“Correct posture is a matter of emotional growth and learning.” Moshe Feldenkrais
Learning is not purely cognitive as we are taught in most school systems. The earliest learning happens in infancy. Babies are constantly moving and learning. This defines their first years of life.
In adulthood we forget our body’s ability to learn and adapt. We become purely mental in our learning.
It is essential for a quality human life that we move and act expressively. To walk, to speak, to eat, etc – to meet our human wants and needs – we must somatically form ourselves in a way that is dynamic to our environment, through an ever evolving sense of self. This is true learning.
The Feldenkrais Method® facilitates this kind of learning in a unique way, by de-conditioning our conditioning to adapt to the present moment.
Moshe Feldenkrais believed that our habits and conditioning are hidden in our musculature. Instead of using psychoanalysis to address anxiety like Dr. Sigmund Freud, Feldenkrais looked at patterns of holding in the body. Specifically, he looked at muscular habits to help a person transform from neurosis to an easeful state, by helping them to find clear harmony between their muscular use and the force of gravity.
The Feldenkrais Method facilitates ‘learning how to learn, ‘the easeful adaptation of the nervous system to the unknown. Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®) lessons work intimately with the prefrontal cortex – the curious part of the brain that seeks novelty. This kind of learning modulates the limbic system to feel safe, so that we can then have the resiliency for life’s transitions and challenges.
This kind of learning is a practice of independent scholarship.
I don’t belong to the academic world. I never took a PhD. The conventional ways of learning never worked for me. In my process of maturation in adulthood, practising ATM has been a vital step in engaging with lifelong learning. It has afforded me the opportunity to get to know myself and how I like to learn. This allows me to actively participate in my formation throughout life’s inevitable transitions, channeling the empowerment of my own learning towards influencing my own destiny.
Feldenkrais® lessons can be gentle and kind if we can take care of ourselves and meet the needs of each present moment. Mostly, this means doing much less than we think we can.
Many of the lessons are experienced lying on our back which gives the antigravity muscles a rest. The gentle movements bring our attention to an expansive state. This is where awareness begins, and the learning continuum deepens.
After each lesson, we can have a profoundly different perception of ourselves, the world around us and our interactions. These perceptions very much depend on the quality of aliveness in our muscle tissue, which creates a background to our experience.
The outcome of this cultivated awareness is more self-feeling and self-perceiving, which compounds into self-knowing.
Each moment therefore becomes a new opportunity for an evolved way to know ourselves.
It is also possible to acquire the necessary body posture to meet each new moment. Feldenkrais described this concept with the word ‘acture’ to emphasize that posture is adaptable and ever changing.
In The Potent Self, Feldenkrais writes:
“The integration, or transfer of learning, of the directly brought-about change into the intimate acture of the person depends on the patient’s ability to learn.”
Through the process of the Feldenkrais Method we can cultivate the tools and resources within ourselves to dedicate our lives to learning how to learn. It’s a practice, a life’s work.
In his book The Potent Self, in the chapter on Correct Posture, Feldenkrais gave us a guide for the process of ‘learning how to learn.’
He highlighted four essential components of an optimal process of movement learning:
- The absence of unnecessary effort
- The absence of the feeling of resistance
- The presence of movement reversibility (meaning that one never creates so much momentum that reversing course becomes impossible)
- And an ongoing attention to our breath and the shape of ourselves.
These are body learning principles we can refer to through our own learning journey as we move towards quality movement.
While it is difficult to pay attention to all these things in our daily lives, Dr. Feldenkrais gave us a tangible method to experience these qualities by using our attention in an inclusive way, cultivating the skill of strategically shifting our focus, not getting fixed in one place.
An Awareness Through Movement lesson teaches us the art of ‘learning how to learn.’ We must dedicate ourselves to this learning as a practice, which can eventually evolve into an embodied knowing, allowing us to learn by making meaning through our direct experience.
Feldenkrais gave us a manual, Learning to Learn, to get the best results with ATM. I’d like to share a few of my favorite points from the manual and my interpretation of their meanings.
Do Everything Very Slowly
We should proceed at our own rate of understanding and sensing, the timing aspect being the most important part of learning and unique to each individual. The assimilation of each movement is experienced through rest. By honoring the need for rest throughout a lesson, we can facilitate a useful learning environment.
By repeating each movement many times, we have the best opportunity to attend to its quality and perceive how to organize ourselves with increasing refinement. By pursuing aesthetic pleasure, we weed out what Feldenkrais called ‘parasitic efforts.’ In this way, we can find something different and adaptable about how we explore the movement. For example, when we can use speed without the need for exertion, this tells us we have learned the movement well and made it our own.
Look for the pleasant sensation
Learning takes place so long as the movement is pleasurable. As long as the learning is pleasurable the nervous system will assimilate the learning.
When tensions are released, grace is the natural result. Our breathing becomes easeful. When the breath is free and easy, we can attend to finer details of movement quality. Feldenkrais states, “It is less important to learn new feats of skill than it is to master the way to learn new skills.” New skills will come as a reward for the attention which we maintain because it is pleasurable to attend to ourselves.
Do not concentrate
We have always been told to ‘concentrate.’ Concentration is effortful. Attention is expansive.
It is easier to tell differences when our effort is light
The power of the method is learning through distinction and contrasts which benefits the way we sense ourselves. The ability to distinguish is by the lightest use of effort, which enhances the learning of any skill. We can acquire this quality of finesse with our awareness like an artist.
We do not say at start what the final stage will be
Feldenkrais writes, “Learning means grasping the unknown.” In our human nature we go ‘all out’ to achieve. In so doing, we miss the finer nuances of orienting to the process. We get fixated on the goal of ‘doing well’ and ‘getting it right.’ This attitude is devoid of learning, and we lose the greater perspective.
Do a little less than you can
Being kind to oneself encourages one’s capabilities. Yet, with discernment, one can expand the boundary little by little each time, towards a greater goal. One stays engaged in the process of “learning to learn” by doing a little less.
In the ATM lessons we are in our own process of making discriminations and asking questions. When we feel the need to perform the movement in order to achieve a full expression or range of motion, the learning stops because our curiosity, interest and playfulness are no longer evoked. But when curiosity, interest and play are evoked, we are in a learning state. By first looking for measures of quality such as the absence of effort or resistance and using them to make meaningful discriminations during the lesson (or after, upon reflection) we can then apply this learning to other areas of our lives.
These tips can be usefully applied to any and all learning. It is quite simply the art of learning that informs the art of our living. The Feldenkrais Method encourages us to be more present to what is, not what should be, or will be.
By getting to know ourselves better, we fill in more parts of our psychical and esoteric self-image which is the heart of our of self-organization (e.g., patterns of thinking, posture/acture, breathing, and gaze), resulting in heightened sensory acuity among many other things. With a clearer sense of self, movement and acting is embodied in a way that is more true to one’s essential and unique nature.
It is our somatic ‘acture’ that instills the mystery of living; that it is found in the very truth that we organize ourselves and shape ourselves, again and again. This process encourages us to be more present to what is, not what should be, or what was. Shifts in our way of being arise with self-awareness which is a function of feeling.
The promise to continue feeling is to continue fully living.
When I feel the limbo and mystery of existence, I tune into myself, allowing feeling to form and give rise to the initiation of my evolving somatic shape.
It is within the unknown that we find an intensification of our growth.
What happens when we accept our continual formation instead of seeking permanence?
We can discover that our lives are an adventure, an emotional odyssey, a myth of our own creation.
Nicolette de Saint-Amour is a somatic movement practitioner with a decade of experience. In her learning and teaching she draws on her study of bioenergetics, the practice of jiu-jitsu, a love of gardening and her training in the Feldenkrais Method. Born in Maputo, Mozambique, her nomadic upbringing has deeply influenced her interest in life transitions; how the body adapts to the ever-changing environment, and how this gives rise to personal mythologies. Harnessing the skill of body reading, she highlights the interplay of physical and emotional experience to help others explore their movement potential by connecting the body as a continuum of pulsatory and streaming currents, an excitatory ocean.
Nicolette’s website: Nicolette De Saint-Amour (somatic-reality.com)