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By Gabrielle Pullen, GCFP
In the dawning of this new era of instant communication, we move from one frenetic alert to another as the climate, the politics, the economy and the world we live in becomes more and more unpredictable. The thinking of Moshe Feldenkrais, offers a dramatically different paradigm from which to respond.
In this month’s Spotlight, I spoke with Alan Questel, a trainer who has practiced full time since training directly with Moshe in 1983, taught in hospital and university environments, as well as in over 40 professional trainings internationally. In addition to numerous CD recordings, he recently released a 6 DVD set helping women find greater comfort and ease throughout their pregnancy and beyond.
SenseAbility: It’s as if there is almost too much communication, too much stimulation in the world. Given what modern life is like, how can the Feldenkrais Method® help?
Questel: [The] Feldenkrais [Method] can give people tools to bring them back to themselves, so that they don’t feel as influenced by the outside world. Moshe once talked about how you can either change the world or you can change yourself. If you change yourself, there’s a potential to change the world. Most people attempt to change the world around them and go at it externally instead of internally to see how that impacts the world.
[The] Feldenkrais [Method] isn’t the only thing that provides internal change. Meditation, martial arts, and yoga do too. But I think we offer something quite unique that’s explicit in what we do and that is we provide a more skeletal use of ourselves. It’s implied in other modalities, so that it does become a bit more clear, but it’s not explicit. With [the] Feldenkrais [Method], when we find that sense of skeletal self-use our functioning is improved, our health is improved, our pain decreases. We gain a sense of being more grounded, more connected to the world and ourselves in a different way.
SA: Moshe Feldenkrais did not have to deal with the rapid pace of communication we have now, but he did live in an extremely chaotic world. Did he ever talk about that?
Q: He used to talk to us about having a perspective of biological necessity. He would really look at what’s the bottom line of something. Moshe once asked us, “What part of you needs to be in a room for you to be in a room?” And people would answer, “My head, my feet.” And he would demonstrate by going to a door and sticking his head in asking, “Which room am I in?” It seemed obvious that most of him was in the other room. Or, he would put his feet in the room and ask again, “Which room am I in now?” Again, most of him was in the other room.
When I started teaching I would bring up the same question. I would get into arguments with people about it! They would say, ‘My mind,” or ‘My spirit.’ Finally, I started to think of it from the point of view of biological necessity.
SA: What do you mean by ‘biological necessity’?
Q: Survival. Biological necessity is that it’s necessary for our biology to survive.
SA: How does being in a room relate to biological necessity or survival?
Q: Well look, say I’m on a cliff. If only my head is over the top of the cliff and I’m hanging on by my hands, I don’t really feel like I am on the cliff. If my lower legs and feet are on the cliff and the rest of me is hanging off the cliff…I don’t feel like I am on the cliff. If my pelvis is on the cliff, and my legs are hanging off the edge or my head is hanging off the edge, I feel like I am on the cliff. It’s a more concrete way of looking at it. Looking at things from that point of view, we take it to a deeper foundation of where we want to act from in our lives, and in the things we want to do.
SA: So, clearly the part of me that needs to be in the room is more than just a body part, my head or feet. It needs to be a sense of my whole self, the biological self that has physical ability to move from one place to another for survival either in terms of safety or for food. How did Moshe come to this, do you think?
Q: Because of Moshe’s background of living through so many wars, of moving to Palestine and being a part of the development of Israel as a nation, he was always looking at what’s most essential to us. How do we stay alive? It may range from being able to fight, or to flee, or to feed ourselves. In our world we don’t have much of a sense of that. We go to the supermarket for food. Of course we have been affected by the attacks of terrorism in the last few years, but it’s still far away unless you’ve been a part of that. We’re not close to the sense of survival that brings us to a need to use ourselves differently in the world.
SA: What about the veteran living with perpetual hyper-vigilance, who has recently come back from one of these wars with no front in Iraq or Afghanistan? Or, what about someone who grew up in an abusive home where being on edge is just normal? They have no sense of being on edge, always ready for the other shoe to drop, or the next catastrophe. For these people living in survival mode is so familiar that they don’t even know what its to like to feel secure.
Q: Their survival mode is initiated by a trauma that puts them into a state where they can’t find themselves anymore. For example, I have friends who experienced 9/11, who live in New York City. They live with hyper-vigilance that I don’t think ever really goes away, but it does quiet down after a while. Yet, there is still a part of them that is always looking over their shoulder.
SA: When Moshe lived in Europe, he was the first person on that continent to earn a black belt in Judo. I wouldn’t think that he would call that a disadvantage, do you? Hyper-vigilance is an awful thing if you can’t turn it off, but if you are walking down a dark alley in New York City, I would think it’s an advantage.
Q: Here’s the thing: is it hyper-vigilance we want or is it vigilance? Vigilance has a high degree of awareness to it, and hyper-vigilance has a high degree of compulsivity to it. When we get stuck in a response, we can’t act in any other way. There’s no choice in it. [The] Feldenkrais Method offers the possibility of more choices in what we do. Once there is the possibility of more choices, that compulsive hyper-vigilance can start to diminish. And what we are talking about here are fairly extreme circumstances. The idea of creating more choices is foundational to the Feldenkrais Method, as is being more skeletal. We all benefit from having more choices…especially in our everyday lives….this is where the work can have a huge impact.
SA: You’re currently involved in a project, a DVD set for pregnant women entitled, ‘Pregnant Pauses-Movement for Moms.’ In the description of that series, you talk about a pregnant woman using herself in a more efficient, more intelligent way, what do you mean by that?
Q: For some women, pregnancy is easy, it’s a wonderful experience and they just fly right through. But for many women, it’s not like that. They wake up one morning and wonder, “Who am I?” They don’t recognize themselves. Over the years, I have given lessons to many pregnant women and it would happen, sometimes, that they would come in a week later, and even I didn’t recognize them because they seemed so different. The changes can be quite dramatic. The question is, how can we make it appreciable to pregnant women that although change keeps happening, there is some part of themselves that remains constant? It’s a sense that it feels right, that I am able to connect my intention to an action, that I can connect to the sense of support offered by my skeleton that makes it easier and more comfortable to get around. Pregnant women are highly motivated to be more comfortable, and that’s definitely a main aspect of what [the] Feldenkrais [Method] has to offer.
In Awareness Through Movement®, you get to move in a way that you like how it feels, you get to feel better from the inside. And a woman who is more aware of how her body responds, or of having choices in how to respond is going to have a much easier time adapting to the changes throughout her pregnancy. So, while Pregnant Pauses is about moving through pregnancy with greater ease, it has unmistakable fringe benefits that go way beyond just those nine months.
Gabrielle Pullen is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm in California.
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