A mystery solved!

The news arrived in the middle of a conversation during an AY a Day professional study group meeting. Ellen Soloway — esteemed Amherst training colleague, editor of the comprehensive Alexander Yanai collection, and faithful friend — mentioned what she had learned from Yaelle Kesten’s transcription of the missing pages of a lesson. 

She wasn’t referring to just any lesson. She talked about AY 284, SLOW IMPROVEMENT, a member of the series most commonly referred to as THE HIGHEST POINT OF THE HIP.

These lessons have been an inspiration ever since I first encountered them. They were the basis of Finding Balance on One Leg, the series I taught for ATM Summer Camp this year. I have done these classes many times, found related lessons and done them as well, deconstructed and reconstructed them, taught elements, and explored alternate approaches to assembling them into series. 

My ears perked up! I forgot what Ellen said she had learned entirely. Poof – that was gone!

You see, I have wondered about the abrupt and mysterious end to the transcript for quite a while. What is missing? How much? 

To prepare for teaching AY 284 for us, teachers and trainees assembled from the world over, Yaelle had listened to Moshe teaching it in Hebrew. She recognized that the end of the written lesson — which had been translated from the Hebrew transcriptions, which were, in turn, transcribed from the original reel-to-reel recordings by Noa Eshkol’s dance students — came far earlier than the one she heard Moshe teach.

So she could teach the complete lesson, Yaelle transcribed and translated the lost portion, ending up with three typed pages of instructions in English. In the published version, this ATM has nine sections, most of them with subsections aplenty. Not that final, ninth part. It’s by far the shortest:

“Try now to do the same thing with the other leg . . . [the left side]

Slowly, pay attention that the leg, which is hanging, will be soft, without power in it; that the arm will be hanging; and that the breath will be such that it will be possible to stand on the left leg.”

[End of tape.]

The transcript ends with this tantalizing tidbit:

[Note: “This may or may not be the end of the lesson.”]

Until that moment, these words had taunted me. 

The sections Yaelle found and restored are illuminating. They change the sense of this composition, extending it and, thereby, expanding what it has to offer. Moshe offers more guidance in how to investigate standing on and balancing over your left leg. Then he adds several more steps, ending with section 16. The guidelines he gives about what to notice, how he explains what you’re aiming for, and the cues for knowing when you’re on track are explicit, significant, and, taken together, they suggest a comprehensive appreciation of what’s required. For instance:

“Pay attention to the neck and the chest.  What effort they are making that makes the foot need to touch the floor. You will see that there are disturbances that cause this.”

For the first time in the series, he introduces the action of circling your hip joint, which was a revelation. What’s more, Moshe ends the lesson there, too, or at least that is where the recording ends: you’re standing, you have made full circles in the right hip joint and then the left, and that is it.

The lesson, and the series it is a part of, is about learning to balance. In particular, it’s about finding out how to tilt and counterbalance effortlessly. The effortless aspect is both the challenge and the key. 

“Pay attention just as much to the descent as to the ascent. The leg has to go down gradually with the same slowness as it goes up.”

You get better by noticing how and when you disturb your breath, clench your hands or jaw, fix your neck, stiffen your chest, and so on. Each step in the lesson brings another potential stumbling place to the forefront, simply and clearly, systematically identifying what you could be doing to interfere, appreciating it, and recalibrating. 

Instead of trying to do it right, all along, you are asked to notice what gets in the way. Wishful thinking is not enough, nor are good intentions. If you don’t realize how you interfere, you cannot do anything to change, to improve yourself. 

“Let the leg touch the floor and see how the breathing is actually disturbed and how there is effort somewhere in the chest and in the stomach.  The breathing is not organized.  The head is not free. That is why there is no balance.”

You don’t have to be right or perfect. Instead, you notice where you’re off, where you’re calling on willpower rather than skill. You develop skills by refining in small increments. 

After all, balancing isn’t about ‘not falling.’ In the missing section, Moshe encourages making mistakes:

“You can do it a hundred times; it does not matter.  Fall one hundred times but each time do it slower, finer, and simpler.”

The missing passages create a thematic bridge to AY 289 STANDING ON ONE LEG WITH MOVEMENTS and demonstrate how SLOW IMPROVEMENTS, and those that come immediately before it, can be considered a prequel, even an introduction, to the HIGHEST POINT OF THE HIP series.  It does more than add a lost piece by providing a significant stepping stone, one that uncovers Moshe’s original itinerary for traveling through these lessons and clarifies his strategic, recursive, over time approach to developing skills. 

If you don’t have the published lesson in your collection, you can purchase the printed and digital versions from the International Feldenkrais Federation. There is, unfortunately, no process set up for updating the available versions, nor, as far as I know, is there a plan for a second edition to incorporate errata. 

Because the finishing touches to this lesson reveal what Moshe had in mind, Yaelle graciously made her transcription available. We added these precious pages to the MIM Online Library. Log into your Mind in Motion account and go to the Library.  To find the PDF and MS Word versions of the file, once you’re in the Library, you look in the Free ATMs —> Alexander Yanai section. 

(If you have yet to set up your absolutely free-of-charge Mind in Motion Online account, please click here to create one now.)

I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to the AY a Day participants. As a group, they keep showing up every day, rain or shine, teaching one another, making folks feel welcome, tackling tough questions, and collectively contributing to the future of our method. 

Thank you especially to Yaelle for her kind contributions, not the least of which was using her reconstituted notes to teach it to us so beautifully.

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