An accidental advanced training

When Aliza Stewart, the educational director of the Baltimore Feldenkrais® teacher training, asked me to teach THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR during my upcoming stint as the guest trainer in the program last October, I was doubly delighted.

Teaching this group of future teachers was another opportunity to — gladly and gratefully — pay back a debt and pass on a tradition that started during the last year of my teacher training program in Amherst, Massachusetts. Having heard of, seen, or, if we were lucky, received this remarkably transformative Functional Integration® lesson — during which the teacher touches the student’s foot with a small board or a hardback book — my classmates and I were fascinated. We wondered why no one had taught it to us.  

In response to our questions and curiosity, my mentor, Edna Rossenas, offered to give a handful of my fellow trainees and me a tutorial. We gathered in the living room, sitting around the Feldenkrais table as Edna gradually introduced us to THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR

With equal measures of patience and fascination, she demonstrated how to hold and move the cutting board we’d borrowed from the kitchen. She showed us where and how to touch the toes and foot, revealing when to push — and just how much — and when to wait. Edna pointed out what to notice and indicated how to interpret what we saw and felt. By doing so, she revealed the journey the lesson can take, pointing out the guideposts along the way and, in so doing, illuminating its potential.

What’s most fascinating about FI® is invisible to the eye. 

The teacher and student are having a conversation only the physical aspect of which is observable. It’s like watching two people from across the room without being able to read lips or hear any words being spoken. You know there’s a discussion going on, you can follow their back and forth exchange, how they move in relation to one another — in harmony, out of sync, or in some syncopated way. Even without being privy to what they’re saying, that something is surely happening, something that you’re watching from the outside, as it’s unfolding between them.

In a hands-on session, the student’s moment-to-moment experience is non-verbal. Bodywise, the student knows how the teacher moves through their tactile, kinesthetic, and vestibular senses — via the skin, muscles, connective tissue, skeleton, and inner ear. And vise versa, of course.

There’s an added dimension for the teacher. What you see informs what you sense in your hands and through your body. The brain merges these sensory channels to create a kind of stereo effect, which, neurologically-speaking, would be considered an example of synesthesia. It’s what happens when there’s a blending of the senses, like when you experience sounds as colors, revealing another way of knowing. 

Sorry, I don’t mean to be esoteric or academic. It’s just difficult to describe this. I could say that sense is a form of intuition, which, as much as it may be true, I doubt would go far in clarifying what’s going on.

It comes down to this: this ability to feel through the other person’s skeleton is fundamental to Moshe’s method. (It’s a skill that traces directly back to his martial arts expertise.) Instead of being a barrier to this non-verbal duet, the footboard heightens the teacher’s ability to sense what’s happening through the student’s structure while, concurrently, making it easier for the student to make sense of it as well. 

What I learned to feel, through my hands and the board, is what’s happening inside the student’s body, not just at the places where the foot meets footboard, but upstream, through the joints of the foot, leg, and further, to and through the axial skeleton, the pupil’s pelvis, spine, and, finally, up to their head. 

This ability isn’t some bizarre type of extrasensory perception.

Quite the opposite. The way your tactile sense can extend beyond the envelope of your skin is well within the scope of what’s considered everyday human experience. Falling, as it does, outside Aristotle’s traditional categorization of the five senses may make it an unfamiliar topic, but, rest assured, the experience is well within the norm.* 

A concrete example of what I’m stumbling around trying to articulate should help at this point. Have you ever, say, searched behind furniture, somewhere you couldn’t shine a light, with a broomstick? When you trace along the wall, you feel the edge of the wall along the floor; not feeling it in your hand, but through that long round piece of wood, at the other end.

That’s what I’m talking about: this uncanny and surprisingly immediate way to sense, somehow, through an object in hand and experience what’s happening at its other end. 

This conversation, undoubtedly, goes both ways. The student experiences more than the places the board touches, recognizing the person behind the board as well. 

As the student, I can tell how éasy or difficult it is for the teacher to hold the board, lift my leg, and move it in one direction or another. I feel the moments when the teacher struggles as clearly as those other moments when the teacher’s actions somehow call my attention to how I’m moving, where I am interfering, and how I can move in ways that were missing from my vocabulary. It’s at these moments that I unearth connections I’d never known or long forgot. In so doing, I discover the path of least resistance. My perspective shifts, altering how I understand myself from the inside and, thereby, changing what it’s like to live in my skin. 

We know, already, that the more we struggle, you or I, as the teacher, the less we sense. What took me a long time to learn was that there’s a lot more to this story. For instance, I realized that the more I struggled, the more I distracted the student. As it happens, the more you and I effort, the more likely we will forget the distinction between showing the student the way and finding it together. Then what happens is that we end up teaching instead of facilitating learning.

It was this — the way I am implicated in the lesson — that I flashed on the instant Aliza mentioned this lesson. How my comportment influences the finesse with which I observe. The ways in which my behavior impacts the student’s sense of the session. How what’s happening behind the board, how the ways you move and shift your weight are inextricably intertwined with your ability to feel the board and beyond those places where it makes contact. How listening through the board and the student’s skeleton can bring the student to listen to themselves anew.

Passing the torch is a privilege. 

It’s also a profound challenge, all the more so because I’m committed to conveying the richness of this lesson. I wanted to present this FI in a manner congruent with my confidence in the trainees’ abilities to learn. I would have to avoid overwhelming while, at the same time, not overcompensate to prevent that unnecessary, useless calamity by oversimplifying.

That’s what was on my mind when I put the curriculum together. My preparations focused on bringing what I’d learned — watching videos of Feldenkrais deploying the board, studying with my teachers and peers, giving the FI to countless students, and, then, teaching it in trainings and postgraduate programs — to bear on creating a curriculum that answered the following questions:

  • What did Feldenkrais mean when he referred to a standing leg?
    What are the whole body implications of this idea?  
  • What, specifically, does the teacher look at and feel for?
    How do you make sense of what you notice?
    How do you develop that hidden sense of reaching further than you touch?
    How do you learn to feel through the board? 
  • And then, of course, there’s knowing how to respond:
    How do you determine the options and understand their implications, where they most likely lead?? 
  • How does the teacher move so that actions like lifting the student’s leg become easy and educational? 
  • What’s the difference between using the board as a learning aide and making it the lesson’s throughline, between it being a teaching tactic and serving as the unifying theme?
  • How do you come to understand THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR from both sides of the board?

When the five-day segment was over, I had a chance to reflect on how well it had turned out. Thanks to a wonderfully engaged, mature, and deep group and the incredible support from Aliza, the rest of the faculty, and the staff, I thought that it might be something worth making available to colleagues. When I asked everyone involved if they would permit me to share the recordings, they were kind enough to do so.

To confirm that I was on the right track, I asked colleagues whose opinions I trust. They let me know that the content is indeed valuable, mainly because of how I unpack what’s going on inside the lesson to reveal, in its depth and breadth, what makes it work.

Those conversations inspired the title for the course: MAKING THE CONNECTION. 

Then we came up with a cool image.

So far, so good. 

Until I had to figure out what to charge.

You see, I was troubled because there’s a couple of sections of the course where the video was nowhere to be found and the only option was to make the audio available. Once or twice a far away mic picked up my voice when the remote one I was wearing didn’t work. Then there’s another section when the camera was out of focus for quite a while; even though what’s happening is pretty clear from my description (and from what came before), I couldn’t help feeling disappointed because you don’t see what’s happening clearly. 

Though production values may not have quite been up to Hollywood standards, I have got to say that my friend and colleague, Erifily Nikolakopoulou, did an excellent job editing the files to make them as easy to understand as possible. (Why should the perfect be the enemy of the more than good enough?

So, yes, the material is valuable, and we’ve done all we could to offer it in the best way possible. (Why we even created an index detailing the content of the course.) 

With all that’s happening in the world and how it’s impacting each of us in such diverse ways, I want to make the package — all the Awareness Through Movement® lessons, talks, demos, debriefs, discussions, and dialogues — available in an equitable but uncomplicated fashion. But, despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t figure out an elegant way to do it. 

So, I accepted defeat and decided not to determine what to charge. 

Instead, I am going to leave it up to you. 

You will find out more about the recordings and how you can access them — Feldenkrais teacher or trainee — by clicking here. If you want to understand THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR better, if you’d like to improve your student’s ability to benefit from it, if you are ready to find out what this program, MAKING THE CONNECTION, has to offer, well, then it will be up to you to decide what to pay. 

I trust you’ll do just fine.

Given the global pandemic, social distancing, sheltering at home, and the latest news turning both horrifying, in terms of the current community spread of coronavirus in California, and hopeful, with the vaccines coming online soon, there are a few things I need to say before signing off:

Every time I connect with family and friends, with colleagues, coworkers, and collaborators around the world these past weeks and months, I am reminded how much each of you matters. 

I’m so looking forward to meeting up, in person, after we make it through this.

Please stay safe.

* It’s worth noting that what I’m proposing is contrary to Aristotle’s model of the five senses in De Anima (On the Soul). In Section 3, Part 10, he declared, “ . . . touch means the absence of any intervening body.”

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