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Freeing Your Body Towards Greater Motion and Emotion

By Patricia Holman

A saxophone player once came to me suffering through arm, shoulder and back pain. He was familiar with the Feldenkrais Method because he had taken the group classes, called Awareness Through Movement, during his college music training. His practices were becoming more and more troublesome and he found he needed to inhibit certain movements in order to make it through a performance. Technically, he had mastered his instrument. His level of virtuosity was quite apparent. Yet, he was physically uncomfortable. This same virtuosity, as well as his livelihood, was being threatened by his current condition.

In the beginning of one of our first lessons, I asked him to play a few musical passages that were: a.) easy and comfortable, b.) difficult and required significant effort, and c.) poignant and full of emotion. Observing him play, I noticed a great attention to the music, but considerably less attention to himself. The musical notes were the foreground, and his body a distant background. I noticed there was little acknowledgment of the ground through his feet. His difficulty manifested itself in back and shoulder pain. His eyes were strongly tensed and his head position forward, as if he were trying to reach the musical notes on an imaginary music stand. His habitual tensions were forming the quality of tone, effort and expression in his playing.

When we are unaware of habits such as tensing our shoulders, neck and jaw, or stressing our backs unnecessarily, or are unaware of the support of the ground through our feet, we may develop some kind of difficulty. In the series of lessons we would have together, I was hoping to show him the relationships among these forgotten parts of himself and how this new awareness could change his overall effort and tension. I wanted to help him become more present to the process of music making.

After this initial exercise, I had him lie down on a table, where I began to explore with him the simple act of lifting and lowering his right arm, then his left arm, on the table, resting for several breaths between each series of small lifts. We proceeded to lifting and lowering his right leg, then his left leg. Similar lifting was done from a belly down position as well. These were small movements, minimal movements, exploratory movements, much like an infant exploring its body-space. This level of inquiry into a very simple action led him to an understanding of how his spine responds to the simple lifting action, how his neck rolls in response, and how his shoulder blades and pelvis respond.

After 45 minutes of gentle, curious inquiry, he came back to standing. He picked up his instrument and began the process of replaying those passages from the beginning of the lesson. He understood now how to attend to the subtlest detail of how he was using his whole body in the music process. Instead of trying harder, or trying to improve, he had rediscovered a curiosity and interest in his body in relation to the music. He could feel his feet connected to the ground and his spine responding to the notes. He was tuning in to fingers and feet as well as fourths and fifths. The movement that previously had aggravated his back was no longer painful. The musical phrase that previously required more speed and force was now produced with smoothness and grace. He extended his head and eyes skyward, deeply extending backwards whilst connected to his feet, connected to the earth, freeing his spirit and the spirit of the instrument. Releasing his self-conscious, intentional effort, he was now able to express his music through the saxophone, rather than “playing the saxophone.” I will never forget this lesson.

Patricia Holman has been a member of the FELDENKRAIS GUILD® of North America since 1990, teaching Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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