Wasted effort shortens the body

Superfluous effort shortens the body. Efficient action involves growing taller, lengthening the limbs and the spine.

This is a fundamental idea in Feldenkrais. Scan your feeling of height as you sit in your chair reading this. Then clench your jaw–do you grow taller or shorter? Tighten you shoulders. Taller or shorter? Grip your stomach like you’ve just had a fright. Taller or shorter?

This theme is integrated into the lessons in many ways. In measuring lengths in the scans. In monitoring the maintenance of length (as we might monitor easy breathing) to recognize and modify superfluous effort when it arises during an action. In many lessons the question appears almost as an aside–where does the top of your head go?

6 Replies to “Wasted effort shortens the body”

  1. This idea of lengthening is. of course, influenced by F.M Alexander’s technique whose central principle is that of lengthening and widening.
    Alexander outlines the conditions which lead him to his discovery in his book “Use of the Self”. Excessive hoarseness had lead him to abandon his career as an orator and he had found no useful advice from doctors. Embarking on a course of self disovery using a mirror, Alexander attempted to find a cure for himself.
    The pivotal moment being Alexander’s discovery that “…the best conditions of larynx and vocal mechanisms and the least tendency to hoarseness were associated with a lengthening of the stature.”
    Feldenkrais had lessons with a student of Alexander’s, Walter Carrington, “…until the day that Alexander saw his newly published book, Body and Mature Behaviour, and told [Carrington] to desist. Alexander was emphatic about the danger of confusing two incompatible principles and considered Feldenkrais’s approach to be gravely misleading. The principle of prevention does not accord well with the principle of doing and feeling.” So describes Walter Carrington in his review of Judith Stransky’s book ” Joy in the Life of Your Body” which, whilst primarily a book about the Alexander Technique, also extolls the virtues of the Feldenkrais’ method.
    I have yet to try this lesson so maybe some of these ideas are mentioned in the lesson but ,if not, I thought it might be interesting for people to know about the origin of this idea of lengthening.

  2. Thanks for your contribution, John! This is terrific to bring in other perspectives and traditions.

    It’s interesting to consider in our of work what the “origin” of an idea is. I suppose in one sense its origins lie in evolution, mechanics, physics, neurology. And any thinker and doer who has worked with the human body in action has an idea of lengthening in their work. (Being skeptical of absolutes, I would be interested to hear of movement practices that cultivate compacting and shortening! Perhaps Iron Shirt Qigong?)

    I don’t mean to deny however that Feldenkrais learned from his immediate surroundings and predecessors–not at all.

    Our work is in some sense in the dark ages where we all learn from a teacher who learned from a teacher….even in formal academia where there is an attempt to break this down (no one goes to the University of Isaac Newton vs. the University of Albert Einstein), people persist in cultivating and identifying themselves with lineages–as this website and my work does, a practitioner trained by someone … trained by Moshe. And we inherit their battles with one another too.

    Just a note that the ideas listed here as “principles” (a growing, not an exhaustive list) are ideas that recur in many, many lessons. The one lesson on the theme “growing taller” that is posted so far is one approach among many. Another implementation of the theme is to work with awareness of length while in a movement and noticing the moment of shortening–much less active cultivation of lengthening than in [[Walking Backward]].

    This review of Stranksy by Carrington is here and it makes interesting reading. The question of the relationship between doing and not-doing in the various methods and techniques is intriguing, a deep one.

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