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:
Feldenkrais & the Martial Arts
In February 2019, at the invitation of the Nederlands Feldenkrais® Vereniging and Mind in Motion, Moti Nativ taught a weekend workshop in Amsterdam about Feldenkrais and the Martial Arts. Moti is a Feldenkrais teacher with a unique background: a retired Colonel from the Israeli Defense Force, Moti trained members of the military in the martial arts. He is a Shihan in the Bujinkan school of Budo Taijutsu, has a black belt in Judo, and is a certified Krav Maga instructor.
Doing Awareness Through Movement® lessons, Moti couldn’t help but recognize the concepts of judo and connections to its techniques. Curious about how this could be and how it came to be, Moti started to investigate the martial arts side of Moshe’s life from 1920 to 1950. Studying Feldenkrais’ collection of judo and self-defense books in detail and considering the content in the context of his writing and teaching, Moti identified the specific martial arts techniques, teaching methods, and theories that informed and influenced Moshe.
The art of thinking backwards
One remarkable aspect of the canon of lessons Moshe Feldenkrais left us is how well they live up to his promise of making the impossible possible and — eventually — easy, comfortable, and reachable.
Sometimes, though, one or more students find the lesson impossible. Or they do the Awareness Through Movement® lesson only to experience pain or discomfort later instead of any possible benefit.
The question of what to do when this happens came up recently during a BEHIND THE CURTAIN (BTC) Question & Answer session. BTC is about what it takes to go from teaching a lesson to your students to teaching it for your students. Doing this requires expanding and honing our capacity to understand and respond to the student’s challenge as a “learnable”
Still sitting still?
Dunno about you, but I’m not sitting still these days.
Certainly not when I’m sitting.
Not any more.
Not since I met Turner Osler at the Boston Feldenkrais® Teacher Training in Newton, Mass. back in February of 2018. That’s when I learned Turner is a retired trauma surgeon and professor emeritus from the University of Vermont. It’s when I found out he has a black belt in Aikido. (Now that I know Turner better, I realize how much I had yet to find out about this guy.) The thrill was discovering that we share a passion for smart furniture — furniture that responds, that evokes rather than impedes action.
Moshe teaching Peter Brook’s theatre company in Paris
In May of 1978, Moshe Feldenkrais taught a now-famous workshop for the members of Peter Brook’s internationally renowned company at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. The Awareness Through Movement® lessons were recorded on a small hand-held tape recorder by Myriam Pfeffer — who graduated from the Tel Aviv Feldenkrais® teacher training and went on to become the first Feldenkrais trainer in France. These long-unavailable ATM® lessons have been talked about and sought after for decades.
The recordings of eight of the Peter Brook lessons were presented to the French Feldenkrais teachers worldwide in March 2017 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Feldenkrais France (the French professional Feldenkrais Association). They were a gift to French colleagues, be they members of Feldenkrais Associations and Guilds or not, from Myriam’s daughter, Sabine Pfeffer — who is also a trainer — and former IFF President Francois Combeau — who had engaged a sound engineer to help him improve the quality of the six of the recordings.
The gist of a lesson
The gist of a tale is simply the essence of the story, the point it’s put together to make.
But what about the gist of a Feldenkrais® lesson? And how do you get a grasp of it?
Answering that question — experientially, by way of delving into, discerning, and discovering — supplied the substance of our most recent segment of the fifth Amsterdam Int’l Feldenkrais® Teacher Training. (If you’re keeping count, this was the tenth AIFTT V installment and also the beginning of the fourth — and final — year of this program.)
Long lost lessons located
Moshe Feldenkrais left us a precious legacy of hundreds of Awareness Through Movement® lessons, many of which were recorded, some of those have already been transcribed and published, and even more are in the pipeline. In the 11 volumes of transcripts of the classes Moshe taught in his public classes on Alexander Yanai Street, published by the International Feldenkrais Federation (IFF), some of them — like number 536, FINGERS INTERLACED ON THE CHEST — are mistitled. What’s more,b the most common title is, simply but not really helpfully, CONTINUATION. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the names that have become associated with certain lessons such as SEE-SAW BREATHING, DEAD BIRD, or HOOKING THE BIG TOE are nowhere to be found in the title of the associated lessons.
After a late night birthday party for a fellow Kinesiology graduate students back in the early 90s, I returned home wide awake, unable to stop thinking about the conversation I’d had about what a Feldenkrais® teacher does. So I sat down at my computer and typed it out from memory. Thanks to Norma Marder’s expert coaching and editing, after much work, that conversation eventually got published under the title Felden-WHAT?
The limits of my language are the limits of my world.
With the current ever-growing interest in the method in Russia, it seems like the right time to make it available to people who speak the language of the largest country on the planet. A big thank-you to Alina Komnatnaya translating the article with such care and diligence (and to Dina Gidon for proofreading it)! As is the case with every other version, you can read or download a PDF of Фельден-ЧТО? from the website.
Open mouth. Insert Foot.
There’s an old joke that goes something like this:
“The only time I take my foot out of my mouth is to change feet.”
You could almost think this was some crazy, mixed-up, Bizarro version of PERFECTING THE SELF IMAGE (Lesson 8 from Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais). But “Open mouth; insert foot” is not now, nor has it ever been, an instruction you’re likely to hear — or utter — in any Feldenkrais Method® class, workshop, or training.
No, the joke came to mind because of idiom it plays off of and how it captured exactly what I was feeling yesterday: Clumsy. Embarrassed. Socially maladroit.
New Year – New Lesson – New Benefit
On 1 January 2019, I taught a brand-new Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®) lesson. What better way to say thank you to my colleagues and students for their participation, engagement, and support last year, right?!
Because I wanted to make it possible for folks from all over the world to participate, I offered a live online ATM class using the Zoom video conferencing platform. Like the old telephone commercial used to declare, “It’s the next best thing to being there.” The participants can see and hear me . . . and I can see them, well, at least everyone who chooses to leave their cameras on.
Where do lessons come from
We have audio recordings, written notes, and videos of a couple of thousand of the group classes, known as Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®) lessons, spanning the forty-some years that Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the eponymous method, taught. While it’s often easy to identify the inspiration or theme of a lesson — be it the developmental movements of early infancy, the martial arts, or yoga — how Dr. Feldenkrais created these lessons is, as the saying goes, “shrouded in mystery.” He neither spoke nor wrote about his creative process.
The Feldenkrais Method® didn’t die when the founder passed away. It is a living project, a work in progress. One significant sign that the method is continuing to develop is that my colleagues around the world, like Alan Questel, are creating exquisite new ATM lessons.
PPP2: The question I keep getting asked
There’s one question I keep getting asked about the Peculiar Power of Prayer (PPP). PPP is a set of Feldenkrais® lessons that delves deeply into the nature of noticing, explores the relationship of action and attitude, and gives us new means for embodying mindfulness.
The question first comes up when people first find out these lessons use the modern flat hand, palm-to-palm praying position. I’m also asked it after someone first experiences these leading-edge lessons first-hand, finding out for themselves how meaningful and marvelous they are.