Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

“Interviewer: How do you know where to go on each person? Moshé Feldenkrais: When you will have my experience and knowledge you will also know. Interviewer: Obviously it comes from your experience and years of work with this. Moshé Feldenkrais: No, it comes from the theory, first of all. Many people work with bodies; why don’t they do the same thing? Nobody does what I do. Obviously it doesn’t come from working with people.” Quote from Embodied Wisdom, the collected papers of Moshé Feldenkrais.

In a Youtube comment on one of my videos I was asked if there’s a video series on the movements from Moshé Feldenkrais’s book The Potent Self. I answered, “Not that I know of, but interesting idea,” and then went to flip through the book to see what the movements are.

And while flipping the pages, once again I was thinking, “Say what you want but this man knew how to put thoughts in a row.” What I did not find, however, was an explanation of his process of how he put his ideas into practice. How did he go from thoughts, theories and hypotheses to movement instructions?

In his book The Case Of Nora, Moshé Feldenkrais writes “The freedom to learn is a great liability, and a restriction from the start. There is no freedom of choice or free will where there is only one way of acting. Learning makes it possible to choose among alternative ways of acting. The ability to learn is synonymous with free choice and free will. But once learned, the choice is made, the die is cast, and the tabula rasa is no more. Herein lie the liabilities as the restrictions.” How did he turn that thought into a lesson? I mean, of course, I can see it in hindsight, it’s in every lesson. He put this thought to practice in literally every lesson. To loosely quote Peter Elbow again “Experience is what you end up with, not what you start out with.” So how did he come up with his theory, and how did he turn that into his lessons?

Life with curated subtitles

I exaggerate: Unlike EVERYONE else, I have ALWAYS left it to my clients to make up their own minds. I’ve NEVER told them what it is they are experiencing. But as of lately I wonder if that’s actually a good thing. Maybe people NEED guidance. Maybe they NEED someone to tell them what it is they are experiencing and looking at. Well, maybe not people in general… maybe it’s my business who is in urgent need of something like that.

At least, that’s what I have been thinking about yesterday night, shortly before falling asleep. And in my mind’s eye I have seen two apples:

Both apples were EXACTLY the same, but the second was labeled, “A juicy, sweet, delicious apple.” Which one would you pick? To what degree would the label influence your experience of picking, handling, smelling and tasting the apple? To what degree would the label influence, soften or strengthen your final judgement of the apple?

Oh, and while you’re at it: Right now you are reading the GREATEST blog there is in the whole wide world about Feldenkrais and Somatic Education. It’s an ABSOLUTE delight to read it. It’s a joy and almost feels like a privilege to peek into the mind of one of the MOST talented and MOST congenial teachers in the world, Alfons. You reading here is not just serendipity, but a definite sign of how bright, quick-witted and perceptive you are. You can tell something beautiful and of value when you see it. You are marvellous. Enjoy your day, my dear!

Strata of development

Mindfulness, Neuroplasticity, Movement Education… why not call it Movement Re-Education? I like the Chinese ring to it. Instead of lockstep drills people will exercise through a catalogue of generic and well-defined movement lessons, in unison. But unlike Line Dance it’s done without music. And on completion they will receive a certificate for the demonstrated compliance. Is it this what it comes down to? Is it this that people want?

On the other hand… a careful, respectful, open-minded systematic study might (maybe) provide us with a means of scanning ourselves so we can find a place for ourselves where we can act and breathe freely. If it is this what we are looking for.

The things we do for our stories

Idea for a long video, part 2 of my new hip joint series: gripping with the toes, stomping the feet, extending the pelvis. 

So I was lying on the japanese rug in my living room, trying to figure out the next best moves to add to my new Hip Joints series. I was, like, staring at the ceiling, I mean, not like staring staring, but gazing. So I was gazing at the ceiling and thinking, “Oh boy”, and, “Oh boy this is all so complicated, how am I going to break this down into components”. And so I was bending a bit left and right, and had my legs like this and like that, and…

…and you need to know that I made it reading into the third book of George RR Martin’s book series A Song Of Ice And Fire. In the second book (which has 1009 pages) there was a really big battle fought at land and at sea, with words and with swords, with great trebuchets, gauntlets, warhorses, spears, arrows, men-at-arms and galleys and all that. And the battle ended at the end of the second book. But then two years later George RR Martin released his third book of the series, and it seemed strange but there was an introduction in which he wrote

A Note On Chronology

“A Song of Ice and Fire is told through the eyes of characters who are sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles apart from one another. Some chapters cover a day, some only an hour; others might span a fortnight, a month, half a year. With such a structure, the narrative cannot be strictly sequential; sometimes important things are happening simultaneously, a thousand leagues apart.

In the case of the volume now in hand, the reader should realize that the opening chapters of A Storm of Swords do not follow the closing chapters of A Clash of Kings so much as overlap them. I open with a look at some of the things that were happening on the Fist of the First Men, at Riverrun, Harrenhal, and on the Trident while the Battle of the Blackwater was being fought at King’s Landing, and during its aftermath…” – GEORGE R. R. MARTIN

It occurred to me, what George RR Martin wanted to say is this: there was a lot more to be said about that time and that battle than what went into the second book (which has 1009 pages). Turns out his third book ended up having 1216 pages and had to be split up into two books. And for the hip joint series it’s just the same. I have uploaded a whole lot of videos already, but there’s a lot more to be said.

So I was gazing and thinking, and pushing a little bit with my foot against the floor, thinking “we already did that“, and rolling the pelvis “we already did that too“, and tapping the foot, “we already had that as well”, when I started gripping my toes, and stomping the foot, and lifting my pelvis on one side. “Oh that’s interesting. A novel approach to the carp jump.” And then discovered the connection between gripping the toes and extending the knee. The good old flexion-extension cycle in a completely new light!

The rest of the movements came together pretty quickly, within an hour, and then I filmed myself in a quick run through, which took 7 minutes, and so I think I might be able to squeeze that into a sub-thirty minutes video. I guess. I hope. It’s amazing. I was absolutely stocked and thrilled what I came up with.

When we were in the foetus stage, almost all the way back at the beginning of our lives, still in the womb, our first movement was flexion (or so they say), and then there was extension and stomping and pushing (much to the surprise and maybe dismay of our mothers). I think this movement sequence will match our physical development like a tailor made glove, and will make our hip joints and pelvis area feel so much better, and thus give us a wonderful feeling and satisfying experience overall.

What I have so far:

Part 1: bringing the foot to stand, gripping with the toes, stomping the heels and feet

Part 2: exploring the bony parts of the pelvis and the leg

Part 3: pushing the floor with the foot and hip extension

Feel the difference in standing. Stomping and pushing in standing.

Part 4: same with the other leg

Part 5: symmetrical movements

This is never gonna fit into 30 minutes. Never.

Donning meaning on movement

So I was watching a couple of dancers on Youtube, a movement exploration lab, and couldn’t help but wonder: Are they mentally present? Or did they wander off and have completely lost themselves in a world of mindless senses?

I sometimes see this in my classes too, especially with new students. Instead of following my teaching, they would wander off into another modus operandi. I would usually not let them fall astray too far, by feeding them with new tasks and challenges which require them to become fully present again and get their components of action together again: thinking, feeling, sensing, moving. Being aware of trajectory, speed and easing, movement initiation, distribution of work, becoming aware of the overall picture, etc.

Years ago, I got advise from a famous Feldenkrais Trainer from Montreal, Canada. He told me that he took coaching sessions which went like this: he would teach a class, and just like in a game of Musical Chairs (also known as Trip to Jerusalem) his coach would say “STOP” from time to time, and ask him: What are you thinking right now? What are you doing right now? What is your strategy? What have you accomplished? What have you failed at? What did you plan to do next? In this way he learned to be fully present and conscious of his every step as a teacher, whenever he choses to be so.

Another time I was studying with a famous Feldenkrais Trainer from New York, and I observed the same thing happening in his classes: students trailing off and loosing themselves in a world of mindless senses. Then he would clap his hands, loudly, “ok ok ok”, sometimes he would even get genuinely upset. But shortly after he would crack a smile again, and ever so compassionately change from ATM to group demo or FI demo or story telling, something that would bring his students back to be fully present again.

Hm, how can I explain this better… Did you ever read a flight of text only to notice that your mind has wandered off and you have no idea what you have just read? You KNOW that you have been reading, especially if you read out loud – but you have been so absorbed by the process of reading that you missed to pay attention to the meaning of the words, or maybe your mind has really wandered off to think about something completely else, while your lips kept moving and your voice kept speaking. Something like this.

The same can happen with movement. I guess that’s what Moshé Feldenkrais meant when he said things like, “Unless one looks for meaning in sensory stimulation, there is none.” or “Learning is turning darkness into light, obtaining something out of nothing, it is creative.” or sometimes he said something like, “The movements themselves are stupid, they have no meaning”.

Lastly for todays writing, I will copy-paste a paragraph from one of the strictly protected texts, a text the International Feldenkrais Guild acquired from Moshé Feldenkrais’s estate, but they never published it to the general public, likely never will. A text the International Feldenkrais Guild sells only to its paying and EULA (End User License Agreement) abiding members. A minute of Moshé Feldenkrais lecturing in Amherst, June 26, 1980:

“For instance, if you think, how did Goethe live? How did Bach live? How did Michelangelo live? How did da Vinci live? How does anybody … how does Einstein live? How does Mohammed Ali live? How do they live? With what do they get busy? What do they do all the day with themselves? Well, to achieve that quality of ability of mobilization that they have, that way of acting that these people have, they pass a lifetime doing what we do now, trying to concretize ideas that come to their mind. If you want to be a Picasso, which is not necessary because since Picasso there are already and before him and afterwards there will be better and worse painters and it doesn’t really matter if you are like Morot or like David or like Rembrandt and not like Picasso. Doesn’t matter. There is room for everyone to become himself, like these people became. You see they are so characteristic that whatever they did, they did it in that peculiar way which is feasible only to an individual who feels himself, has an aesthetic feeling that fits his own make-up and his own way of doing and his way of doing takes him years. Picasso, took him thirty, forty years before he worked out his own way of doing in such a way that the right eye could be on the ass. See, that’s a very clever way of doing it, but he did not do it at the beginning. So, this is not work. But this is what you call creative work, what we did this morning. And that, of course, doesn’t mean work. And the people I mentioned, none of them worked. They enjoyed themselves all their life, doing more work than any one of us does, without going to the pictures. They did. They did everything. And Picasso and Michelangelo and da Vinci and Bach, if you only see what they left after themselves, you could think that our life would not be sufficient because we are unable to produce so much work today as they did. But to them it wasn’t work; it was living.”

How to put the two feet standing in lying supine

Idea for a short video: two pure forms, I want to show you the pure, raw elements so you can identify the alloys. Usually you’ll see (or do) a mix of both.

Starting position: lying supine on the back, with arms and legs extended.

1. FLEXION BASED: as if someone would punch you in the guts

belly muscles contract
head lifts, shoulders lift, arms contract
fists forms, jaw tightens
both knees fly up
both feet lift off the floor
head and knees jump closer together
all that happens in an instant
then your relax again, lower your head, and lower your feet to standing

aka flexion reflex, body posture of fear, red light reflex

Not a bad strategy to be honest, a good core workout even, fast and furious.

2. RELAXATION BASED: as if there were no core muscles

one leg turns, outwards
its hip and knee bend
the knee slides to the outside, stays close to the floor
the foot slides towards the sit-bone
the pelvis tilts towards the bending knee
the whole spine and the chest bend and turn and twist and follow the gentle pull of the leg
maybe there’s a pull on the opposite side’s shoulder
maybe even the head turns
where can I let go all that don’t serve me right now?
where is still some tension I don’t need?
when do I hold my breath for no good reason?
the knee is moving in a long arch until the foot is standing
then the other foot

Not a bad strategy to be honest, a wonderful and very peculiar, soothing feeling that might last for a bit and holds immense treasures for all those courageous enough to try.

Experience, knowledge, wisdom and meaning

I love this quote: “Meaning is what you end up with, not what you start out with.” – Peter Elbow

Videos from movement teachers, fitness Youtubers, therapists, How-To tutorials…, they seem to fall into the same category as videos from watchmakers and people who fix and repair things. Teenagers who just start out but are already well versed, or professionals who have been setting up and fixing (for example) terrariums for 30 years already. You have this question? This is the answer. Here you go.

However, I find myself to live and work and function a bit differently than, say, a Omega Seamaster wrist watch. That’s why I like Peter Elbow’s quote so much. My approach (is it an “approach” what I’m doing?) is different. I experiment, I try, I observe, I improve, I try again, I rest, I forget, I remember…

“Experience, knowledge, wisdom and meaning is what we end up with, not what we start out with”, to expand on Peter Elbow’s findings. Instead of feeding my students the distillate of my life’s experiences, I take them on a journey of their own. I might even use this as my professional motto, it seems most fitting.