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By Bonnie Rich Humiston, GCFP
Ever give up on doing something that was supposed to make your life better because, although it seemed to help a bit, it somehow fell short? Maybe it was sit-up exercises for a bad back, or eye exercises for nearsightedness, or lovemaking tips for a better marriage, or self-worth affirmation statements for success in sales. An outstanding example is prescription eyeglasses that do a fine job for reading the small print on the eye chart but are hard to live with because the rest of your body is left out.
Part of the unique wisdom in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais was in his repeated teaching that changes in functioning and behavior must be generalized in order to be permanent. In other words, movements must be attentively and intentionally applied in a variety of ways, involving many different parts of the body, to be fully integrated into our actions.
It is with the movements of our eyes that this is outstandingly so, which is perhaps why so many of Dr. Feldenkrais’ Awareness Through Movement® lessons include work with the eyes. As he explained it, “The head habitually moves with the eyes…because the eyes and the ears necessitate the movement of the head in order to direct themselves to the source of information… The movement of the head will come by itself if you stop holding the breath––that means if you do nothing, just let yourself be as you are. And with the movement of the eyes, the neck muscles will change, involving the rest of yourself.” When Feldenkrais had us move our eyes in different configurations in relation to the head, we became better able to move everything else.
What is so powerful about the Awareness Through Movement lessons he developed around eye movements is that we are led to consciously connect them with movements in all other parts of ourselves. This makes possible much greater improvement in our difficulties––improvement that lasts and lasts.
Here is a way we might understand how the Feldenkrais® work with the eyes can be so powerfully helpful throughout our whole self. Think of it as learning a conscious, intentional shift in how we focus our attention. Ordinarily, in connection with our eyes, our attention is focused on what we are seeing–– on something external to ourselves. In Awareness Through Movement lessons we may be asked to look at a point on the ceiling, or look slowly around in a circle, all the time noticing what we have to do with our neck or legs in order to do that smoothly. This is a focus of attention that none of us would normally ever think of doing spontaneously. Our human nature is such that we need someone to guide and lead us into such awareness. With this kind of instruction we have great potential to change and integrate how we organize ourselves for whatever we choose to do.
Bonnie will be teaching her workshop, “Eyes Organize the Body,” Saturday, July 9th and Sunday, July 10th. For details, go to:
1. Sit or lie comfortably. Slowly turn your head a little, looking right and left a few times. Notice which way is easier. Sense throughout yourself—your neck, chest, back, hips, arms, legs and feet.
2. Do all the movements with your eyes closed and your head kept in the middle, not moving.
3. Move your eyes, slowly, to the right and to the left. Do they move easily? Do they go all the way to the corners or only part way? Just sense what this movement is like now. Don’t force anything. Keep it easy.
4. Slowly move your eyes to the right, both eyes, from the middle to the corners and back again, a few times. To the right: your right eye goes to the outside corner and your left eye goes to the inside corner near your nose. Do your eyes go together or does one go differently? Keep doing this slowly for several movements. Does your head want to follow your eyes? If so, gently keep it in the middle, not moving.
5. Continue moving both eyes to the right and leave them there, at the corner. Move them up and down, a few movements around the corner—up toward the end of the eyebrow and down in the direction of the feet, then back to the middle of the corner. Is your left eye moving the same as the right? Are you breathing? Keep moving your eyes while you notice where the movements of your breathing are happening.
6. Bring your eyes back to the center and rest them. Turn your head right and left and see if it moves differently from the beginning.
7. Repeat instruction 2, 3, and 4 moving your eyes to the left, then bring them to the center and rest. Turn your head right and left and see if there’s any difference.
8. Now looking from the center straight forward, move both eyes upwards a little and to the right following your eyebrows. Then move both eyes down a little toward your feet, then to the left, back and up to the center where you started, like making the outline of a box to the right. Do this slowly several times.
9. Repeat instruction 8 to the left.
10. Rest. Turn your head right and left, noticing any differences throughout yourself now. Turn your head right and left now with your eyes open. Does it move easier now?
Picture of Moshe provided by the IFF Archives of the Feldenkrais Method