Feldenkrais Post: Quotes, commentary, links, and an audio lesson

Here is a passage from the book, Sensory Awareness, The Rediscovery of Experiencing by Charles V.W. Brooks. This book, published in 1974, is based on the work of Charlotte Selver, and Elsa Gindler. I think it this passage captures the aim of the Feldenkrais Method®, i.e. using only the amount of effort needed for a given action. No more, no less.

It is a description of a cook at a lunch counter.

“The whole man stood or moved with the utter equilibrium of a fish in water, and though his movements were as swift as those of a fish, there was no hint of haste or urgency. When one could see his eyes, they were perfectly calm. His lips and cheeks were at ease, his whole form the image of well-being. No furrow of concern marked his brow, no sign of thought or concentration. But each steak was flipped or removed exactly at its moment, and each laden plate was set on the counter for the waitresses, not only without clatter, but without a sound. One could see that each movement of this man was felt and enjoyed by this man to its very end, while the end of one movement flowed into the beginning of the next with the ease and inevitability of a sleeper’s breathing.”

The author returned the lunch counter a year later and discovered that the cook had been promoted to manager, accompanied with a different demeanor. “ He still stood with grace, but his tools had been taken from him and the significance of his activity destroyed. To everyone else, it was a sign of success; for us an occasion of mourning.”

Moshe Feldenkrais was very much a man of action, and his method is grounded in action. It is a process of self-discovery, beginning with an awareness of existing compulsive habits, and a realization of the variety of options available to us. While this learning is based on movement, the implications apply equally, and are intertwined with thinking, feeling, and the way that we interact with our environment.

As profound as the learning may be in a lesson, the next, and perhaps bigger question is am I willing and able to bring a new or renewed awareness into my everyday life.

Here is a 26 minute audio of a movement sequence that is related to lessons of the last couple of weeks involving the rotation of the foot, leg and the hip joint. At the end of the lesson I make reference to the 27 bones in the foot, but there are only 26 bones in the foot.

And here’s a link to a good description of the actions of the leg and pelvis. This one is actually from Erich Franklin, and it’s well done. But perhaps it’s a good time to point out that the Feldenkrais lessons are not exercises, and we approach movement from many different perspectives.

Sensational Movement

What I mean by this title is that one of the primary aspects of the Feldenkrais Method is that the lessons we teach are focused on the sensation of movement. How we sense a movement can be quite varied. We could take the example of simply lying on the floor on your back.

1. You can sense your contact with floor from the pressure of your body. You can sense where you are making contact with the floor and where there is no contact. You might even be surprised by what you notice versus what you expected. You will likely notice that differences in the way your left side is making contact compared to the right side. Another surprise perhaps. By differentiating the right and left sides, you can notice which side feels more comfortable, or lighter, or longer’ or whatever else you sense. For a number of reasons, we tend to be asymmetrical and yet we are typically unaware of it. So really sensing these differences is something your brain can, and will utilize.

This first example would be an external orientation to sensation. The places where your skin or your outside envelope interact with the external environment.

2. You could also approach sensations from an internal orientation. You might be able to have some sense of where your bones are inside of your body. You could have an internal sense of the joints, organs. Perhaps this isn’t as clear as the feeling of your body against the hard surface of the floor, but you’d still have some sense of it. You could easily sense the inside of your mouth.

These examples are just a couple of perspectives with respect to sensation. You could sense your breathing through the movement of the diaphragm or by the sound your breathing makes. When you think about all of the places you can sense any movement, combined with which senses you are using, you have quite a large palette to work with.

You might also begin to discover that your habit, your tendency, your preference, is to sense in one particular way without realizing that there are other options. In any case you will probably find that certain areas are clear and others are fuzzy or even nonexistent. You can also sense larger patterns such as holding your breath when you start a movement, or tensing your jaw, or eyes or any number of other muscles. You might never have noticed these patterns before.

The other “sensational” thing about these examples is that your brain is quite capable of intelligently processing this new or rediscovered information. Not by thinking, but by the very act of sensing. Your brain can do something when the difference in one side from the other is noticed. Your sensory brain, being intelligent, will likely incorporate the parts that feel easier, into the overall pattern.

Therefore, the sensations themselves act as the guide toward better and easier movement. The discovery of easier movement can also bring a smile to your face and put a song in your heart, as well as a spring in your step.  The results can be quite surprising and profound.

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Albert Einstein

Our culture has conditioned us to have achievement at the forefront of our attention. We then have a predetermined idea about the goal and the way to get there, which often involves much more effort than is necessary. This is quite different than the process of sensation which I have described. In the area of predetermined ideas and compulsive effort, there are few surprises, and little if anything in the way of learning. We have been conditioned to achieve predetermined results to the extent that simply slowing down and moving easily, with attention, can be quite a challenge.

Sensation can operate in so many different ways. There is virtually no limit to the ways you might perceive a movement. Utilizing these different ways will expand your abilities to perform spontaneously to meet the demands of a particular situation.

I’ll leave you with a Fritz Perls quote that I heard many years ago and have never forgotten.

“Lose your mind and come to your senses”

Thoughts, "Felts" and Movements

Moshe Feldenkrais figured out how movement is directed via the brain and the nervous system. He also recognized that virtually all human movement is learned. Unlike other animals in which movement is "hard wired", human movement develops over a long apprenticeship after birth. Our movement patterns are formed through trial and error, and by copying others, most notably our parents. A lot of things can influence the learning process.

If you wore a brace as a child, or had a serious illness, or suffered some sort of trauma, your movement habits could very well be influenced, and remain to a certain extent, even after recovery. These experiences are incorporated into our habit patterns. The patterns become unconscious and automatic, i.e. we lose awareness of them. Once your brain learns a pattern, it doesn't want to change as it has important new things to attend to. This can happen throughout our lives and isn't limited to childhood.

As an experiment, interlace your fingers and note how you do it. Is your left thumb or your right thumb on top? However you do it, switch and do it the other way. What is your experience? It probably feels wrong, and you will have the urge to go back to your habitual way. And if I asked you which thumb would be on top before trying it, you probably would have to guess as it's something you never thought about before.

So in this sense our "movements" are built on our past experiences. The same is true for "thoughts" and "felts". They all point to the past and the unconscious habitual responses we have learned.

Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration are designed to improve how we sense movement in the present and begin to recognize how we do what we do. To make the unknown known and to experience how that feels. So in this sense I am defining "moving" and "feeling" and "thinking" as being in the present, as opposed to "movements", "thoughts" and "felts" as the habits formed in the past.

How then can we begin to explore these patterns built on the past, and explore new options? The method is designed to do just that. Moving and thinking and feeling are interrelated, so moving in new ways can trigger new ways of thinking and feeling. In this way, new options for moving can influence us in profound ways.

The neuroscience research is confirming all of this, and changes in the way we move can actually cause biochemical changes. Watch Amy Cuddy's Ted Talk about the "confidence poses".

A great deal is being learned about how the brain and nervous system operate and how mindfulness practices can literally change the brain. I would say that the Feldenkrais Method is definitely a mindfulness practice, so check it out. What have you got to lose except some of those old habits that are weighing you down?


Embodied Learning

ms brain body.jpg

This is from a blog that I wrote for Vital Human in February. Reading time: 4 minutes

Moshe Feldenkrais was a scientist ahead of his time. Since he wrote Body and Mature Behavior in 1949, the largest share of his theories about movement, the brain, and the nervous system have been verified with the latest findings in neuroscience. 

One idea Feldenkrais postulated was that of “the cybernetic whole,” the notion that thinking, feeling, sensing, moving, and the environment are interactive parts of a larger system. He based his method on this idea, that improvements in movement spread throughout the system, affecting thinking, feeling, and sensing, just as changes in thinking, feeling and sensing affect movement.

Scientists have done much to corroborate Feldenkrais’ ideas, especially in the area of study called Embodied Cognition, which began to emerge in the 1970s. Embodied Cognition also developed similar ideas, that thinking, bodily sensations, and movement are interwoven. George Lakoff, one of the leading researchers in this area, theorizes that because thought and language are the newest functional developments within the human brain, the construction of thought and language is literally built upon bodily sensations and movement, which are controlled by older brain structures. Lakoff has observed that our thinking world is largely metaphorical and these metaphors have orientations in the body. “He couldn’t grasp the idea” is one example. “It was over his head” is another. We might “take a turn for the worse,” “put something behind us,” or “warm up to an idea.” Lakoff and scientist Mark Johnson identified thousands of these metaphors and described them in detail in a book they co-authored, titled Metaphors We Live By

Another scientist, John Bargh, and his colleagues have done some fascinating research related to the phenomenon of “semantic priming.” Two groups of college students were given word puzzles that included lists of words. One group had word lists that included Florida, orange, bald, wrinkle, grey, and bingo, words associated with being older. The students were not made aware of any special significance of the words since they were included among a grouping of many other words. In phase two of the experiment, the researchers observed both groups of students walking down a hall and measured how fast each student walked. Amazingly, the group who received the unconscious priming for words associated with "old" walked significantly more slowly down the hallway than others who did not have those words in their lists. 

To understand even more about the intersection between language and bodily awareness, we have only to look at very young children who have yet to speak or think in words but who are, in fact, thinking. They “think” through their senses when they experience the warmth and eye contact of their mothers or when they react to a loud noise. They “think” by way of touch, taste, smell, seeing, and hearing, and these learned patterns become “embodied,” that is, the thinking is integrated into the child’s knowing and we see evidence of this knowing in his or her behavior. They “put two and two together” experientially through the senses.

As adults, we live in a world where thoughts and words have come to dominate, which presents a problem when it comes to self-knowledge and self-awareness. Words can mean many things and memory is known to be highly inaccurate or unavailable. Again, Feldenkrais was ahead of his time and felt strongly that movement itself is a more tangible and reliable way to learn about ourselves, and that all the patterns of our thoughts and feelings are expressed through our movements, whether we are aware of them or not. Thus, movement provides us the perfect experimental laboratory for the areas we are hoping to change and improve. 

My experience is that each Awareness Through Movement lesson or Functional Integration lesson results in greater ease of movement, which is quite satisfying and quite enough for me. But I experience much more than the ease of movement. I have come to understand that these movement patterns relate to my habitual patterns of thought and feelings. It’s an understanding that is “sensed” in the moment, as a small child might. The beauty is, I find that memory and descriptions are not even important for my understanding. The meaning is in the movement. I do the movements while carefully paying attention and before I know it, the learning is in my body with a minimum of effort. Embodied learning.