- The Method
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By Gabrielle Pullen, GCFP
“What would Moshe do?” is a new series that gives voice to those who trained directly with Moshe Feldenkrais, sometimes referred to as “first generation” practitioners. Before the opportunity is lost forever, I wanted to speak with those who knew him, to find out what they think he was really about.
Allison Rapp is not only a practitioner, but also a trainer in the Feldenkrais Method®. She graduated from the San Francisco Training in 1977.
SenseAbility: Allison, what was your experience of what Moshe was trying to convey?
Allison: I think the fundamental thing Moshe was saying is that we have the potential to live life as we want, and that every one of us can develop that potential. Helping people discover how to do that is what the Feldenkrais Method is all about.
SA: What does it mean to live life as we want it?
AR: Let me give you an example of how most of us don’t do it! Moshe lectured many times about what most of us do when something isn’t right in our lives—we blame our spouse, our job, where we live—anything except ourselves. So we get divorced, move to a different place, change jobs. We get rid of whatever we blame—go someplace else, marry someone else, get another job, and immediately begin recreating everything that made life terrible in the first place. The problem is, it’s not the place, the spouse, or the job—it’s us. We don’t learn, we don’t adapt, we don’t act as adults.
I think he was talking about using the Feldenkrais Method as a vehicle for learning how to leave aside what served us as children, in very different circumstances than we find ourselves now, and to act as adults in the world.
SA: What does it mean to ‘be adult in the world’?
AR: It has to do with being able to make an appropriate response to my environment so that I can fulfill my dreams. It’s less about fixing something than it is about changing my response so that I get what I intend, rather than being stuck with what I get.
SA: That’s a big leap for someone coming to a practitioner for help with a painful shoulder. How do you communicate that to people?
AR: In one way it’s a big leap because people come with pain and difficulty. In another way, it’s no leap at all because it’s exactly what everybody wants—to get more out of life all the time, not just when they’re rolling around on the floor! And I communicate it by talking about it in my classes.
I think our work centers on movement because it was how Moshe’s own trouble manifested itself, and because movement is common to us all… he said, “ Life without movement is unthinkable.”
Yet, he said that it could be taught with any other content—mathematics, or French, for example. In the beginning, I didn’t understand that and I was always trying to figure out which Awareness Through Movement® lessons to use if I had a group of skiers and which different ones for a group of musicians, to make them better skiers or musicians. I think what he’s saying is 180 degrees from that—we can use skiing or music as the vehicle for learning the Feldenkrais Method. In my own case, in addition to my practice and to teaching in trainings, I use knitting as the content for teaching [the] Feldenkrais [Method].
SA: So, the question is, how can we integrate [the] Feldenkrais [Method] into our lives?
AR: You can integrate the work you do in a lesson into your life by remembering to pay attention to the things you learned in class—shifting your weight, or remembering to let your pelvis move when you turn your head to see behind you when you back up your car.
But more importantly, you can keep reminding yourself that if you can change your ability to move instantaneously—just from paying attention to it, allowing yourself to explore possibilities without judging yourself, using your imagination—then you have the capacity to change anything you want to change—your attitudes, your behaviors, your relationships. You can quit your job and get one you like. You can stop eating an entire chocolate bar every night, or take dancing lessons at age 60. And you can do those things—whatever it takes to fulfill yourself—by using the same process you used to change your ability during the Awareness Through Movement lesson. Find out how you create success in one part of your life and generalize that process so that you can become successful in other parts of your life!
SA: Could you tell us more about how to do [the] Feldenkrais [Method] “off the mat”?
AR: Many years ago, I had a client who came three or four times for private lessons, and then I didn’t see her for months. When she came back, she said that she had realized that she and her husband were friends, but not lovers. She talked to him and they discovered that both of them were having affairs, so they decided to get divorced and move on with their lives. She attributed it all to the Feldenkrais Method. She became aware of the source of her unhappiness, found resources within herself to change and was able to make her life the one she wanted.
How did she do that? By realizing what she was doing to maintain the status quo in a situation where what she got wasn’t what she intended to get. When you understand what you’re doing, then you begin to have control over the outcome, the same way that on the floor, in Awareness Through Movement, you discover that if you stop holding your knee, something else will move. It means knowing what you’re doing.
SA: Clearly, you are referring to the famous quote by Moshe, ‘If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want.’ What does it mean to ‘know what you are doing?’
AR: It means really knowing the thing from right to left, up to down, back to front, so that you can do it reversibly, or argue either side of the issue. In other words, you can knit, and you can un-knit. You can be in the middle of doing something and decide, “You know, I’m not getting what I want here. I’m going to change what I’m doing so that I get something different.” It means that while leaving my spouse may be an option, changing how I relate to him is also an option. If I don’t like the roll of fat that’s developing around my middle, I find in myself the freedom to change my eating habits. It’s the beginning of having real choice… the kind of choice that can make a difference in my life.
SA: And how does awareness fit into this process?
AR: Without awareness, you just take what you get… and that’s a huge problem, because most of us are taking what we get most of the time—because we don’t know how to get what we intend. It’s crucial to trust that what we’re aware of is credible, and that it brings something valuable to the process.
For example, recently, a new knitter came in with a baby sweater he’d made. The picture showed a cute sweater and he’d followed the directions perfectly. He shaped the neck on the left, but the instructions for the right side didn’t tell him to make neck opening, so what did he do? He assumed that he didn’t know enough about knitting to give credence to that nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach that said ‘uh-oh.” He went right on following those directions, and ended up with a sweater for a half-headed baby—and by the way, it had to be the left half! While he was knitting, he knew he wasn’t getting what he intended, but he didn’t value his awareness. Instead, he hoped for a miracle—and didn’t get one.
SA: So, for you, the difference is the choice between living a life that is undirected, sort of wafting aimlessly like a leaf in the wind versus being in control?
AR: Control is a “bad word” in our culture, but I think we can all agree that it would be useful to set out to do something and know that we did what we intended to do, instead of doing something else. I mean, if I want to make cookies and I put in too much liquid into the mix, I get a cake instead. It’s still edible—it may even be delicious—but it isn’t what I intended. I think it’s useful to be aware enough to know the difference between what I intended and what I got. When I can tell the difference, I’m not at the mercy of bad directions, bad car design, or a job where I’m not fulfilled. I’m free to change my behavior in relation to my spouse so that we both get what we want— the life we dreamt of before we married! I have choice.
I think all of this is what Moshe was talking about. He said it over and over. But because we deal primarily with movement as the content of our work, I think it’s sometimes challenging for our students to understand that movement is not the goal of the Feldenkrais Method.
SA: Is this what Moshe is talking about in his book, The Potent Self?
AR: All that and a lot more! He was saying that the way we respond to our utter dependence at birth, and the necessity of making our parents want to take care of us may be the source of a lot of our difficulties later on. We do things to ourselves in order to be more comfortable in a situation of total neediness. Maybe we halt the breath, tighten our stomach muscles, or hunch our shoulders… whatever makes us feel somehow better in that situation. Then that behavior becomes so habitual—so quick—that we don’t see it, we just do it, all the time. It’s the precursor to everything we do, we don’t notice it, and it becomes the neutral place… so we think we’re doing nothing, even though we’re working. It’s as if our entire system got recalibrated—like you do with a kitchen scale, so that you can weigh the flour without weighing the bowl that contains it.
SA: Starting from a neutral place would be a way into a new pattern?
AR: I think it’s more that being in neutral makes it possible to find new options. It’s one of the things we look for when we do Awareness Through Movement. We don’t start in neutral—we lie down and start with the head to one side, one hip higher, one shoulder closer to the ear, the legs holding the feet so they point straight to the ceiling—but we believe we’re symmetrical, we think we’re doing nothing. We stand with our weight distributed so that we can’t move forward, back, up, down, left or right without rearranging ourselves. Being in neutral means you can go in any direction, but instead, we’re already someplace, only we don’t know where that is.
All our predispositions push us away from center without our knowing about it. We’re not at neutral, but we don’t realize it—we think we’re doing nothing. Once we become aware of what we actually are doing, we open the door to being able to do whatever we want.
So, there’s much more to this work than lying on the floor. If you can imagine a way in which you would like your life to be different, it’s likely that you could learn something about how to get there by doing [the] Feldenkrais [Method], especially if you can take your learning with you when you leave the class. You have everything to gain!