“How many ATMs are there?”

The question came up in class recently “How many ATMs are there?”

Ron suggested the answer “5,243”, which is as good an answer as any other!

From the beginning, I started taking notes on ATMs (Janet Alexander in Toronto) with an eye to “how these things work.” So at first I thought, okay, you do one side, then the other, then both. That’s how it works.

It didn’t take long for that theory to break down.

Then as the training began, I thought, okay, so you take a movement and do a thousand subtle variations of direction or intention. That’s how they work. And at that stage I tried to invent ATMs for myself on that pattern.

Nothing wrong with that pattern, and there’s a lot going on in the trainings that takes that form–I presume with the purpose that budding practitioners should notice and feel those subtle variations.

The Alexander Yanai lessons came on me like an enormous challenge to everything I thought I knew about ATMs. In every one of them there is some [set of] idea[s] going on that contains echoes and elements of all the techniques I could see in the work, and something more, something more global about complete actions.

I’ve enjoyed Advanced Trainings with Ellen Soloway, and with Jeremy Krauss (most recently this last weekend in Baltimore) that have given the time and space to explore these lessons, and the setting to do so on a fairly intellectual and analytic plane–refusing what some would like to have as a Feldenkrais orthodoxy “thought=bad, feeling=good”. Every occasion has helped develop my sense of the range of things going on in these lessons.

The other day–I was preparing some of the primary image/five cardinal lines/simpler lessons from 7B, and I noticed for the first time how far back the genesis is for how he approaches 338 and 339–with the movement of opposition in 333, he’s trying to get at something about the head/neck relationship, and the next 8 or so lessons are all like housekeeping to raise the level of awareness and sensitivity of the class so that what he was getting at in 333 becomes approachable.

So I set in the back of my mind a challenge: I started the October fingers-to-spine month with a lesson I put together, using one simple idea. And then I taught “by the book” two Alexander Yanai lessons–ones I am still in the process of figuring out. And then I wanted to teach a fourth lesson that came out of what I was seeing in the room and developed some more focused idea than just “trying variations.”

The first lesson is Clock Hands. Actually it’s two simple ideas–when you travel around a clock, methodically checking your self-image against an idea of an objective orientation to your movements in space, you create the conditions for yourself to find all sorts of hidden places and non-habitual movements. I list this under “activities” you can do with a lesson here. And the second idea is that of lengthening from the other end–so with each movement we lengthen ourselves by reaching with the fingers, then by reaching with the hip in the opposite direction, then back to the fingers. (I list this approach under “activities” here.)

I started this “invention,” by the way, with doing Vreni Booth’s lovely online sample lesson, and added the hip movements. (Her teaching of that lesson in itself, by the way, is a great example for me of how every simple lesson pattern is its own new lesson when taught by a particular teacher with a particular vision and style. That’s why the question of how many lessons invites a zen koan response!)

I watched this first lesson unfold, and I watched the students make their way through the AY lessons. And I thought about the specific anatomical and neurological challenges of the AY lessons, while not yet grasping them fully. And I came up with Lengthening and turning arms by the fingers, which gives me some satisfaction insofar as I feel like I got to a new level of integrating elements in creating a new lesson–I worked from what I was seeing in the room that the students might benefit from (shifting intention from core to fingertip, and exploring the rotation of the arms), that old pattern I first noted (the particular transformation to the subtle organization of the core that you get when you do the one side, the other, then both; the way that shift addresses old habits too), and then the particular aspect I’m most pleased with–out of the formulaic variations, I discovered in doing it myself some sense of it coming together into a direction or focus. It seemed to me that the extension of having the arms overhead, combined with lengthening the arms with their rotation, introduced a subtle rebalancing of the flexors and extensors, an appropriate tonification of the core muscles–engaging the extensors, but lengthened, not in an anxiety pattern. I taught the lesson, and sure enough one student stood up and said, “hey! my abdominals feel subtly readjusted, like they’re working now!” (Or something like that!)

Anyway, during this month, someone wrote a lovely post on Feldyforum about reading each lesson as a play–a drama, gathering plot, Act I, Act II, Act III (I can’t track it down now…apologies). This is an element of my puzzle about what is particularly characteristic of the AY lessons. I’m going to put that idea in the back of my mind and see if something emerges from having that thought present. No hurries. It might be another year or two.

I post this under my quasi-subversive “technology of the self” theme because I still nurture the thought that the DIY ATM section isn’t just about letting people do the recordings, but about people learning the Method as something they actively create, and that belongs to them. (Though I’m happy if you just do them too. Making the Method available to people who can’t find or afford a teacher is also a big motivation.)

Maybe this is nothing other than the way people learned it before we had so many materials (lessons) available as a “canon.” They did a lesson, wrote some notes, half remembered it, consciously or not picked up techniques, principles, and patterns, and when they taught or did the lesson for themselves, they created a new lesson by necessity, whether they thought they were doing so or not, because they didn’t have the “canon.” So it’s back to the future, in the sense that this subconscious creativity existed under the guise of a very guru-focused culture in our community. “We’re just doing what Moshe did–after all, he’s a genius and we should all be happy just to sit at his feet and imitate him.” As though he said “I’m your last teacher, because no one’s ever going to be as good as I am,” instead of “I’m your last teacher, because you’re going to learn to teach yourself.”

We have a “canon” now, and we can get stuck in it, in the style of philosophers who see everything a pale echo of Plato or Aristotle, or we can finally make our own active and creative processes conscious, and work on them. That’s what I’m trying to do by blogging about “creating a lesson” in a community where this kind of thing is often considered the height of hubris. (And at the same time we wonder why there is a crisis of confidence in our ability to do the hands-on FI work!) I don’t for a moment think these two lessons are as good as or better than Moshe’s, or that there’s any idea here that doesn’t fundamentally appear in existing lessons. In fact, one value in “inventing” a lesson could be that we would then give one another feedback on our lessons along those lines! I’d love to have some comments like that! Then we’d really start to learn something about what we’re doing.

In any case, it’s not in me to spend my life reciting another person’s words either–I tried that for my PhD and decided that being an So-and-So exegete is an odd life. So for better or worse, I make my way, and hope the community considers the benefit that could be gained if we worked in this way and shared our learning.

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