Saturday, January 27, 2018

Learning Within and Without the Feldenkrais Method

What is The Feldenkrais Method?

It is a method of learning, and in Feldenkrias the learning is through movement. How we learn a movement is probably how we learn everything. Looking at how we learn, and drawing awareness to that, can change how we learn. The Feldenkrais Method can be about movement, but it can also be about much more.

From Learn to Learn by Moshe Feldenkrais:

            “I do not intend to “teach” you, but to enable you to learn at your own rate of understanding and doing. Time is the most important means to learning. To enable everybody—without exception—to learn, there should be plenty of time for everybody to assimilate the idea of the movement as well as the leisure to get used to the novelty of the situations. There should be sufficient time to perceive, and organize oneself. No one can learn when hurried and hustled. Each movement is, therefore, allotted sufficient time for repeating it a number of times. Thus, you will repeat the   movement as many times as it suits you during the span of time allotted.”

In Awareness Through Movement lessons, a class setting and one in which the teacher or practitioner is guiding the class through verbal instruction without visual demonstration, participants or students will take instruction and interpret it in their own way, through their understanding of the instruction. As the class continues, the practitioner will guide students with verbal cues and images yet not with corrections. It’s not helpful to correct when it’s not clear yet what we’re doing in the first place. Plus, what a correction means to each (Sit up straight! Don’t slump!) will be different. Even if we narrow down the correction (Pull your shoulders back! Chin up!) each correction implies a different meaning to each individual—a meaning based on experience and association, or lack of these, with the implied correction. Also and just as importantly, these corrections (Sit up straight! Don’t slump! Pull your shoulders back! Chin up!) are ideas and not movements, and they involve many smaller, finer movements, which happen to result in sitting straighter or with shoulders further back.*

It’s in this way that a Feldenkrais teacher doesn’t teach. A practitioner will introduce movements and possibility and each student takes those movements and possibilities and experiments with them. Is this what I do? What happens when I do this? Does this hurt? (If the answer to this is yes, then do less or rest.) Am I hurrying? Am I breathing? Am I letting go of the movement before I try it again, maybe in a different way? Each student takes responsibility for their own learning by asking themselves questions and with the answers, maybe alters their movement.

Each class is another introduction to learning and this kind of awareness to oneself. Maybe what I thought was unhurried movement a few weeks ago seems hasty now. Maybe what I thought hurt me yesterday was actually my discomfort with the novelty of the movement, or the other way around.

Teachers of the Feldenkrais Method are learning too and make mistakes. Perhaps a practitioner rushes you on to another movement. Or unconsciously gives a correction rather than an alternate way of moving. It’s up to you as a student to remember that you are in charge of your learning. You don’t have to do what a teacher says. You can recognize the instruction as a correction and note it or resist it. You can rest when you need to or stop moving completely and do the lesson in your imagination** or simply rest your attention. If we give this right to discernment away to our teachers, we’re missing important opportunities to learn and develop aspects of ourselves.

Though we live in a culture and society of quick and easy changes and fixes, most good and lasting changes actually take time. Learning is certainly no exception and is likely the most important and encompassing change. We learn “at [our] own rate of understanding and doing.” This is true in each class and over the course of many classes. And how we learn in class is probably how we learn in life. 

* This brings up another important piece of the Feldenkrais Method, which is that there is no such thing as “good posture.” There is posture for a particular activity, movement, or moment. Dr. Feldenkrais referred to this idea as “acture,” coming from the word “act.”  Rather than “posture,” which has at its root in the word “post.” This will be discussed more in another piece of  “What is the Feldenkrais Method?”

** This brings up another important piece of the Feldenkrais Method, which is that our nervous systems, our brains, we, are affected by doing things in our imagination. This will be discussed more in another piece of  “What is the Feldenkrais Method?”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Beautiful Messes—

The Feldenkrais Method, living in the world, & sorting out or not sorting out what the hell went on this week...

“That is why, in the type of work we are doing, when the person is doing a movement, thinks he is doing it, and can see that he is not—then he can learn. If he colors it with something, learning is far more difficult and less thorough.”
—Moshe Feldenkrais

This morning and I came across this comment (Awareness Through Movement lesson from Alexander Yanai #81: Washing the Face with the Feet) and I started thinking how nice it is to do a lesson and have a contained bit of learning that has to do just with me. This messy bit of learning is just between me and me and no one else. And I think about that thing that Max Schott, one of my teachers at the College of Creative Studies at UCSB, once said. And it comes to mind often—that people are beautiful messes.

And then I consciously decided to write after the lesson but to stop thinking about it right then and to think about my movement.

After a week filled with a more than the usual amount of people and information and conflict and pleasure and confusion, it’s nice to do a Feldenkrais lesson, which makes clear sense—even while it’s still mysterious to me—and gives information and puzzle pieces. It has a beginning and an end. There’s a question, maybe a struggle or a confusion, which maybe eventually I let go of. And then I just sink into what’s going on without trying to figure it out and without making any decisions. There’s usually real learning that seems to just appear: I see what I do and then I see what more I can do. Maybe there’s something to do differently. Maybe I’m holding something I don’t need to hold. Today I wasn’t contracting something I had no idea could be contracted in that way. Isn’t it funny and odd that muscles can contract and relax in a variety of ways and degrees and directions and…? I have to listen carefully to myself to discover this as of yet unknown and delightful element.

And it’s a relief that no one else is in it with me. Here’s another chance to see what I do, how I move and what I do and how I learn but within the context of this movement lesson. And I get to step outside the beautiful mess of being in the world with—or of—other people. I get to be inside just my own, well, beautiful mess. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How do I write about this?
And what is the Feldenkrais Method again?

I’ve been trying to write down my experiences with Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement®* lessons. I should probably just jot down my experiences because as soon as I try to write complete sentences and thoughts, I quickly run into some questions. Why am I writing this down? Who is going to read this? Just me? Is it my physical experience that’s interesting or all the other things that happen during a lesson? So I decided to write this about it. I’ve kept my notes on the physical parts to myself because they’re boring to read, even to me. But they’re a way for me to keep track of a certain aspect of my experience, so I wrote them down anyway though I suspect they’re the part of this that I won’t read again.

Today, ATM #42: Lifting the head/knee.
It’s hard to find words to say all that happens in an ATM lesson or in the Feldenkrais Method®* as a whole. Moshe Feldenkrais said that in so many words, and each time I read him or hear him (in audio recordings) I’m re-impressed with the depth of that idea. I absolutely do not hold the idea that words have no meaning—that we can’t pass ideas, feelings, concepts, or sincere communications to each other—so therefore let’s not try. It’s very worth it to me, or I wouldn’t be writing this. But it’s difficult to put an experience into satisfactory words to convey an experience. Period. But then it’s difficult to put into words an experience that’s new to me. And then there is another step of difficultly because my new experience may or may not have been had yet by the person reading. Moshe Feldenkrais said it’s like trying to explain sex to someone who hasn’t experienced it yet. (Or that in so many more provocative words.) It may be interesting to hear or read, but it’s not anything like the experience.

This is the way I veered off in my notes to myself today because how do I write about my experience? I can say some facts that I noticed: (This is where I had that paragraph I mentioned. It ended with…):

“It’s worth noting that before I found that, the movement and flexibility of what seemed to me today to be my whole spine, I was first thinking of my knee, then my hip, then my pelvis. Then I moved my attention around to my head, shoulders, clavicles, ribs. I opened my eyes and moved them gently left and right while I was doing the movement, just to see what that would add, and to help me not fixate on the “parts” of me and to spread my attention around.

But maybe what’s more important than the particulars of what I noticed and what I did, is how they came to my awareness and how I treated myself while I was doing the lesson.”

Even in my notes to myself about the physical aspects of the lesson, the lesson is more than just that. I’m more than just that.

I was really looking forward to doing this Awareness Through Movement lesson. That’s usually how I approach these lessons but for some reason I often can’t get myself to lie down and begin. Today that wasn’t the case and maybe that’s because I keep doing these lessons and more keeps happening, so I’m pretty interested and intrigued. 

So for instance, I’ve discovered something physical that I’d like to work on, an area of confusion that I have. Today I realize that doing one lesson probably isn’t going to fix this life-long habit or probably isn’t even going to change the particular physical concern I have. It will alter it in some way, but usually not in the way I might expect or it won’t happen how I might have expected. And me insisting on solving my physical problem, either through conscious intent or maybe inadvertently
fixing my attention on the physical part, only makes me tense and a bit rough with myself, and therefore likely to move less of me, not more of me. And moving more of me is often the solution and antidote to pain.

There are 5 lessons in a row that I’ve done on consecutive days so that maybe I can shed some light on this. (I was going to name it but then find it difficult: it’s pain in my left knee. But it’s related to how I move my pelvis. And my head. And my ribs. And my spine. And my eyes. And my attention. See what I mean? It’s hardly worth trying to pinpoint something I don’t know yet or am in the process of knowing, when I can just keep doing lessons and let them pinpoint for me.)

But what I know now is that by doing the lesson, something will shift. I’ll get a little insight that may or may not be related to my very narrow concern. But the insight is like a drop of water to a very thirsty plant. I guess it’s a desert dwelling plant since I can go for a long time and live very well without even a drop. After many of these drops, another thing happens. It’s usually different than the thing I expected, hoped for, started because of. Maybe the desert plant doesn’t grow but it flowers instead. Or the plant gets greener. Or it’s happier. The metaphor is too narrow though because I get to have all of it, and not in the way my previous experiences would dictate. If I go slowly…  with attention… with persistence and yet an attitude of curiosity... I get to have an experience that I haven’t already had.

And this has become important to me. I may be interested in a physical malady or condition or change, but running behind it is this bigger and likely more interesting quest: how can I create the conditions in myself so that I have a new and different experience? That is perhaps one definition of The Feldenkrais Method.

*I put in the registered trademark signs because the guild asks for that, but I’m just going to do that once and anyone reading will know it stands for all the times I mention the method or any part of the method.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Do I Do When I Don’t Know What To Do?

Making Plans, Making Mistakes,
What Do I Do When I Don’t Know What To Do?
and The Feldenkrais Method…

My son is in the 4th grade now and watching him get older and learn about life and learn how to learn is a fascinating and sometimes painful process. This isn’t really a surprise to me; it’s a fascinating and painful process for me too, still, and it’s one of the reasons I’d thought it probably unwise to have a child. But, as with so many of the best things in life, pregnancy took me by surprise. I’d been in a solid and good relationship with the same person for seven years, but we couldn’t decide about children. “Why mess with a good thing?” That was our strategy, and not a bad one for us, at least at the time. But then I accidentally got pregnant (I point to Chinese medicine—which suggested getting off the pill for various health reasons, and the sponge—which worked for a year-and-a-half but then, voilà, was in the wrong place at the wrong time). That was one of the best accidents of my life. Even so, I’m still not keen on accidents and mistakes, though clearly they’re not always terrible. In fact, they’re often a good way to learn something new.

Considering how apprehensive I’d been, I was surprised at how eagerly and happily I accepted and even celebrated the news. But then there was a very real birth and a very real baby to wonder about. What are those things? And how do you do them? To prepare, people go to classes and make birth plans. I did those things too, with an apprehensive eye toward chaos and a lack of control. I hoped for a drug-free labor but was unsure. What is the pain of labor like? We hear about these things, but it’s impossible to know them until they’re experienced.

Yes, labor happened, and my birth plan was a nice one but not a map. I had to go with the real path of my child’s birth, not insist on the one I’d made up or hoped for or enthusiastically imagined. I know now even more about what I learned then. Things aren’t usually what I expect. Even when I set out to do something, it usually doesn’t go the way I plan. It’s in that moment when I realize that things are different from what I’d planned, wanted, hoped for, that I have a choice about learning. What do I do when things don’t go the way I expect? I could get angry, complain, cry, laugh, give up, insist, kill myself, kill you, drink a ton of alcohol or do a lot of drugs or eat a whole cheesecake. But that’s the question, isn’t it? What do I do when I don’t know what to do? In the case of birth, I gave up and deferred to the easiest path. But is that what I usually do?

Strangely and incredibly, this is a moment we deal with in almost every Feldenkrais lesson. What do I do when things don’t go the way I expected? What do I do when I don’t know what to do? And how do I find an easy path?

In a Feldenkrais lesson we go slowly and pay attention to how we do a movement—presuming we accept an important principle of the method, which is that how I do a movement is more important than the movement itself. How trumps what.

In almost every lesson there is a moment to discover that how I do something is not the only way to do it. Or perhaps the discovery is that what I’m doing is not what I thought I was doing.  Or maybe it’s that I don’t know how to do what’s being asked of me except in this particular way, which I just discovered is not so useful (for instance it causes me pain, or it’s not clear, or I have to hold my breath to do it that way). But what am I going to do in this moment when I haven’t yet discovered how to continue differently?

This sounds straightforward, but it’s in this moment that we often want to abandon the mission, avoid the problem, throw in the towel, distract from the game…. I personally have many strategies to take me out of that uncomfortable moment: taking brutal or unclear action, crying, laughing, day dreaming, or shutting down. It’s rare that I encounter one of these moments and simply and quietly wait for a path to present itself. Each time is the time that I think a path will not appear. These aren’t necessarily conscious thoughts that I have. But unchecked these are the underpinnings of my actions. But instead can I consciously wait and try small movements and puzzle out a more useful, more efficient, more elegant way to proceed?

One of the gifts of the Feldenkrais Method is that we get to practice this moment, this response to the question of what to do next. I do feel better and move better in and with my body. But these movement patterns, which I was drawn to for movement’s sake, unexpectedly and accidentally turned out to be much more than what I’d planned for.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Learning must be pleasurable, and it must be easy...

"Learning must be pleasurable, and it must be easy... What is learnt otherwise rarely becomes habitually spontaneous."  —Moshe Feldenkrais

What does this mean? And what are the far-reaching possibilities of learning through pleasure?

We are so accustomed to learning because of some outside motivation: pain, punishment, social and societal expectations, money, external praise (I’m sure there are other motivations for why we set out to learn something, and I hope you’ll add to the list) that often we don’t truly realize what our own motivations are. Am I still trying to please a parent, a teacher, God, a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or society’s idea of who I should be? Or maybe it’s the only an idea of what I think one or all of these things should be or could be.

Regardless of who or what it is influencing us, most of us are sometimes still moving through our lives with a low- or high-level of disconnection from what makes me feel good. This does translate into physical action because I often have a motivation for what makes me do an action and how I do it. You asked me to do something, and so I do it even if I’m not sure how to do it (writing a paper for an academic class in school or responding to a teacher’s comment or request in a dance or yoga class...). Moving in this way, and learning in this way, is rarely true learning because the reason for doing it can cloud the outcome. I have pleased or satisfied the external demand for learning and that’s what I’ve accomplished. And then there’s my own sense of ambition, which can be clouded by external motivations: I need to do this so that _______ (I get my money’s worth; so that I can learn; so that you will love me, like me, pay me, praise me, give me an ‘A’, not criticize me, know how hard I work, not think I’m an idiot...)

During an Awareness Through Movement® lesson I may discover some of these external motivations. When is it that I do too much? When do I move just or mostly to please the teacher? When do I think I know what is being asked of me only to discover I have no idea what is being asked of me? When do I barrel through just because I don’t know what I’m doing and I’d rather complete the request than remain in this place of unknowing? Maybe I will do it wrong. Maybe I won’t finish. Maybe I won’t get my money’s worth of what I think I should be getting. But if I force myself to try to make a choice within all these confusing motivations—which are underneath, around, and in my learning—I am rarely able to learn something new and unexpected. Though often I do! It’s just much harder and more confusing and the thing I learn will likely have inauthentic aspects to it. I have to sift through all these external motivations—which are often at odds and which often don’t have real learning as the goal—to get to my authentic way of moving, thinking, and learning.

We’ve probably all experienced someone telling us to stand up straight. Fix your posture! Some of us don’t do what we’re told or asked to do, just because we’re so tired of being told what to do. I’m going to do whatever the hell I want and certainly not what you asked me to do! Some of us are so tired of this that we can’t stop rebelling and notice when something we’re asked to do might actually be useful to us. But if I want to do this—change my posture because someone asked me to—even if I really want to and really try to, am I trying to change it to please someone or to respond their request or demand? It’s not because I know how to actually change my posture so I can stand “better.” If someone asked me to stand more comfortably, would I know how to do that?

So we begin to notice what we do: How do I stand here? What do I feel here? What feels bad here? What feels good here? What are all the grey places in between here? What confuses me here? What don’t I know about how I stand here? And what if I ask all these same questions when I’m sitting, standing, eating, swimming, biking, etc. here, just in this particular moment? Because from moment to moment what is asked of me and from my “posture” is different. Sometimes I won’t pay attention, because I just need to get to work or to class or to my home or just because I can’t or don’t want to. But sometimes I will. Sometimes is all it takes.

And this is what we do in Awareness Through Movement® lessons. We begin to notice how and what we do. What do I do? What feels good and what doesn’t feel good? I stop or change when something doesn’t feel good. Or if I get confused. Or if I can’t pay attention anymore. I don’t just do to do. And I don’t mindlessly or unconsciously repeat movements. My attention counts more than my movements. I begin to learn through what I notice about myself and how things feel to me. And I start with noticing what I do, where I start from, and then go on to what I’d like to try. I go slowly and make short explorations into what’s new and unknown, and then I return to where I started from to see what that’s like now. I begin to learn because I want to and it’s interesting and it feels good or right to me. (Though sometimes it doesn’t feel good because it can be different, frustrating, confusing, but let’s save that important tangent for another time…)

I begin to learn through pleasure. And when I learn through pleasure, I can really learn something. I am not doing it to avoid or gain consequences. And if learning is pleasurable, I don’t have to force myself to remember. I remember. My nervous system remembers. My somatic self remembers. You tell me what remembers. It’s a bigger, better, more interesting, more-of-myself self that remembers because it’s learning that feels good and is interesting and useful to me, and so it’s easier and sweeter to remember.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The First Approximaton

In the Feldenkrais Method® we often call the first attempt at something “the first approximation.” This phrase roughly means that it's the first time of many that I’m doing something and so of course it won’t be perfect. There’s no pressure or ambition to do the movement or activity perfectly because it’s just the first one, the first approximation.  I do it as I can do it right now.

This idea of the first approximation often helps me to get started on something that’s new or that’s difficult or that means a lot to me.  Often my first reaction is: if I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all thank-you-very-much. I don’t consciously think this, but it’s there in the background. When I consciously remember there is a first approximation, the pressure decreases. I don’t have to do it perfectly. And in fact I can’t. Perfection is an impossible and defeating standard I’ve set for myself. How can I know how to do something before I know how to do something? How can I know how to do something before I know what it is I'm doing?

When I see my nine-year-old son struggling with his homework—no, struggling to begin to take a look at the homework that he has not begun to work on yet—I recognize his struggle and his need for the concept of “the first approximation.” Recently I caught myself saying to him, “just do your best.” What? Actually no, don’t do your best. That’s a lot of pressure. We laughed about that and he was relieved. We decided that he should not try at all. Do your worst I told him, and we laughed. Because no one of us would actually set out to do our worst! 

But essentially I do set out to do my worst when I avoid an activity or project that I love or that I want to do or that I simply need to do. I’m avoiding it because I want to do it well and I’m afraid I won’t. If I make a start, there’s a chance that somewhere along the way I’m going to do a fine job, or a fine job for me, or a fine job in that moment. My desire to do it well gets in the way of my desire to do the activity or project.

This new blog is an experiment for me. It’s about the Feldenkrais Method®, and this first entry is my first approximation. I’m beginning because I love the method and I enjoy writing. And it strikes me as a satisfying—as well as a somewhat daunting—endeavor to think and write about some of the ideas underlying the method. One of the things Dr. Feldenkrais used to say was that you’ll have really learned something if you can explain it to a friend. This blog is—and therefore you are—the friend I’m writing to. So thank you for reading.