“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body” – James Joyce
(From the short story “A Painful Case”)
I just love this line. But what does early 20th century Irish literature have to do with my work as a Feldenkrais® and Anat Baniel Method(sm) practitioner? – Read on and find out.
WHAT I typically do, especially in individual sessions, is help folks of a wide range of ages and abilities with movement related problems. There are lots of things I can say about HOW I do that. Though specifics may vary, key – and this brings us back to Mr. Duffy – is to help people truly live inside their bodies. The remainder of this article will be about why that matters.
Most fundamental is the biomechanical level. How well do all of our joints and muscles work in a harmonious way so that movement is comfortable and coordinated? We can do what we want to do and not find ourselves injured or in pain. In the case of “neurologic conditions” we can gain or regain basic movement skills.
What I know from years of experience is that for this to happen we really must learn to pay attention to the feeling of the movement from inside ourselves.
How many of us exercise for fitness with our minds quite a distance from our bodies? Then we get injured and are prescribed a list of exercises to do typically by following a photo or demonstration without attention to what we are really sensing.
Once we are able to sense good quality movement ourselves, we are less likely to get injured, and have better tools for recovery if we do. If we participate in sports or performing arts our skill often improves, sometimes dramatically.
As Moshe Feldenkrais himself said …
“The aim is a body that is organized to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength, but increased consciousness of how it works”
Not surprisingly group Feldenkrais classes are called Awareness through Movement.
Please note- Awareness through Movement and not Awareness of Movement. I often say, “the devil is in the details” in a variety of situations. I admit that this one was initially lost on me.
Coming from a physical therapist background my initial reason for studying Feldenkrais was to find new and better tools to work with the types of problems I was already working with. I remember going to a pre-training orientation and hearing that Moshe Feldenkrais never intended his work to be physical therapy. He saw it as a way to optimize human potential in whatever way appropriate to an individual. At the time I thought that was sort of odd. I no longer do.
In Feldenkrais and the Anat Baniel Methods movement is used as the “object of attention or awareness” similarly to how the breath is often used in sitting meditation practices. As we become more attuned to the subtlety in movement we also tend to be more aware of both our outer and inner landscapes in a way unique to us. Benefits typically are similar to those associated with other mindfulness practices. These include such things as feeling less stressed, being more creative, seeing our surroundings in different ways, and being less reactive in conflict.
Now back to Mr. Duffy. His challenges were not about some specific physical problem. Essentially he struggled with what it is to be human in what for him were stressful and challenging times. Sound familiar? I certainly am not about to call the Feldenkrais Method the magical cure for troubling times, personal or more global. Yet what I can say from direct experience is that when I am physically present and grounded, living inside my body, it does make a difference.
The mind-body connection is very real. Feldenkrais practitioners actually prefer to refer to the “self” as a whole. Though the gateway into this work is often some physical difficulty, for many, especially if they stick with the work for some time (either through individual sessions or through classes) the benefits go beyond what they thought they were looking for. That’s been my experience.
A LITTLE MINDFUL MOVEMENT EXPLORATION
To start, go over to a cabinet and reach for something a bit “out of reach”
Notice how this feels in your shoulder and body overall. Notice the role of other parts of yourself, if any, in helping you reach. Ribs? Shoulder blade?
Now stretch out your ribs on the same side as the arm you are reaching with.
Notice how that feels. How can you apply this to your reaching?
Can you reach again paying attention to how the ribs can become involved? Is it getting any easier?
Now press down on the foot opposite to the reaching side noticing how that can shift your weight toward the “reaching side.”
Reach one more time combining that push of the opposite foot and the expansion of the ribs as you reach. Easier still?
On a “physical level” using ground forces (the pushing of the foot) and distributing movement through more of our body parts typically reduces strain thus preventing injury and supporting recovery should one happen.
Now contemplate this … feeling support from the ground and ease in your body, what just a little bit challenging goal might you reach for?