On the edge

Earlier this spring, when designing a new course, Finding Balance, I ran into a problem.

I’d started where I usually begin: wading into my collection of transcripts, recordings, books, and notes. It wasn’t difficult to find relevant material because so many of the classes Moshe Feldenkrais taught address the theme. Whether the lessons are about going from lying to sitting or learning to stand on one leg, they make the abstract concrete and the difficult doable.

My academic background combined with a continuing curiosity — listening to podcasts, watching TED talks and other videos, reading relevant research, books, and articles, and conversing with colleagues and co-conspirators, including last summer’s online seminar, A feeling for gravity, with movement researcher and NASA consultant Gary Riccio —  gave me plenty of science-based research and conceptual material to draw from for the curriculum.

The problem was how to start. 

Well, to be more exact, where to start.

You see, finding your balance implies losing it. And that was the issue. 

Not only does losing one’s balance elicit fear, but it is downright risky on the purely practical side. I didn’t want to launch the new series with a class that put students in danger. 

How to create the possibility of falling without putting the participants in peril?

This would require a physical configuration both unstable and so close to the floor that losing your balance, given the short distance from falling to landing, would be safe.

After some fiddling around, I found the perfect position: lying on the side with your legs extended long and straight below. That means your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles are all in a line. Compare this with being on your side with your knees and hips bent at more or less right angles, which is a relatively solid and secure situation. Lying in a straight line is somewhat shaky and unstable, all the more so if your head rests on the arm on the floor and the other arm rests along your side. 

It is incredibly easy to tip over if you’re lying on the edge of yourself like this. Most of us, after only a few moments in this precarious position, become mindful of all those minor automatic adjustments we’re making, the kind of ongoing compensations that otherwise happen below our everyday awareness. 

What’s more, when balancing on your side this way, upsetting your equilibrium requires only the tiniest motion of your legs or pelvis. That was perfect for what I had in mind.

Finding Balance, the second trimester of The Bodywise Project, my yearlong Awareness Through Movement program, started last week. The very first lesson introduced this position to challenge the student’s balance from the get-go.

Initially, I had planned to use the position and a slight rocking of the feet forward and back to introduce the theme of equilibrium. Doing this would give the students an experience of why initial conditions are crucial, bring their sense of support and mobility to the foreground, and give each student an embodied baseline of their ability to balance. The subsequent class was about discovering how your limbs reach and counterbalance. At the end, the students would return to the initial position, rock gently, and notice if they were finding balance better.

That was the idea, anyway. 

I followed the plan, asking the students to test their equilibrium in this particular and somewhat peculiar manner. Then, in a flash, I saw how the simple action, turning the legs while lying long on the side, could be the basis for an entire lesson. 

(This was neither mere happenstance nor a happy inspiration that appeared out of nowhere. During the preceding weeks, I played with this action a lot, investigating how it worked with Feldenkraisian teaching tactics and exploring its connection to classic compositions. Getting to know the possibilities the position affords, familiarizing myself with them from the inside out, laid the fertile ground from which the improvised score appeared.) 

I also had a hunch that this untried lesson plan, the one that had just burst forth full-blown in my imagination, would make the perfect prequel for the class I’d originally planned. I saw, in a flash, how sweetly it would set the stage for the series we were just beginning. 

My felt sense of what I was about to ask of the students to do, combined with the understanding that developed as I apprenticed myself to these Awareness Through Movement themes recently (and got to know Moshe’s methodology over the years), meant I trusted this moment. It was enough for me to take the plunge and teach the lesson.

The moment of inspiration struck me as I started to teach the Bodywise Monday evening class. 

Then, thankfully, I had a chance to teach this new lesson, which I call, appropriately enough, ON THE EDGE, to the Tuesday morning Bodywise group. I made the recording of the second, more refined version available to the class. (And I used turned an excerpt from the first class into the weekly homework assignment.)

The following feedback from the participants, both immediately after the lesson and the days after, has been fantastic. One person wrote: 

Such a profound time today — not a word I bandy about much.

I’ve been having a complex time unraveling the remaining pain that the surgeon thinks is trauma from the injury, not the surgery. 

When I turned the corner and met myself during this lesson, I could sense so much of my crunked, courageous, holding it together, beautiful hurting self. Such a surprise self-reunion and lovely moment of grace . . .

Curious?

You still have time to participate in the second trimester of The Bodywise Project. You have until midnight US Pacific time on Monday to sign up. (So you know, you receive all the materials you missed during the first term, including the edited recordings of all the It’s a matter of life and breath lessons when you sign up).

The thing is I’m so excited about this “newly hatched” ATM® that I’d like to share it with you, whether or not you sign up for the course. To that, I’m making it available via the Free ATMs section of the Mind In Motion website. You can access it by:

  1. Logging into your Mind in Motion Online (MIMO) account.
  2. And then clicking here

If you haven’t joined the website yet, it’s quick and easy to create your entirely free Improve My Abilities (IMA) account here. Your account will give you access to other free lessons, the Lesson Locator, and the digital version of my book, Articulating Changes, all at no cost whatsoever to you.

  • Before you do the lesson, please note that it is neither medical care nor treatment. If you have any concerns about whether you should do it or not, consult with your physician. 
  • Should you take me up on my invitation and do this lesson, I’m curious to hear from you. Please use the link below to let me know your responses and reflections.

Once you have a MIMO account, it’s easy to find this lesson, along with the many other free ones, later. You do that by signing in to your account, going to Library, and selecting Free ATMs > Original compositions. You’ll find ON THE EDGE on the last page because the lessons are listed in the order we added them. Clicking on the title takes you to a page where you can listen to the recording immediately or download it for later.


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Responses

  1. Dear Larry,
    thank you so much for sharing your “On the edge lesson” with us through your latest blog. It is always such a pleasure to read your posts and follow your work and ideas. I was really curious about it until I finally found the time and calm (in the comfort of my home without the family around) to do it today (by means of the audio track). And guess what, my curiosity is now even bigger!
    I wanted to give you some feedback about my experience in the hope that it can be a bit of compensation for your generous sharing and the expression of my sincere gratitude.
    Please, bear in mind that I am a Feldenkrais student soon to start my 3rd year of guild-certified training in Italy.
    I loved the first body scan in standing and the reference body scan at the end of the lesson – the feeling of support, its even distribution under my feet and a sense of lightness in the way how every bone and every joint was correctly stacked one on top of the other in standing at the end of the lesson were truly remarkable.
    I loved the reference movement lying on the side, on the edge, with everything in line and especially the wibbly-wobbly feeling at the beginning of the lesson. I was never asked to do that until now I was really feeling what it meant to lose balance by merely taking air in or letting it out. It was amazing how it changed towards the end of the lesson – I tried it several times although you actually did not ask us to compare. There was surely less balance to lose while breathing! Maybe you might ask people to check it next time but I do not actually know if that was what you had in mind while composing the lesson.
    I admit I did not understand first how my feet should be placed with respect to the lower legs until at some time you explained it in the lesson – they should be as if in standing. So the first movements were even more challenging for me as I had them stretched or extended. So rolling towards the heel or the toes were nearly not possible at that time :-).
    I also think I understood the constraint of the elbow on the floor but I wondered while doing the lesson if I would have understood it had I had the same experience of going to public lessons for more than 10 years which was my case before starting the training.
    I noticed and took pleasure in some other components of your lesson and I had great time in the company of your voice.
    Looking forward to other opportunities of learning with you,
    warmly,
    Saška, Slovenia

    1. Hello Saska –
      Thank you for your positive comments and in-depth response to the ON THE EDGE class! I appreciate you letting me know the profound effect this ATM had and how it inspired your curiosity.
      Your comments about which instructions were challenging are interesting; I look forward to the next time I teach this lesson so that I can observe carefully how the participants respond at these points.
      Looking forward to next time!
      Larry