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Daily Archives: January 29th, 2019

I first read about Feldenkrais via that legendary Piano Forum/Piano Street contributor Bernhard. Just an off handed remark saying that the people with the best posture he had ever seen were Alexander Technique people and Feldenkrais people. At the time I had a little bit of an idea of what Alexander Technique was but no idea what Feldenkrais was. However, I didn’t pursue either as my obsession was with learning the piano. At a later point due to some wrist issues I did have one lesson in the Alexander Technique (a cheap £25 back then!) but unfortunately it wasn’t useful. Despite having the INTERNET at my beck and call I didn’t look into Feldenkrais.

Years later, the next encounter with Feldenkrais was with Alan Fraser. On his website he had a few text lessons that were interesting and useful but again I didn’t pursue further. But when RSI in my right hand tendons became increasingly worse I came across and subsequently Lynette Reid’s lessons at Kinesophics. A bit before Kinesophics I was led through at least two ATMs (Awareness Through Movement lesson) designed by my impro teacher Remy of Imprology. During those ATMs the focus was very much about the tiniest and smallest effort one could do and subsequently I gained the impression that all Feldenkrais lessons were about tiny tiny movements and tiny tiny effort but this changed when I did Lynette’s lessons in earnest.

I was doing a lesson a day during this time, sometimes two a day. In the end it didn’t help me that much with my piano issues. My guess is that there was a lack of integration and translation of the lessons learned on the floor to the piano. But the process and pacing and teaching and learning of that time is something I take for granted now, and continues to benefit me as my learning and practise of Feldenkrais improves.

The next significant encounter with Feldenkrais was that my back ache/pain I’d been having for some years was preventing me from walking. In that time I’d walk for about half an hour and get significant back ache. The only way I knew how to resolve it was to lie down on the floor for about an hour. Stretching wasn’t helping. I decided to bite the financial bullet and take one to one sessions with Victoria Worsley, a friend of Remy’s and a friend of Pixie’s, the latter having received lots of lessons from Victoria. It’s dramatic but the back ache problem from walking was resolved in the first lesson. Looking back (hehe), I think the bulk of the back ache was fear of rotation, particularly in the pelvis and lower spine, and the session taught me that it was okay to move my body in this way. Subsequent lessons expanded upon this and translated it to walking.

That was in early 2018. More recently was the application of Feldenkrais to singing. Victoria mentioned Richard Corbeil and Robert Sussuma after one of her lessons. I had a little gander but again didn’t pursue it. Then I was interested in singing again and decided to have a proper look. Previously my explorations with singing and Feldenkrais wasn’t fruitful. Although I had gone in some depth with the book “Singing with Your Whole Self” I felt that it didn’t improve my singing or speaking much. Looking back, again I think the issue was the translation and integration from the lessons in that book to the action of singing and speaking. With the Robert Sussuma videos it really was a eureka moment as I began to understand how to integrate the whole process of Feldenkrais with voice. As I explored, re-explored and refined, my voice improved and felt more resilient. Previously I felt my voice was slightly deteriorating and was becoming more easily fatigued and those fears disappeared fairly quickly. A month after this I joined a jazz choir and felt a pressing need for more learning. Coincidentally Robert was hosting a 2 day workshop in London about a month and a half after I joined the choir. After humming and hawing I finally decided to attend. There was also a shorter three hour session in Guillermo’s house the day before the workshop.

Looking back on those three days I’m not sure what I learned. The two most interesting lessons were the unvoiced velar fricative lesson and what I call the Mission Impossible face lesson. The voiceless velar fricative lesson gave a very clear sensation and image of the back of the mouth/beginning of the throat without the need to stick a vibrator there to stimulate that part of the mouth/throat. The Mission Impossible lesson left everyone with droopy faces. There was also a lesson where I held Chris’s head stable while the rest of his body moved which reminded me of a car advert featuring a chicken. One reason why what I learned is hazy was because on the first day of the workshop I was going in with about 2 hours of sleep due to anxiety-caused insomnia. Also it was way way more Feldenkrais than I had ever done before in one day so there was an endurance aspect in terms of my attention span. My voice did improve and singing in tune was easier and remains easier since the workshop. My burning question about high notes wasn’t answered. I asked Robert after the workshop and he said there were clues there so I had to work it out for myself.

I wasn’t successful in working it out for myself so I ended up having a lesson with Robert. The answer? Swallowing. He guided me through lots of swallowing variations and high notes became easier. Swallowing became easier too. The reasoning is this: if you can improve lower functions, higher functions will tend to improve with it. All the structures and movements and muscles of swallowing are either the same or similar to that of singing and speaking. In Feldenkrais one of the aims of lessons is to allow the student to be able to find more options for movement and variations allows for this to happen. Through those swallowing variations, my nervous system found more options and more possibilities where there previously were few and found ways that helped me fulfill my intentions with more ease.

My current and continued enthusiasm with Feldenkrais is also due to having weekly lessons with my friend Helena who is in a Feldenkrais training and with my friend Pix who usually hosts the lessons. Doing lessons with other people is different compared to doing it alone, especially doing it with someone like Pix who has a great time during the lessons. Having some people to share my enthusiasm and nerdiness about Feldenkrais also helps. One of my more recent obsessions was how to solve the problem of an achy knee when sitting for meditation which led me to Charlie Murdach’s channel and finally going through Alfons’s feet lessons. I haven’t quite solved it but I’ve stopped meditating for now for other reasons.

As I am writing this I feel the effects of an online group lesson with Robert Sussuma. A large part of it was sensing the torso and how breathing occurred. Splitting the torso into three: lower, diaphragm, upper. Then splitting the torso into six. Then doing hiccoughing and coughing movements with awareness of the six segments. Sensing is my least favourite part of Feldenkrais lessons, I’m too eager to move and change shit. I find I have to take a breath and calm down in order to do the sensing part sincerely.

I feel conflicted sometimes when I see or hear others in pain and I know and have experienced the benefits of Feldenkrais. When I do speak and interact with such people, they appear not to be ready for it or never will be ready for it, at least in a group lesson setting. It requires an openess and a paradigm shift. When the dominant narrative is to stretch, strengthen, force, push through with a large separation of what one considers to be the body and mind, then it’s a huge chasm to be overcome to experience something that is the antithesis. If you’re the type of person who ignores bodily sensations particularly when exercising in order to push through the pain so you can acquire extra minutes/reps/distance, to go into a process where it’s about sensing details of the body and frequent resting at the slightest sign of strain will make it seem from the outside that the lesson will be of no use whatsoever. Bridging that gap may be the primary marketing problem of Feldenkrais. The name “Feldenkrais” doesn’t help either. The Alexander technique is more marketable because of this.

I’ve thought about and challenged myself to describe Feldenkrais in one sentence or in ten seconds or less. Let’s try:

“Feldenkrais or the Feldenkrais Method is like learning the technique of a sport but instead you apply it to things you do everyday such as walking, standing, sitting, breathing, posture, etc.”

“Feldenkrais is a modality in which you learn to co-ordinate your body so that all the things you do in your life become easier, smoother, lighter and more efficient.”

“Feldenkrais is a way to learn to move so that your movements don’t cause you chronic pain down the road and you can still move well and do the things you need to do well into your nineties.”

With the last attempt I am reminded of the thoughts I have when I see the elderly. To be able to walk unaided, not have a fear of falling, to be able to stand up from a bed or a chair easily, to have a bath without fear, to be able to pull and push heavy doors…all these things I take for granted but as I do more Feldenkrais I appreciate how important such “simple” things are. As we age we lose muscle so the options we always used for standing up from a chair may be ones that required a lot of strength. Use those same options in a body with less strength may result in failure or great difficulty. One option is to maintain as much muscle as one can as one ages and the other is to find more efficient ways that works with a weaker body. It’s best to have and do both.

I’m strongly considering training in Feldenkrais. The main obstacle is financial. Hmm…