Method or Message?
Should we call it the “Feldenkrais Method” or the “Feldenkrais Message?”
Lately, I’ve been going through recordings and transcripts of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais teaching workshops to the public. I had listened to some before but was often dissuaded from continuing because of poor recording quality, long talks, and thinking that to fully appreciate the lessons, you just had to have been there.
So what has changed, how did I come to delve so deeply into the recordings and transcripts? Fortunately, I have some very good colleagues, one of whom is named Göran Mörkeberg. Göran, who hails from Sweden, has a great deal of experience with the FM. In one of our informal and semi-regular e-mail discussions, Göran pointed out that Dr. Feldenkrais frequently used the power of suggestion in his public teaching. This piqued my interest and I started re-reading “The Master Moves” (which is a written transcript from a workshop taught in California), and listening to various recordings of public workshops.
Reading and listening with the lens of “suggestion and empowerment,” Dr. Feldenkrais’s words took on a whole new meaning for me. I saw that he was encouraging his students every step of the way. As Dr. Feldenkrais writes in the preface to, “The Elusive Obvious,”
My contention is that the maturing process should never come to a standstill in any plane of human activity if life is to be a healthy process. Maturity itself is a process, and not a final state; it is the process whereby past personal experience is broken up into its constituent parts and new patterns are formed out of them to fit the present circumstances of the environment and the present state of the body.
How did Dr. Feldenkrais infuse his teaching with positive suggestion? In the following excerpt, from “The Master Moves, Lesson One: Twisting to Floor,” he is teaching a lesson in which the students are learning to get up and down from the floor swiftly and easily. I have inserted boldface type for the parts that I think are suggesting that each student can and will learn better organization and thus, become more mature.
And notice, your legs and arms will organize themselves as perfectly as can be; yet most teachers would insist when, and which hand and which leg. You know you can do the movement as it should be, and that thought organizes each brain and each body. Now would you please stand up. This is more difficult. Decide which hand you put on the floor; that will determine to which side you will turn to sit. And you don’t have to decide; when you place your hand, you’ll find that the lower system remembers which way to turn and how to sit and what to do. In other words, you’ll find that your ability to learn is a hundredfold better than what you could learn through exercise. As soon as you feel, sense, act and think at the same time, you find that in ten minutes you can learn as much as a hundred percent. Usually you’ll find that as far as learning as I define it goes, the older, the more experienced and the wiser the person, the faster he learns. It has nothing to do with whether the person has arthritis, or heart disease, or any difficulty. p.19
Interestingly enough, this lesson on getting up and down by moving your pelvis in an arc could be a fairly challenging as a “first” lesson. Obviously, Dr, Feldenkrais was convinced that everyone attending could “do it” and/or learn something useful.
For Dr. Feldenkrais, his Method was a way of conveying an important message, “My contention is that the maturing process should never come to a standstill in any plane of human activity if life is to be a healthy process.” And this is something that we probably need to hear more than once (which is why I used the quote again). What I’ve realized from my recent immersion in Dr. Feldenkrais’s teachings is that much of my own teaching in the past was mostly concerned with how to convey a fascinating process unique to the FM, and less with inspiring people to become better versions of themselves. I believe that some of this tendency comes from my personality, and some has been ingrained from my years of classical music study. The path to becoming a successful orchestra musician, as I understood it, was to be able to play the notes on the page as accurately as possible, with very little personal inflection. Because I tend to stay with what I know, my understanding of the FM was to create the conditions for learning with as little of my influence as possible. I tried not to push people in any certain direction, even if it might have been beneficial for them. It was an honest mistake, and one that I’m feverishly trying to remedy.
It has been said, that by simply following the instructions from an Awareness Through Movement lesson (from the book of the same name, for example), one will gain the benefits of doing the Method. While it is true that you will get some benefit, it’s akin to saying that if you just play all the notes from a Mozart Sonata, you will have a beautiful musical performance. We all know that there is more to an inspiring performance than “just playing the notes as they were written.”
Ironically enough, Dr. Feldenkrais speaks to this in “The Master Moves.”
Now the thing that is important in learning is not what you do but how you do it. Now that sounds crazy. If you play music it’s not important which music you play, whether you play Bach or Gershwin or Shostakovich or Bartok, but how you play it. If you write a novel, it’s not important what you write about. It could be about a love triangle. There are about ten million novels written like that. But it is the how that makes a Proust, a Tolstoy, or distinguishes the cheap novels that you just buy and throw away. It’s how you write that’s important. It’s not what picture you paint. You may paint a night pot in a hospital, or a chair, like Van Gogh, or the ass of a woman. There are a million asses so painted (laughter). But very few are like Titian. There are thousands of pictures of women’s breasts, but some of them are memorable pictures for the world. It depends how you paint and not what you paint. You can paint a squirrel like Durer. What’s there to draw a squirrel? Now you have a look at that squirrel; it’s the most squirrely squirrel that you know (laughter). p. 14
So how am I changing my teaching so that it will (hopefully) further my students (and my own) maturation processes? Mainly by asking myself while preparing and teaching, “How can this lesson or series of lessons be useful in terms of development, growth and maturation?” Examining my own teaching through the lens of maturation adds whole new dimensions and purpose to my work as a Feldenkrais Practitioner. The numerous lessons created by Dr. Feldenkrais are a treasure for humanity, but more importantly was his message of hope for a better future, and that is direly needed in this day and age.
Feldenkrais, Moshe, 1904-1984. The Master Moves / by Moshe Feldenkrais © 1984Published by Genesis II Publishing, Inc. P.O. Box 2615, Longmont, CO 80502 www.AchievingExcellence.com
The Elusive Obvious / by Moshe Feldenkrais © 1981Published by Meta Publications
Also available from www.AchievingExcellence.com