Published as part of “In Touch” October 2021.
Why is anatomy knowledge so important for Feldenkrais® Practitioners?
Well, the first question would be how we define anatomy, and then, why it may be useful for us as Feldenkrais Practitioners. The reason this is interesting to me is that I was a physiotherapist before I became a Feldenkrais practitioner, so I already had a particular perspective on the role and uses of anatomy. I had to learn anatomy, relevant physiology, and kinesiology in depth, however my knowledge of anatomy and movement was very conceptual. I knew what all the joints did, all the names of the muscles, what muscles the nerves supplied, and where to palpate major bony landmarks. However it was never ‘a part of ME’. What I loved about my Feldenkrais training was that it became a living, embodied anatomy. …..something that had personal relevance and meaning, and my curiosity was absolutely stimulated to explore and learn more. From my learning journey I realized that if we wanted anatomy included in our teaching programs, it had to be something that is very embodied, something that combines different perspectives – something iterated and reiterated from many different orientations.
Learning anatomy is like all learning: it takes time, it takes paying attention and it takes making distinctions – building more complex relationships, and within that finding the principles that can guide us to find ways to ‘make sense’ and process all this information to make use of it for both ourselves and our clients. The thing I love about learning anatomy through the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education is that it comes from within, it’s embedded in all those ATM lessons that we continue to do – in our thinking, feeling, sensing and moving. A time where we can embody anatomy, biomechanics, and, most of all, learning.
My private practice is mostly Functional Integration and when I work one on one, especially when touching my clients and moving them over the ground and through space, I have my anatomy at my fingertips. I have a skeleton hanging in my workroom. Any time I get a little interested or confused, and I can’t find the clarity in my own embodied sense, I look to the skeleton to see what’s that shape? where is that in relationship to that? how would that move? how do I have the whole person in my hands? How am I using ‘inclusive attention – I have all of them, and all of me moving together, changing our internal shapes and our relationships in space. Having an image of the skeleton is incredibly valuable to me. – it gives me another lens of attention to add to my problem solving and understanding. It’s not the only thing: I think about the ground all the time; I am thinking about relationships between the parts, and the space both internally and externally around us. E.g. If this is happening in the hip, and the hip can do this, how is the pelvis moving relative to this, the detail and the big picture, the internal and external shapes changing – how what happens in the influences what will happen in the knee, and the ankle, and how is that threading up through the rest of the person and where would that take the head, to be able to orient, and respond to the environment. That’s all there for me. It has taken years, and years to hone this skill, and that is what I love – l just keep getting better at it.
How was that at the beginning of this learning journey?
We were not taught anatomy systematically in my training. Probably half of the students were physiotherapists. We had a wonderful German anatomist visit us one day to take us through anatomy. It was really fascinating. He divided us in two groups – those with more or less anatomical background, the assumption being that physiotherapists really know their anatomy and would be in the more advanced group. I’ll never forget that session, it was a profound experience. The teacher gave us some modeling clay and asked us to make a vertebrae. It was unbelievable how much I didn’t understand in 3-D form – the shapes and relationships of parts, the width, length and depth. I had learned mainly from the pages of the books and outside palpation. He let us struggle, and then finally allowed us to go to the skeleton and I was blown away……. that’s what the vertebrae really looks like! I never forgot to this day what it looks like.
All people learn differently. Now in these days of Zoom, I include anatomy very early in in my trainings. There is this particular AY lesson where you feel the back of your vertebrae, you feel the shoulder blades and you do some of it in your imagination and some – in your touch. And you start to realize how touch informs your perception of how and where things are and then use this touch to inform your self image. Then we would demonstrate that on a skeleton. Then students would do it on each other. So, you are learning in different ways: through ATM, on the skeleton and doing it on someone else – using as many senses as possible to inform your exploration. That’s when questions start to arrive out of this exploration – I couldn’t find this bone – oh it’s further over here; seeing/sensing relationships, what is that shape – is it part of this bone or that, when do I know I’m touching bone or muscle? So our exploration and curiosity drives us to find out more. And our role is to give the trainees the resources they can utilize to continue this exploration on their own.
And, it’s not just learning anatomy, but always in the bigger Feldenkrais idea. We’re always asking a question – what happens when I map out these particular places on myself/someone else using touch? How does using touch in specific ways – listening, exploring, building up relationships, influence their self-image? Does it influence/inform our/their ability to turn their head in space – an action that is essential and tells us so much about our organisation? So it’s never enough just to touch the skeleton, to understand more of our anatomy; but to place it in a bigger context, to give it more meaning in our actions in our everyday life.
Another example from my trainings is when we start to learn anatomy by looking at the hand – we may use 3D videos, demonstrate on a skeleton, touch one if possible, and then be guided through exploring this on ourself – one hand exploring the other – feeling/sensing the shapes of the bones, feeling the movements available at the different joints, which parts are readily available to touch and which parts more hidden; how do I use my other hand to explore, clarify, question and listen to what is there in my experience; how do I explore different types of touch – what informs me? And, the context is, of course, how that exploration influences the use of my hand, and then my touch, and of course my self image. ‘Living anatomy’ for me is a wonderful way of expanding self-image. It’s giving us a bigger perspective on seeing ourselves.
Anatomy also includes understanding main sensory systems in the body: how is our system taking in information. That’s all in the scans. When we use rolling of the head, five cardinal lines, breathing, contact with the ground. They shed light on different sensory systems that we use to feed in information.
In terms of the skeleton, I don’t think you really need to know the names of each bone. It’s important for me to understand that no bone is straight, there are curves everywhere in our body. There are no straight lines. It’s important to know what movements are available in different joints, where I can expect movement and what movements are possible there.
Of course, all that is in the context of: if I am doing this, does this knowledge and understanding of anatomy help me to get a bigger picture in my self-image, so that when I work with someone, especially placing hands on someone – does it help me to listen to them in a more expanded way, to move them with more quality, to find more possibilities in their system and to bring them to a more complete sense of themselves, with an enhanced aesthetic sense of knowing themselves.
We talk a lot about skeleton. What is your thinking about knowing muscles, fascia, skin?
I work with the whole person – their skin, muscles, fascia and bones. We have to educate touch as we go along. What is it like to touch just the skin and how does the skin move over the tissue underneath? What directions does it move in? What does that touch inform our system of? When I go into the muscle: where can the muscle move more easily? How as I do this do I allow the skeleton to do more of its role of supporting us in gravity?
I tend to teach muscle anatomy in terms of types of muscles. Understanding that all the big muscles of the torso mainly work on diagonals is important. There are very few that go up and down. Of course, once you get into the limbs, they are much more vertical. Understanding that big muscles give us power and small muscles give us finesse. And directions and relationships between them. The relationships between the muscles that support the skeleton and the muscles that move us. Understanding these distinctions is important. In Feldenkrais we can talk about these, but there are more and more approximations that one needs to understand in themselves first. That’s what it’s really about.
E.g. I do an ATM and I realize that my pelvis is very light. What’s allowed my pelvis and legs to become light? That’s the question that then leads me into more cognitive understanding – a question that comes out of my experience. What’s the information that was fed into my nervous system that allowed me to get that response. I feel light when my skeleton and my muscles are organized optimally, when I use the ground forces, when I am oriented to both my internal and external worlds. There’s a lot there to explore and understand.
If I go back, a lot of my training was based on Amherst tapes in the first two years. Moshe didn’t teach anatomy specifically, but he talked a lot about these relationships. I am not saying I understood them. Yet some things sunk in. I think that’s the nature of learning. It’s that moment when we get up and go: I’ve got this now – another level of learning – a felt sense that has become more understood, which allows me to apply it in more circumstances. Something clicks and when it does, it’s important to know this is just another approximation and not to hold on rigidly onto the idea.
In your book, you have a chapter called “Head guides, Pelvis drives”? Can you talk more about it? Why did you decide to dedicate a chapter to this relationship?
In the book, we tried to list the principles that any well organized system needs to understand, principles that keep coming up in Feldenkrais’ materials. That’s the nature of learning – as you first gather information, make more distinctions, collate it, use it and continue to explore – you often find these general principles emerge. They are like ‘lenses’ that allow you to more easily ‘spotlight’ where someone’s current understanding is, and where they may benefit from more exploration.
In my own FI work, first, I will observe a client – looking and beginning to explore what difficulties they may be having; and then often I will use this principle of the head guides, the pelvis drives, to assess in sitting how connected their head is to their pelvis. Of course, I often initially feel in clients that nothing much moves, there’s not much connection. That gives me a huge insight into what they don’t yet understand in terms of finding lightness, ease, efficiency and a sense of well being. It lets me know which directions they understand more easily, and how this influences all of their movements in space.
So, these principles in my book are the things I use to assess people who come to me. I observe where they are in their movement journey, in their organizational journey, in their ability to take their intention into action – balance, strength, mobility, stop/start, resting, and listening to themselves. This then gives me clear parameters of what we can work together on, and how we can both subjectively and objectively assess their progress.
One of the reasons I wrote the book was that it became clear to me that many trainees were not coming out with a clear idea of what they were doing as Feldenkrais practitioners, of what they were assessing, what they could help people with in their organization, what to look for.
I was often seeing that trainees would often focus on details rather than general principles – which is what we do as beginners. They would observe what’s not moving, and then they would work on making that part move – become more a part of the person’s image.
My questions are always – why is this part not moving? what is it that the person needs to understand to allow for the movement to occur naturally there?
So these principles were originally put together and clarified to allow me to give trainees some ‘concrete’ ideas/understandings that were components of all well organized movement……something that they could return to as both an assessment and reflection tool for ideas of how they could improve their own organization and utilize in working with clients.
We wrote a book not just for Feldenkrais practitioners, but for anyone interested in movement – these principles are something that anyone can benefit from exploring in themselves
Do you have a blueprint of a learning journey for a beginner practitioner?
It’s such a personal journey for each one of us. What gets our curiosity? That’s huge. When I first started working with people, my learning and curiosity was more directed towards the things that I probably needed to understand most for myself. One of the first advanced trainings I taught was on force transmission and feeling for bones. That’s where my interest was. And the next training was on how ATM and FI interact and inform each other. The next one was on the dynamic cylinder of the torso and how we adapt to load, because I was still having some back pain and I knew I wasn’t understanding something. For me, the learning is predicated by something that piques my interest. And I think that’s what good learning is. I think if you are learning something because you think you should, it’s fine, but does it interest you? Does it lead you to ask questions and explore? It’s much more important. Otherwise, anatomy learning can be very boring.
I’ve got books here on my shelf, and I learned that if I am reading a book and I am struggling to understand it, leave it. It’s not helpful for me. For me, learning is something that gets my curiosity. Does it change something in my image? It’s the same for my clients: I’ll use anything to get them interested in their self-image. I always loved the Feldenkrais ‘principle of no principles’. Just do whatever it takes. Sometimes, it is incredibly useful to show a client something on a skeleton, feel the bones, and then feel on themselves. To clarify something for themselves. To expand their image in that moment, and to see if that takes their understanding of themselves to a richer level.
I’ve also found that technology can be really helpful – for myself if I am doing an ATM and struggling with it, I will video myself doing the movement. Seeing myself from the outside – just like observing our clients in ATM – gives me another perspective, to see that 3D perspective of moving through space, so that I am just in my internal world looking out, but I also have the external world looking in.
Another way is to teach the ATM, video it, and observe others doing it – I have worked out many ATMs from observing others – really understanding the power of learning from others, to see their understanding, their ways of solving a ‘puzzle’ has been wonderful for my own learning and takes me out of my habits. Something clarifies for me, watching someone else moving in space.
Often now with my clients, if I give them movements to continue exploring at home, we’ll video them on their phone doing the movements. They have a video, if that helps them. It reminds them of what they felt. How many ways can we come at to help a client expand a self-image? What happens when we get more of a sense of anatomy from inside. It’s only useful if it informs us and aids in improving the self-image. It is not useful if I am showing something to someone and they can’t sense it in themselves. It’s not making any sense to them. Our role is always to facilitate a learning experience for someone. How do we show them another way?
In teaching anatomy now, I take advantage of wonderful 3-D anatomy apps. You can see the body movement really well. Having to draw or sculpt something is another way to learn. Watching videos of elite athletes, dancers, performers is also a great way to understand more about anatomy. And what’s important: you have to learn it through and on yourself. It’s like learning anything – you have to come at it in many different ways. And curiosity is key!
Julie graduated from the Sydney 1 Feldenkrais training in 1990, became an accredited Feldenkrais trainer in 2003, and also has a background in physiotherapy. Julie finds her private practice – where she works with a wide range of clients, teaching – in numerous trainings and advanced trainings, and sharing learning experiences with colleagues, clients and students are the main source of her continual learning. Julie has coauthored a book – ‘Moving From the Inside Out’ with Lesley McLennan which looks at 7 Principles of well-organised movement, which are useful to ignite curiosity in people about their movement. She & Lesley will also be running online workshops next year to delve more deeply into each of these principles. If you are interested in finding more about these workshops you can contact Julie.The website for Julie’s book is potentself.com