Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Elusive Obvious: We can transform, or What is the Feldenkrais Method® all about?

Moshe Feldenkrais lived from 1904 to 1984. He was born into a Hasidic Jewish family in what is now Poland and died in Israel. When he was fourteen, in 1924, he walked, on his own, from his hometown in Poland to Palestine and began his life as a laborer. By the time he died he had achieved a doctor of science in physics from the Sorbonne, had worked as both an engineer and a physicist in France and Israel, had become fluent in four or five languages, had been trained as the Western person to first bring judo from Japan to Europe by the top Japanese judo master, and had invented a system of mental/physical improvement that has helped thousands around the world.

This system, the Feldenkrais Method®, has been useful in enabling children with cerebral palsy to walk for the first time without crutches, for enabling people who have had a stroke to regain use of both sides, for radically increasing the rate of improvement of people recovering from accidents. It also has helped highly skilled musicians like Yo Yo Ma and Yehudi Menuhin, and star athletes like Dr. J, formerly of the Philadelphia 76ers. In between it has been of great use to those feeling the various aches and pains of growing older, or those with sore backs, shoulders, hips and knees, and then also people wishing to add more ease to walking, skiing, dancing, golfing and so on.

So what is the core of this system that can be useful to people at so many levels of physical ability? The core is our innate human ability to learn, and the vast reservoir of forgotten and untapped connections in our brain that have to do with efficient and clear movement in our whole organism. This method is about re-learning and deepening our learning of such relationships as right hip to left shoulder, relationship of toes to spine, relationship of breathing to bending forward and arching back, and the hundreds of other relationships that go into walking or skiing and pushing a wheelbarrow.

One way to understand this is to examine the stimulus for Dr. Feldenkrais’ invention of this system. Knees. It was his knees, deep in trouble for repeated soccer injuries. For all his intellectual skills, he couldn’t stay away from judo, soccer and other activities. He once said that exercise was for lazy people, because if you lived a full and vital life, your zest for living would take you dancing or gardening or all the many fun things we can do, and that would keep you as in shape.

Anyway, his knees were a wreck and this was back before fancy surgery, at the end of the forties, I think, and the doctors told him an operation would yield a 50/50 chance of improving or crippling him. He thought this was the same as flipping a coin and opted to figure it out himself. Immersed in anatomy, physiology, movement systems existing, learning theory of the time, he put full attention of his own knees and what small movements there could reveal. What he discovered not only cured himself, but began to be useful to his acquaintances, and then, as it developed, to wider and wider groups of people.

What did he discover? The title of one of his few books is The Elusive Obvious. All his discoveries where of this nature. Movement in the knee must involve the ankle and the hip. Movement in the ankle must involve the foot and the toes. Movement in the hip must involve the pelvis, and that the spine and that the ribs and that the neck and that the eyes. And all of it, the brain, with its patterns and habits of neck and ribs and spine and pelvis, all having limiting effects on the knees moving in a free and natural way.

Also elusively obvious: as creatures out of the womb, our connection to gravity and to breathing shapes everything we do. Also elusively obvious, especially to anyone who has studied marital arts, the pelvis as near the center of our movement, and central to our balance, and the eyes as the key to our orientation as we go about moving. From his pediatrician wife, he may have tuned in on the amazing journey an infant takes from being able to suck and turn the head, to being able to walk as a toddler. Each of those stages was full of movement that had to be efficient because the baby didn’t have a lot of extra muscle to fling around the body in off kilter ways.

Core elusively obvious: LIFE IS MOVEMENT. THE BRAIN ORGANIZES MOVEMENT. OUR BRAIN THINKS / LEARNS ORGANIZES IN FUNCTION. Bringing food to our mouth, the function of hand to mouth is deep, deep, and can be used and understood, and retrained (say after a stroke, or in retraining a wrecked/ injured/ surgically repaired shoulder) without any regard to muscles, range of motion, relaxing or not relaxing. Functional movement is how we walk, talk, eat, make love, chop wood, play golf, dance. Functional movement is where the most bang per buck can be gotten in relearning how to move with more Ease, Skill and

Basically, this is the Feldenkrais method, the use of our attention to discover more of ourselves, how we relate from one part of our marvelous organism to another, what are our habits and what can be possible if we begin to break free of those habits. Learning who we are, and more important, how we are, and how we could be if we had more options in our movement repertoire.

Enough theory. Feldenkrais work is nothing if not concrete. Let’s start with our left leg, from toes and foot to knee to pelvis to back to neck and shoulder.

Wait. That sounds like a lot more than the left leg doesn’t it?

Oh, well: good old elusively obvious again: the leg is part of us, and we are a whole. The is the major difference between the Feldenkrais Method and various treat a troubled body as if it were a broken car systems, i.e. Western medicine, chiropractic, deep tissue massage and whatnot.

Okay, blah, blah on the theory, to hell with the theory: lie on your back on the ground or the grass and notice this: how does this change and calm your nervous system right off the bat.

Learning is what?

Another elusive obvious: millions of teachers out there that thinking that teaching is telling someone something or demonstrating something.

Not really: teaching is creating conditions so that THE LEARNER LEARNS.

And what is learning?

Ah, all those millions of teachers who think learning is when the student “gets it,” which means: can copy them.


Learning is when the student notices, wakes up to, is changed by noticing a difference INSIDE THEM, IN THE PRESENT, that makes a difference.

And when this difference is noticed: LEARNING IS INSTANTANEOUS.


Okay, learning is happening.

Now please bring your right foot toward your read end, and a little to the outside and stand it up so the sole of your right foot is on the ground, as if you were walking. This is called, even in lying down, “standing the foot.”

Great, stand the left foot and notice what changes in you. If you don’t notice anything, great, slowly, slowly, put the left leg long and bring the foot slowly to stand and see if you can stand to understand and feel and sense any difference.

This is fun.

Don’t worry about “doing it right.” Just pay attention to your experience.

And what is the best advice to any meditator? Pay attention to your experience in the present.

And the best advice to an athlete or a musician wishing to improve? Well, it’s more: create some intelligent variation and pay attention to your experience.

So let’s do that. We are all athletes and musicians, at least the kid in us was (or wanted to be), and we are returning to what kids do best: learn (by playing around).

Okay, left foot standing, and push, easily, slowly, gently the foot into the ground, and feel the transfer of force through your ankle, and your knee and your hip joint (where is the hip joint, anyway), on up to your back and spine and vertebrae and ribs and shoulders. Which shoulder feels this the most? Which way does the spine rotate?

Then “undo” this movement, bring the raised side of your pelvis down, letting go of pushing in the left foot, and become calm and empty with your left foot standing before you slowly and with curiosity do this again. And again. And again.

Each time: make it different than the last time.

Each time: look for more pleasure, for less effort, for letting go of strain, for discovering parts of you and connections you never realized before.

Each time, treat the “undoing” as a real and worthy movement, well worth being awake and attentive and joyful in of itself. Make sure to come to complete ease before each repetition. And stop after six or eight or ten and rest for awhile before doing the whole thing again.

Keep one side of your pelvis on the ground, and let the other lift and rotate.

Try these two out to discover maximum ease and pleasure: tighten your belly, clench your jay and stiffen your chest as you lift and rotate whatever side of the pelvis is lifting and rotating.

Now, soften your stomach and letting it come out a bit, and feel your back muscles working and allow your chest and jaw to be soft as you do this movement. Which allows more ease and pleasure of movement?

So: do this a bunch, take rests, do it some more and then slide your left leg down and rest fully. Rest to let your nervous system relax.

Rest to let the experience reform in your mind.

Rest to notice the difference in how your left and right sides feel, and what that might mean about learning taking place.

Now,. Bring your left foot to standing again, and play around with slowly doing this movement, with the left foot in slightly different spots. See if you can find what feels “best” for you right now, as far as being able to push down straight into the floor, as if you were walking or something like that.

Once you’ve found where you like you left foot, begin to play this game: for three times as you do this movement, let your head slowly turn to the right as the same rate your pelvis is rotating, and come back to the middle as your pelvis comes back.

And then for three times, let your head turn to the left and back as your pelvis rotates and your back arches and you come back to starting.

Back and forth, three times of each for awhile and then another rest.

And now: one last thing, for the starters: Do all the above, and notice the ribs, and play with your eyes.

Eyes and ribs.

And foot and hip and back and pelvis and neck.

It’s a lot. ( A real human being is a lot; that’s why we like children so much: they haven’t been squeezed down to be so much less than what they really are like most adults.)

Notice your ribs and as your head is turning to the right, slowly, slowly turn your eyes to the left. Just a little. Go slow. If you “can’t” do this, make everything smaller and slower and keep playing.

Playing around. It’s not important to get it. It’s fun to experiment, to play around, to try new stuff.

Eyes to the left as your head goes to the right, eyes to the right as your head goes to the left, the pelvis is rotating, the foot is pushing, the ribs are doing some stuff, you are breathing and noticing a lot and having fun, I hope.

If not, rest.

Go slower.

Make less effort.

Notice your experience.


Play with this. See what you get.


That’s learning. If you got in over your head, that’s real learning: if you only do what we can already do, how can we change. If we try too hard, we just learn to try too hard.

But farting around, playing, exploring, somehow this, in the world of the elusive obvious, is the fastest way to real change.


Find out for yourself. If it comes from inside you, then it’s real learning. As if it’s the best and most real food.


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