5 Things I Learned from the Feldenkrais Method about Boredom and Endurance

In Art of Living, Featured, News by MaryBeth Smith

by MaryBeth Smith, GCFP
Article originally appeared on the SomaQuest blog

During the pandemic, many Feldenkrais® students have continued to attend classes online. My students tell me they value the opportunity to maintain some consistency in their routines, and to have the variety of another activity to break up the time spent housecleaning, baking, talking to their cats, or watching Netflix. Those who are justifiably anxious and stressed rely on their Feldenkrais class to bring them into the present moment, to ground them in concrete experience, and to relieve muscular tension and stress.

The “elephant in the room” is the question — how much longer? How long can I keep going like this? The disruption of employment, school, family life, and communal recreational activities is overdrawing our customary reserves of good humor and resilience. Boredom, restlessness — and worse —  are never far away. 

Sitting at my desk in Houston, Texas, at home between Zoom meetings, I too have had time on my hands to consider these questions. We have just completed our 7th week of stay-home-stay-safe practices during the historic COVID-19 pandemic. Some folks report that they are busier than ever, while others are climbing the walls and tired of being alone – or cooped up with their families. While some businesses here have partially reopened to quell the boredom and cabin-fever of impatient would-be customers, it seems wise to continue with social distancing and all its inconveniences for the foreseeable future. As I have felt vulnerable and stressed about that, I am noticing and practicing five ideas from the Feldenkrais Method that improve the ability to persist, adapt, and endure.

1. Pause frequently. Really – stop what you’re doing and just be still. Breathe and feel yourself. Redirect your attention from whatever you were doing to something else – anything else — for a few moments. Humans are not suited to relentlessness in any activity,. even if you’re only binge-watching Netflix from your sofa. If you notice you are napping a lot, pause from napping, take a pause from so much pausing! Powering through to hit a deadline? Pause briefly and regularly to refresh your outlook. Cognitive scientists and those in the field of accelerated learning have long documented the effectiveness of frequent pauses, both for retention of learning and quality of future performance.

2. Reflect and Revisit. Pause does not mean abandon or give up. Come back to what you were doing, and see how you feel now. Is this something you’d like to continue for a while? Great! Continue until you sense your mind wandering. Had enough? Move on. Keep checking in with yourself. Play. Simply Be. 

3. Create multiple variations. Variety helps to stimulate your brain and break up long boring stretches of time or repetitive activity. Whatever you’re doing, try a different position or plane for a while. Change your speed, change your trajectory. Can you do it backwards? What if you hold your breath? The possibility of variations is endless, kind of like Dr. Feldenkrais meets Dr. Seuss over Green Eggs and Ham. (Can you eat them in a box? Can you eat them with a fox?)  If you know how to create variations, boredom will never get the best of you.  

4. Gradation is your friend. Are you an all-or-nothing person? Black and white thinking can be very limiting. Perhaps you’ve known someone who lived by, “I’m either doing this to the max or I’m not doing it,” or  “I have to do it perfectly or not at all.” In the Feldenkrais Method we are actively encouraged to practice doing less than we might ordinarily feel inclined to do. Our pervasive and insidious “hustle culture” (the perceived societal demand to always be doing something amazing and lucrative) crumbles in the face of the Feldenkrais Method. You can always start with a small taste of a movement (or other activity) and just try it out. If it’s comfortable you can do a little more. You don’t have to swing for the fences or hit it out of the park on the first try, especially if it’s an unfamiliar movement that you never even thought about doing until your Feldenkrais® teacher just suggested it. This is an example of the principle of gradation: How many levels of activity are available between all and nothing? When choices are available, actions can be sustainable, interesting, and humanizing.

5. Environment is context. In a Feldenkrais lesson, you are repeatedly invited to consider the environment as you notice your contact with the floor during the pauses (see Number 1 above.) Another example is the gravitational field on this planet, and how we are paradoxically constrained and empowered by it. We are now constrained by the coronavirus. Along with the obvious limitations, where are the opportunities to move in new ways? In everyday life, you can notice your broader surroundings: from the air temperature and humidity, to objects in your space indoors or outdoors, as well as other people who are having an experience completely different from yours. Sometimes, students are surprised to realize that the Feldenkrais Method is not just about relaxing and the journey inward. It’s also about looking outward, and engaging in radical presence and attention with those people and activities that mean the most to us.

BONUS: Embrace the boredom. Perhaps you saw one of the recent slew of articles that reassured parents that it is okay – even desirable — to let their kids be bored? The same holds true for adults. Great opportunity lies in those moments when our habitual avenues of entertainment and self-soothing have (temporarily)  lost their appeal. Psychological well-being actually improves when people are bored, as they recall memories of previous meaningful experiences and accomplishments. When your brain is bored, you start to daydream, and that’s the fertile soil from which creativity springs. You might come up with an independent way of entertaining yourself while your phone recharges or your cable service goes on the fritz. Boredom and the wandering mind allows you to consider novel possibilities, develop inner resourcefulness, and perhaps discover your unavowed dreams so you can live them.

As time stretches out into an uncertain future, our experiences during this time can keep us rooted in the present. Embedded in each Feldenkrais lesson, you’ll find imaginative ways to grow your capacity for patience, reflection, resilience, innovation, humor, persistence, and endurance. My daily movement practice is essential as I improvise toward a new way of life. We’re all doing the best we can. And now — please lie on your back. . .

MaryBeth Smith, MM, GCFP, is the founder and director of the Feldenkrais Center of Houston and Brain Body Learning. While staying home during the pandemic, she now sees all her clients and classes remotely, has re-potted a large aloe plant on her balcony, and has learned to bake sourdough bread from scratch.