My trusty steed
I’ve lost more than twenty pounds since the surgery three weeks ago. Even though I started walking around the hospital two days after the operations and taking strolls around the neighborhood since the day after getting home, I’m woefully deconditioned.
My bicycle — my trusted steed — is central to my plan to recover, get back in shape, and start gaining some weight back. I haven’t owned in a car in a few years; my bikes are my main mode of transportation. I say bikes in the plural form instead of the singular because I’ve also got a funky old bike in Holland for when I’m teaching in Amsterdam.
The Pattern Makes the Problem
In the early 1990s, Mind in Motion published a newsletter twice a year. Each issue featured a case study or editorial and map displaying where I’d be teaching in the coming months. Here’s one of those pieces, one about patterns, limits, and learning:
“I exercise and I stay in shape.” Casey says, “I can’t figure out what’s wrong. My back never bothered me before, but I guess everybody says that.”
Incompetent, irrelevant & immaterial
During the worst days after surgery, I wasn’t up for doing much of anything, not even reading. I could muster enough energy and focus to watch TV. I was pleased to discover that Amazon Prime had the first five seasons — over 200 episodes! — of the classic Perry Mason series available for my viewing pleasure. This show was comfort TV for me when I was sick and had to stay from school.
From the vault, Part II
While digging into the vault of workshops that I’ve taught and recorded to decide what to release Black Friday this year, I also found the boxed collection of cassette recordings of a workshop about developmental learning. I taught this course, Foundations of Learning, to interested parents, teachers, therapists, and pediatricians in Innsbruck, Austria in 1993.
This workshop brought together my practice working with infants, toddlers, and older children in private practice with what I knew about systems theory and what I’d been learning in my graduate Kinesiology program. Listening to it after all these years, I was struck by how I’d used developmental movement as an example of thinking systemically . . .
Nearly eighteen years ago, Marcia Margolin, a fellow Feldenkrais® teacher here in Santa Cruz, asked me if I’d be interested in seeing two identical twin infant boys. She didn’t work with children and knew that I did.
The boys were born prematurely and, at six months old, had no self-generated movement. Neither of them could grasp, reach, feed themselves, or roll from one side to another. One of the boys had little muscle tone, kind of like Raggedy Andy, and the other had so much that he was like the Tin Man.
She’s ain’t just clowning around
Back in the early nineties, when I was engaged as an assistant trainer at the Delman/Questel Feldenkrais® teacher training at Sarah Lawrence College, one of the trainers was talking about what it means to conduct oneself in a professional manner. Going over the basics such as appropriate attire and personal hygiene, the teacher was belaboring some of the details. After a while, one of the trainees jumped up, exclaiming, “Okay, okay, it’s me, isn’t it. Just tell me it’s me. Do I have bad breath? Bad body odor?”
More than twenty years later, I still remember that moment and the trainee: Lavinia Plonka. Lavinia was a mime and professional clown whose timing couldn’t have been better. She’s had an admirable career as a performer including nine years as an artist in residence for the Guggenheim Museum. Combining her theatre background and Feldenkrais® skills, she’s served as a movement consultant for television and theater companies from the Irish National Folk Theater to the Nickelodeon TV channel.
Turning on a dime
Once I received a diagnosis of stage two HPV-related Squamous Cell Tonsil Cancer, all the docs on my treatment agreed that treatment should start immediately.
Michael Yen, the hematologist/oncologist coordinating my cancer care, came up with a plan the entire treatment team deemed medically sound and that also allowed me to keep my promise to the trainees in my Dutch Feldenkrais® teacher training. I was to start chemotherapy and then go to Holland to teach the first week of the final segment of the Amsterdam V training. I’d return home to teach the second week remotely, via the Internet, and get started on seven weeks of radiation five times a week and chemo once a week.
From the vault
For Black Friday 2019, we dug back into the vault of workshops that I’ve taught and recorded over the years to come up with two gems that had, up until now, only been available on a very limited basis.
Back in August 2012, the Australian Feldenkrais® Guild sponsored two sold out public workshops in Sydney over the course of a weekend. Each one was an introduction to the method and what it has to offer. The workshops built on classic Awareness Through Movement® lessons, expanding on them and demonstrating how Moshe’s method addresses contemporary concerns and interests.
The candle holder, aka Alexander Yanai 18
For all the bother about email, one aspect of this means of communicating that I love is how easy it has become for students to interact with the teacher. Along with exchanging text messages/SMS and interacting via each course’s MIM online forum, following up on a student’s questions no longer has to wait until the next class session anymore. Whether it’s the student who is struggling with a question or someone who needs time to reflect on their experience before they have any questions, these modes of interacting keep the conversation alive and allow for a personal, dyadic dialogue.
After one such recent exchange, one student wrote to say,
Thanks, Larry that really clarified my understanding tremendously. I was a bit flummoxed by the constraints I asked you about. I have a long way to go but I’m progressing slowly but surely. It’s like learning a new language in some ways. Your approach to unlocking and deconstructing the lesson has been wonderfully helpful in deciphering the lessons, so I feel more competent to teach them.
Thinking you might be curious about what she’s referring to, I asked my colleague for her permission to share our dialogue and she graciously gave her blessing.
What number is that?
These days, after I finish teaching an Awareness Through Movement® class at a Feldenkrais® Teacher Training program, it’s not uncommon for one of the participants to ask,
“What number is that?”
The question would seem out of the blue if I didn’t know that the asker was curious about which of the 550 published transcripts was the source of what I’d just taught. Because these transcripts chronicle the public classes Moshe Feldenkrais taught on Alexandar Yanai Street in Tel Aviv from the 1950s through the 1970s, we refer to them as the AY lessons. They are the largest, most wide-ranging, and comprehensive collection of MF’s incredible creativity and ingenuity.
The AY numbers have become part of the professional parlance, aka jargon, of contemporary Feldenkrais teachers and practitioners. For instance, referring to the next lesson I’ll be posting here, CHANUKIA, THE CANDLE HOLDER, as AY 18 means that you’re “in the know.”
How long does it take to change?
Learning any new skill set — along with developing the essential framework needed to understand and implement it — is an incremental process. It takes us time to figure out what to observe, how to understand it, and what to do about, or with, it. So often we are held back by what we’ve already learned, struggling to make changes, and leaving us to wrestle mightily with our unconscious, self-imposed, habitual ways of doing and noticing.
The thing is that though the lead up may be long, so often change comes in an instant. Love walks around the corner; a book, question, or comment shifts your perspective; something impossible to do becomes possible and easy; or news arrives in a seemingly ordinary sentence, one word following another.
Lifting the lower leg with both hands
One of the coolest aspects of the online peer study group An AY a Day for Feldenkrais® teachers around the world is that we take turns teaching. Any member of the group — be you a trainee, teacher, or trainer — can sign up to teach a lesson. The twice-daily meetings, at 8 AM and 6 PM Pacific time, draw colleagues from around the globe who attend to participate in and then discuss that day’s Awareness Through Movement® class. You come as often or as little as suits you; there are no requirements nor is there any kind of dues or payments. What Kwan Wong, the group’s founder and facilitator, has created is a dynamic gathering, a place for teachers and future teachers committed to practicing ATM® personally, improving how we understand and teach it, and learning from and with each other.
Teaching ATM better
Yesterday, I met with two groups of fellow Feldenkrais® teachers committed to teaching ATM® better.
During the first meeting — still inspired by the conversation that followed the AY a Day lesson the evening before — I deviated from the conversational format I’d originally proposed. After disclosing some of my early endeavors to make Awareness Through Movement® more accessible (including one of my greatest — and most significant — failures), I addressed the ways we talk about the method and our approaches to teaching ATM, suggesting how we might improve.
Third time’s the charm
In keeping with the commitment that I’d made to focus on the practice and teaching of Awareness Through Movement® lessons a couple of years ago, I started offering a new course, RETURNING TO THE SOURCE (RTTS), based on the question:
“What do I need to know about an ATM® to teach it well?”
Since then more than 250 Feldenkrais® teachers around the world have benefited from what this course has to offer.
Thing is, so has the course . . . and so have I.
The Lesson Locator continues to improve
The Lesson Locator team continues to improve the search engine behind the scenes. We’ve been both developing the final phases of Version 1.0 and we also added more lessons to those Locator searches.
Enhancing how the Lesson Locator works
The last remaining major step is to update the incomplete and inconsistent Position data currently being used by the Locator.
That fateful day
It was a balmy blue-sky autumn morning in the Big Apple. As the guest trainer at the Manhattan Feldenkrais® Teacher Training, I started the day teaching the next installment in a long series of Awareness Through Movement® lessons.
Soon after I’d begun, Anastasi Siotas, a fellow member of the faculty, approached me quietly and whispered in my ear that an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center. I thought he was joking. I mean, that couldn’t be true, could it?! Wanting to stay focused on the trainees and the ATM® class I was guiding them through, I shooed him away1.
Where the conscious and unconscious meet
Soon after I’d started teaching Awareness Through Movement® classes, my Feldenkrais® mentor, Edna Rossenas from the San Francisco training, asked me to record the lessons. Keeping my promise to do so was one of the inspirations for recording the first Strasbourg International Feldenkrais Teacher Training, back in the early 1990s.
It also meant that when Mick McCarthy, who I’d studied with and worked for doing group facilitation, suggested, many years beforehand, that I listen to my own teaching — saying that if someone else is going to pay for my classes I should at least have some idea how what I’m saying sounds on the receiving end. I, like most people, didn’t like how my voice sounded on my answering machine (yes, I’m that old). Be that as it may, I understood the challenge and appreciated its value.
From the lesson into life
For the past thirty years or so, I’ve been offering an (almost) annual Awareness Through Movement® summer camp. A desire to give students the kind of ATM® intensive Moshe Feldenkrais offered in his weekend workshops — and that I’d experienced during our summer-long training sessions — was what inspired me to offer what’s now turned into a recurring ritual.
One night, many years ago, after an ATM class one dark winter evening, I was struck by what happened as the students prepared to leave. Touching the knob to the bathroom door, picking up a glass to fill it with water, putting on a coat or shoe . . . the moment someone touched something, I saw them shifting back to their former ways of holding and moving themselves.
Say hello to my little friend
In Awareness Through Movement, Moshe used a wooden artist’s model to illustrate the student’s positions in the lessons that make up the second part of the book. What with a picture being worth a thousand words, this was a commonsense way to make the written descriptions unambiguous and understandable. Using the wooden model rather than an actual person to demonstrate the positions allowed Moshe to respect his self-imposed prohibition against having the teacher — and, by extension, any person — demonstrate the lesson.
In keeping with this approach, I’d hoped to use a wooden artist’s model in my Awareness Through Movement® classes and to illuminate the Back into Action handbook.
Three years old and thriving
In 2004, more than two decades after I completed the Amherst Feldenkrais® training, the International Feldenkrais Federation published the 11th and final volume of the Alexander Yanai Awareness Through Movement® lessons, consisting of the transcripts of 550 classes that Moshe Feldenkrais taught between from the early 1950s to the late 1970s.
This compilation instantly became the go-to resource for Moshe’s work. After having had only a limited number of lessons for so long, it was thrilling to have this encyclopedia of ATM® available.
It was also incredibly frustrating. Locating the lesson you wanted in the massive eleven volume collection of lessons was ridiculously difficult.
Let freedom ring
July 4th was the debut of DEGREES OF A FREEDOM, an Awareness Through Movement® lesson that I’d composed the week before in honor and celebration of Independence Day in the US of A.
I knew I’d be presenting to fellow Feldenkrais® teachers during our early morning international online study group and, just a little later, to a group including them, students from the public classes and workshops I’ve taught both locally and afar, and my far-flung friends, all of who would be at my free online class celebrating Independence Day. This was one of my main motivations for taking on the project.
How can I keep it?
The nature of forgetting was one of the topics I remember Moshe Feldenkrais returning to often during the beginning of the training he conducted in Amherst, Massachusetts, back in the early 1980s.
I didn’t get it.
I was in my early twenties, optimistic by nature and fully immersed in that wonder-filled, effervescent state evoked and sustained by doing one Awareness Through Movement® lesson after another, day after day after day. I found myself asking, “Why is Moshe talking about this again?” He lectured about forgetting so much that I remember becoming annoyed and increasingly impatient. Can’t we just move on?
Over that summer, and during the decades since then, I’ve realized (More than once!) that forgetting is part of remembering or, maybe it’s more accurate to say, it’s a part of the process of learning to remember, of learning. This puzzle, which confronts every educational endeavor, is known as the transfer of learning.
Early in the canon of Feldenkrais’ group lessons that he taught on the street named after Alexander Yanai [יהונתן “ינאי” אלכסנדרוס], who was the bellicose second king of Judaea, you’ll find the one called, simply, BREATHING.
A rather audacious title, isn’t it?
It is not Moshe’s only Awareness Through Movement® lesson that makes the action of breathing its theme, not by a long shot. So why this title?
Perhaps he didn’t consider that this name made for such an absolute and final headline. Or he wasn’t thinking ahead about what he was going to call the other ATMs® on the same topic.
Or, maybe, there is something fundamental about this lesson?
Stop subscription subjugation
Subscriptions aren’t just for magazines anymore.
These days you can — and perhaps already do — subscribe to music, meals, apps, cable tv and its contemporary streaming offshoots, data storage, software, printer cartridges, office space, your local gym or gardener, security monitoring, clothing, coffee, razors, acne treatment, vitamins, prescription medications, and, yes, even toilet paper.
While it’s clearly convenient to enroll in set-it-and-forget-it delivery and can be helpful to pay for the things we use incrementally, it’s become all too easy to sign up for a deal that entices you with a free trial and, automaniacally, turns into a subscription soon thereafter. Some businesses, such as gyms, count on a certain number of folks to continue to pay for services we’re no longer using. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that 84% of us underestimate how much we’re paying for subscriptions.
Words to live by: Gloria Vanderbilt
Fashion designer, artist, actress, author, socialite, and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, who survived the high profile custody battle known as “trial of the century” as a child and went on to live a most amazing life, died today at her home in Manhattan. The first wealthy American to transform her family name into a famous brand, Ms. Vanderbilt used her notoriety in the media to build a fashion empire and make her own fortune. She turned her rollercoaster life into a series of emotionally charged memoirs.
What we practice is what we learn
Recently, my friend, fellow Feldenkrais® trainer, and fantastic ATM® teacher, Alan Questel’s comments on the original version of this blog post, “What you practice is what you learn,” made me wonder whether I’d given as good an explanation as I thought I had. Since I was writing about what may be one of the best ideas I’ve had about improving how we train future Feldenkrais teachers, I thought it was worth a second go. I hope you think so, too.
Rolling your head between your hands
Day before yesterday, I taught ROLLING THE HEAD BETWEEN THE HANDS, one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ early Awareness Through Movement® lessons, for the online peer study group An AY a Day. So I could record the ATM® and share the audio recording without violating the lesson’s copyright, I paraphrased the transcript instead of reading it verbatim.
Well, exactly right. TBH, I did a bit more than that.
This isn’t the first time I’m writing about An AY a day, the amorphous group of Feldenkrais® teachers and trainees that meet online every day to study Awareness Through Movement® lessons. This group is working with ATM® classes that Moshe Feldenkrais (MF) taught on Alexander Yanai Street in Tel Aviv for twenty-plus years. 550 of these lessons were recorded and then typed up, later they were translated into English and, ten years after MF’s death, published by the International Feldenkrais Federation (IFF).
Social justice in somatics
In the world of somatic studies, the SF Bay Area Moving On Center (MOC) stands out for its upfront commitment to social justice. Founded by pioneering somanauts Carol Swann and Martha Eddy, the MOC’s mission is to support, develop, and inspire embodied community leaders, artists, and activists. Bridging the healing and performing arts via somatic approaches and participatory pedagogy, the participants are challenged to consider the body perceived from within and the body perceived within society.
Moti Nativ, Moshe’s method, and the martial arts
Before Moti Nativ came to Amsterdam to teach The roots of the Feldenkrais Method, I invited him to join me for an online conversation. Besides talking about the method’s foundation in the martial arts during the webinar, we also talked about teaching Awareness Through Movement to senior citizens, the importance of points of support, Moshe’s writing, and more.
If you’re curious about what Moti has to say or interested in how he teaches, you’ll find the video recording of our conversation, which lasted for over an hour and a quarter, here: