Finding Center

The Bodywise Project started at the beginning of this year. I chose the theme for the first trimester of this yearlong Awareness Through Movement® course, which was It’s a Matter of Life and Breath. Voting on a list of topics I provided, the participants selected Finding Balance for the second trimester. For the upcoming third and final trimester, they first suggested the possible subjects and, from that list, chose Moving from Your Center.

Our summer break last month gave me time to work on the curriculum before the start of the third trimester next week. Before the participants settled on the subject, I took the time to sketch out ideas for each of the wide-ranging themes proposed. For instance, The next step was one of the themes the students submitted. Building on one of my go-to On Your Feet workshops, I outlined an extended series of lessons.  Because each Bodywise trimester consists of 14 classes, that left room to expand on the five ATM® lessons in the original workshop — something I’d been wanting to do for years.

When I saw Moving from Your Center on the list, I thought instantly of THE FIVE WINDS KATA. My understanding is that this series, which provided the throughline for the second year of Feldenkrais’ Teacher Training in San Francisco, is based on one of the traditions (or winds) from which Judo developed.  In English, we use the Japanese word kata to mean a martial art exercise consisting of a sequence of specific movements. Though “ONE OF THE FIVE WINDS KATAS” would make for a more accurate title, it is too ungainly, and besides, it’s far too late to change the name by which it’s already known.

Rummaging through my files, I found my handwritten notes of Mark Reese and Dennis Leri’s interpretation of Moshe’s series. Going through the ATMs again took me back to my first time finding my way through them, rewinding the cassette to have another go, and searching for clues. More than once, I repeated the entire lesson. After reviewing the sequence several times, I looked for other versions of these lessons, searched for ones that could serve as missing stepping stones, explored different starting places and progressions, and talked to Dennis. He was more than happy to discuss the KATA, the ultimate shorthand for the title, and, as was his way, was generous in doing so. More than once, Dennis remarked that this series embodied the essence of Moshe’s method.

Since the 1990s, I’ve been teaching the series in training programs for future Feldenkrais® teachers. Because the KATA is a demanding series for students, it’s challenging to teach in a worthwhile way. That’s why it has rarely been taught to the general public. I know from doing these lessons and from teaching them how profound they are. Because the KATA can be so beneficial, I have been looking forward to the coming trimester since the theme was decided.

The series revolves around what it means to move from the center and what it takes to develop this ability. Biomechanically, mobilizing this area, also known as the hara or dandien, is the key to finding the body’s inherent strength. Fundamental to every martial art, this proficiency requires coordinating the body’s largest muscles with finesse to articulate your hip joints and lower lumbar vertebrae in a highly differentiated and incredibly powerful way. 

Like with every Feldenkraisian curriculum, the KATA addresses the sensory-motor loop, which is to say it is as much about the experiential aspect as it is about the physical side. You could say it offers an alternative to being in your head or provides a way to develop balance and inner calm. That’s because this series is also about shifting the locus of attention from behind the eyes to somewhere within the pelvis, which is a fundamental and far-reaching alteration in how you know yourself.

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