In spite of the apparent darkness of the human future, I believe we have not yet reached our Homo sapiens capacities for learning; it is still too early to condemn man on the strength of the small awareness he has acquired by chance and not by his outstanding ability to reduce great complexity to familiar simplicity - in other words, to learn. We have never yet really used our essential freedom of choice and we have barely learned to learn.
(Moshe Feldenkrais, On the Primacy of Hearing, SOMATICS,, autumn 1976, p.21)
Many of us are successful in demonstrating our Method’s revolutionary potential as an approach to learning and living. Understanding the processes involved in learning how to learn and claiming a sense of our own authority for these processes is another matter. Many Feldenkrais practitioners are aware that it is not easy to talk in simple language about what we are intending, doing, thinking, sensing, feeling in our teaching. However, finding words for personal experience and starting to use them for more systematic reflection may provide an important step towards establishing a common language and a culture of mutual learning. The language and the culture we need to develop has to do justice to our profession that has one leg in the ‘objectivity’ of science and the other in the ‘subjectivity’ of art, and both simultaneously planted in the fullness of life and lived experience.
How can I, as a Feldenkrais teacher, best embody a Feldenkrais culture of awareness and learning, to be faithful to Feldenkrais’ vision What are the practical implications for teaching practice if the definition of human learning is the unimpeded unfolding of man’s “outstanding ability to reduce great complexity to familiar simplicity”? And how do I define and enact my role as a teacher so as to support people looking for growth towards becoming more human and humane.
"It is the object of our learning to remove [external] authority completely from your inner life ... Inwardly the only authority is you"? …once you have attained inner authority you will also have authority “outwardly, socially… but if you don’t have the internal ability – if you don’t have the authority in your own mind – you will have no authority regarding others except by using power, strength, violence, nothing else: pain" (Amherst Transcript, 10.6.1981, p.14).
Mary Catherine Bateson’s work is devoted to clarifying that our age is one of transition from narrowly national and religious allegiances to membership in complex multi-cultural societies and requires learners and teachers of a radically new kind, devoting themselves to making the process of teaching and learning mutual. She stresses such a task, demands practice of “disciplined subjectivity” and the cultivation of “skills of participant observation, including self-observation” [Mary Catherine Bateson , Willing to Learn, Passages of Personal Discovery’, 2004, p. 262 & .p.260]. Dispassionate/compassionate self-observation may reveal that the person endowed with free will we always thought we were is actually largely a product of conditioning and training, functioning more or less like an automaton wired to solve the problems society presents as important and worth attention. But as Francisco Varela observes, “Intelligence shifts from being the capacity to solve a problem to the capacity to enter into a world of significance.” (Varela, F.J., Thompson, E.,& Rosch, E., The Embodied Mind. Cognitive e and Human Experience, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991,.p. 207
Physicist-philosopher David Bohm coined different terms when contemplating the same issue. He talked about ‘participatory thought’ and the creation of shared meanings in a ‘participatory reality’. Bohm devoted himself to finding ways of making this reality - vastly more real than our mundane everyday preoccupations - accessible by way of disciplined open-ended dialogue. The crucial aim of such dialogue is to allow thought to become conscious of itself through the combined impact of proprioceptive self-awareness and ‘suspension’ of previously unexamined prejudices, purposes, values, habitual mental and emotional patterns of reaction, etc. The parallels between Bohm’s and Feldenkrais’s approach to cultivation of conscious awareness are striking. (See “Feldenkrais Learning and David Bohm’s Dialogue Model” in ‘In-depth Articles’ on www.feldenkraisnow.org)
Our habits of attention work against seeing
I discovered the extent to which I was wired to obediently perform and achieve after joining a Feldenkrais Training in1986. Nine trainers’ varied understanding of the Feldenkrais Method ensured much creative confusion which I attempted to overcome by referring again and again to the authority of the Penguin edition of Awareness Through Movement. As a trainee I gained insights into an unexpected, deep-rooted capacity to interfere with my own process of learning. We were reminded time and again during the training, learning means doing the same thing differently. I interpreted this as achieving the same result in a better, more efficient way, with less effort and more awareness. Continued self-observation and the observation of fellow students, trainers, assistants, and later my own pupils and clients showed me that such misunderstanding - and the personal difficulties accompanying the striving for specific results - is the result of a more general problem. Learning is often hampered, if not outright defeated, by attitudes, behavior, and habitual role-patterns.
As someone with a passion for learning and a lack of clarity about how learning comes about, I realized that a person trained to approach any new learning task as a problem to be grasped and solved intellectually is bound to fail in coping with organic learning involving the complexity of moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking all at once. Initially I resorted to familiar, narrowly linear, analytical thinking Trying to ‘get’ the meaning of such terms as awareness, function, and other concepts turned out to be as hopeless as the attempt to systematically keep track of the mysterious trajectory we were invited to sense and observe in an ATM. Embarking on working out the complex relationships between attention and intention led to even greater confusion. Thinking it was all a matter of attending to the way, the quality, of executing an action serving a specific intention - usually the intention of discovering less effortful ways of performing a function such as standing, walking, turning turned out to be misleading in the long run. As Catherine Bateson observes, “Our habits of attention work against seeing … The connections in the system are invisible… Pursuing particular, narrow goals, we pay attention to a fraction of the whole, block out peripheral vision, and act without looking at the larger picture.” [Peripheral Visions, Harper Collins, 1994, p.138].
Treating our insights as results of cause-and-effect sequences, we contribute to a distortion of our perception. Caught up in single-minded goal- and achievement orientation, we see only sections of the circuits of the natural, self-regulatory systems which we are as living organisms. Distortion on the small scale is replicated on the larger.
(Clarify and shorten the follow paragraph..) Accounting for such distortion and unintended self-interference may be one of the most crucial tasks in developing a common Feldenkrais culture. Moshe Feldenkrais’s definition of Health as the ability to realize one’s deepest (largely unconscious) dreams echos Bateson’s evolutionary wisdom. It’s cautiously conscious liberation might be one of the most promising ways of raising the all-too familiar incantation “You can only do what you want if you know what you are doing” to a less superficial, less socially conditioned level – a level where we may even begin asking questions about the ethical dimension of our wanting and doing. This innate wisdom will probably only come spontaneously into its own in Feldenkrais learning when the interactions between Feldenkrais teacher/trainer and Feldenkrais learners/students are no longer so dominated by previous experience of hierarchy and authority. However non-judgemental self-observation, attending to what is actually to be sensed, was pretty new to me as I discovered through usually baffling and occasionally somewhat humiliating experiences. A habitually narrow focus of attention on correct performance or achievement led me initially to misconceive ‘awareness’ as the ability to explicitly account for everything you do, don’t do, sense or don’t sense, feel or don’t feel, as if perpetually standing in front of an inner judge representing some outer authority.
Three lessons about self-interference in learning
Three paradoxically exhilarating awareness lessons were probably decisive in helping me see that ”The self is learned, yet ironically it often becomes a barrier to learning.” (Mary Catherine Bateson, Peripheral Visions, p. 66). All three were simultaneously instructive and uncomfortable.. Thanks to them I would, never again completely forget that mindless obedience to instructions results in hurry and prevents learning. The lessons introduced "…the kind of learning which helps us to know ourselves", as Feldenkrais used to say, by providing insights into what I was doing and how, questioning whether my way of doing matched both my intention and the demands of the situation
The first lesson, at the beginning of my training, was about spiraling from sitting cross-legged to standing. The Trainer, Myriam Pfeffer, asked me to spiral to the right as I had proclaimed it was my preference.. My right leg placed in front of the left obstructed the intended movement and my automatic face saving manoeuvre of swiftly changing the arrangement of my legs stirred an unsettling inner debate: “What does she expect of me? Do I really want to get stuck and look stupid? ... Should I please her by doing what I said I would?...” Only much later did it dawn on me that Myriam had given me a chance to begin learning something about ‘reversibility’ and, even more important, about the possibility of introducing “a pause between the creation of the thought-pattern for any particular action and the execution of that action…the physical basis of awareness” . [Since] “the possibility of delaying action – prolonging the period between intention and its execution – enables man to learn to know himself.” (Awareness Through Movement, p. 45f)
The other two lessons I owe to Mia Segal who defines the purpose of our work as "returning people to themselves". None of the teachers who furthered my learning over the years gave me so much encouragement to find my own ‘style’ in practicing our Method – especially as a model in demonstrating to students the extent to which quality of touch and of the spoken word are interchangeable in terms of their impact on the learner.
Mia lay on the floor and invited me to lift her head. She insists that a table is not a necessity “since all you need are your hands and what you have already learned”. I tried to do my best and wasn't in the least bit surprised to hear the mocking question: "Why are you in such a hurry?" The mechanical response, "To get this over with as quickly as possible!" prompted me to recognize I was preventing myself from making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime chance of learning through feedback from a master.
During one of her advanced trainings, Mia Segal gave another opportunity to discover how to cope with fear of touching people's heads and necks (a fear that may have roots in a childhood heady injury.). Mia had me put my fingertips lightly on each side of the cervical spine of the person with who I was working.. I waited in vain for further instructions to do something. Then she asked, "What do you feel under your left index? Are you afraid?" No!" Another agonizing eternity.
“What do you feel under the right [index finger]? Are you afraid?" The questioning continued until I finally understood. As long as I am in touch with what I sense under my fingertips as well as being truly in touch with a state of attentive inner poise - there is absolutely no uncertainty, no fear There was a gentle little pop as a vertebra somewhere lower in my partner's spine realigned itself.. The taste of what is entailed in doing nothing merged into an extraordinary experience of mindfulness once I had succeeded in accepting ‘non-doing’ as a way of being present to the other person, and to myself. I also learned a use of the will: will to stand back, wait and not scheme or press for a specific result.
The essence of human maturity...That sort of unstable equilibrium
At the time of those lessons I was far from understanding what Feldenkrais meant by "self-mastery, the essence of human maturity", which is described in The Potent Self as "that sort of unstable equilibrium which is abandoned in each action and recovered for the next"(The Potent Self, p. 216). Nor did I know how to cope with the challenge involved, "To achieve that mastery within the limits of ourselves, we must sort out the motivations that originate from the physiological tensions of our bodies and those that are grafted onto them by habits formed under the duress of dependence. Once we can recognize what we enact, we begin to feel in control of the situation and can preserve our peace of mind in spite of adversity" (ibid.) Years passed before I began to grasp the paradox that the potent self is genuinely in control just because it is spontaneous. In spontaneous action there is not self-interference; our habitual striving for control is utterly self-defeating.
After 20 years in and with the Method there are still moments when my behavior seems dictated from some hidden corner of habit, insecuritiy, self-criticism, striving for recognition, established early in life. It impedes creative dialogue and honest partnership between learners - especially where they encounter each other as student and teacher. However, I have come to see such uncomfortable moments as blessings in disguise, ensuring a glimpse of unsuspected “cross motivations” and “chaotic entanglements of conflicting motivations” (The Potent Self, p.218 ff). Such insights can help develop empathy with others who are anxiously looking for the end of the one thread they think, feel, sense is really important to at that specific moment. The learning through and from others never stops.
Children are good teachers in that respect – because the knot of contradictory impulses and urges is not yet become as large and tight as for most adults. They don’t yet make a distinction between playing and learning.. Thanks to my youngest students I began to fully appreciate why Moshe Feldenkrais insisted that real learning is playful, enjoyable, and motivated by childlike curiosity. “Active waiting” and “disciplined subjectivity” were essential while letting a young learning partner guide me towards “play-work” the Feldenkrais way. In the meantime this approach has become for me a deeply absorbing, creative, and extraordinarily enjoyable shared exploration. With kids and adults alike this can lead to surprising discoveries - especially about bridging gulfs between inner and outer, intention and action, thinking and doing, ‘ideal self’ and negative self-image. At best such pleasantly playful exploration is blessed with occasionally sudden but more usually gradual emergence of a more realistic and positive self-image. Whatever the ultimate outcome, I now know that my job as a ‘teacher’ is to present learners with ways and means of gaining, or regaining, a modicum of inner and outer balance, approximating the initially quite elusive neutral state that was so important to Feldenkrais.
The skill with which a practitioner guides students towards ever-new approximations depends on the breadth and depth of their own experience. Whatever stage we may ultimately reach with regard to the goal of attaining a neutral state of self-mastery, the path Moshe Feldenkrais has charted for us involves being present in the moment so as to allow ourselves to actually experience characteristics of being in neutral: calm breathing, reduced tonus, a decline in paralyzing self-criticism, increasing spontaneity, joie de vivre etc.
Challenged by not knowing what to do
As a fledging practitioner I was challenged by people who were too sensitive or anxious to be touched. Over the years I began exploring ever more systematically the use of a variety of inflatable balls, egg-shaped physio balls and small overballs , to provide students with the experience of supple support and indirect touch. During FI sessions they were invaluable especially when working with brain-injured or otherwise neurologically impaired clients. Playing with instability and equilibrium, the recovery of the poise and security experienced in a neutral state, it became evident that “a little bit of air can make a vast difference” [Attribution of quote? Better to leave it without quaotation marks- it’s more fun without them.] Also you need two sentences here or alternative syntax.. both to the range of competences and skills of the practitioner, resulting in increased awareness, comfort, and ease thanks to a considerable reduction of effort; and also to the students’ enjoyment and facility of learning.
Thanks to a little boy with cerebral palsy I began regarding all interactions in my Feldenkrais practice as a dialogue: not just between two nervous systems, but rather between equal partners cooperating in the process of locating common ground for understanding each other and the situation at hand. William, barely three years old and profoundly traumatized, probably did more than any one to teach me how to cope with situations in which I truly did not know what to do. Born with hydrocephalis, he had been provided with a shunt to drain away superfluous cerebral-spinal fluid from his skull. The operation was followed by regular experiences of being handled by medical people during countless check-ups. No wonder this little boy was suspicious of yet another adult probably intending to lay hands on his delicate body marked by cerebral palsy. Even a vague intention of physically interacting with William would invariably lead to the firm declaration, “I want to go home now.” Initially only the most indirect playful contact was tolerable . Months later William , “ You are my friend.” Our sessions became more and more constructive and my repertoire making use of a whole range of inflatable balls grew. I worked with William, somewhat irregularly, for nine years. During those years he turned from a ‘handicapped’ toddler into a self-assured young man who could accept and even relish the fact that he was ‘different’.
‘Play-working’ more consistently with infants and young children at the ‘Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children’ in East Jerusalem, I remember the Amherst videos of Moshe Feldenkrais’s FI with infants. I remembered, for instance, how Feldenkrais commented on the extraordinary effect of ‘just playing’ with Raissa, a little girl with cerebral palsy (Amherst Transcript, 26.6. 1981, p. 33-51) who “had never been treated as a human being in her life” [but rather] “like an object by doctors and other medical experts” [and had ] “heard from everybody that she is not normal”. In that session Raissa was beginning to do quite spontaneously what nobody else had taught her to do before: “We just muddled about the foot and something changed in that nervous system ….You see that it is so simple…Just playing about. But playing about in a way which actually thinks of the nervous system of that person – how it is wired in wrongly to her experience, and how you can do that by making new conditions available, such that her learning can be quicker.”
Mothers of disabled children as partners in mutual learning
At the Palestinian centre on the Mount of Olives I found that even without the possibility of verbal communication some mothers spontaneously understood how they could participate in their child’s Functional Integration session. Those who spoke a little English became valuable partners in a threesome of shared learning. A colorful soft ball was always an asset since such a friendly object would capture the child’s attention and turn the encounter into play. It also helped mothers to appreciate the difference between hard and soft touch. The little air beds I occasionally used for these sessions seemed to remind babies and toddlers of their blissful pre-natal existence: in surroundings where everything was cozy and warm, yielding softly to touch instead of being hard and resistant like the world into which they were born. Attempting to complement the ‘training’ mothers and children received in the Physiotherapy and Occupational and Play-Therapy Departments, I got at least a few mothers and therapists to understand what Moshe Feldenkrais kept stressing all his life: “The effect is inversely proportional to the force you use”. Some could see clearly that greater gentleness in trying to help a baby or young child cope with the disability they had been born with will prevent tears and lead to smiles and happy laughter as new, more functional forms of organization emerge quite spontaneously in an often terribly twisted little body.
As many of us know, parents' eagerness to have their disabled child "catch up" with "normal children" of the same age may result in unreasonable demands, helpless frustration, impatience, anger, and insensitive handling. In that sense parents might indeed be regarded as "part of the problem". I found, however, that most of the women I encountered at the Princess Basma Centre responded with gratitude and understanding to being shown that soft hands are kind, comforting hands which may ultimately achieve much more than hard, unfeeling hands continuously trying to correct and impose order from the oputside. Whether those mothers will remember such insightful experience once they return to their stressful life in the Palestinian territories on the West Bank is another matter.
Learning from reality: working at a hospice and with brain injured patients
The modest research project I started with the assistance of Palestinian children and their mothers was based on much previous exploration – especially with William, with an old lady suffering from severe neurological discomfort, and also with Becky, a nineteen-year-old with terminal cancer. I had met Becky at a local hospice where I worked partly from gratitude that my son had not succumbed to a dangerous cancer and also to shed any sentimental idea of being able to help or save others Besides gaining insights into the true nature of our work at that hospice, (Change to active voice) I also found myself suddenly taken further along the path of exploring how inflatable balloons can be used systematically in Feldenkrais practice. Becky, whom I was supposed to ‘treat’ in my official role as massage therapist, had been deeply traumatized by previous medical treatment, was often in great pain, could not tolerate being touched, but absolutely wanted to dance once again before she died - despite the fact that her right leg tended to give way under her at unexpected moments. It was Becky who inspired me to begin developing what eventually became an alternative to my regular Feldenkrais table. The “air bed” – and its growing number of possible variants (usually consisting of 4 oval-shaped balloons held in a loop made of cloth) - has the special property of evenly and softly supporting the entire length of a person lying on it. I was encouraged to develop this device when I learnt that Moshe Feldenkrais had suggested that Functional Integration might be most effectively practiced if the client were totally supported - as if floating on the Dead Sea. In the initial sessions I could do little more than just keep pressing my hands into the balloons supporting Becky’s back and head while her feet remained standing on the floor, following the rhythm of the music she had herself chosen, but the outcome impressed even her doctor. One day the knee reflex in Becky’s ‘weak’ leg unexpectedly returned. During the nine months Becky and I were granted we both came to trust one another as we gained more trust in ourselves. Becky’s fear of being touched disappeared completely – as-it-were from out of the very cells of her body where this fear had been lodged ever since cancer put an end to most of her hopes and pleasures in life. It was as if the immediately lived experience during our sessions were no longer distorted by the memory of previous unpleasant manipulation during countless medical examinations. One of the high points in this young woman’s short life was being able to dance again – at least for a short while.
The third group of partners in mutual learning and ‘dialoguing’ the Feldenkrais way were patients with neurological impairment - both in the rehabilitation department of a local hospital and later at HEADWAY, an organization providing support for patients trying to find their way back into a more independent ‘normal life’. I gained enormously much - in terms of personal learning - by working with brain-injured people. The only frustration I had to deal with was the inevitable disappointment of having to accept that virtually none of the staff - physiotherapists and ‘carers’ - were in a position to apply a more gentle, less intrusively corrective approach to brain-injured patients in their own daily routine. Even those who acknowledged the effectiveness of the Feldenkrais approach to somatic education and were mentally ready to contemplate ‘rehabilitation as dialogue’ as an acceptable alternative to traditional forms of ‘treatment’ were much too pressurized in their demanding jobs to change habits of complying with what doctors required of them.
Those are just a few personal examples to illustrate to what extent the professional and the person we become are created in the encounter-dialogue-dance of mutual learning with fellow humans we call ‘students’ or ‘clients’.
Encouraging students' active participation in mutual learning
Myriam Pfeffer occasionally asks her students: “Who is learning more here, you or the teacher?” This question keeps resonating in my mind as a reminder that it is possible to make a personal contribution towards the creation of a professional culture aimed at fostering greater awareness through mutual learning: first and foremost by attending to the obligation of embodying that culture as best I can in my attitudes, words, the tone of my voice, the opinions I utter, the gestures I make, the way I touch others etc.; by consciously playing the role of a lifelong learner, respecting others as equal partners; and by setting up appropriate learning environments and establishing working relationships with students and clients that put us on the same level .
What bugs me in this respect (alongside the connotations of the term ‘training’ which seem to contradict the very essence of our Method) is a strange paradox that Canadian trainer Yvan Joly once pointed out. The situation we are all so very used to involves a counter-productive incongruence. In training programmes and classes students are lying in a rather vulnerable position on the floor while we as teachers tower above them, guiding and instructing them to become more aware of having a choice: either to remain dependent on what others tell them or to assume personal authority in discovering what is right and good for them. Extremely attentive care is called for if we wish to avoid the meta-level information conveyed by the situation (maybe unwittingly replicating the familiar hierarchy of “I know – you don’t”), which contradicts what we are consciously trying to convey with words and the language of touch. The danger of unintensionally adopting the role of the expert is equally present in Functional Integration lessons. Here too the ‘recipient’ is usually lying while the practitioner is free to sit, stand, and move around her/his recumbent body. It’s all too easy for the student to remain passive and enjoy being ‘ministered to”, as a long-term client with multiple sclerosis used to say, actually wanting that rather than help in learning. Using terms like ‘working on’ somebody when talking about FI is therefore also rather questionable. By praising our ‘healing hands’ the client may indirectly hand over control, believing that we alone have the ‘competence’ and ‘skill’ to guide her/him towards discovering something not to be found out through personal initiative.
The search for ways and means of counteracting, or at least neutralizing such illusions, led me to pay close attention to many different interpretations of one and the same action in an ATM lesson and occasionally letting everybody explore the rich repertoire of possibilities represented in class. Engaging participants in playful learning games by occasionally observing or even imitating each other turned out to be a way of freeing up their capacity for exploration. The resulting lighthearted social interaction reduces students’ dependence on me as the teacher and creates a relaxed atmosphere of mutual learning and support. Such investigations often start when two equally do-able but very different ways of holding oneself or moving are presented with total conviction as the only way possible. Imitating another persons’ strategy can become sometimes hilariously awkward but may eventually be a first step towards leaving behind the imprisoning security of one’s own habits . With playfully presented diversity new possibilities of choice begin to appear on people’s horizons there is no need to feel threatened, after all it’s just fun and games… As a special bonus: The experience of trying something just a little or even outrageously different releases considerable amounts of energy for constructive work. Genuine curiosity in as yet unrealized potentialities may be awakened as people begin co-operating. Investigations beginning with the challenge “The way you’re doing that is completely crazy!” may lead the realization: for instance, that passing judgement says more about the judge than about the judged; that nobody possesses the correct answer for anybody else; that as human beings we can versatile, inventive, flexible in body and mind, and just have to choose whether to cultivate such potential in ourselves and each other or to remain stuck with the haphazardly acquired habits and compulsions we assumed while growing up. It is just a matter of time before familiar role-patterns (such as those traditionally enacted in the teacher-pupil relationship) and entrenched prejudices and opinions also begin to loosen their grip and are perceived as upholding an ultimately false security. (The same is true of all the other rigid patterns of ‘well proven’ strategies, techniques, skills, and knowledge forming our superficial professional and personal identity.) By daring to make more or less constructive suggestions students also begin taking responsibility for their own learning, engaging in ‘bottom-up’ information-processing as described by Guy Claxton (WISE-UP, p 4) instead of expecting to be continually guided and spoon-fed by the all-knowing outer authority embodied by their teacher and thus staying in the familiar ‘top-down’ mode.
A little bit of air can make a vast difference
Extensive experience has led me to conclude that softly inflated balls also help learners to successfully access latent inner resources, above all what deep ecologist Joanna Macy calls “response-ability”. In Deep Ecology this is acquired through the creative process of becoming more sensitive and open to ourselves and our world, which allows us to overcome alienation and fragmentation by responding more spontaneously and intelligently or wisely to changing circumstances and challenging situations. The balls can as-it-were replace a teacher’s hand, providing effective support and excellent feedback when placed, for instance, behind the neck and head or/and in the lumbar region as clients explore ATM sequences lying on the back. The result may be a most enjoyable and informative “Self-FI”. People are encouraged to decide for themselves how much air is necessary to provide comfort and make them feel good and thus enabled to take responsibility for constructing their own genuinely individual experience. Those learning-tools can be adapted in a multitude of ways to give learners a chance to become creatively inventive by playing around with possible avenues towards clarifying and eventually modifying familiar patterns. As a gentle external resource an appropriately inflated ball speaks directly to a person’ s nervous system: about the possibility of letting go, of softly adapting to changing circumstances, of changing focus from narrow to wide angle, of moving more fluidly and breathing more freely. Ultimately it reminds the whole of the learner’s organism that (like every living organism) it too is a beautifully balanced tensegrity system in which tension elements (tendons and muscles working in synergy as agonists and antagonists) and compression elements (bones and articulations) change the configuration of their relationship: continuously and unfailingly according to the function and the demands of the situation involved. As Thomas W. Myers points out, an inflatable ball is the most basic prototype of a tensegrity system (Anatomy Trains, 2001, p. 45. Hence its effectiveness as a resource in Feldenkrais learning.
Working with Becky who shied away from all touch and hard surfaces, I was prompted to invent an extremely versatile air bed as an alternative to my usual table. This construction has the special property of evenly and softlysupporting the entire length of a person lying on it. I was encouraged to develop this device - basically consisting of several oval-shaped balloonbs held in a cloth-loop - when I learned that Moshe Feldenkrais had suggested that Functional Integration might be most effectively practised if the person were totally supported, as if floating in the Dead Sea. In the initial sessions with Becky I could do little more than keep pressing my hands into the balloon supporting her pelvis, back, and head, following the rhythm pf the Pop music she had herself chosen. Becky's feet remained standing on the floor and responded perceptibly to the music; so did her whole being as I could tell from the ecstatic smile on her face. The outcome of this profoundly satisfying way of dancing supported by air impressed her doctor who found one day that the kenn reflex in Becky's 'weak' leg had unexpectedly returned.
The little air beds I occasionally used in the sessions with infants and toddlers at the Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre foor Disabled Children seemed to remind many of them of their blissful pre-natal existence: in surroundings where everything was warm and softly yielding to being touched as they moved - instead of being hard and resistant like the worlkd into which they were born. The swiftness of response as their impaired nervous systems came up with previously unthinkable form of reorganisation and functional integration was often quite extraordinary. If a film-maker friend had not captured some of those apparent miracles of instant organic learning, I would now believe that I must have been drreaming.
An extraordinary partnership in learning and friendship
The ability to respond more spontaneously, less fearfully, to uncertainty and new learning challenges is effectively encouraged and nurtured when inflatable balls are imaginatively and systematically used in the process of mutual learning - as demonstrated in a professional exchange at Poitiers, France (June 2008) where 15 French Feldenkrais practitioners worked for five days with an equal number of neurologically impaired patients. During this encounter those modest learning-tools turned into valued assistants and mediators in creating conditions where both practitioners and students/clients could not help but experience difference as a liberation from the grip of patterns inhibiting fruitful contact with one another. Gregory Bateson’s formula “Information is difference that makes THE DIFFERENCE” was illustrated over and over again as the practitioners (many of whom had never previously touched a person in a wheelchair) and the seriously disabled patients (all traumatized by insensitive medical handling) came together in a partnership of learning and friendship that provided everyone with enormous enrichment. Patients and practitioners alike benefitted from the security provided by a less directly manipulative, more global, and infinitely gentle touch mediated by an adequately inflated ball. Patients found their limbs moving - and being moved - much more freely when ‘supported by air’. Something so simple but new and unfamiliar as a not fully blown up ball became one of the most effective keys for unlocking unsuspected creativity in most of the participants.
During regular feedback sessions, when people talked increasingly openly about their experiences, it became clear that most were beginning to grasp to what extent the learning they were experiencing together involved real, tangible change -- change in how they saw and judged themselves and others; change in the way they would act and relate to gravity, to space, to themselves, and to each other. As in every creative Feldenkrais encounter, the main issue addressed throughout this workshop was how to provide each individual with the means of developing reliable assessments of a difference making a meaningful difference. This entailed appealing to people’s subjectivity, to their inwardness, by giving them (specifics?) specificopportunities of finding out what works for them by invoking their aesthetic sense or intelligence, letting them discover what ‘feels good, rig elegant’; by enabling them to perceive patterns, connections, and relationships where they didn’t before. The learning processes we experienced and witnessed demonstrated what Moshe Feldenkrais told his students in Amherst: We pay attention to the means in order to be able to get the ends the way that fits our internal appreciation of elegance and aesthetic appreciation and respect for yourself. (Amherst Transcript, 24 June, p.24)
Walking the tightrope towards a culture of conscious mutual learning
Once we begin to walk the tightrope between ‘disciplined subjectivity’ and constantly questioned ‘objectivity’ we begin to appreciate that there is one link that can unite the diversity of agendas apparent in our work as Feldenkrais professionals. I believe that this entails the creation of contexts which encourage people to take delight in playfulness, in letting go of achievement orientation and willful striving. If we wish the Method to come fully into its own this requires first and foremost that we as Feldenkrais teachers find convincing ways of embodying a culture of mutual learning.
Our work encompasses two interlinked poles sometimes perceived in opposition to one another. One focuses on finite and measurable results, on earning a living by providing a specific service, the other on what is boundless, as yet only potential. The finite pole is often seen to be defined by conventions of a ‘professional’ relationship between practitioner and client, while the boundless includes the experience of friendship, a great deal of priceless satisfaction, but also some frustration . Living this contradiction is part of our profession. I am predisposed to believe that choosing friendship and ‘being on a level’ with our students and clients is a necessary step towards the kind of “maturely humane" culture Moshe Feldenkrais kept invoking. We can encourage or hinder the emergence of such a culture. The choice is ours, yours and mine.
(This article was published in a slightly different shortened version in THE FELDENKRAIS JOURNAL, No.22 TEACHING FALL 2009)
Towards a Culture of Mutual Learning by Ilana Nevill