Which side?

Sometimes a lesson is entirely on one side. If it alternates sides, there is still a choice that has been made to start on one side or the other.

One principle at work in this is to start where the person is at, and explore what they already do best: we typically start with the side that has an easier time with whatever it is we’re exploring–movement, transmission of force, connection, etc.

But the choice of side in ATM has to be for everyone at once; even in choosing for the individual, there may be a tendency or pattern that individuals share with others.

In “The Elusive Obvious,” Moshe writes about this (pp. 75-77). The general theme of these pages seems to be how he independently and through his own work with people discovered things that others only discovered through large scientific research programs. These passages always involve a lot of name dropping. Very endearing.

He describes how, early in his use of ATM and FI during WW II, he would work exclusively on one side, in order to create a large contrast in feeling between the two sides, and therefore a situation in which a person would learn from him or herself, comparing the sensation of the sides and transferring the learning from the side that was active during the lesson to the side that had been passive. This discovery somehow anticipated, he thinks (as Bronowski explained to him), how the use of stochastic strategies in foraging (in evolutionary theory), requires an internal feeling/preference for the optimal. A quick google doesn’t immediately bring me to any connection between random walk theory and internal preferences, so I don’t know whether that idea Bronowski explained to Feldenkrais is still current.

But then, Moshe says, he gradually discovered that some things could be learned more easily on one side, and some on the other. This difference is not obvious: one wouldn’t notice it until many years in the work. He describes this as his independent discovery of brain lateralization.

Fine differentiation is learned more easily on the right side (hence left hemisphere), and he connects this to the idea that all “learned purely human activities” are left-hemisphere activities.

The left side (hence right hemisphere) can be used in a different strategy–to “build up” the movement and its mental representation, Moshe says. And lists of lateralized function may place spatial manipulation in the right hemisphere.

The left side (right hemisphere) learns more quickly and efficiently from the right–I guess that it grasps the “gestalt” from the right and hence learns in a more holistic way the function that was learned more analytically on the right. It learns “greater fluency and ease”, which he connects specifically to how hard the first side worked to learn, but my sense is that he means also that, however “hard” each side works, the point is that they work differently. The eighth lesson in the book ATM discusses and demonstrates this idea (and indeed works on the right side first, and then the left side in imagination).

I’ve not paid attention much in the past when people talk about brain lateralization in relation to what we’re doing in Feldenkrais, partly because the very idea of localization in the brain is still so much in development, and subject to fundamental puzzles–and the lateralization area is subject to “just so” stories (a phrase usually used when talking about how evolutionary theory can make up a story to explain things whose real sources lie in social assumptions and biases). Simplified popularizations proliferate.

Even if I were to integrate more thinking about lateralization into how I think about the work, I am dubious about how Moshe layers his idea of “learned purely human activities” onto the science. I would assume that non-human animals are accomplishing things with their left hemispheres, and that there is distinctly human learning involving the right hemisphere (pragmatics, context, prosody–these are things the Wikipedia article assigns, with much hedging, to the right hemisphere). I’m agnostic at the moment about Moshe’s broader story about handedness/specialization of function by side/lateralization being distinctly human and essential for language.

I’m used to thinking about a distinction between standing / extension / transmission of force / balance (usually left side) and folding / fine manipulation (usually right side). This passage inspires me to think more about quality of movement and learning on each side, beyond the more narrow functions I’ve just described.

9 Replies to “Which side?”

  1. Foraging is the act of searching for food. Stochastic means random. Probably maybe there are many different kinds of food out there. Everything that is edible. Who wants to try those berries? These leaves? This chinese grocery store’s milk (is it fake and will make you suffer or is it safe and nourish you?) Is milk nutritious at all? Do we need milk? What’s this thing over there … I have a feeling I need to eat this … mmm … yummy ….

    Plus: This whole left side/right side, specially of the brain, left side of the brain, right side of the brain, does it matter? I mean, in book sales, yes, but in my life? yours?

  2. Thanks Lynette for forwarding your explanation of 2012, explaining about starting right or left side. I was born left handed but specially my father tied that hand to work with the right. The good thing is that I’m not stuttering by the chance. I use both sides differently. But I always intrigued me and continues to intrigue why certains Moshe lessons start in the right or left side. My flexible side is the left. Hugs

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