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Why you can't show up Late to a Feldenkrais® Class: the power of a simple scan

By Irene Gutteridge, GCFP

A really good Feldenkrais lesson is an entire paradigm unto itself and explaining what it is in 1000 words or less would be par with describing the immune system or Greek mythology in 1000 words or less – you just can’t. The Feldenkrais Method® is not black and white. It certainly isn’t linear and it’s even more than three-dimensional because it brings into play:

1) The human being and all its parts
2) The environment in which that human being lives and functions
3) Putting together 1 & 2
4) All the in betweens and shades of grey of 1, 2 & 3.

If you mix up those four points you could call it human life on planet Earth.

But let us get to more important matters: Can you sense yourself?

If you have yet to attend an Awareness Through Movement® class, it starts with what is called a body scan, and it goes something like this:

Take a moment to scan yourself, to track what you feel, your sensations. Where does your attention go? Does it stay in one place, or does it travel - Inside your body, outside your body? Can you sense your contact with the ground? The imprint you make with the floor under you? Are you breathing?

These seemingly innocuous questions of “how do you feel right now” carry a lot of punch and can give us so much information. For instance, stop a moment. Since turning on your computer, opening this email and reading this article, have you sensed and paid any attention to your body comfort, your ease of movement, a clenched fist or a pressing thought that is imprinting a wrinkle on your brow? So stop and just sense your body.  Don’t think it through. Don’t force. Just notice. Your breath. Your life. Sense. Look away from the computer for 60-90 seconds and simply scan and track your bodily sensations. What do you notice? Not so sure? Well, it’s not your fault. This skill set, which can be so nourishing to have in times of stress, anxiety and fear, is rarely, if at all learned in our upbringing and in our classical school systems.

Learning from other disciplines: Another view of sensing yourself.

Environmentalist/author/speaker Paul Hawken recently gave a commencement address at the University of Portland. He said:

“So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature.”

Hawken eloquently brings to the surface the connection between the environment and human biology in this commencement address. Worldwide, an important education is going on in our attempt to keep the planet healthy. The importance of having awareness of our external world is paramount: our oceans, streams, lakes, wildlife, forests need our attention. Interestingly, we are rarely asked to pay attention to ourselves and take stock of our internal world, our biology. This self-attention, or lack thereof, greatly affects the quality with which we can pay attention and take appropriate action. We’ve become good at becoming aware of our environment, but rarely do we turn such awareness towards ourselves to see how bringing these together can truly alter, inform and transform ALL our relationships.

Moshe Feldenkrais understood the need to address and look at the body not just from the perspective of the muscles and bones, brain and nerve impulses, but also how we relate with our surroundings, including other human beings and our planet earth.

Feldenkrais wrote in The Potent Self,

Although we should do our utmost to produce the necessary reformation of our society, it is obvious from the present rate of change that no significant improvement will occur before a sufficient number of people have changed their attitude towards change, difficult as that may be, it is not impossible, when dealing with changes of environment, it must be kept in mind the entity in respect to which the change is intended is the nervous system.

I wonder how our world would change if for every 10 hours children spend memorizing facts and conjugating verbs, they had one hour in school learning how to sense and monitor their bodily sensations, feelings, and how to best diffuse and harness such energy.

What if everyone had been taught such key elemental pieces along with the advent of industrialization and the eventual technological boom? Would there be a difference in the Western world? 

Hawken is correct in writing that it is amazing that so much goes on in our bodies. We can ignore so much: our brainstem keeps critical processes going and we have an array of reflexes that keep us safe and ticking along without even a thought. How exquisite this is! Yet because of the luxury of autonomic processes, we sometimes transfer such automation to other aspects of our lives. We ignore the aspects of human function that we have control of. Our thoughts and daily actions that cause pain and suffering or joy and compassion are under our voluntary control. This is the evolution of our human brain: the ability to learn how to pause between an intention and an action. This ability may be rusty or asleep, but the intelligence is there, just waiting to be expressed. When honed and harnessed, these characteristics can create a quality that I dare call “humanness.”

Hawken writes, “Who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules?” Do you need to have your body shut down with illness to take notice? If I parallel an example from our environment to our own body think of it this way: We didn’t wait until coal was gone to tap our oil sources, nor are we waiting for oil to be gone before harnessing different energy sources, so why wait to get injured, infirm, sick, neurotic, out of alignment or simply out of shape before taking care of yourself?

Of course, no one is perfect. Uneccessary habits creep in; grooves become stuck. We get busy. But we do have the ability to take control of ourselves and make some choices that serve our future, both in relationship to our body, mind and our environment. 

To end, a few words from Moshe Feldenkrais

Moshe Feldenkrais wrote in his book Higher Judo:

“(adult maturity) is an ideal state rarely reached, where a person is capable of dealing with the immediate present task before him without being hindered by earlier formed habits of thought or attitude.”

And in a little booklet called Learn to Learn:

“In general it is not what we do that is important, but how we do it.”

And in his book Awareness Through Movement:

“The possibility of a pause between the creation of the thought pattern for any particular action and the execution of that action is the physical basis for awareness.”

We have the potential to be attentive to how we do things and to become mature adults according to Feldenkrais’ definition. We are responsible for ourselves; we are responsible for our environment.  Functionally integrating these pieces is critical for our future.

Now can you sense yourself? If you can’t, make sure you are on time for that first Feldenkrais class you attend. It could make all the difference in the world.

Irene Gutteridge is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm living and practicing in Whistler, BC. Canada. She can be reached through email or her blog:
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), pure-feldenkrais-whistler.blogspot.com

Irene is currently the founder and producer of “The Next 25 Years” a film project that will document the principles, practice and history of The Feldenkrais Method. For more information on this exciting project, to find out how you can support it, and to view some preliminary footage please visit the film website: http://www.thenext25years.com

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