Harmonious efficient movement prevents wear and tear. More important, however, is what it does to the image of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us. “The Elusive Obvious” – Dr Moshe Feldenkrais
A Powerful Tool for Change
Feldenkrais strategies help us to explore, clarify and modify unconscious habits of moving and thinking thus increasing the range of choice we have available to us in our everyday actions. Mind and body are intimately connected and we all have inside a “sense” of ourselves. By gently but insistently challenging our habits and fixed ideas about our physical selves we can begin to recognise similar and related inflexibilities in our ways of thinking.
Do You Know What You Are Doing?
Are you aware of what your physical self is doing when you reach up to a high shelf, or turn to look over your shoulder while reversing a car, or (a common cause of back injury) bend down to pick something up off the floor?
Humans are much more individual than any other kind of creature because we discover almost all our movements by trial and error, over a relatively long period of time. In contrast, a newborn herd animal can usually be up and walking about, rather inelegantly, very shortly after birth. The creature’s movements are “hard-wired” into its nervous system, there is no learning involved, and consequently it walks exactly the same way as all the others of its species, unless its structure is damaged in some way.
The Purpose Of Play
Humans are born breathing, squalling, and all curled up. We have automatic processes in place which are vital to our survival, but have only a few movements available for immediate use; sucking, some flexion, kicking (noticeably present before birth), general limited waving of limbs, and a highly efficient distress indication system.
As babies we need to explore our physical possibilities in order to discover what our bodies are capable of, with plenty of on-the-floor time to develop the necessary skills and strengths to graduate from baby to toddler to the physical sophistication of a five-year old. This highly effective play is prompted by simple needs and curiosities, without the time frames, competitive comparisons, and ‘correct’ results that we are all introduced to at school age, and which hamper our natural learning abilities from then onwards.
What Is Your True Potential?
A baby is motivated by curiosity about itself and the world: the desire to examine something more closely encourages lots of movements, from rolling into sitting to flexing the fingers and opposing the thumbs; the desire to follow Mummy’s voice out of the room may prompt a baby to discover looking over a shoulder while lying on her front. These gentle explorations take us from rolling to sitting to crawling to walking and, because we designed it ourselves by trial and error, our walk is so distinctive that those who know us can recognise us from a distance by our gait alone.
The advantage of this lengthy development process is that we as a species are amazingly adaptable and have a huge capacity for learning, but sadly the vast majority of us stop improving our ability to perform all our various actions as soon as they are good enough for us to get by in the world, well short of the efficiency and grace we are all capable of.
We enjoy watching those who have taken a particular skill to a peak level of performance - dancers, athletes, musicians, singers, mimics, martial artists - not realising that everyday movements are just as graceful and satisfying when performed with awareness by a well-organised nervous system; for example the elegant, gently swaying gait of a woman carrying a large pot of water on her head, or the lightness and fluidity we see in the walk of a dancer like Fred Astair.
Minimum Power, Maximum Achievement
The Feldenkrais process reactivates our inbuilt learning tools - exploration and play. In our work the goals are unstated, and they vary from individual to individual. There is no one right way to do any lesson, but there are always easier, more pleasurable, more efficient ways to do the things we do every day, and often these are rediscovered from our childhood play.
Each Feldenkrais lesson is like a story, in that every participant will gain something from it but there are subtle differences from individual to individual.
Dr. Feldenkrais thought like an engineer and a martial artist.
He saw good posture as a state of relaxed readiness, and felt that one should be able to move in any direction without preparation, i.e. without physical or mental adjustment.
“The aim is a body that is organised to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength, but increased consciousness of how it works”
His engineer’s appreciation of the relationship between structure and function brought him to the understanding that human structure, with its naturally high centre of gravity, demands that we embrace our inherent lack of stability and develop a fluid relationship with balance.
In order to become a fully realised “potent” human being, we need to learn to dance with gravity, not fight it. Gravity is a great teacher, and relaxation can feel like giving in and accepting its gentle pressure. When we tense our muscles to fight gravity, bracing ourselves to face our daily stresses, life becomes a constant struggle, our bodies harden and start to “age”, our choices seem more and more limited. We are steadily losing the ability to use the very adaptability that defines our humanity.
Only by learning again to trust our whole self to do what is most effective in any situation can we find an alternative to this daily struggle. It is not within our power to make the world safe, but we can re-embrace the flexibility and self-awareness that enables us to create brand new strategies, and make the best possible choices in difficult situations.
Awareness Through Movement Classes and the hands-on sessions of The Feldenkrais Method can help everyone to improve poor posture, become more agile, balanced and flexible in both mind and body, as well as bringing a sense of “the ability to be who you really are” and develop a stronger sense of Self.
(Some of the above is extracted from my friend and mentor Maggy Burrows’ website, www.vocaldynamix.com - with her kind permission).