new ways of moving. By increasing sensitivity the Feldenkrais Method assists you to live your life more fully, efficiently and comfortably.

From what I have learned there are two branches to learning movement through Feldenkrais. You can go to Awareness Through Movement® classes where you explore movement in a group setting or you can go to Functional Integration® lessons with a practitioner who guides you through a more hands on form of movement lessons.

I have stretched, strengthened, mobilized, massaged, and done everything possible to try to get myself to run correctly and without misalignments. I just can't get the correct movement patterns down anymore. Running poorly with bad rotations and movements seem normal to me. I am hoping that this type of movement will help bring back an awareness so that I can run and function more smoothly and effortlessly. I intend to work with a practitioner: Charlie Murdach at 4seasonsfitness in Portsmouth. Charlie is a Feldenkrais practioner but also a marathoner, an Ironman, and an Ultramarathoner (Western States 100) so I am happy that a runner will be working with me. I also intend to study up on my own.

The way I am going about this is by going back to a book I used a few years back called "Running with the Whole Body" by Jack Heggie. The lessons in this book are based on the Feldenkrais Method. I first tried using this book in 1996. I remember doing some of the exercises at the time I put up one of my best races ever as a Strider (59:46 for 10 miles at the Yankee Homecoming). It was one of my best summers of racing. Of course I was younger, but maybe the book helped contribute.

I took out the book a month ago and did one lesson. Yesterday I took it out again and did the ninth lesson on the feet. A couple of things jumped out at me. First was the recall of doing these before. Second, it was hard to do the lessons and find your place in the book. Third, the movements are very similar to Z-Health but on a different level. I found some links suggesting the resemblance to Z-Health. Both are mobility (or movement) programs, but also both work on retraining neuromuscular patterns. Finally, the repeating of proper movement patterns reminded me of the SAID principle used in Z-Health. The acronym SAID stands for "Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands". In Z-Health it is defined as, "The body always adapts to exactly what it does." In school, I use the term, "Perfect practice makes perfect" with my students. If you practice something the wrong way, you are just training yourself to do that in the same way. I am continually practicing running wrong.

When I teach vocabulary at school, I don't just give my students a word and tell them to look it up in a dictionary and write down the definition and put it in a sentence. I know many teachers do this, however the students don't "learn" vocabulary this way. I use and define the word in as many ways as I can. The general rule is that a person has to be exposed to a word over 30 times before they "own" it. During the week my students and I will try to use the vocabulary words as often as we can (we even keep tallies at times) to reach that goal of getting them to own the word. It takes my guidance and their practice. I noticed that there was a lot of practice of the movements when doing the lessons in the book. I think the guidance and the "perfect" practice are pretty important.

Here are some links that mention Z-Health and Feldenkrais:
"A Year of Feldenkrais Training" Mike T. Nelson is mentioned here. I read his blog (see over on left). I would like to know more of his thinking on this.
"To Go Harder, Go Easier"
"Movement Precision"
"Learning Feldenkrais Exercises at Home"
Interesting comments on understanding joint mobility and joint coordination.

I think Z-Health has a lot of potential. I have all the Z-Health DVDs, but I have yet to visit a practitioner. A lot of the Z-Health exercises are done (particularly in the beginning levels) with the person standing with a straight posture. I know when it gets up in levels there is more movement involved, however as far as I can tell, Z-Health for the distance runner has not been done yet. I am talking about the coordination of movements, not just the movements around a joint. I am seeing that Feldenkrais seems more focused on the coordination of movements around full body movements. I think this coordination is exactly what I need. Maybe a Z-Health practitioner can teach you similar things, but it is not just one joint, or one muscle, or isolated movement that is my problem, it is how all the movements relate to each other.

Anyhow, I didn't like looking constantly at the book (I have an earlier version than the one Amazon sells). So I went online to see if I could find a video or audio lessons from the book. There was no video but I found you can buy the CD at Amazon: Running With The Whole Body™: Your Guide to Running Faster and Farther — Based on the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. I wasn't sure if it was just a rereading of the book or if it was the actual lessons, but I downloaded the lessons onto my iPod. I did one lesson yesterday and one today. This is the way to do it! It is perfect! A video would take your concentration off what you are doing and you don't need it. The audio, particularly now with iPods, allows you do do the lessons in private (my family couldn't figure out why I kept walking around the house). These are lessons and the tone and pacing are perfect. You "are the video" in a sense as Jack Heggie gets you to pinpoint in your body what you are supposed to be looking for, feeling, or doing. When reading the book you tend to rush through the examples and exercises trying to get to the "payoff" moves. On the audio, there is no rushing and you become very aware of what you are usually not very aware of. I was surprised at some of the things that I noticed. There are 7 lessons that are about 40 minutes each. I have done two. The audio is defininitely the best way to follow the movements. I still read the book for additional thoughts before and after each lesson, but it just doesn't flow as well when you try out the movements as you read.

The first lesson was on the feet, the hips, and shoulders. You do a lot of walking around noticing what your hips and shoulders do as you walk. My right side wasn't bad except my hip did not do much. However on my left side, I could feel the hip twisting (I knew it did that) but strangely enough my shoulder moved the wrong direction. Instead of moving opposite of the left hip, it moved forward when the leg and hip moved forward. Weird! This helps explains how my left side always feels rotated forward of my right side. Then I was guided through exaggerated motions of walking with the legs, hips, and shoulders working in the proper way. It was very revealing and I also flashed back to doing these exercises (although not understanding the precision so well) thirteen years ago.

I did not do any running yesterday as I was banged up from my tumble during the race on Monday. Today I did the second lesson on connections in the back. This concentrates on the lower back (where I am very tight and stiff). By doing slow and gentle movements and explorations, I was able to get a better understanding on how movement of the legs and arms come from the torso. My back also loosened up an awful lot. It was a couple inches closer to the floor when laying flat after the exercises than before.

I wanted to try out what running would feel like so at exactly 12:00 on this very hot day I went out for a run. I tried to put some of the learning into place. I noticed a lot of things. My left side needed a whole lot of concentration, and I was running very differently trying to engage that shoulder. I felt very fluid (but not my normal) when I got things closer to correct. When I did, my stride became longer and more balanced. My hips were sitting completely different in their sockets (or it felt that way). I wasn't collapsing on my left side, in fact it felt like it was elevating. It was hard to keep this form and it took some concentration. If I didn't get things right with the left shoulder I could feel the pinching in my inner hip flexor against the bones of my hip. When I was done, I looked at my watch and I had my fastest time on this (my normal 8 mile loop) in the past couple months (and it was the hottest weather I have run in this year- getting all sweated up felt great!).

It looks like I may be on to some positive ways to get my stride back. It will take a long time I am sure, to relearn what I have forgot, but it makes more sense to work on how I run than just working on specific muscles, pains, or movements in isolation. I guess this is why it is called "running with the whole body".

What I want to picture is a straight backbone with arms and shoulder coordinated and the legs, torso, and arms rotated around that backbone. There is a tall and balanced posture that I know can be much more efficient. Strangely enough my posture has improved when I am standing or sitting. My parents used to be all over me because of my poor posture years ago. Last week they told me I need to teach one of my kids better posture like I have learned. So I guess it is noticeable to at least my mom and dad. But that is a standing static posture. I need to get the coordinated posture for running.

Speaking of which, I always watch the great European track meets (and American meets) when they are on TV or the internet (where you find them most often-at least until the World Championships). American women's middle distance running has been the revelation this summer. Maggie Vessey has been the biggest surprise (out of many). It was fun watching her win the Prefontaine classic 800m and then this "nobody" won her first major European race. But she was still chasing the A Standard to make the World Championship team. Yesterday, with two days to spare, she ran the fastest women's 800m in the world this year. Watch how tall she is when she runs and how straight, tall, and still her head is. She is a kicker who magically appears on the inside behind Christine Wurth-Thomas near the end of the race. That is some fine running and a super time of 1:57.84 (7th fastest American ever).


Unknown said...

I have been a Feldenkrais practitioner for 10 years and have used Jack Heggie's program with many of my clients. Recently I worked with a man who had had a chronic back problem for two years. He thought he would never be able to run again. Once the initial problem was under control I lent him Jack's book and he went through the entire program. He ran a marathon a few months ago and came 4th in his class!
Sandra Bradshaw, GCFP

Jim Hansen said...

That is great to know and thanks for sharing. The program (on audio) is easy to follow and understand and it makes sense to both my brain and my body.

paw said...

Thanks for the insight. I've been meaning to get "Running With The Whole Body" to improve my running form. You've sold the audio book format to me. Involving the upper torso more by rotating it while running has helped me a lot and this is just a small bit of advice I got from reading an excerpt from the book.