Restoring Balance, Restoring Dignity
On Saturday, January Lena Petersson Tarr (my wife) and I taught a Feldenkrais workshop entitled, “Balance Beyond the Middle.” One of the participant’s stories was particularly moving and reminded us of how important balance can be, beyond just being able to stand on one leg (a common test of balance).
Balance: We all know what it is (or should be) and most of us feel that we could be better balanced. There are countless articles and studies about the importance of balance for our health and well being. Falling for an elderly person can mean being sentenced to a nursing home where often, degeneration accelerates.
Of course, none of us wants to fall and hurt ourselves so if balance is shaky, we will tend to avoid situations that challenge our ability to keep us up right. This was the story of the above mentioned participant, and one that I’ve heard many times from students during my years of teaching the Feldenkrais Method.
The student in our work shop, let’s call him Tony (not his real name) told us how as a child, he’d always had troubles with the balancing exercises in the school gym class. Instead of helping him learn to balance better, the teachers just told him he didn’t have good balance. To avoid further shame and embarrassment, he sought out an isolated corner of the room when it came to balancing exercises.
As he grew up, Tony learned to compensate by avoiding other challenging situations. Of course, there are times when avoidance doesn’t function, like walking on ice. In those situations, he told us, “That he would just tense up and try to get through it as best he could.”
As Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais said, *
“The fear of falling elicits the first inhibition of the antigravity muscles and that anxiety is associated with this process.”
So for Tony, and most every one of us, restoring or learning a basic ability like balance not only can make life safer, it can also restore some lost or never developed dignity and self-worth. Plus, masking our shortcomings costs energy and attention.
“The majority present outwardly a veneer designed to cover up all shortcomings.” –
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais*
In order to learn or restore the ability to balance, we need to have safe conditions in which we can learn. This is part of what Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais meant when he talked about, “Creating the conditions for learning.” In order to learn or re-learn a skill, we need to have conditions for optimal learning.
If someone says they have “bad balance” and we tell them, “Just stand on one leg for 20 seconds every day,” they will most likely flail around and feel miserable. After trying that a few times, they will probably give up, thinking, “See, I just don’t have good balance!” That’s because the conditions for learning hadn’t been created in a meaningful and appropriate (to that particular person) way. With that approach, they only practice failing and reinforce their shortcomings.
Creating the conditions for learning however, would mean finding out what they can do, exploring other aspects of balance (like use of eyes, breathing, jaw tension etc.) and slowly building on previous successes. In that way, over time, balance and dignity can grow so you have a person who is not only safer, but also feels better about themselves.