Last year one of Chava Shelhav-Silberbusch's students got her friends and relations back in Prague interested in organising a five-day Feldenkrais workshop. Surprisingly the authorities gave the go-ahead and Chava was granted a visa. Then the revolution intervened and up to the last minute it wasn't clear whether the workshop could take place as planned. But it did!
More than 60 people were eagerly waiting for Chava at a sports centre. Ages ranged from 20 to 75. There were scientists, doctors, neurologists, physiotherapists, actors, students, computer experts etc. A third of the group were men. 'Unusual! If I compare the percentage of men and women in Europe and the United States, there were more men in Prague.' About twenty of the participants were Yoga students. Chava was to be surprised by them: 'Even the Yoga people who in all other places are the difficult people to teach in the Feldenkrais Method because they have their own idea' learned very quickly what kind of attitude is fostered by this method. Two journalists who arrived on the second day to interview Chava accepted an invitation to participate so as to better understand what the Feldenkrais Method is about.
THEY ALWAYS IMPROVISED, ALWAYS FOUND A SOLUTION
It was very crowded in the gym hall.
People arranged themselves in neatly regimented lines on narrow strips of matting. There were no blankets marking out individual territory as is the rule in the West, and no complaints about lack of space.
' ... It didn't disturb them at all ... Maybe because they are used to live in narrow places, or many people in one room. In Germany or the United States if people are too near to each other, one will stop or will move elsewhere or do his own pace, but he will never come too near or touch the other person ... Here even the old people found a way. I have a picture of a man in his seventies near a women. He didn't have the space on the floor and he still wanted to continue to straighten his arm. So what did he do? Instead of shortening he went above without touching the woman. It didn't disturb her or him ... Something like that wouldn't happen in other countries.
I'm not sure whether it is their culture or personality ... But they always improvised, always found a solution. I'm not sure whether this belongs to Czech culture or to the totalitarian mentality that needs to find a way to do things because there is no other choice ... '
To begin with, the translator needed time to find the right words in her mother tongue,
which she had never used in connection with the Feldenkrais Method. That was just as well because it gave Chava sufficient opportunity to observe how people reacted to her instructions. She also had time to reconsider and adapt her approach: 'I had some plan, but the moment I saw them lying on the floor and I started with the usual Feldenkrais scanning I could feel and I don't know why - that I couldn't continue the regular scanning that I start in a usual workshop. I felt - and at the same time thoughts came to me - that maybe they are not used to thinking of themselves. Maybe the idea of scanning the body is too quick for them.
They need first to feel what's going on in their body. So immediately I had to change the whole approach. So I started with movement... I chose turning ... When she translated I could think of what I'm doing next. I could see much more because usually I'm talking and they are doing. Here I could observe when she spoke. It gave me much more time to observe.
THEY SEEMED TO BE OBEYING ORDERS
Chava observed a strange phenomenon that also needed to be taken Into account.
When people began to move, they seemed to be obeying orders ... She (the translator) said and they did. They obeyed the directions without thinking at the beginning. Usually people start to lift their head or to ask questions or to look what the others do or things like that. They obeyed and it was as if they were used to this kind of discipline ... Most of them understood very quickly, and even if they didn't understand they did something near it. All of them did something ... at about the middle of the lesson I understood that I had to provoke and to stimulate the thinking with the movement. So I invented much more complicated movements in order not to let them use this discipline to obey that they are used to. It means that when they had to think of what the foot, the hip-joint does, what happens in the shoulder, to the breathing, to the eye movements, or to many other parts of the body, they couldn't think of something else! And that thing was very new to them. You could see they were soon much more quiet ... And slowly you could see that their breathing started to be fuller, the weight of their body was really the weight. That means you could feel that they start to be more human, much more human. Their faces were much more relaxed ...
Initially Chava didn't want to point out that stopping all the time in order to make notes wasn't such a good idea. 'In the lessons, right after the first or second movement, they wrote - many of them ... I decided to let the process continue. I didn't want to start too many new things at once. And I wanted to see if they will be more interested in themselves if they won't find the time to write. And it was really so; fewer and fewer people wrote because they realized they were missing something while they wrote. I gave them so much information and they didn't have the time .. .! also emphasized that the resting time is the most important time ... that they need the rest, because in the rest they are learning to feel what is going on. It means the resting time is their teacher, it is a new teacher they are inventing in themselves. Through the rest time they are learning to compare, and they are learning the influence of what they did...'
One older woman who didn't trust her memory kept lifting her head regularly to make notes. On the third day Chava tried another tactic. I said 'Let's make a deal that at the end of the fifth day I will repeat some of the ideas and I will explain to you the development of the workshop so that you will have some notes to take home with you.' But for her it wasn't enough. She continued to write, continued to write. So, as I couldn't really stand that she kept stiffening her neck, lying on her back, lifting her head and writing - and she continued to tell me that she has a problem in her neck - I told her 'Do you know what? Instead of lifting your head, roll over to one side and write your notes if you want to write your notes. You see, in ,this position you won't press on your neck and hurt yourself.' I thought maybe this kind of suggestion will bring her to see that she needn't write at all because she would feel that something is happening ... Anyway, after that she wrote only half as much. She was the only one I couldn't influence really well although she was very enthusiastic and wanted to invite me to the hospital where she does research into movement with people who injured their joints ... '
A PERSON IS ALLOWED TO REST
Such challenges kept Chava very alert to the fact that the approach had to be somewhat different from what she is used to in her workshops in the West. It was an intuitional insight that I had to develop things slowly as with children ... Even the timing, how many times to do a movement...and to tell them that each of them can do it at their own pace and take a rest whenever he needs to ... I had to address that and to emphasize it in a different way than I would in other countries. Chava went on to explain that in other countries people don't know either how to rest and often expect the teacher to tell them when to do so ... But here I had to emphasize that a person is allowed to rest. In Europe I would say Take a rest. You should find out when you need it'. And here I would say 'You are allowed' to take your own breaks. You should learn to permit yourself to enjoy to rest, you needn't work and be busy all the time!'. I was actually afraid to talk about the party or the revolution. I was really afraid. I thought I had some of the spies there who would like to know who is at the workshop. So I didn't really feel free to talk about the revolution or the system.'
Instead of talking about a person's individual freedom to do things his or her own way, Chava dealt with that theme indirectly from time to time by letting a number of people demonstrate the same movement and getting the rest to observe individual differences ... 'And slowly that's how they started to look and see. I wanted to develop by that the feeling that everyone has his own way of doing things, everyone needs his own time for doing things, and everyone has his own ability to do things ... so they could accept that each of them did well, and I couldn't say that one did better than the other. .. so that each of them would really find his own handwriting ... that there are many alternatives and many ways to do the same thing and all of them are right - a completely new experience for them!' Especially the younger people kept telling Chava that for forty years they had been used to doing whatever they were told ... 'So I said 'But now you have the choice to do something else!'
THEY ALWAYS HAVE AN IDEAL WAY
Chava also had to patiently explain why she never demonstrated movements ... 'because I would like each of them to find their own way instead of imitating me, that by imitating they lose their way of thinking, they lose their way of doing and finding new possibilities ... and why imitate me, why not imitate one of them, and who to imitate? I didn't want them to have any model of what is the ideal way to do things ... There isn't! This was very new because as Communists they always have an ideal way, the best way of doing things, and the more you do, the better you are ... So here right at the beginning I addressed that subject. But instead of bringing it more at the political level, I made it concrete ... I took this abstract idea and concretized it through movement...first they had to really feel and sense and do it, then I could give them some other examples in their everyday life.'
In the course of the five days the experience of opening up to new possibilities developed to such an extent that 'people allowed themselves to have their own rhythm, to stop whenever they needed, to laugh, to make jokes, to talk during the lesson, even to ask questions when they didn't understand. This openness was very touching ... it's like you are pioneering an idea! And so all of us were euphoric, feeling that we are doing something very new together. Even for myself, I was under the impression that I'm inventing with them a new way for them. And it was a new chance for them to perceive more quickly this kind of revolution ... because they allowed themselves to perceive the revolution that happened in themselves!'
The atmosphere created during the workshop even inspired a famous satirist - with whose banned poems Chava's translator had been familiar since childhood - to forget his deeply ingrained fear of spies and imprisonment and show his wit in public. 'I saw that he perceived things very differently ... He didn't have any connection at all with his body, his limbs were in one part and his head was in some other part. But somehow he brought everything together at the end of the lesson. The way he said things was with some sense of humour. I asked him during a break 'Why didn't you continue your idea?' So he said: 'You know I'm afraid that people don't know how to take it...People don't always understand my sense of humour! I allowed myself to share it because you very often use metaphors and analogies that I like very much.'
HOW SUCH SMALL MOVEMENT CAN INFLUENCE THE WHOLE PERSONALITY
At the end of the fifth day Chava remembered 'I promised them to explain the idea behind the workshop so they will have some notes. Of course I knew that I'm not going to do it...Anyway. I asked them 'With what did we start?' and they told me. 'Is it familiar to you?' and slowly, slowly I developed it so that they understood that the workshop was based on the development of the human being .. .from lying on the stomach or on the back slowly learning to crawl, to be on their knees ... holding their feet, coordination, orientation, even sound ... So I said 'I don't need to tell you the movements. Each of you can go to your children or grandchildren and see what they do. This is the kind of movement we did.' All of them applauded and were very happy because they understood the idea and that was enough for them. None of them asked about the order of the movements any more when I told them what they do isn't so important as the how, the quality. They asked 'So what shall we do at home?' ... I said 'Lie down, remember one or two of the movements, but remember the quality, the way we did it. If you will be able to continue to hold and keep this quality, you can do whatever you want.
You can transfer it to any movement you do in your life and even in your work, even in your relationships. You see, if you are sensitive and if you can communicate with yourself you can communicate with the other. You communicate in your work and in your family and so on - and maybe with other countries as well. So ...'
'They were happy and enthusiastic about how such small movements, or this relationship of body and mind, can influence the whole personality. They all accepted the idea that the body is working as a whole, that there is relationship, that someone can think of his foot and change things in his shoulders, that sensitivity can be developed, that by coordination they can achieve better ways of doing things.'
Everyone wanted Chava's autograph at the end of the workshop, and she had to promise to come back to Prague next year and give a larger workshop.
(This account is based on a taped conversation transcribed by Ilana Nevil)
Feldenkrais For Post Communists - Chava In Prague - May I990