At the basis of most human dilemmas is the struggle for time. We experience stress or distress, because we are not doing things in our own time, therefore it is hard for us to be present. This constant struggle for time and presence in a fast paced, ever changing world leaves us feeling victimized and depleted. If the body holds tension and anxiety about the past or future, it can block the flow of intuition and personal evolution. We try all sorts of ways to learn how to relax by seeking what can bring us more into the present moment.
It is perceived by many that meditation is a person sitting down cross legged seeking some measure of silence through concentrating and disciplining oneself to focus one’s mind for spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation. And yet, concentration is not meditation, discipline is not meditation, and goal orientation is not meditation.
One of my Feldenkrais teachers Jeff Haller once said ‘If you are meditating for a goal, then it is not meditation’. In this article we will explore how Feldenkrais Method’s ‘Awareness Through Movement’ can support a meditation practice in a way that you can be attentive, aware and sensitive every moment and everyday of your life, not just when sitting in the act of meditation.
So then, what is meditation? And why do we meditate? Krishnamurti the philosopher defines ‘‘Meditation as the process of emptying the mind from the known’ and that ‘Meditation is the beginning of Self knowledge’. I find these definitions from the Khrishnamurti to be applicable to the process of the Feldenkrais Method’s ATM lessons.
The Feldenkrais Method provides a tangible process to learn how to adapt to life’s unknown outcomes. In order to work with those unknown outcomes you first need to develop your self knowledge. The ATM lessons offer an opportunity to learn about how you use your attention, while dealing with the challenges of the lesson. With that refinement of attention you can begin to make distinctions about how you are doing movement and eventually begin to coordinate movement to include the whole self.
As integration is the invitation from the very beginning of the lesson. This act of engaging in the process of making distinctions quiets the mind, ATM stimulates the prefrontal cortex. The part of the brain that is curious, seeking, and interested in novelty which modulates the limbic system to feel safe so learning can take place. It taps into a deep biological process that antedates the sensory system. This deep listening to sensations in ATM lessons brings forth an innate wisdom that is not accumulated knowledge, but a somatic reality that is experienced from moment to moment.
There are some meditation models where you are encouraged to become aware of the activity of the mind and with great effort try to control and stop it. This way expends a lot of energy in making the mind conform to a desired ideal or pattern that is perceived as “mindful”, which enforces habit and creates a divide between mindbody relationship . It is not to say that this kind of meditation is not useful, but without curiosity, without being in question we fixate upon outcomes. Then, the act of meditation becomes limited.
When we let go of striving for an end goal, there is no longer an effort to achieve the ‘desired pattern’ of a meditative state. The ATM process is a concrete way to arrive into a meditative, watchful, and aware state of being, without having any set focus to get there. The ATM lessons bring us to such an integrated state, which would take some people many years of sitting in meditation to arrive at this particular kind of quality of attention. We start with a guided body scan while lying on the ground where we begin to tune into ourselves relating to how much of our body is making contact with the ground.
Throughout the lesson when rests are taken (which is an important part of integration), you compare how much of the musculature tone begins to relax. As the chronic tension patterns
begin to dissipate, this gives a person a felt sense that something is beginning to change in their nervous system. The micro movements experienced in the lessons inform the relationship of cortical function and muscular function. In the lessons we do the movements slowly, when the movements are done slowly it is easier to attend to changes taking place in our system. The movements help us find a novel voluntary effort other than our habitual ways of self use. Making a change in habitual pattern means recognizing what you are doing, and then doing something different. There is an opportunity to explore something about your familiar time frame, and how to find a slower time frame so that the lessons become an activity of self learning.
Organizing the small movements experienced in the ATM lessons, offer the moment to study ourselves. We explore how we can use ourselves differently in a way that there is time to make note of the differences felt. To let the action impress itself on the neural pathways to form new connections or even modify, or invigorate parts of the self that may have been forgotten (somato amnesia). The slow discrete movements assist us to learn how to make more complex internal connections between the cortical activity and muscular activity.
When we slow down it gives us a chance to explore a rate of responsiveness that permits us to experience the internal connections of alternative ways of self use, that are not part of how we use ourselves habitually. So, then there is a choice, a realm of possibility space we enter into our nervous system likes possibility, the change can feel expansive. In attending to our movements slowly, we can experience a different kind of rhythm for ourselves. We tap into a kind of meditative state of awareness. This awareness is the qualitative state one invites in meditation.
Upon the completion of an ATM lesson, we can experience ourselves in the gravitational field in a completely new way. The simple skeletal support we feel when the anti gravity muscles are no longer contracted bring forth the desired effect of meditation; a sense of peace, serenity and simplicity. The lesson informs us to the degree that when we learn how to edit or alter the patterns of tensions, there is a sense of empowerment. The empowerment is within self management of how much effort and how much time we allow ourselves when we engage in voluntary effort like reaching out, brushing our teeth, lifting a bag etc., any of these can be done in different magnitudes. Practicing differentiating a pattern of action to great specificity to find an experience of ourselves that is tangibly different than when we first engaged in the act, through all our sensibilities. It is a way of experiencing life in a meditative way. The neurological variability is why we in the modern day world might seek a meditation practice, whether we know it or not.
Our nervous system appreciates the novelty of movement and new experiences of the self that we can find in an ATM lesson. The work of the method then is based on our curiosity, not from seeking results, rather it encourages us to explore and experiment with ourselves through movement.
I feel that the Feldenkrais Method can support and enrich a meditation practice. It can exponentially increase our capacity to be sensitive, watchful and awake in the world of sensation. In the method there is a great deal of attention to how we are feeling, sensing and acting in the present moment. It has been the role of various western and eastern medicine practices and modalities to help bring us humans to health by being more in the present moment, which I believe is why many of us meditate, or at least want to.
The education we seek in meditation is the process of living and not preparation for future living. To know and respect our own experience and how it influences a somatic response in our muscle patterns, even in smallest amounts of subtle movements, instills a sense of being able to manage one’s life, which is to manage the life of the body, our most private possession, by teaching us to know it, and ourselves better.
The Feldenkrais Method helps us explore the way we have constructed time somatically and it gives us a window where we can study our own voluntary and involuntary efforts. It teaches us experiential self knowledge and self regulation. When we begin to feel our way of shaping time, through experiential self knowledge there is a chance to alter our habitual patterns. We become aware that in our lives we experience many kinds of time, patterns, behaviors. The intent is not to get rid of old patterns/ behaviors, but to alter to find new ways of thinking, feeling, and sensing.
When we learn about and honor our own rhythms, pulsations, our own time laws, we no longer find a duality of the self. We, then, grasp the essence of real freedom through self inquiry, self knowledge and self management. This provides us the framework to build upon our personal evolution. To be tied to the boundaries of having to seek the right moment to meditate becomes obsolete. Every moment of our lives can be meditative, present and awake. The act of learning something new, or something not already programmed in us through habit, becomes a natural way of experiencing life and the world, and only serves to enhance our feeling of self knowledge.
The Feldenkrais Method helps us access self knowledge through self inquiry in which the act of self discovery can take place in experiencing the unknown through an experiential learning that forms us. In that discovery we find a clarity in our being, each time we engage in the exploration of the lessons.
The method brings forth an awareness for greater intimacy with the biochemical, emotional, physical and experiential states of the living process. To experience ourselves in this way, helps us to dismantle old attitudes that we no longer need. When we involve ourselves in life’s mystery, without the performance, the fixed forms and absolutes, there is a quieting of the mind. In that quiet something new can come into being, this complex process of self discovery is meditation.
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: www.somatic-reality.com