The elusive and the obvious
Feldenkrais called one of his books “The Elusive Obvious.”
We feel changes the course of a Feldenkrais lesson that are so surprising that we feel some extraordinarily mysterious event must have transpired. It may feel almost embarrassing to discover how banal was the shift that created the new experience: a realization that turning the head may affect the shoulder, or that the foot can, contrary to a lifetime of practice, be allowed to shift a half-centimetre for more optimal transmission of forces. Such small learning of the obvious, all variations on the discovery that we are one organism connected in our parts and unified in sensation and motor control, can indeed have results for the person that are astonishing. Particularly because the deepest changes happen at the edge of awareness or into our blind spots, where something is so fundamentally new to us that we can’t put it into our old familiar words, capturing it feels as elusive as picking up a spiderweb.
As real as the experience of elusiveness is, let us not forget the “obvious” part of the equation. Someone watching our “elusive” shift might say “look! she realized she can let her eyes move with the movement.” What is elusive from one point of view is obvious from another.
The basic form of inquiry
One of the most powerful characteristics of the Feldenkrais Method is extremely simple: it is something you can do for yourself from the first day you try Feldenkrais and something you can apply in other areas of your life to beneficial effect immediately. It is the basic structure or rhythm of a lesson.
- In a resting position, take note of your current state.
- Think of an action, and then do it, with attention to how you do it, at a speed lower than your accustomed speed and with a level of effort or range of motion that is less than your usual effort or range.
- Perform several repetitions, being sure to return to rest before beginning the action again.
- Return to your resting position and scan yourself to see whether you feel any changes.
- Then repeat several times, with different actions related in some way.
- At the end, repeat the initial action and note how it has changed.
While Moshe cultivated this process, he didn’t invent it. Your nervous system does this; scientific method consists in various forms of elaboration on it. The “Method” is something you already know how to do and already have done countless times in your life.
Let me boil it down to something even more obvious and simple:
- Notice how you feel.
- Think about something to do.
- Do it a few times.
- See how you feel afterwards.
- Repeat with another action.
It couldn’t get much simpler, or more obvious.
There is lots of time to refine and adjust this process. (For instance, what would it be profitable to notice? What form or quality does your intention take? Which action should you try? What is a useful related action to try? What kinds of changes in awareness do you want to bring your attention to at the end?) But already if you start today to apply this process to the best of your current ability (or even in a mediocre way) you will benefit enormously from doing so.
This is because your brain likes learning.
I often joke in teaching that the only thing I’m being paid to do is to slow you down.
If you have done Awareness Through Movement lessons before, then the outline of the process may sound familiar. What’s not familiar is what I will ask you to do next.
In the usual course of an ATM class, the teacher takes full responsibility to lead the students through the class. At its best, it’s a “responsive” responsibility, so the practitioner is guided by your actions, responses, needs and interests (as shown in your movement); still, there is one voice in the room and you as a student are freed from having to keep track of where you are in a lesson or plan what to do next.
There are advantages to this experience. Who wouldn’t want to hand over control to a benevolent dictator, who makes no demands but that we care for ourselves, and who proves him or herself generally trustworthy to assemble for us an experience that is pleasant if not profoundly transforming or revelatory?
There are even some respectable pedagogical reasons for this surrender. It enables one to enter very deeply into the kinesthetic experience. It enables one to encounter a dynamic of how one meets the next movement: with surprise or a sense of confirmation or resistance. If one “knows” what’s coming next, this point is lost.
The only downside is that it leaves one as dependent as a child in one’s relationship to this Method. A paradoxical result for a Method that promises to be a deep somatic learning of the nature of maturity.
This DIY ATM process is an exploration of the idea that you might learn to have all the good stuff of discovering surprises, exploring distant possibilities, and going deep in your kinesthetic experience, while still playing an active, creative and responsible role in structuring your own experiences.
One way to start is to take a lesson that’s done only on one side, and then do the second side from memory. (See one-sided lesson.) Another option is to stop the recording after the first side and do the second yourself. Another is to lie down a day or two after you do the lesson from the recording and run over whatever you remember of it yourself.
The power of thought
You’ve probably just experienced an interesting example right now of the power of thought; in specific in this case, anticipation of a challenge!
When you think to yourself that you are going to teach yourself the lesson after doing it, how do you respond? What do you think? How do you feel?
Many people feel a sense of pressure. Now it’s like a test. How am I ever going to remember everything that I do, to be able to replicate it for myself?
In fact, the power of that kind of pressure to distract people and keep them occupied with their thoughts, and because of that alienated from their experience, is one of the reasons Feldenkrais is taught in its traditional form. The teacher taking all the responsiblity for that lets you sink deeper into your kinesthetic experience. So no matter how much you learn from the process we’re doing here and get out of doing lessons for yourself, you’ll always value going to a class with others teaching as well.
However, just because it is a challenge doesn’t mean it’s something we should avoid doing. Apart from developing your own capacity for self-teaching, it also offers you a whole new kind of insight into your process. Rather than trying really hard to remember each lesson correctly, use the opportunity to notice what you do remember–what you find clear and what you find confusing. As you review afterwards and discuss with others in the class, you will be reminded of what you had forgotten.
The things that are clear and easy to remember are the things that fit into what we already know. It helps improve them to perform the movements slowly, with attention and awareness. It can even feel transforming already just to do that much. But then sometimes a combination of movements will make you do something very new and unfamiliar. It will uncover a blind spot for you, challenge a closely-held habit. A symptom that that is happening is that it is hard to remember the lesson. In retrospect, it just seems confusing. So to take on yourself the responsibility to teach yourself the second half of the lesson is also to give yourself the chance to discover how the lesson has affected you on this cognitive level as well.
And like any skill, it will get easier over time to remember more without pressure or stress.