By Rachel White Galvin, DMA, GCFP

Fitness culture is all around us. In fact, we’re so immersed in it that it’s actually quite difficult to see. When defining fitness culture, most might begin by listing various fitness modalities: running, yoga for fitness, CrossFit, weightlifting, pilates, just to name a few. But when it comes to fitness culture, the movement modality is less important than the primary, unifying belief that certain body images are healthier and fitter, and that by working to attain that body you will be healthier and fitter. The exact specifics of that body image might differ somewhat depending on the subculture, and this is expressed in the individual subcultures on many levels: dietary recommendations, language/jargon, postural aesthetic, fashion, studio/gym decor, instruction/coaching style, workout recovery, how students are rewarded for their efforts, choice of music, standards of movement, and of course ideas about what approaches to exercising will closest approach that coveted appearance.


Whether you are consciously aware of this emphasis on body image or not, chances are you feel it. This emphasis on achieving a specific body image is problematic because it creates a no-win situation for everyone. Ultimately, it turns a pursuit that should focus on the individual’s own potential for health into a commercially exploitable ambition to fit in. You might easily fit the mold, but find that it does not equate to health or fitness. You might be able to achieve the ideal, but find that it’s costly to attain or not sustainable to maintain. You might even find that the ideal is completely unattainable.


If you’re someone who feels burned out by fitness culture, the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education can be incredibly refreshing. One of the main shifts that occurs with Feldenkrais Method practice is going from being concerned about how others see you to instead focusing on improving how you see yourself. And yet, you might still feel a call to continue in some capacity your pursuit of fitness. After all, if fitness weren’t fun, not as many people would do it. In returning to fitness, you might find it difficult to continue in the same way that you had before experiencing the Feldenkrais Method. This presents an excellent opportunity to explore differentiating your fitness practice from fitness culture.


Of course, the Feldenkrais Method brings with it some automatic benefits to your fitness practice. Things like awareness of breathing, lessened muscular tightness, increased flexibility, and most obviously better movement. These are some of the more tangible benefits of the Feldenkrais Method. 


I think it’s essential to notice the less tangible, yet no less important elements that slowly seep into us over the course of many Feldenkrais lessons. These benefits are what transform those quick improvements into lasting change. These elements change our habitual reliance on what the culture has deemed right and wrong, and teach us how to trust ourselves better. In this way, we can become not just our own best teacher, but also our own best coach. These are the proverbial keys to the castle for improving our overall relationship with (dare I say toxic) fitness culture. Below, I’ve highlighted 5 of these elementsthough many more could be included in this list—along with what I’m calling Feldenkrais Potentiality Ponderings. These are simple questions meant to bring a little more awareness to your fitness practice and help you reimagine the potential for your practice beyond the fitness culture status quo.


  1. Non-judgment:

Judgment abounds in fitness culture. Whether it’s in regards to weight, body shape, physical prowess, strength, or more, there is a very clear sense in the fitness world of right and wrong. When coming from this mindset, it’s incredibly easy to judge yourself even when just being asked to sense how you lie on the floor. “My back shouldn’t be this arched”, “My right foot should NOT be turned out more than my left.”, etc. The Feldenkrais Method makes space for objective observation, where there are no mistakes, only opportunities for further exploration and learning.


The Feldenkrais Potentiality Pondering:

  • How can I bring more curiosity and awareness into my fitness practice?
  • How can I use comparison as a way to gently deepen my self-understanding, instead of deepening feelings of inadequacy?


  1. Feeling Over Appearance or Aesthetic

This is a big topic. On many different levelsfrom getting “beach body” ready to entirely mirrored walls within exercise rooms to mimicking instructors’ movements—fitness culture is majorly concerned with appearance and aesthetic. Firstly, the hyper-focus on body size, shape, and weight is exploitative. Every person is different in what is a healthy, comfortable weight, body fat percentage, etc. And yet, the fitness industry continues to capitalize off telling people what is “ideal.”


Secondly, there is nothing wrong with using a mirror to clarify better how your understanding of your movement aligns with what you are actually doing, but it is problematic to rely on a mirror exclusively. Yet, many fitness modalities do this. It can be near paralyzing for some when the mirror is suddenly not there and you are insecure about how to move without it.


Lastly, teaching by mimicry is great until it’s the only method of teaching. So many different modalities rely on you essentially “wearing” your teacher’s skin by mimicking their movement. Your teacher’s body is not your own. There can be a vast difference between what you’re capable of, your experiences/self-knowledge, and that of your teacher.


In the Feldenkrais Method, the primary means of teaching are tactile and verbal. The verbal aspect is particularly unusual in fitness culture, but it is also incredibly effective at providing opportunity to explore and sense one’s own self.


The Feldenkrais Potentiality Pondering:

  • How can I bring more of my own internal sense and feeling into my fitness practice?
  • When participating in classes that use mirrors or mimicry, can I create moments for myself where I prioritize internal sensation?
  1. Process Over Goals

Fitness culture has a fixation on goals from both a macro and a micro level. On the macro, it’s on large goals. (Ex: getting to your ideal body weight, hitting a military press one-rep max, or running a distance in a particular amount of time.) On the micro, it’s on the small goals. (Ex: “I need to eat this many calories in a day”, “my biceps need to touch my ears to reach full extension overhead”, or “my feet need to strike this many times per minute when I run.”) Goals are a great way to improve, but being tethered exclusively to your success or failure creates unnecessary obstacles and stress.


In the Feldenkrais Method, we are not concerned as much about whether the student is able to successfully do a particular movement. The movement is a vehicle to help the student better refine their process for how they encounter obstacles.


The Feldenkrais Potentiality Pondering:

  • How do I respond to not achieving my goals? Conversely, how do I respond when I do achieve my goals?


  1. Less Is More

Fitness culture is all about more: more weight on your bar, more reps, more miles, more mobility, more strength, etc. As if that’s not enough, there’s also a push to make those improvements as fast as possible. A glance through fitness influencer accounts on social media shows all the well-toned bodies doing seemingly impossible feats. It’s easy to feel that we too need to be able to do those things. But with a brief stop to think, we realize that what we are seeing is a confluence of years of practice, genetics, and predisposition. And the images can’t speak to whether or not those athletes experience pain doing what they do or even their level of happiness and self-fulfillment. When we’re constantly chasing more, we can’t stop to appreciate how far we have come or what we have in the moment. This embracing of ourselves in the moment and letting go of the need to make more of ourselves creates the space to just be.

In the Feldenkrais Method, we emphasize doing less to the point where sometimes it seems as though we aren’t even moving. Small movement allows us to sense more of how we move. And resting allows us to integrate our experience of the movement.


The Feldenkrais Potentiality Pondering:

  • What’s the least amount of [fill in some aspect of a workout] I can do in my fitness practice and feel satisfied about what I’ve done?


  1. Gains Can Happen In Your Comfort Zone

One of the biggest myths promoted by our fitness culture is that you can only improve through pain, struggle, and discomfort. You might be familiar with the mantras “No Pain, No Gain” or “Pain Is Weakness Leaving The Body.” This messaging tells us that we must earn our fitness and that if we aren’t “fit”, then we must not be trying hard enough. This leads us to assume that anyone we view as “fit” must have worked extraordinarily hard for it. Another problem with this messaging is that it can lead you to believe that you can’t make real improvements if they’re not won in some kind of hard-fought battle. There are some who take this messaging even further to equate your comfort zone with a danger zone promoting the idea that absolutely nothing good can come from being comfortable.


There seems to be confusion around the words comfort and habit. Habits are those unconscious ways that we go about existing. We’ve integrated our habits so deeply that we do them before we think about what we’re doing. Some habits can be life saving, but some habits can be dangerous. Comfortin the sense of relaxation, least amount of effort, and not intentionally creating pain—can absolutely be a place of growth and learning, especially if you’ve spent most of your life trying to push outside of your comfort zone. The Feldenkrais Method helps clarify the distinctions between what is habitual, comfortable, and uncomfortable.


The Feldenkrais Potentiality Pondering:

  • What does easy feel like and how can I explore this deeper in my fitness practice?



  1. Mindful and Playful Exploration Create Faster Change Than Mindless Repetition

A significant feature of fitness culture is repetition. The thought is that learning, strength, and improvement can only occur through many repetitions. Practice makes perfect, right? While repetition does have its place, mindless repetition is literally just going through the motions. At that point, there’s nothing really to be gained. Reducing your number of repetitions of an exercise can create an opportunity to bring more mindfulness into the movement of that exercise, and that enhanced awareness can teach you much more than a ton of repetitions. Similarly, playfulness is a great way to create improvement. For example, some people have trouble doing a basic air squat exercise, but if you ask them to move around the room like a monkey, they have much less trouble squatting. There’s a time and place for seriousness, but being too serious can get in our way.


The Feldenkrais Potentiality Pondering:

  • What new ways of moving myself have I been curious to explore?
  • How can I bring playfulness into my current fitness practice?
  • Is it possible for me to reduce my usual number of repetitions of an exercise, and spend that time being more aware of how I’m moving?


About Rachel:

Rachel White Galvin holds a Doctorate in Viola Performance, is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, and is the Chief Galvinizer at MindFelt Methods, LLC. She obtained her first personal training certification in 2007. She was a CrossFit athlete for 10 years and a CrossFit coach for 5. She’s been kicked out of numerous weight rooms for going barefoot. She was known as “that coach” for making her classes warm-up by rolling around or crawling on the floor. She currently teaches online, helping musicians change their relationship with pain, posture, and perfectionism through a unique combination of Awareness Through Movement® lessons, kettlebell strength training, and mindset work. She lives in Carpinteria, CA with her husband, son, two cats, a dog, two guinea pigs, and a worm named Diggy Doug.

Rachel Galvin - Headshot