Somatic Practices in Pilates: Spotlight Feldenkrais Method- Awareness, Range and Differentiation

Diaphragm awareness and fascia release

The teaching of Pilates falls under somatic practices, because we teach movement that is focused on the patterns, posture, bodily awareness,  strength, mobility, flexibility, releasing energetic tension, and connection of lines of energy.  

Today I sharing the Feldenkrais principles, an extract adapted from: The brain’s way of healing: Stories of remarkable recoveries and discoveries, By Norman Doidge MD Scribe Books”  // which appeared on the blog of

The Feldenkrais Method principles are:

  • The mind programs the functioning of the brain
  • A brain cannot think without motor function
  • Awareness of movement is the key to improving movement
  • Differentiation – making the smallest possible sensory distinctions between movements  – builds brain maps
  • Differentiation is easiest to make when the stimulus is smallest
  • Slowness of movement is the key to awareness, and awareness is the key to learning
  • Reduce the effort whenever possible
  • Errors are essential, and there is no right way to move, only better ways
  • Random movements provide variation that leads to developmental breakthroughs
  • Even the smallest movement in one part of the body involves the entire body
  • Many movement problems, and the pain that goes with them, are caused by learned habit, not by abnormal structure

I teach all of these principles incorporated in the Pilates work. Let’s discuss a couple of these principles:

Awareness, Range & Differentiation

I had multiple injuries from dance, as well as an accident, my focus became invested in working on my nuero-musclular patterning.  I found my nervous system reacting when I was fatigued either mentally or physically and moving in a large range or a rapid pace did not feel right.

I had to learn the subtlety of the connection to rewire the brain map.  Mindful movement.  What happens when we start to repattern – errors – which is a good thing.  It can take a bit of exploring /  to find neural pathways.   The important aspect is to have the client notice them, and play and explore with different ways to find the connection.

I began using these same ideas for clients that needed to create awareness in movement patterns that were not “injured”; however, I could see the energetic imbalances and spirals of fascia that were not aligned.  

I love to introduce small range movement and after 5 reps start to increase it.  It gives the brain a chance to find the movement first.  As a former professional dancer, I spent years – “marking movement” – which means thinking about the movement sequence in my head and using small movements of my hands and small steps to imitate the actual sequence.  This was brain mapping the choreography.  As Pilates teachers, we can teach this idea of small range preparatory movements in Pilates leading to help the client map the pattern.  The clients can more easily differentiate what is needed for each movement sequence.
For example, I can have the client practice the chest expansion without any arm springs. This helps them find the movement concepts of – standing tall, finding vertical thoroughness, mobility glide of the fascia in the back, arms and hands, patterning the mind to the sequence of movement. After the pattern looks good, first and then add the arm springs. The preps are for ALL clients – not just beginners.

Giving the regression or prep sets up the movement – the fascia has a chance to glide before we load the myofascia. Additionally, I love regressions because it helps with proprioception and brain mapping.

Feldenkrais often used his hands in sessions. Quote from Doidge:

Feldenkrais would sit beside the pupil and begin communicating by touch, with the pupil’s nervous system. He began with small movements, so that the observing mind and brain would begin to make differentiations. This was touching not to impose on but to communicate with the brain. If the person’s body moved, he would move with it, responsively, never using more force in his movements than necessary. He did not knead the muscles or press hard, as in massage or in an authoritarian manipulation of the joints. He would rarely work directly on a painful area; that approach only increased muscle tension. Thus he might start working on a part of the body farthest from where the pupil thought the problem was, often on the opposite side. He might begin to gently move a toe, far from a painful upper body part. If he felt a restriction, he would never force it. What he discovered was that the brain would sense this relaxation in the toe, and the person would become immersed in that image of relaxed movement, which would soon generalize, so that that entire side of the body relaxed.

As Pilates teachers from different schools, we all have been different philosophies of how to use tactile cuing to help a client. I was taught, no light touch…. I no longer believe in that. The nervous system is highly orchestrated and very reactive to touch. The client has to be receptive, trusting, and ready to receive the touch. I have learned it is better for both the client and I to go in gently with awareness or little resistance. If the fascia tissue begins to push back, I have used too much force. I have to lighten my touch and try again. Fascia moves with a sensation of glide. I keep that visual image in my mind.

Pilates teachers, do any of these ideas resonate with you? Do you teach differentiation?

I would love to know how I can support you in your teaching. Email me


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