A report about a challenging mutual learning project
by Tim Nevill
This preamble by the author’s wife Ilana offers readers insight
into how and why FEAR OF FALLING was written.
She hopes that Tim’s report demonstrates convincingly what
is possible with the Feldenkrais Method - even in truly
In the summer of 2020, when the Covid pandemic had interupted our stage-by-stage move from a tiny mountain hamlet in the French Pyrenees to Aurillac, Cantal, in the centre of France, my husband Tim and I decided to get involved in a Feldenkrais learning-project with uncertain outcome rather than succumbing to discouragement. The ultimate reason for going ahead with a venture we knew would put both our patience and good will to the test was specific. Tim needed urgent help towards recovering a sense of security in walking, gradually undermined after a bad fall many winters previously. This accident had left him with occasional back pain, but he refused to see a doctor. I had tried to do my best giving him FIs, usually interspersed with appropriate ATM-elements, when I found the time, while taking care of a hundred other tasks that required attention. Tim‘s preferred method of coping had consisted of spending a lot of time sitting in a comfortable chair reading or listening to music.
Even though both of us were extremely exhausted, sometimes irritable and despondent, and began «feeling our age », things started looking up once Tim acknowledged that there must be some truth in the stark choice between «Use It or Lose It». He therefore consented to my suggestion that if he r e a l l y wanted to improve mobility, we needed to come to grips with some rather deep-rooted protective and compensatory holding-patterns which he had acquired over the years, beginning at the traumatic moment of being sent to boarding school at the age of 6. These had gradually become more pronounced in the wake of that long-ago fall, resulting in new compensatory patterns being added to those already well established.
This was the contract we agreed: Both of us were to keep book regarding our personal observations, insights, questions, and experiences; and write a report at the end of the project we had in mind. Tim from the point of view of an ageing Feldenkrais pupil who was finally ready and, more important, also willing to find out how to get a little more « out of his head » and begin to reinhabit his body; and me from the vantage point of an experienced Feldenkrais practitioner only too aware of the emotional complexities unavoidably cropping up when working with one’s ‘nearest and dearest’.
Tim’s notes on which FEAR OF FALLING is based were jotted down in a little exercise book. He had written on the cover « Belatedly discovering myself » . On second thoughts he replaced « myself ». with « my body ».
When I read his text I wondered if the former wasn’t more pertinent.
My own report remains to be written. What I would like to say here is as follows : During this period of unprecedented and highly intense working together, searching for new ways of overcoming ingrained habits, Tim, as the most « interesting », (in other less helpful words,‘difficult’) pupil I ever worked with consistently in the course of over 30 years, taught me more than I might ever have hoped or expected.
What I have still to write will be based on fresh insights, new ideas, and practical possibilities for work as Feldenkrais teachers. In order to get my husband safely back onto his feet by applying what he was learning in our sessions to functioning in daily life, I followed Moshe Feldenkrais’s example: I used my own body as a laboratory exploring the complex interaction of moving, feeling, sensing, and thinking - especially in relation to becoming aware of quality of breathing and the all-powerful role of our eyes.
My research project required adhering to a rigorous discipline, i.e. spending at least 30 minutes every morning exploring all sorts of «exercises» inspired by Feldenkrais and QuiGong - mostly standing or sitting, thereby making optimal use of the power of gravitation. Combining various elements of ATM and FI, the movement sequences I kept playing around with felt like promising potential « lessons ». Later, when put to the test with Tim as my willing guinea pig, some of them proved to be surprisingly effective.
Our demanding project worked out because we succeeded pretty well in keeping ‘learner’ and ‘teacher’ on a par with one another. As ‘teacher-learner’ I probably derived even greater benefit from this venture than Tim. However one thing is certain : Whether consciously or not , Tim is now working towards an understanding of the poem LISTENING by dancer Eva Karczag.
To myself, and
To my surroundings,
To the song that rises from this moment
in which I am contained -
These dances rise up inside me
and spin out beneath me,
And it’s as if I stand back, inside myself
Available to constant flow and change,
I can balance
at the edge of the unknown
and experience fearlessness.
(BODY - SPACE - IMAGE – Notes towards improvisation and performance
by Miranda Tufnell and Chris Crickmay, p.48 )
Fear of Falling
by Tim Nevill
In “Body and Mature Behaviour” (1949) Moshe Feldenkrais writes that fear of falling is humans’ deepest fear, “inherited, inborn” and needing “no personal experience before it is operative”. He believed that this “first experience of anxiety” occurred when new-born primates fell out of trees as they probably did in violent earthquakes. In fact he claimed that “Anxiety, in whatever form it may be present, must have been formed by successive conditioning from the unconditioned series of reflexes that constitute the inborn response to falling”. Default behaviour in any situation of uncertainty and insecurity thus includes self-protective contraction and blockage of free functioning of body, emotions, and mind.
I only learnt about these persuasive ideas from my Feldenkrais practitioner wife Ilana a couple of years ago. As someone (now 84) who has always gone weak at the knees when walking near to a cliff’s edge or even just thinking about opening a window in a high-rise building I was intrigued. Previously I’d always imagined that there must be something in my childhood that gave rise to this phobia about heights. Maybe some repressed experience from early years at a ramshackle boarding school run by a weird lot of unqualified teachers during the final years of World War II. However I didn’t see any way of changing such a phobia.
Ilana told me that Feldenkrais was not the only person to suggest that today “fear of falling” has become associated with “fear of failure”. I can substantiate that with an experience when I was 13 and newly arrived at an institution directly serving the ruling class with an efficiently organised programme of hierarchical control and conditioning. Success in sports was the precondition for prestige so I was a non-starter. I particularly hated lessons in so-called “physical education”. I was incapable of jumping a vaulting horse which other boys sailed over with ease. I would run towards this object and crash into it without leaving the ground. Immediate derision on all sides from the sports teacher downwards. However it was also at this school that I learnt tactics of skilful passive resistance which have served me well throughout my life. Fifty or so years later, I once again saw an identical vaulting horse in the window of an antiques shop. I almost burst into tears on the street, but at the same time I knew that I had come through and managed to find a niche for myself in an alien world.
There was also another long-established body-pattern that might have been linked with “falling” at some unremembered moment. My adult walking has involved the pelvis undulating from side to side rather than the weight moving forward with my feet. Friends could recognise my style of walking from a considerable distance. However when I did cross-country running at school my body operated smoothly and efficiently without any inhibitions. Maybe the answer is simply that running away became a strategy for escaping those who –I felt - wished me harm.
Eight or nine years ago I slipped on ice and fell heavily. The pain was excruciating and I could scarcely walk for several days. With some assistance from Ilana my body then found a way and life went on. Nevertheless often there was still pain around the sacro-iliac joint and particularly down the left thigh. I began to notice that I was avoiding putting weight on the left foot. As time passed walking became increasingly painful so Ilana and I decided that we should work together on unravelling this problem, even though Feldenkrais practitioners are often told by their teachers: Never work with your nearest and dearest; the emotional difficulties are too complex. However checking my notes I discover I’ve now had 69 usually quite short sessions with Ilana (from August 2019), resulting in transformation of my walking. Before starting this experiment in “re-education” we agreed that both should keep a written record of this process, spread out over five testing months (usually three sessions a week). So here is what I now think worth making available for others (fellow-learners) who might like to risk a similar venture.
Belatedly Discovering My Body
We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn
Mary Catherine Bateson
Ilana is a highly inventive, empathic, and verbally articulate Feldenkrais practitioner. But even she was tested to the limit during this time of research and exploration. It wasn’t only the sessions with me. At the same time we were experiencing enormous difficulty in trying to find a buyer for our house in the French Pyrenees and then uprooting to Aurillac in Central France to become part of a Feldenkrais (and cultural) centre refreshingly open to new approaches in this work.
I was particularly helped by Ilana pointing me towards Moshe’s conviction that bodily and social limitations may well arise out of repeated difficulties experienced during childhood, especially around the age of 12-14. I can’t resist recounting that at the age of ten when the school scout troop marched to church to participate in some jingoistic celebration a photograph appeared in the local newspaper. I was highly visible in the front rank stepping out with my left leg while every other boy in the picture had their right foot forward. I don’t remember anything but must have felt enormously humiliated at the time (Letting the school down etc), but now I am proud of having gone my own unwitting way.
Returning to Moshe - activities imposed from above, which a child thinks difficult to implement or disagreeable, are quickly abandoned. Such self-determined limits may then influence all aspects of personal development seen as too demanding. However, as it turned out in this case, a good Feldenkrais practitioner can serve as a midwife for improved organisation of the entire person with greater freedom from tension and superfluous effort.
Maybe the most important lesson for me was learning to be truly present during my sessions with Ilana. To start with she enthusiastically gave me too many instructions which confused rather than clarified. I remembered very little of what happened in sessions : interactions between pelvis and neck, hip and back, toes and eyes in specific movements. Then within a month or so I realised the importance of the back’s participation in movements of the neck/head and pelvis, and pain became more manageable. Interconnectedness was more apparent too. But I still had difficulty in retaining a mental image of my body’s functioning.
I, who hadn’t previously been fully engaged in Feldenkrais sessions, now increasingly looked forward to time with Ilana as I began to feel more clearly what was happening. That demanded trying to keep words (and pre-existing ideas) at bay so as to concentrate on what was happening in my body. Each session called for responsiveness to the present moment. There were no short-cuts, quick-fixes, or preconceived sequences of movements. I was there to experience an infinitely nuanced flux of sensation in my body, and only indirectly to solve “problems”. Gradually I started to experience a letting go of anxiety and tension – at times even a sense of lightness, release, and relief. Overall a feeling that we were getting somewhere, mightily astonished about how flexible my body (which I had always distrusted) basically is. So I’m not as I thought I was. Maybe I can even start dancing at my advanced age.
As our sessions continued into their second month I started to discover what to do in order to get beyond mental/emotional/bodily blockages and enter into freely flowing movement. I also began to remember more of what happened in each session. When out walking I became capable of focusing on the pelvic area on both sides of the body – as well as on how weight was placed on my feet. For me at least that seemed to be the way towards security and flexibility.
I was making much less effort than I used to: re-discovering long-lost (never consciously known) connections and possibilities. In general my body knew more than my memory regarding what I was learning about patterns of pleasurable and functional connection between toes, pelvis, and shoulders; and tongue, teeth, jaws, and neck; and gradual discovery of where connections often meet somewhere in the spine. However I had difficulty in pin-pointing what such focusing of attention actually brought about in bodily behaviour while attentiveness fluctuated constantly.
With every movement there was initially still a slight sense of awkwardness, but then body-wisdom took over and effortlessness was established without my intervention. I still seemed to learn more if Ilana worked on me, drawing attention to connections, rather than when she gave me instructions for taking responsibility for myself. But if I was temporarily aware of the links between different parts of the body making a movement possible, then that movement was considerably more relaxed and unconstrained. That became a question of allowing my body to make some movement rather than forcing it to do so. This process was certainly made easier by an air-bed – as opposed to an unyielding Feldenkrais table or the floor. Sinking into such a bed was also a great sensuous pleasure where I felt at ease with myself. Here the outcome of increased perception was more apparent. Circling movements in my pelvis and ankles led to momentarily pain-free walking, enabled by co-operation from the rest of my body. I also learnt where such movements were initiated.
Breathing became more and more important in our sessions. I already knew that I sometimes stopped breathing if I felt insecure. But now I was increasingly aware of how breathing into the right place at the right time supports and enables whatever movement might be involved. Learning to breathe into the side where I placed weight was particularly important. Then I felt safe, grounded, and carried by the earth. I became capable of achieving a better relationship with myself and others. At the same time I was breathing more freely and deeply.
So what might have been the turning-point in these sessions ? Above all, I think, Ilana’s patience and resourcefulness in approaching the same old problems. She herself will write about our joint exploration of transmission and response. I persisted in a way I hadn’t done before, gradually letting go of a sense of bodily incompetence dating from long ago. That past was characterised by having either to comply with rules and expectations laid down by others, or to try and evade them. At long last my mind is connecting more profoundly with my body. Now I can respond more freely to my own inner promptings. I don’t have to care about what others think. They have their difficulties and I have mine – and we all have to cope with that.
What I have recorded here is only a fragment of what took place in sessions with doors opening for communication between outer and inner sensing. A session was also an encounter between different ways of seeing the world, gradually moving towards wholeness with participation of every element in my body. I was reminded of Taoist healing and the experience of being breathed throughout the body in a state of absolute calm without will or striving.
Towards Christmas 2019 sessions came to a standstill for three months as Ilana and I got ever more involved in arranging rental of a house in Aurillac. At the end of February sale of our Pyrenees house fell through and the Covid-19 epidemic spread across France.
Somewhat surprisingly I’ve just discovered that at the beginning of April I noted a feeling of progressing towards a long-lost sense of being grounded where, if I directed attention towards individual parts of my body, I increasingly experienced how these are linked with the whole : A great sense of both bodily and mental refreshment where it was no longer necessary to try and control my breathing; awakening to realisation of breathing arising in the depths of myself and extending throughout my body; renouncing attempts at controlling my life; and fleetingly feeling the involvement of the whole of my body in a movement.
But the epidemic was far from over and we still didn’t know when we would find buyers for our house. We continued transferring our belongings bit by bit to a rented place in Aurillac, and ended up as basically squatters in the Pyrenees. Once I had another “fall” when I lost balance in our garden and crashed onto a small rock – onto my left thigh just like years ago. This time I experienced more shock than pain. During a session on Ilana’s air-bed I felt that maybe that fall had released muscular holding patterns in the thigh. My ribs seemed to move more freely too.
The general stress level was still enormously high and intensified even more when a friend whose help had been invaluable was diagnosed as having the Covid virus, meaning that we had to go into quarantine for 10 days. Happily we were tested as negative, the protracted sale process was completed towards the end of October, and we moved to Aurillac a week later.
Of course my walking suffered from this high-level stress and accompanying fatigue, and I had to use two bamboo sticks (nearly a metre and a half long) to keep going like some kind of unexpectedly erect four-legged animal; but once we had left the Pyrenees recovery got under way. I particularly benefited from a regular routine of going up and down, moving forwards and backwards, the steep stairs (15 steps) in our new home. Now, just 3 months later (March 2021), I feel more relaxed, more awake, more alive, with fresh possibilities starting to open up. A new phase of life is beginning for Ilana and myself. My walking reflects this new situation. I am much more co-ordinated and have started walking without sticks. Wearing sandals instead of shoes helps free up my flexibility. Walking also becomes noticeably easier if, as I saunter along, my head is full of music, I’m enjoying the sunshine, or I’m entranced by trees in nearby fields. My body simply does what’s necessary without impediments. I’ve even spent quite a few hours digging our new garden, and benefitted considerably.
As we walk almost every day up a steep road to a huge rock five or so minutes away from us to enjoy a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding countryside I remember an ancient Latin exhortation, Solvitur Ambulando, invokinga long-practiced way of resolving perplexing choices. That could be translated as :
If you have problems
take a walk
and your wise body
will offer solutions
Close reading of Moshe Feldenkrais points towards something much more profound than focusing on alleviation of bodily woes. For me such an emphasis is essential so I append the following quotes (from Keith Sagar’s “D.H. Lawrence: Poet”) as a launching-pad for personal exploration.
‘The essential quality of poetry [and of a Feldenkrais lesson too] is that it makes a new effort of attention, and discovers a new world within the known world’.
… a unified sensibility: ‘man alive, not mere bits … the whole consciousness, bodily, mental, spiritual at once’.
Many words, such as thought, awareness, vision, wholeness, are virtual synonyms for imagination in Lawrence’s writings … Clothing symbolizes everything the artist must be prepared to jettison – the layers of insulation which most of us build up to protect ourselves: the lies, hypocrisies, complacencies, which society imposes on us for its own perpetuation; the great collusion whereby we believe the things we convince ourselves we believe for no better reason than that we believe that other people believe them.
Imagination is not a separate faculty which some are born with. It is what happens when the faculties we all have are freed from their usual bonds and divisions, resist the process of training and indoctrination, and speak out with the voice of nature – the voice of human nature of course, but not a human nature which defines itself in contradistinction from the rest of life.
Once out of ‘the full armour of their own idea of themselves’ men have ‘a whole new universe to get into relationship with’.All imaginative art, every living metaphor, is profoundly revolutionary and subversive. It is capable, if we know how to receive it, of fertilizing our own imagination, of bringing about deep psychological and spiritual healing.
Contemplating today’s world brings to mind the ancient story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. Experiencing an elephant for the first time, one man encounters a massive leg, another a swaying trunk, a third the swishing tail, yet another the huge ear, and so on. Each interprets the nature of an elephant on the basis of this limited experience, asserting that theirs is the one and only truth about this phenomenon. That it is how it is with those who set themselves up as experts, specialists, teachers, and gurus, claiming the authority to determine what is acceptable and what to be rejected. They insist on the correctness of this fragmented way of seeing the world rather than contributing towards the assembling of a mosaic of complementary (or even productively clashing) views, coming closer to a Reality that far exceeds present human comprehension.
So what can be done ? How can we awaken out of self-absorption and gain a larger view of our world ? What are the shared concerns that could bring people together ? How can we better help one another to see, think, and act with greater insight ? Where can we find information and guidance that can really be trusted ? How can resources and understanding be shared more equally ? What essential “nourishment” do we need ?
For Ilana and myself a successful Feldenkrais session often generates many questions alongside at least some immediately accessible answers. The outcome is a multi-facetted cluster of bodily, emotional, and mental insights enriching daily life together (for nearly 60 years now) and also expanding the range of what the Method has to offer. (30.3.2021)
Walking into Renewed Life
Six months later - a brief postscript (19.10.2021)
It’s strange, at the age of 85, to be becoming at ease with my body – at long last. Walking up and down stairs without difficulty; easing myself in and out of chairs; turning my head from side to side without pain; breathing much more deeply; feeling securely related to the ground beneath me; discovering all the connections within my body and relishing how they work together to make my old age much much easier and more pleasurable than I’d ever imagined would be possible.
Friends, who’d worried that our move from the Pyrenees to Aurillac would be disastrous for our frail bodies, are now amazed at seeing me walking without sticks (but not always – especially when I’m tired). Also bodily well-being is accompanied by alert emotional presence and great mental activity. My doctor too couldn’t believe his eyes when I walked into his surgery without a stick. All that I owe to Ilana’s inspired application of spontaneous improvisation, following the precedent established by Moshe Feldenkrais. What more could I ask for. (30.3.2021)
six months later - a brief postscript
Walking into Renewed Life
It’s strange, at the age of 85, to be becoming at ease with my body – at long last. Walking up and down stairs without difficulty; easing myself in and out of chairs; turning my head from side to side without pain; breathing much more deeply; feeling securely related to the ground beneath me; discovering all the connections within my body and relishing how they work together to make my old age much much easier and more pleasurable than I’d ever imagined would be possible. (19.10.2021)
Fear of Falling
Intelligent body Flexible mind Appropriate action
La Ruzole du Haut--09400 Saurat--France