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.

 

Excellent post; while I understood his meaning, I appreciate how you brought Moshe’s words more vividly to life.

 
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