About FlexAware and FAQs

FlexAware® is

• A new approach to fitness and exercise,
• For people of all ages and all health conditions,
• Movements that feel good while doing them and after,
• Grounded in science, including current neuroscience,
• Based on the way young children naturally learn and move.

Whether you are fit and active, mostly sedentary, disabled with chronic pain, or a professional athlete, you can benefit from FlexAware.

This is a sustainable approach to fitness. There’s no equipment, so it’s easy to begin and easy to resume after a break. You can practice anywhere: at the gym, on the floor of your living room or bedroom, sitting or standing at your desk, walking down the street. Every FlexAware exercise strengthens weak muscles and relaxes tight ones at the same time, while enhancing cardiovascular capacity.

A few minutes can bring real benefits:
• Relieve pain,
• Recover from stress,
• Be more alert and focused,
• Improve breathing, posture, and walking,
• Increase flexibility, strength, stamina, and vitality,
• Enhance skills in sports, dance, yoga, and other activities.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. I’ve tried other fitness programs, and quit. The movements were boring. Or I had pain after. Or I just didn’t enjoy it. How is FlexAware different? What is there to keep me going?

To understand how and why FlexAware is different, consider young children. They naturally move easily, efficiently, and that’s the key to their remarkable flexibility, strength, stamina, and resilience. They’re the model for FlexAware. These exercises help adults rediscover the innate ease and skill we had when we were healthy young children.

You’re likely to enjoy FlexAware and keep doing it for a simple reason: the movements feel good while you do them and after. You move at your own pace, for your own purposes, whether slow and relaxing or vigorous and challenging. Every exercise has several variations to keep it interesting, even playful.

FlexAware fits your life and your lifestyle, and that’s what makes it sustainable. There are sitting movements you could be doing right now, even while reading this. There are standing and walking movements you can do anywhere. And there are exercises to do on the floor, as an adjunct or alternative to yoga, Pilates, push-ups, sit-ups, stretching, and such.

2. Is FlexAware a type of stretching?

FlexAware relaxes and lengthens tight muscles without stretching. And you can combine the movements with various stretching techniques.

When stretching, people normally focus on specific muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, or fascia, the place that’s being stretched. With FlexAware, instead of focusing on any specific parts or tissues, we view muscles, etc., as an integrated system or matrix, like an elastic suit. Every FlexAware exercise uses many muscles – all of them, in fact, indirectly – to relax, release, and lengthen everywhere.

FlexAware also makes stretching safer, more effective, and more functional. Safer by reducing or preventing overstretching, which can irritate or inflame the tissues. More effective by providing ways to retain the range of motion, to stay flexible. More functional by integrating the increased length into everyday activities.

3. Can I use FlexAware to gain strength? Does it include lifting weights or other strength-training activities?

Yes, FlexAware will help you become stronger.

Real strength is when muscles can contract fully, powerfully, and that’s only possible when opposite muscles lengthen fully and smoothly. Coordination is critical, and that’s what FlexAware facilitates.

When muscles are tense, tight, or hard, they cannot readily contract or lengthen, and definitely cannot contract fully or lengthen fully. Excess tension or tightness impairs strength. In fact, tension anywhere reduces strength and mobility everywhere.

Do you lift weights or use strength-training equipment? You’ll get better results if you also do some FlexAware, perhaps as a warm-up or to cool-down. You’ll have less residual stiffness and less chance of injury. More important, you’ll feel better.

If you want extra strength-training, there are advanced FlexAware exercises that use weights, elastic bands, and other equipment, including machines.

4. Will FlexAware improve my cardiovascular fitness? Is it aerobic?

For a healthy heart and lungs, FlexAware is uniquely valuable.

FlexAware movements improve the functioning and coordination of all the muscles we use for breathing, especially the many muscles in back that attach to the ribs and participate in breathing. The ribs and breastbone also become more mobile. With more mobile ribs and improved action of those muscles, breathing is freer, fuller, and more effective — and that’s vital for real cardiovascular health.

Plus, the benefits of FlexAware transfer readily to walking, running, swimming, dancing, sports, and other activities.

Do you use a treadmill, stationary bike, spinning, or other cardio fitness machine? There are FlexAware variations for each of these, and the variations make the activity more engaging, challenging, and fun. We also have ways to make FlexAware vigorous and aerobic without any equipment, including movements you can do while running.

5. Can I really get the benefits of stretching, strength-training, and cardiovascular fitness at the same time? How does FlexAware achieve that?

Yes you can. All that and more.

To understand how we achieve this, picture a young child, perhaps your daughter or grandson. Young children are extremely flexible and remarkably strong. They have immense stamina and resilience.

You’ve noticed that, we all have, though we rarely think about it. Here’s something more to think about: Young children don’t do any formal stretching; don’t use treadmills, stationary bikes, or other cardio equipment; and don’t do push-ups, sit-ups, weight-lifting, or other strength-training exercises.

Young children naturally move efficiently, with no excess strain or effort. They breathe freely, spontaneously, except when they’re upset or disturbed. And they align with gravity instead of fighting against it.

Many people believe that fitness requires hard work, “No pain, no gain.” But that’s the opposite of what we see in young children. Their flexibility, strength, and stamina come from moving easily, comfortably, harmoniously. They don’t exercise; they play. With FlexAware, therefore, the idea is no pain, all gain.

FlexAware helps adults rediscover the natural skill we had when we were healthy young kids.

6. How does FlexAware compare with yoga? Pilates? Tai chi? Qi gong?

There are many differences, most of which come from the fact that FlexAware is based on the way young children naturally learn and move.

More specifically, with FlexAware:

• Your breathing directs and coordinates your movements.
• You move within your range of comfort, small or large, while gently expanding your range and comfort.
• You move at your own pace, slow or fast, while varying the pace and exploring new possibilities.
• There’s minimal seeking to achieve any specific posture or other goal.
• There’s minimal imitating of the teacher.

FlexAware can be slow and continuous, like tai chi and qi gong. It can feature discrete exercises, like Pilates and some forms of yoga. It can also be dynamic and challenging, like other forms of yoga. Every FlexAware class is different, based on the needs, concerns, desires, and interests of the students.

If you practice yoga, Pilates, tai chi, or qi gong, you’ll get more benefit if you sometimes do FlexAware.

We also have FlexAware Yoga and FlexAware Pilates. Each applies FlexAware skills to make yoga or Pilates more accessible and enjoyable. Both are designed to enhance and complement other forms, styles, and approaches, not replace them. Each is taught only by people who are certified in FlexAware and either yoga or Pilates.

7. I’ve seen “mind-body” used to describe yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. Is FlexAware a mind-body exercise?

Mind-body fitness practices keep participants mentally engaged, actively sensing and thinking about the movement. Another feature, typically, is added concern for emotional and psychological health. FlexAware does all of this through the way we use breathing to direct and coordinate the movements.

Many mind-body practices emphasize mindfulness, as an added goal or benefit. Mindfulness is a synonym for awareness, and awareness is fundamental with FlexAware. That’s why we call it FlexAware.

With FlexAware, you become more aware directly and immediately — aware of your breathing, aware of gravity, aware of your skeleton, and aware of how every movement involves all of you. You experience awareness.

8. Is there anything religious or spiritual with FlexAware? Anything like the chanting, teachings, or meditation that are featured in some yoga classes?

FlexAware is for everyone. There’s no religious or spiritual content, nothing to believe in or take on faith. Our main concern is to enhance awareness and skill in everyday activities.

Are you interested in mindfulness or meditation? Many practices focus on breathing, and that’s a perfect fit with FlexAware. “Inhaling” and “inspiring” are synonyms, and the root of “inspiring” is “spirit,” which is Latin for “breath” or “to breathe.” Breathing and spirit are connected in other languages as well, including Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Sanskrit, and Chinese. FlexAware helps you breathe freely and spontaneously, and that can enrich all aspects of your experience — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Subtle FlexAware can be a form of meditation, and you can combine the movements with other methods. And when you pray. Your movements can be minimal, nearly indistinguishable from stillness. That’s a way to be more relaxed and comfortable, and a way to focus more effectively, possibly adding power to your prayers.

9. Can FlexAware help me with my golf? What about tennis, skiing, swimming, basketball, or soccer? What about tango, waltz, swing, and salsa dancing?

With these sports and skills, we sometimes say that top performers “make it look easy.” It looks easy when they’re moving efficiently, no strain or excess effort, no holding the breath.

FlexAware movements are designed to help you discover greater ease and efficiency. You’re likely to experience enhanced skill in any sport or recreational activity. Also greater joy.

10. I’m an athlete and train almost every day, with specific routines from my coaches and trainers. What can FlexAware do for me?

Serious athletes know their bodies, and tend to be especially attuned to small changes. You’re likely to experience immediate benefits with FlexAware.

Here are three suggestions for integrating FlexAware with your current training activities:

• As a warm-up. FlexAware exercises use all the muscles efficiently, and can help you move skillfully during the more intense phase of your workout.

• During breaks in the action. When there are breaks or pauses, many people sit or stay relatively still. Whenever we’re still, however, muscles and other tissues contract and stiffen, so we’re more susceptible to pulled muscles and other problems. FlexAware can help be relaxed and ready.

• To cool down afterward, and prevent the physiological tendency to stiffen. Small gentle FlexAware movements can provide big benefits, and you can do them while talking with your teammates, in your car on the way home, throughout the evening, and in bed.

For suggestions about specific sports and activities, contact us or ask your coaches or trainers to do so.

Serious athletes sometimes live with chronic pain, but ignore or override it and play or perform through it. Is that you or anyone you know? You can use FlexAware to recover more quickly and completely from injuries, while also adding extra years or decades of healthy activity.

11. My son has asthma. My father has COPD. When I climb stairs, I have to stop and rest due to shortness of breath. Can FlexAware help? How?

We normally take breathing for granted, unless or until there’s some problem. When you practice FlexAware, you’ll experience freer, fuller, easier breathing. And you’ll learn ways to intentionally breathe freely to relieve problems or difficulties.

FlexAware insights into ideal breathing come from studying the natural spontaneous breathing of healthy young children. With every breath, there’s movement throughout the trunk, belly and chest and sides and back. Inhaling, the trunk expands all around. Exhaling, the trunk gets smaller all around. You’ve seen that countless times, though probably without thinking about it. And you’ve felt it when you hugged or carried a child or grandchild.

As adults, however, everyone has various habits of holding, straining, or forcing our breath. Most of us have been taught to control our breathing, typically by breathing into the belly or with the diaphragm, or by counting to prolong the exhale or the inhale. Young children don’t do any counting, controlling, or other techniques.

FlexAware movements improve the action and coordination of all the muscles that attach to the ribs, including the muscles in back that most of us ignore or overlook. Every FlexAware exercise also increases the mobility of the ribs, with extra attention to the joints where the ribs meet the vertebrae.

With more mobile ribs and better action of the breathing muscles, your breathing will be freer, fuller, and more effective. More like a healthy young child, that is, and spontaneously so. Anytime and anywhere that you experience shortness of breath, you’ll be able to do some FlexAware movements for rapid relief.

For anyone with asthma, COPD, or other breathing difficulties, FlexAware can be uniquely helpful.

12. I’ve had back pain for many years, severe at times, and I've seen a number of therapists. Doctors have said it's arthritis or spinal stenosis, with a bulging disc that may require surgery. Now there's also pain in my left hip joint. I want to avoid surgery. My doctor tells me I have to keep active, and I try, but that's a problem. Walking hurts! Can I do FlexAware? Will it help?

Yes, you can do FlexAware. And, yes again, it can help you relieve the pain in your back and your hip joint. Your walking can be easier, more enjoyable.

When someone has back pain, most treatments start by trying to identify a specific cause: the nerve that’s pinched, the disc that’s bulging or herniated, the muscles that are too weak or too tight, the scar tissue from an old injury or surgery, the arthritic changes or calcium deposits in the joints, the mattress that’s too soft or too hard, the desk or chair that’s not ergonomic.

What’s missing from this list? You are. Your unique movement habits, the way you breathe, sit, and walk.

With FlexAware, you’ll discover ways to move easily and efficiently wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. There are movements you can do while sitting at your desk or your kitchen table, walking in your home or down the street, standing anywhere, or lying in bed. Anytime you sense pain or discomfort, you can use these movements to relieve it.

When you’re moving easily, efficiently, tight muscles relax and circulation improves. Cartilage, ligaments, joints, and other tissues are nourished and lubricated. Healing happens.

These movements are good for your back and your hip joints. Also your neck, shoulders, and the rest of you. Please don’t be distracted or discourage by the medical diagnoses.

Back pain, hip problems, and other difficulties are partly caused by habits of straining and stiffening, including habits we formed while seeking to avoid pain. FlexAware helps you replace those old habits with new skills and renewed awareness.

FlexAware is an educational practice, not a treatment or therapy for any specific condition. If you have severe pain or specific concerns, especially if you’ve been seeing a doctor or therapist, contact us or ask them to do so.

13. My bad posture is getting worse. Is FlexAware good for better posture? Can it help my daughter, who’s thirteen and has a scoliosis? The doctor wants her to use a back brace, but she hates it. We're afraid she may need surgery.

You and your daughter can benefit from FlexAware. Positively.

Good posture, for most of us, means “stand up straight” and “stop slouching.” How often have you heard that? How often have you said it?

Did you straighten briefly, but soon resume slouching? That’s normal. When something is a habit, slouching in this case, we tend to resume it whenever we’re not focusing actively. That’s why “stand up straight” is not the answer. Willpower doesn’t work.

Also: Straight is not the same as healthy. A spine can be straight but stiff, unable to bend or twist normally. Some people have good posture and bad backs, with pain, arthritis, stenosis, pinched nerves, bulging discs, and other problem conditions.

With FlexAware, you’ll discover ways to move easily and efficiently when turning, twisting, and bending in any direction. The movements are designed to increase mobility throughout the spine, particularly the many small facet joints and costovertebral joints. Your spine will be more mobile. Your neutral standing and sitting positions will become more upright and vertical, without extra effort, without willpower.

Our bones are alive, though we tend to overlook that fact. Bones, ligaments, fascia, and other tissues adapt and conform to the way each of us moves, changing shape over time. That’s obvious when posture gets worse. Yet it can happen in positive directions, too. Your posture can get better — when you move easily and efficiently in your everyday activities. That’s what you’ll discover with FlexAware.

If a scoliosis can get worse, it can also reverse. This is true for you and your daughter — your parents, too, even if they’re 90 or 100 or older.

14. I’m in my 80s. One of my friends fell, was in the hospital, and is now using a walker. My balance is not good, and I'm afraid of falling. Is FlexAware for me? Will I be able to do it?

Yes, you can do FlexAware. You’ll find that it’s great for improving your balance, with standing and walking movements that are especially designed for that purpose.

As we get older, many of us feel like we’re fighting gravity, and sometimes losing. Standing FlexAware movements guide us to align with gravity, to use it as an ally in moving easily and comfortably. This approach is uniquely effective because the exercises actively reawaken and refine the natural processes young children use when learning to walk.

Staying active is vital for good health as we age. Doctors and scientists are finding that inactivity is a significant factor in chronic pain and other problems, including cancer, neurological disorders, and premature death. FlexAware facilitates healthy activity by making movement pleasant and playful.

Standing and walking FlexAware is excellent for helping relieve pain in your feet, ankles, knees, and hip joints. Even if you’ve had knee- or hip-replacement surgery. If you use a cane or walker, you may soon discover that you no longer need it.

There’s no equipment, so you can practice FlexAware anywhere, anytime. While waiting for water to boil for tea or coffee, talking on the phone to your grandson or granddaughter, walking in your living room or a shopping mall. Or in bed, gentle movements to rock yourself to sleep, or to help yourself start your day feeling relaxed and ready.

Standing and walking FlexAware exercises are also great for improving skills with yoga, golf, dancing, skiing, tennis, and other activities — for people of all ages and health conditions.

15. Stress? Anxiety? Depression? Does FlexAware help people who have emotional or psychological difficulties?

Pause and think for a moment, please, and consider something we normally overlook. Emotional and psychological difficulties always involve some change or disturbance in breathing. Sometimes we hold our breath or hyperventilate; or we freeze and stop moving; or we tense muscles in our faces, necks, and shoulders; or we become lethargic, moving with less skill or less sense of purpose. The specifics vary from person to person and incident to incident, yet every emotional experience involves changes in the way we breathe and move.

There are also changes with positive emotional experiences, with joy, love, enthusiasm, and gratitude. Emotions involve motion. Or lack of motion.

For anyone experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotional or psychological difficulties, FlexAware can provide a respite at least. It’s an opportunity to breathe freely and feel better. Regular FlexAware practice seems to be remarkably helpful for preventing, relieving, and reducing emotional problems.

Among the many psychological treatments, therapies, and practices, some of the most effective are cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction. Both normally involve extra attention to breathing and the body. And both can be readily combined with FlexAware for greater efficacy.

16. Can FlexAware help someone who has MS, multiple sclerosis? Parkinson’s? Cerebral palsy? Alzheimer’s? What about after a stroke or traumatic brain injury?

For anyone with MS, Parkinson’s, and other neurological conditions, including after a stroke or trauma, FlexAware may be uniquely effective.

Neuroscientists have proved in recent years that the brain continues to make new connections throughout our lives, even when we’re 90 or 100 or older. This is “neuroplasticity,” and it’s happening even in nervous systems that have been disturbed or damaged.

One way to stimulate healthy neuroplasticity, one of the best ways, is with practices based on innate neurological processes. As young children learn to crawl, walk, run, and so on, their nervous systems naturally self-organize. That process is the model for FlexAware. Movement experiences engage the deepest centers in the brain.

Here’s more about neuroplasticity and FlexAware.

17. How is FlexAware related to the Feldenkrais Method? What about Rolfing, the Alexander Technique, and similar modalities?

Steven Shafarman, the creator of FlexAware, studied with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, and Steven is the author of Awareness Heals: The Feldenkrais Method for Dynamic Health. He created FlexAware, in part, to enhance the efficacy and benefits of Feldenkrais lessons. [Here’s more of that history.]

Steven also has experience with the Alexander Technique, Rolfing, the Gokhale Method, Zero Balancing, Rubenfeld Synergy, Pilates, tai chi, qi gong, and other modalities. And he taught yoga for a time. These practices and others can be more effective, and more enjoyable, if you also do some FlexAware occasionally.

18. How long before I notice any benefits? How often should l practice?

You’re likely to experience real benefits with the first class or individual session; most people do. The movements are most effective when you do them slowly, with extra attention to reducing effort and seeking comfort.

The benefits are lasting, for most people, because you’ll discover ways to breathe freely and move easily in your everyday activities. When any movement is more effective or efficient, the nervous system naturally favors it. We see that in young children. As young children learn to walk, they outgrow crawling — and that’s what we seek with FlexAware, to help people of all ages “outgrow” pain, problems, and other limitations.

Regular practice is helpful, of course. The more you do, the more you’ll benefit. Yet even a few minutes can make a real difference. You might do, say, ten minutes, three times a day. Even better is to also do a longer session a few times a week.

You can further enhance the benefits of FlexAware by integrating it with other fitness activities, yoga, Pilates, stretching, treadmills, spinning, and so on, perhaps using the FlexAware to warm-up or as a cool-down.

FlexAware fits your life and your lifestyle, so it’s a sustainable approach to fitness.

19. Is there any research on the efficacy of FlexAware?

Not yet. We’re eager to cooperate with researchers, and confident that FlexAware will prove to be uniquely effective by any measure for a wide range of health conditions.

Research with chronic pain patients partly inspired Steven Shafarman to create FlexAware. That was a program he designed and taught for the Santa Barbara County Regional Health Authority in 1995. The American Academy of Pain Management evaluated Steven’s program, which mainly used the Feldenkrais Method, and compared it to similar programs with other modalities. Participants had significantly better outcomes at one-tenth the cost, and their medical expenses fell by 40 percent in the following year. More about that is in the history of FlexAware.

We have a great deal of anecdotal evidence of benefits for people with back pain, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal difficulties; also people with asthma, COPD, and shortness of breath; and with strokes, MS, traumatic brain injuries, and other neurological conditions; also for recovering from injuries and surgeries, or to avoid surgeries.

20. Will I have to buy any equipment? What about clothes and shoes?

Air and gravity are all you need — and you have those already, wherever you are.

You can wear whatever you want, though it’s best if your clothes are not too tight. Regular shoes are fine, though most people prefer socks or bare feet.

For the floor exercises, many people use an exercise mat, or a towel or blanket. You can also do the movements on a bed, though the floor is better because it’s a more reliable level surface.

Is there some machine or piece of equipment you like? Maybe something you once liked, but now it’s a clothes rack? There are ways to combine FlexAware exercises with many types of equipment, and that’s also a way to make using the equipment more effective, challenging, and fun.

21. Are there any classes near me? Can I learn FlexAware from the DVD?

There are certified teachers in several cities around the United States, and one in England. [Find a teacher] More teachers will be joining us soon. [Become a teacher]

Steven Shafarman is available on a limited basis for individual sessions in Washington DC, and remotely using Skype. [Contact us.]

Many people have said the DVD is effective, even with no additional instruction. It starts with FlexAware breathing and includes movements you can do in a chair, on the floor, standing, and walking. The floor exercises feature the FlexAware alternatives to push-ups and to sit-ups, curls, and crunches, and you’ll see why we believe these are healthier alternatives. The DVD is divided into chapters that make it easy for you to review and practice. [Order DVD]

Revised on 30 December 2015

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