Lovely blog by Ilona Fried

Feldenkrais: The Wine Tasting of Movement
Wine tasting and Feldenkrais are about discernment.
Imagine attending a wine tasting where the pourer fills a large goblet and, instead of handing it you, splashes the contents in your face. Some of the liquid might reach your lips and tongue, but likely you are so shocked by the dousing that you’re gasping for breath rather than inhaling the bouquet. In lieu of finding the precise phrase to describe the wine’s complex notes, you let fly a few curse words. Spluttering, you look for a towel to wipe up the mess rather than a pencil and paper to jot down the highlights.

Come to think of it, that’s how many people exercise: they take on too much too quickly, gasp for air, perhaps grunt expletives as they lift weights or tackle a hill and, afterwards, mop up the sweat with a towel or shirt. In American culture, that’s considered normal, and the more gasping, grunting and perspiring the better, especially if it yields a post-exercise high, a healthy variant of inebriation.

In a typical wine tasting, there is no expectation of drinking large quantities or doing so quickly. It’s hard to notice subtle differences if a person drinks enough to lose sensitivity in their tastebuds or become tipsy, let alone sloshed. Connoisseurs often spit out the wine after swishing it in their mouths lest swallowing it interfere with their ability to smell, taste and sense the next vintage. Usually there is some bread or a cracker available to help cleanse the palate so flavors don’t get muddied.

Many tastings are structured around a theme and focus on a handful of wines, such as a few whites and reds from the same region, or all reds or all whites from neighboring areas or various countries. However it is designed, the point of a tasting is to make it possible for the samplers to notice similarities and differences amongst the selections. Having too many choices, or assembling random wines without some curatorial intent, makes it harder for most people to focus their attention and learn or retain anything.

Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons are more akin to wine tastings than trips to the gym. Many lessons are structured around a particular area of the body, or the relationship between two areas, to focus attention. Often, movements are repeated on both the right and left sides, to facilitate noticing differences between the two. Sometimes, a lesson is restricted to one side, to highlight its effect after it is over. Movements are often small and slow, sips rather than gulps, to help a person sense distinctions and allow the nervous system to register that information. We pause or rest frequently, the equivalent of cleansing the palate. Moving too quickly or too much, or overriding the breath, is like being splashed in the face, making it difficult for the nervous system to perceive nuances.

A novice wine taster probably won’t notice as much as an experienced sommelier or be able put their experience into words as easily. After attending more tastings, reading about wine and asking questions, they will likely learn to make finer and finer distinctions, perhaps eventually being able to identify a wine’s terroir. Ditto for Feldenkrais: a person might not be able to sense themselves very much initially but, over time, through practice, and discussion, can cultivate the kind of attention that will allow them to both feel more and notice further subtleties, perhaps eventually helping them to pinpoint the “terroir” of a chronic injury or tight spot.

In Feldenkrais, we become connoisseurs of movement, our own and that of others. We learn to treat ourselves as we would a rare vintage: with care and respect so that, like a fine wine, we get better with age.

2 Mar 2014, 2:39am

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How does the Feldenkrais method apply to me?

“In a perfectly matured body, which has grown without great emotional disturbances, movements tend gradually to conform to the mechanical requirements of the surrounding world. The nervous system has evolved under the influence of these laws and is fitted to them. However, in our society we do, by the promise of great reward or intense punishment, so distort the even development of the system, that many acts become excluded or restricted. The result is that we have to provide special conditions for furthering adult maturation of arrested functions.”

I came across this quote from Moshe Feldenkrais again, a few years since the last time I read it, and I was freshly struck by its density of meaning. I was amazed again by his ability to sum up the process of maturation, which is the journey to healthy adulthood, in a few sentences. Almost every word contains a distinct and recognizable human experience.

I learned from Dr. Feldenkrais to understand the words by the experiences they evoke. My experiences and associations are different from yours. I invite you, the reader, to find your own experiences or just allow yourself to ask the question: How does it apply to me? If you can share some of it in your comments, that will be a gift to all of us.

Here are some of my responses to the words:

“In a perfectly mature body” - I don’t know any body that exists without the person, and I have not yet met a perfect person. But I have met people who I will call mature, and I am very aware of my own, lifelong maturation process. I find myself shedding layers of habitual behavior, be it walking, using my hands & arms or discovering a prejudice I didn’t think I had. Now that I am in my sixties, I find the process accelerating. The liberation of shedding illusions and attitudes that caused me distress is exhilarating!

“Grown without emotional disturbances” - is there anyone like this out there? And we don’t need to go to the realm of abuse. It is enough for me to remember myself as a parent, wanting so much not to make the mistakes my parents did, succeeding more or less, but making new ones. I tried so hard! The parents of the special needs children I work with try so hard! And still, I witness constantly the emotional attitude behind some unnecessary words children hear, which is created by the anxiety for the future of the child. I observe how these attitudes disturb the child from achieving the step which is described in the following sentence:

“movements tend gradually to conform to the mechanical requirements of the surrounding world.” So when my two year old granddaughter tries to climb up the steps, which are part of her surrounding world, she experiments with multitude of movements to mechanically be able to accommodate the stairs and go up. I witness it and find myself holding my breath for fear of her falling. I have to tell myself that she will sense the fear and associate it with this particular activity. I change my position so that I am sure to catch her in a safe way, and change my breathing. I am no longer afraid and am available to quickly change my position to accommodate her experiments. Now we have fun! It took 30 years of Feldenkrais thinking and doing plus other venues of self-awareness, to be able to do this. I was not so smart when I raised my own kids!

“The Nervous System has evolved under the influence of these laws and is fitted to them.” Well, all my movements have to do with negotiating gravity – enjoying the support of a stable surface and learning to move away from it without falling. My brain learned to do this well enough to be still alive. Haven’t yours?

But how well did I learn? How do the emotional disturbances of my family and culture prevent me from feeling more stable, feeling strong and light at the same time, being free of aches and pains and reducing disappointments? Dr. Feldenkrais says:  ”we do, by the promise of great reward or intense punishment, so distort the even development of the system, that many acts become excluded or restricted.” Excluded and restricted by the punishments we imagine would come from failing to do it “correctly” in the time we imagine we are allotted, which has nothing to do with the realities of the situations.

“The result is that we have to provide special conditions for furthering adult maturation of arrested functions.” This is the most concise description of the Feldenkrais Method I know of. The method provides special conditions, in the forms of Awareness Through Movement classes and private Functional Integration sessions for allowing a person to feel how her/his limitations are created and find other options. The movements are only the medium we, practitioners and trainers, use to make the process of transcending our “lot in life” and enlarge the world of possibilities – physical, mental, emotional and least, but not last, social.

There is not that much difference between the process of maturation in general and the journey to become a mature performing musician. The skills an instrumentalist has to learn will develop and mature to fit the instrument and the developed musical ear. That is, if the emotional disturbances from parents and especially teachers, are kept to a minimum in the beginning of the learning process.

Many times this is not the case. If the teacher of the child who is learning to play the violin reacts too intensely to a note out of tune or a missed shift, it might take years of re-education to get rid of the anxiety that accompanies intonation and shifting. If the young child does not have the freedom to make mistakes while experimenting with ways to play, he/she will learn to hold the breath in anticipation of failure and disapproval, and will not dare to try new things.

I observe the results of these habits in many of the adult musicians I work with, be it in the form of injuries, performance anxiety or nagging dissatisfaction with the music produced. It might take some doing, but it is not hard to transcend those part of our education that were harmful to us if we are given the right conditions to do so.


19 Jul 2010, 12:15am

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Coming back to ‘Neutral’

So what  happens to a player after a 7-9 hours day of rehearsing and practicing, day after day?  That depends on the knowledge of the musician,conscious or unconscious, of how to rest and let go of effort and how to find the moments to do so. It is essential to the prevention of pain and injury and mental fatigue.

Playing in a chamber music festival like Yellow Barn or Marlboro is not only about the physical work involved in playing. There are other stressors like the number of pieces to be learned, the stress of working with highly accomplished and demanding faculty or “elders”, and the constant “raising of the bar” of one’s understanding of the music. There is very little opportunity of “coasting” on what one already knows.

These circumstances, necessary as they are to the development of a good musician, almost always express themselves in extra effort which accumulates over the day, and if not checked, over the weeks of the festival. Pain and aches start showing up and the fear they create adds to the holding of  breath and the unnecessary contraction of muscles. One ends up carrying the particular pattern of contractions that a particular instrument requires into the resting time and into sleep. It is as if one never stops playing completely. It also means that the next day, the work does not start from zero, it is added to the residue of the work from yesterday. After a week of this, the muscles are fatigued and the brain protests.

Unless, we find a way, at least once a day, to come back to our neutral, to the state of being where we give in to gravity and are able to feel how to let go of all work. That is where the Feldenkrais class comes in.  Through doing the movement variations that are the fundamental building blocks of our functioning, we learn to listen closely to the sensations that tell us about excessive effort or the opposite – the cessation of work and the giving in to gravity. We learn to know what no work feels like, so that we can start from zero and do just the amount of work we need for the current project.

That is what I mean by coming back to neutral.

In Yellow Barn at 5:00pm and in Marlboro at 9:00am musicians who have a free hour can come and learn what ‘Neutral’ feels like. Again and again they learn to recognize lightness and ease. They learn to take advantage of little breaks between rehearsals or in the middle of a piece to look for this feeling and reduce the accumulated effort.