A couple of days ago a reader posed a very thoughtful question, one that someone asks me at least a couple of times a year. The question is, essentially: how can I as a Feldenkrais practitioner write about “correct” running form?
After all, the Feldenkrais Method uses an organic learning process, allowing people with many different learning styles to discover how to move their own unique bodies more easily and be able to achieve their aims. The special effectiveness of the method is that it doesn’t involve instruction; Feldenkrais practitioners never tell their students how to move, and what students learn through Feldenkrais lessons is highly responsive to context, meaning they’ll be able to feel how to apply it in varied ways depending on the situation rather than always performing movements in pre-set “correct” ways. In a Feldenkrais class students are encouraged not to copy or even care what their fellows are doing, but just pay attention to their own movement. In some parts of the running community, a notion that each person has a “signature stride” is somewhat related to this idea that we shouldn’t copy or resemble each other but just pay attention to ourselves.
In my training to become a Feldenkrais practitioner, this question was central and not just related to running technique. How can we say there is a norm or basic principle for how to do any activity? Wouldn’t everyone do everything differently because their bodies and histories are different? So how can a practitioner look at how a person gets out of a chair or walks or plays violin and come to any conclusion about what could be improved, what the person needs to learn to feel more comfortable and satisfied with how they do the action?
In answer to that question, my teacher pointed out that before a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson practically every one of the fifty people in the room were lying on our backs differently. After the lesson we were all lying nearly identically. The way we lay before the lesson reflected our personal habits, the way we lay afterwards reflected something we might call phylogenetic, which Dr. Feldenkrais called our biological inheritance.
Feldenkrais practitioners spend our professional training learning to deeply understand this biological inheritance, and in my professional practice my focus has been on how running also forms part of our biological inheritance. After more than a decade of using the Feldenkrais Method to help runners engage in an exploratory learning process I have seen the movement patterns I write about emerge in each person’s running without exception. So I write and speak about what I’ve learned in addition to giving Feldenkrais lessons because it benefits many runners–and I believe it benefits the whole running community–to learn how running works from the viewpoint of our phylogeny rather than the collection of poorly applied biomechanical principles, poorly thought-out “commonsense” recommendations, and culturally biased notions of human function that characterize the bulk of popular running form advice.
Discovering that my writing helped runners who lived too far away for me to touch with my hands has been one of the more joyful revelations of my professional life. Not everyone can make the same use of written running form advice, but for those who can I’m thrilled to offer it, and if I can help runners, coaches, and other running-related professionals view running through a more accurate lens then everyone who participates in the sport benefits.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.