From intent to posture: Giving postural instructions in Somatics classes

In my last post I started to look into the nitty gritty of what types of instructions are given in Somatics classes (or Feldenkrais-related classes, in this regard.)

It feels like I’ve stumbled upon a rich wellspring of insights on this topic, and I’m excited to continue exploring, and delve deeper into it. But one step at a time. So far I have identified the following types of instructions for getting students into a posture, with titles and examples. I recount:

Step-by-Step: Instruct how to get into the posture

  • “Please sit on the floor.”
  • “Bend your knees and place your left foot behind you, and your right foot in front of you.”
  • “Place your left hand on top of your head.”
  • “With your right hand lean on the floor.”

Descriptive: Describe the posture

  • “Your left hand is on the top of your head.”
  • “You are leaning on your right hand with a straight elbow.”

Corrective: Point out unintended configurations and say what to do instead

  • “Your left hand is not behind your head, but on top of your head.”
  • “Don’t point your left elbow forward, but sideways.”
  • “You don’t sit on your left leg, but on your pelvis.”

In a real class these type of instructions—step-by-step, descriptive, corrective—would probably not always be presented in such clear cut versions, but may be mixed up or broken down.

Exercise: How would you instruct someone to get into the position shown in this picture?

In a real class you would probably start somewhere, “Please sit on the floor,” and then see what is being done and talk as much as needed for your student to arrive in this position—which might be accomplished in a single, short sentence, or might take a lot more talking (and some problem solving, and maybe even some negotiating.)

Why this posture?

Another important question for the teacher is, “Why?” Why start in this posture? What’s the next movement and its purpose? What’s the theme? Only by knowing what we want to explore can the teacher know what to look out for in the starting posture. What details in the posture are conductive to the lesson, that means helpful for the student, and what will be obstructive?

Suggestions: Is it safe, is it comfortable?

Does your student seem to feel comfortable and confident? In Somatics (and Feldenkrais-inspired) classes comfort is a prerequisite for learning. Just like safety is a prerequisite for working out in the gym.

If a student seems to be in pain, or does not feel comfortable, we as teachers should ask. “What is missing?” Do we need to offer alternatives, or more detailed, or better instructions? For example, “lean on your fist if it hurts to bend your wrist.” Or, “there’s blankets available, if you feel cold.”

All in all, guiding a student into a posture is a conversation that goes back and forth between the teacher and student, and eventually spoken instructions will turn into observable gestures, postures and movement. Almost magic, if you ask me.