Ira Feinstein, MFA, recently spoke with Dwight Pargee, MS, about the Feldenkrais Method, Pilates, and the importance of core agility. Dwight is offering a free Discovering Core Ability & Agility class on April 13. We hope you'll join us.
Ira: How did you find out about the Feldenkrais Method?
Dwight: In 1989, I returned to the United States after playing international rugby in Australia for a couple of seasons, during which I got five concussions. I had post-concussion syndrome, though there wasn't even a word for it back then. I was trying everything I could to put myself back together, Tai Chi, yoga, and reflexology because I was a little blurry. I was existing outside myself in a strange way; people who've had concussions know what I'm talking about.
My background is in sports physiology. At the time, I was working at a physical therapy clinic. One of my wise mentor PTs said, "You should check out Feldenkrais. It might help." So, I went to a weekend workshop and immediately benefited. I realized that it was what I was missing. I immersed myself in classes and individual lessons and recovered enough to play rugby again. A few years later, I began a master's program in biomechanics and enrolled in a professional Feldenkrais training program.
Ira: Did the two programs dovetail, or did you feel like there was a conflict between those two paths?
Dwight: My biomechanics graduate work provided me with an excellent cognitive understanding of human movement. But I remember sitting in class thinking, How will any coach apply this stuff? How do you actually teach somebody to move better?" It is so complex. But as I was taking my Feldenkrais program. I realized, "This is how." Feldenkrais lessons create the space for an embodied understanding. I was quickly able to put that realization into practice.
Back then, Rugby in the US was pretty amateur. So, I ended up coaching the collegiate team while I was in graduate school. But I wasn't just the coach. I was also the head trainer and the mobility and flexibility guy. I started teaching Feldenkrais classes to my rugby players after the second year of my professional training. Many of the guys loved it—they were open to anything that would help them play better.
Ira: Wow. So did you go from graduating from both programs to working with athletes?
Dwight: I worked in different sports and physical therapy centers for about twenty years as an exercise physiologist and Feldenkrais practitioner. I found that while the Feldenkrais Method differs from what PTs teach, it is very complimentary.
Ira: I get that! I went to physical therapy in my twenties because I had chronic tennis elbow. The PT would work on me a bit and then have me do a specific circuit of exercises. One afternoon I was doing the rounds, and I think it was maybe during my third appointment, and one of the PT assistants came up to me and said, "You're doing that movement like you've got chicken wings on your back. You're supposed to be moving this." And he touched a part of my shoulders that I didn't even know was there. I could feel the touch but didn't know how to access that part of my body. And no matter how he tried to demonstrate, I couldn't do the movement as instructed. It wasn't until I started doing Feldenkrais lessons that I realized, "Oh, that's how I learn to access that part of me."
Dwight: Exactly. Feldenkrais is so beneficial because it helps with the very, very basic fundamental movements that you need to do anything. If those movements aren't clear, it doesn't matter how hard you work or train; you'll end up with some problems at some point.
Ira: what does your practice look like today? Do you still primarily work with athletes?
Dwight: These days, my practice is pretty varied. I moved to Bend, Oregon about twenty years ago from Northern California, and one of the reasons I moved here was because it's a very active city—almost an active senior retirement community in a way, as many people have second homes here. They come to ski, kayak, hike, and play golf. My practice includes everyone from elite athletes and seniors who want to stay active to people recovering from multiple strokes, brain injuries, and severe neurological challenges.
Ira: This month, you will be teaching an online series through Feldenkrais Access called Discovering Core Ability and Agility. For me, when thinking about core, the first words that come to my mind are strong and firm. I associate core with Pilates, six-pack abs, and my mother, who has been sucking in her stomach for sixty years because that is what she was taught to do as a teenager. I'm guessing that since this is a Feldenkrais series, that will not be the focus.
Dwight: Good observation. It's absolutely not that. Long before my Feldenkrais training, I actually completed a Pilates training and worked with injured professional ballet dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. So, I'm very familiar with the Pilates system, and it's good for many things. That being said, this course is based on a very different idea of how we use our core musculature. The focus won't be on strength but on improving our ability to move easier and lighter in anything we do.
There's a difference between the Feldenkrais Method and Pilates that we should be explicit about: The Feldenkrais Method is not an exercise routine. It's movement based, but the movements are designed to bring more awareness to the hidden parts of ourselves and the places where we're not initiating or activating in a way. The movements are much more explorative than repetitive. Nikolai Bernstein, a famous movement scientist, had this term he called "repetition without repetition." The variation is what informs your brain. So the movements set up a sensory-motor feedback loop that allows us to change the patterns in the brain in a way. It's not about repetitive muscular exercise at all.
Ira: Do you find that there's a common thread for people when it comes to the core, maybe, especially in the United States, where--for various reasons--people are creating a rigidity in that area that can be hard to undo?
Dwight: Definitely. Many of us have been taught that it's all about firmness and the power that can come from that. Some of the professional National Hockey League players I work with are extremely strong. They can push 500-pound sleds across a room. But their power is only applied in one direction—forward and back. Their sense of laterality and their ability to move is constricted. So, while they're strong in certain ways, they've become unbalanced and lost their ability to absorb impact. This puts them at a higher risk for concussions and other head injuries. Now, a professional athlete is an extreme example, but it illustrates the importance that agility plays in keeping us from injury.
Ira: Will this series be accessible to everyone?
Dwight: Yes, I will modify the lessons in my upcoming series as much as possible based on who's there and what questions arise. If you're curious, I encourage you to join us live for the first free class on Thursday, April 13, from 12 pm-1:15 pm EDT, or try the lesson afterward via recording if that time doesn't work for you.
Find out more about Discovering Core Ability & Agility at: www.feldenkraisaccess.com/discovering-core