Sunday, July 29, 2007

Meditation 101

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Micki Fine
Photo by Sean Fitzpatrick

Learning how to meditate has been on my “to do” list for some time now. Therein lies the problem, how can I live in the moment when I am already exhausted just by looking at my schedule for the week. Plus, I have to admit I’ve had some fears. Will I be thinking about all the things I could be doing instead of meditating? Will I get bored? Will my back hurt from sitting still so long? Do I have to become Buddhist? What if I empty my mind and there’s no there there? What if Nirvana is too long a drive?

All of my concerns and more are addressed by Micki Fine, a Mindfulness Meditation teacher during her introductory session at the Jung Center. In fact, just entering the arched doorways of the Center and taking in the calm atmosphere makes me think that mindfulness is already in motion. Fine has a way of letting the group know that wherever we find ourselves is a good place to start. And that includes incredibly high strung, anxious, type-A people like myself.

According to Fine, our “do more, have more, be more” culture exists in exact opposite to living in the moment. “We miss so much of our lives because we are not paying attention,” says Fine. “In mindfulness we practice paying attention on purpose.” I’m all for that; living on auto pilot seems a dicey prospect at best. I am amazed at how many others admit to driving home and not remembering how they got there. I thought I was the only person on earth that multi-tasks, lives 10 steps ahead of myself, and spends too much of my life on cruise control.

Fine likes to give her students a break. “Our minds our designed default into our habits,” she says. “When we are in the shower the mind can be doing something completely different. That’s part of human nature.” We are born mindful. Just spend some time with a toddler and you will see each moment unfold one after another with little attachment to the past or future. “The trouble with living on automatic is that we are not living our own lives as if they mattered. It doesn’t help that our culture is fixated on the next big thing. “We becoming human doings instead of human beings, says Fine. “We are not simply in our lives.”

We live in a world obsessed with busyness. The never-a-dull moment lifestyle has a way of catching up with us though in terms of stress and its effects on our health. Fine makes her point by handing out two raisins to each participant. She asks us to eat each raisin as if we are from Mars and have never seen or tasted a raisin. I begin by carefully observing my raisins. If you crinkle your raisin near your ear you can even listen to your raisin. Finally we get to taste the raisin. I feel my whole body meeting this sweet item, my blood sugar rising, and silently wishing I could eat the whole box. That’s that mindless eating we all do when we are simply not in the “raisin” moment. Each time our mind wanders away from the raisin Fine suggests we come back. It feels a bit like taming our unruly attention. Fine calls this process looking with “bare attention.” It’s easy living in the moment when we are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. When we have one of those “I am so here” moments. But what about the other billions of less spectacular moments? How do we inhabit the whole of our lives?

Mindfulness Meditation was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, Wherever You Go There You Are, and his most recent book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn’s westernization of Buddhist practices made enormous strides in bringing meditation to the medical community. Mindfulness teaches meditation independent of ideological and religious frameworks out of which these meditative practices emerged, which makes it particularly user-friendly. In 1979, he founded The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (CFM) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The research in peer reviewed journals is vast, covering everything from the effect of meditation on blood pressure to heart disease. Fine has studied extensively with Kabat-Zinn and considers teaching meditation her calling and vocation.

Next, Fine has us lying down as she gently leads us through an inventory of our sensations she calls a body scan. Our breath becomes the channel that is always on and ready to serve as a focal point. Simply the act of stopping and observing feels good in and of itself. I’m not even officially meditating yet and already I feel better, calm, relaxed, and at ease with myself.

Fine is quick to dispel the myths surrounding meditation. “One of the worst is that meditation is some esoteric practice and if I hold my fingers in certain position I will be in nirvana,” says Fine. “Meditation can be anything if you pay non-judgmental moment to moment to what’s going on. Eating, bathing, or walking can all be forms of meditation.”

Another myth is that you are clearing your mind and that the goal is to have an empty mind. “Mindfulness is about knowing the mind. It’s OK when the mind wanders,” she says. “We notice that and bring it back.” It’s in these moments that we get to know the mind more intimately and become more forgiving, compassionate, and accepting of our own humanity.

Meditation is all about relaxation, right? Not exactly, relaxation may very well be a by-product of the process, but it’s not the goal in and of itself. The harder we try to relax the more difficult it becomes. Relaxation comes as a result of not trying to get anywhere at all. I must say I did feel relaxed after each session of mindfulness but it wasn’t a kind of zombied out feeling like I had spent an hour in a hot tub. I felt at ease, but also alert and attentive to the world around me.

After the body scan we tried a walking meditation. Fine likes to ease people into the process. For beginners it’s nice to have a bit of something to do. Being alone with our minds can be a frightful prospect. A guided meditation with some instruction calms the fears of the “what should I do next” types. That way her soothing voice can ease us into the quiet and wonder of our own perceptions.

“Taking a class is also an excellent way to start,” says Fine “When people meditate together people feel it more intensely.” I definitely felt the support of the group. There’s something calming knowing you are in a room full of like-minded people that are all trying to live more fully.

Fine also works one-on-one with people who require more individualized attention. “It takes some discipline to get your butt on the cushion every day,” says Fine. Coming to a class sets a certain commitment to practice. Speaking of the cushion, sitting on a chair is also an option. Zoning out is not in the plan as sitting meditation requires a kind of upright dignity to encourage wakefulness. If we notice our back is hurting we attend to our discomfort without judgment. Bracing against the pain may amplify our aches. You can be present even in the midst of difficulty. Part of meditation is waking up to how we participate in our own suffering.

Fine suggests starting with short sittings of between 5-15 minutes and work up to longer stretches. After the walking meditation it almost seems like a relief to be finally just sitting, doing nothing, paying attention, watching and following my thoughts come and go. “Simply allow for things to be as they are,” she says. “Let go of struggle.”

Through continued practice we can hope to be less reactive, relate to our family and each other differently and simply become more adaptable in a changing world. I’ve started a modest practice of 10-15 minutes a day using a timer. Sometimes I spend the whole time running to catch my mind, reeling myself back to the home of my body. I’m not good at this yet and that’s fine for now. I do feel different, less ahead of myself, less reactive, more attuned to the moment to moment unfolding of life, my life— the one I don’t want to miss.

Reprinted from Total Body Magazine.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Celebrating Moshe Feldenkrais’s 100th Birthday: Conversations with Ruthy Alon and Mark Reese

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Reminiscing: A Visit with Ruth Alon

Ruthy Alon participated in the first Feldenkrais training. Now in her seventies, Ruthy is considered one of those most creative practitioners in the field. Ruthy has developed her own work, which she calls Bones for Lifeä. Her work is rich in invention. I had the opportunity to visit with Ruthy via e-mail this January while she was teaching in New Zealand.

NGW: Do you remember your first impression of Moshe Feldenkrais?
RA: I came to Alexander Yanai Street, into a huge hall in a basement where a Yemenite dance group used to rehearse. I saw many people on mats hardly doing anything. A voice came from the ceiling (a reel-to-reel tape recorder). Moshe was sitting on the side, but I did not know who he was. In fact, I stayed there a long time until I realized he was the teacher. He would stop the tape and ask somebody to demonstrate. Moshe had a good time finding an engineer and roasting him for not knowing his right from his left. I think at least two years passed before I first would speak to him personally. At that time he must have been in his sixties, which to me seemed very ancient.

NGW: How did Moshe Feldenkrais happen to enter your life?
RA: I was a mother of two children, going to an evening class in the kibbutz where I lived near Haifa. Our gymnastic teacher was studying with Moshe’s early groups, and I kept hearing the name “Feldenkrais” again and again. “Feldenkrais” said this and “Feldenkrais” said that. After I finished the mature exams, I felt that actually I had not learned anything that attracted my heart. When I returned home with my family near Tel Aviv, I began to look for this “Feldenkrais”—just an intuitive urge. It took me a long time because the local teacher for women’s gymnastics, who studied with him, told me it was just for gymnastic teachers. I did not give up and found him in the phone book. He sounded extremely important and not too warmly agreed that I could come to his class.

At that time no one could imagine that this would be a profession that other people could learn to do. I asked myself many times, how did I know to hold on to that? I realized I had the luck to be in the right place at the right time, but I also sensed without clear words the real value of those movements on the floor. I would return home a nicer person, more patient and open.

NGW: I remember you telling me that it took you a while to “get it.” How would you describe this process of “getting it”? Was it an “aha” moment, or more of a slow fire?
RA: I started to “get it” when I was in the training, although the training brought more questions than clarity. I started to get it even more when I was teaching. I started a month-long Awareness Though Movement (ATM) workshop in Boulder, Colorado, with 50 people. Many of them are trainers today.

I had to figure it out myself from the beginning and then I got my orientation and perspective. This is what I tell my students: the method is not just information that passes on. You need to pass it through your system like a bee digests nectar and makes it into honey. “Getting it” is when you make your own honey. And Moshe told it to us very explicitly, “Each one of you will write it in your own handwriting.” It makes me sad how we interpret the method in one training format and have lost the learning of mastery.

NGW: Do you have a favorite story about Moshe that involves your connection to his work?
RA: I came to Moshe after coming first to America. He showed me a pack of letters and said people complimented him for having taught me to teach his method. I told him people wanted to record the lessons. I asked him if it was okay with him. He asked me to bring him a demonstration.

When I came back with the tape he listened for a half a minute and said, “This is not English.” So I went home and had it all written and edited by an expert and came back. It was a great experience to be in Moshe’s home; he was extremely kind and soft.

He read a few lines where I talked about holding breath as an emergency mechanism, which is parasitic when a situation is less threatening. He stopped and said, “This is not true; when the lion roars, the gazelle holds its breath so it can tune up itself together and be able to run quickly.” So I went home and corrected my mistake. I brought him the corrected version. He read it and said, “No, when the lion is roaring the gazelle freezes so the lion will have something to eat.”
Moshe did give me permission to do the tapes. Somebody in the San Francisco training confronted him about it, asking, “Why do you let Ruthy do your work in her voice?” He answered, “I want my students to be independent.”

NGW: What would make him proud if he was alive today?
RA: Moshe had a vision to teach the whole planet from a satellite. He knew there is no one in the world that does not need it. He said it could be applied to any other human learning, not just movement. I personally feel good to carry his principles into my Bones for Life work, where I explore springy pressure in the vertical. I think we need to think of more explanations, use the enthusiasm of the teachers to share and make it easier for them to become trainers. It seems we are held by fear and do not move as we could and as we teach.

NGW: As a teacher, you have had a crucial role in imparting the work to the next generation of practitioners. What’s on your mind during the first day of a training?
RA: The first day is the hardest. People are coming to the unknown—a big commitment at a time of ignorance. I talk a little, but very early I want them to feel this alchemy of their organism changing its perception and upgrading its performance. I have many small five-minute mini-processes that are so convincing. The whole atmosphere lightens and people are inspired. I also warn them that changing old, reliable habits can bring up many resistances similar to the patterns we resist in life. So they know when it happens to them to not feel bad about themselves or blame the movement or the teacher.

NGW: What would you be doing if you had not met Moshe Feldenkrais?
RA: If there was not this unique person Feldenkrais, we would all be struggling in the level of yoga, Pilates, and the rest. I personally would be a housewife, a little frustrated, looking for something satisfying. I knitted some dresses that went in a fashion show with all the major Israeli designers all over Europe and in the U.S. I remember being in San Francisco at my first ongoing workshop in the city, in which Frank Wildman and Denis Leri first encountered Feldenkrais. The fashion show organizer called me to come to the Fairmont Hotel. When my handmade dress appeared on the line, they stopped the music and asked me to get up and speak. I asked the organizer if I should explain what I was really doing in San Francisco, but she said, “No, no, just speak about the dress.”

Once in Israel my wedding dress was on television and my entire neighborhood was so impressed, and I had already been teaching Feldenkrais for years unnoticed. This is our main task—to change the public criteria of what is really important in life.

NGW: You have been so prolific in developing new work, and now your Bones for Life program has taken you in a new direction. How does the legacy of the work give permission for us to forge our own paths and carve our own contributions?
RA: Moshe said, “If you know what you do, you can do what you want.”
So the main thing is to do what you want and the awareness of knowing the how is the instrument. I give the example of extending the arm to point to the moon. But some people keep their eyes on the hand, and you cannot move their eyes from the finger to the moon; only they can do that. For me, Moshe taught us the dynamics of awakening creativity and not just the different ideas.

NGW: You have developed work with your own creative stamp on it—Bones for Life. How do you see the relationship between traditional Feldenkrais Method and Bones for Life?
RA: Moshe started from judo, the ultimate efficiency in real time and vertical reality with an unpredictable partner. He created for us a laboratory for improving coordination for the purpose of learning to become more of our potential. His passion was to lead the people in the West so the ATM process would channel them to perfect themselves rather than endlessly imitating the master without understanding the clues. The context for the Feldenkrais bodily insight to happen is lying on the floor free of gravity and social judgment, with permission to follow one’s own individual pace and range. Now when I come to apply the learning principles of Feldenkrais to Bones For Life, there is a crucial need to interact with gravity in rhythmical, springy pressure. I needed to revise a different greenhouse condition for learning. I use the wall for support and alignment, like the floor supports and aligns. I add a harness (seven yards of material) as a loan of integration. This is what we are doing in Functional Integration (FI), giving the people a taste of the more ideal model.

I am amazed how well Bones for Life works. I use a self-touch, like putting the knuckle of the index finger bent between the teeth to pull forward and resisting it with the neck, which withdraws backwards, aligning the head over the backbone. When we add to that position integral movement, like walking in place, the alignment of the neck is reinforced. This is a kind of shortcut to better posture that is crucial for performing strength-demanding functions. The proof is in the pudding. Measurements of bone density of a group in Tel Aviv, studying once a week for 3 1/2 hours for 4 months, showed unexpected improvement.

It will be a while until our culture will have measurable criteria for quality and harmony. At least bones can be easily measured. Of course, with any ATM we enhance the potential of dynamic moving, but bones need this style of moving on a regular basis for the actual mechanical feeding of the bones. The revolutionary new pattern we get in ATM needs to be repetitively applied in the vertical to make a difference.

NGW: You are in the midst of writing a book on Bones for Life. How is coming along?
RA: The book will outline each process in detail with a brief introduction for the functional perspective. There will be three booklets for each Bones for Life segment. In my training in Italy we transcribe the training as part of the course and trainees get the book of every segment. There will be over 100 processes described. I have enough material for the first book in English. When I return home from New Zealand and Australia, I will finish it.

NGW: If you could redo your Feldenkrais life again, would you do anything differently?
RA: One day when I visited him in his home, he asked me to climb the ladder and bring down a pack of yellow pages. He asked me to read. This was the manuscript of The Potent Self. I was reading and admiring and impulsively said, “Why don’t you publish it?” and he said because he had not completed the last chapter. I continued to urge him but he came up with all kinds of excuses and I realized I just frustrated him, so I let it go. But I will always remember those typed yellow pages of 40 years ago.

When the San Francisco training graduated there was a great dinner at a big hotel organized by Bill Callison. At this dinner were all the leaders from the psychology conference and Jane Houston talked and said, “Moshe, you are our yoga of the West.” I was sitting at Moshe’s table. On one side, Werner Erhard, the founder of EST, and on the other side the Israeli consul in San Francisco.

I thought it would be the right moment for me to acknowledge Moshe for having those advanced ideas 40 years ago. I got up and told how Moshe had all these ideas 40 years ago. People were laughing. I was as standing behind Moshe and his presence was overwhelming. I sat down and then realized I had not said the main thing about the yellow pages book. I felt terrible. The next day the conference started.

Jean Houston talked about the third centennial of the U.S. with all the new messages of the new age methods, counting them one by one, never mentioning Feldenkrais. I knew he was in the audience and could imagine how he felt and then I understood what had happened to me the night before.

When I came back to Israel I went to his FI place in Nachmany Street and told him how I had intended to acknowledge him, but he probably reiterated his attitude of not trusting that the world would recognize him, and strong as his presence was, it hypnotized the people to not be able to express it. Maybe that’s what happened to Jane Houston, too.

It was the first time that I had told something to Moshe that he did not challenge immediately, and he just got to thinking. I wish I could get the message through to him that now the world recognizes him more and more as the universal best quality learning of what is most important to any person—how their body supports them to be what they want to be.

NGW: If you had to distill the Feldenkrais work into one sentence down to its barebones essence, what would you say?
RA: For me, Feldenkrais is about awakening the organism to use its resourcefulness, to not compromise and instead invent solutions of improvement. The awareness, the evolutionary models, the variations, the non-habitual approach are all instruments to awaken the core, which has the power.

NGW: When I look at the picture of you jumping, I am instantly reminded of your lightness and depth. Ruthy, thank you for visiting with me, you’ve provided a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and history. As always, you are a joy to spend time with and I appreciate your kindness in sharing your many experiences with the somatic community. I wish you well in completing your book and on your next creative adventure, whatever it is!

A Conversation with Mark Reese

Mark Reese has taken on a project of a lifetime—the first comprehensive biography of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. He has traipsed the globe investigating, interviewing, and researching the details of Feldenkrais’s complex and colorful life. In May of 2005, the fruits of his dedication will be in our hands when Feldenkrais: An Illustrated Biography and Resource will be published. The majority of practitioners practicing today never had the opportunity to work directly with Feldenkrais. The contribution of this biography is colossal to the future of the Feldenkrais work. Mark graduated from the San Francisco Training in 1977, went on to study with Moshe Feldenkrais in Israel, and is currently one of the leading Feldenkrais trainers working in the field today. Mark took the time to bring me up-to-date on his project that has been years in the making. I had the opportunity to speak with Mark while he was in the thick of his writing process.

NGW: Tell me about the initiation of the biography project. Did the leadership of the Feldenkrais community get together and decide that a biography should be written and you volunteered for this project? Did you initiate the project?
MR: Yes, I initiated the project. I became interested in the idea during my training when Feldenkrais said that his life story would make a fascinating book. And I was always trying to re-trace the steps of his thinking in order to understand his approach better.

NGW: What’s most important to you about having a biography of Moshe Feldenkrais?
MR: It seems to me that knowing more about Feldenkrais’s life, the context where his work evolved, is essential for the public and for practitioners to fully understand the Feldenkrais method and to appreciate its depth, breadth, and originality.

NGW: Have you ever felt that if you didn’t write the biography, there wouldn’t be one?
MR: I’ve wondered. If I didn’t start when I did, I wouldn’t have been able to reach the number of people that I did. Sure, another biography could be written, but I’ve tried to make this biography as comprehensive, detailed, and accurate as anybody could possibly do.

NGW: Did people come out of the woodwork to tell you Moshe Feldenkrais stories?
MR: Many people that I spoke with were quite elderly. They were very grateful that someone was interested in their stories. And people would appear out of nowhere with letters, or tapes, or information about somebody to contact.

NGW: Telling “Moshe stories” is part of the culture of Feldenkrais training. Without an accurate biography, were you concerned about the erosion of the facts?
MR: That has been one of my biggest concerns. People need to understand Feldenkrais’s story to appreciate what the method has to offer. This is even truer for people studying to become practitioners. By not having contact with the man, the work can be skewed in a particular way. The stories people tell have a bias, and sometimes are just untrue. Even the videotapes, even though they show the man, they give a very limited picture and often somehow create a distorted view of him. I’ve tried to represent the man as accurately and fully dimensionally as possible. I hope that everyone who is seriously interested in the method will read the biography. I hope that the Feldenkrais community will have some common appreciation for who the man was and where the method came from.

NGW: You have traveled far and wide to get interviews from people that knew Moshe Feldenkrais. What has been your most interesting adventure so far?
MR: I have nearly 400 pages of transcribed interviews with someone who was a student of Feldenkrais from 1963 to1983. He’s a wonderful person with a brilliant mind, and incredibly articulate. The way he was able to capture in such vivid detail the lessons he had with Feldenkrais over 20 years was very exciting. Another thing is that because they worked for such a long period of his life, starting from when he was 13, it becomes so clear how aware Feldenkrais was of developmental issues, how important it was for him to help move someone along through their stages of life.

NGW: Are there times from Moshe’s life that you were not able to investigate? Are there any missing pieces?
MR: There are certainly gaps—over the course of the research the gaps have become smaller. I would like to know more about his life in Palestine during the 1920s. There is a period in the post-WWII period in London where I would like to have more information. Just before I started, Feldenkrais’s former wife, Yona, died. She would have been a wonderful source of information for his Parisian period during the 1930s. As I work on the book, though, I realize I really do have enough information to put a very full story down on paper.

NGW: You knew Moshe early in your career. What have you found out in your investigations about Moshe that surprised you?
MR: There were many surprises. Many of the ideas of the method came to him by the 1920s, more than twenty years before what people think of as the method. He was studying jujitsu and the autosuggestion work of Coué. At an early age he had a gut feeling of where he wanted to go and the kind of information he needed.

Another surprise was that many people knew him as an extremely fun-loving and clownish kind of guy. He liked to play, he liked to have a good time, and he liked physical humor. It seems there was kind of lightness and good humor to him in his early life. When he became successful and busy it took a toll on him. He became increasingly serious. Mia Segal told me about that. Many other people reinforced this opinion.

Also, in the early stages of practicing, Feldenkrais used to spend very long periods of time with individuals. I have been able to interview some of them and see how deeply he changed their lives. The amount of time he was able to spend with each person grew smaller as he had a larger practice.

NGW: When you gave your lecture at the San Francisco Conference, you mentioned that there were some discrepancies in opinions of Feldenkrais from one person to the next.
MR: One student said he was the worst teacher he ever had and another said he was the best teacher he ever had. Some people emphasized his generosity while others talked about his stinginess. Some said he was lazy, and others were impressed by how hardworking he was. It was as if people were talking about completely different people. My responsibility as a biographer is to show enough of his dimensions so the readers can form their own conclusions.

NGW: How has working on this book changed your work as a Feldenkrais practitioner?
MR: I find my teaching is enriched by whatever chapter I am working on presently or what interviews I have done recently. One example is that while I was writing about his ideas about Coué, I realized how many of Coué’s ideas show up in Awareness through Movement. It changed my teaching emphasis.

NGW: I am curious about switching gears from Feldenkrais trainer to biographer. How did you prepare to be a biographer? Were there certain biographies that influenced you? Were you attracted to a certain style of biography?
MR: I always had been drawn to the biographies of scientists. I’ve read many biographies of Freud and Darwin. The combination of an intellectual biography together with a more personal approach appealed to me. Dave Thelen, Esther Thelen’s husband, a historian at Indiana University, spoke with me on how ideas of historical writing have evolved and the importance of including the biographer’s perspective, and not trying to be invisible.
NGW: Talk about the process of actually writing the book. There is the gathering stage and the writing stage. Where was the fun for you? Where was the difficulty?
MR: It’s all been fun. I’ve loved doing the interviews. I have learned so much. My own process is probably not the most efficient way, but it’s my own way. What I tend to do is write the story based on the information I have. As I gather more information I continue to re-write as a clearer picture has come into my mind. My writing has always been intermixed with the research gathering. I have learned to see the value of my own method.

NGW: How did you manage the time while teaching full time?
MR: I would go back and forth between more intensive periods of teaching in trainings and private practice, and working on the book. I also tried to do a little bit each day, an interview or an hour or so of writing. Recently I have moved into high gear since I’ve gotten funding from a private foundation. I have let go of a lot of teaching commitments and my private practice so that I can work 4-6 hours a day.

NGW: What is your hope for this book? Will Feldenkrais finally get the recognition he deserves?
MR: My hope is that this book will help us all evolve in our work. If I am able to realize my vision, I have two books in mind. The first book, which I am in the process of completing now, is an illustrated biography and resource. This book is intended for Feldenkrais practitioners or anyone who already knows about the method and is seriously interested in knowing more. For the larger public I am working on a distilled version. The second book will convey to the public that Feldenkrais was a fascinating man. I hope it’s going to be a good read. Readers will realize that Feldenkrais, both the man and the method, are really original, and worth knowing about.

NGW: When will the books be out?
MR: The book for book for devotees will be out in May, 2005, and the book for the general public will follow right on its heels.

NGW: Any last thoughts on the process so far?
MR: I was amazed by how all the different careers and life experiences Feldenkrais had born fruit in the method that was to be: his childhood, his experiences as a tutor, his work doing mathematics in a survey office, his work with autohypnosis, his jujitsu, his engineering in the Curie laboratory, his physics, the work he did with sonar, his work as an inventor. All these things weren’t just phases that he went through. It’s clear he was able to synthesize knowledge from all the areas of his life. It’s increased my respect for him and also helped me understand the broadness of the foundation of the method.

As all this became clearer to me, I got a new vision for the biography, one that was less strictly chronological. I’m finding a way to describe the entire method, in a sense, or at least a feeling for the whole, in each chapter, as I work chronologically through his life. It’s as if the whole method were there by the time he was 14 and about to leave Russia; it was there already in Palestine in the twenties, and Paris in the thirties, and London and Scotland in the forties. Each period of his life shows the work through a different lens, depending on his circumstances and influences at the time.

NGW: Mark, thank you for your time and generosity in speaking with me. I know the Feldenkrais community joins me in wishing you success on your journey in completing this important work. It sounds like it’s been an enormously profound process and we will all benefit from your scholarship and dedication.

These interviews originally appeared in Somatics.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

FLUID PLAY: Emilie Conrad and Continuum

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Emilie Conrad
Photo by Cass Phelps

by Nancy Galeota-Wozny

All fluid activities are in resonance. They mutualize and inform each other. The fluid inside this biosphere called Earth and the fluids of our bodies are in constant rapport.
—Emilie Conrad

Diving In

Several years ago I had the good fortune to be given a small stipend for a summer somatic adventure from the good people at the Texas State Arts Council. Finding myself in a bit of a soma-rut, I was looking for a modality that would involve new movement, improvisation, and all-around fun. Something primal, exotic, and essentially internal was on my wish list.
I began my search with Don Johnson’s book Bone, Breath, and Gesture, a collection of writings by somatic pioneers. Skipping past the disciplines I was already familiar with, I ground to a dead halt reading Emilie Conrad’s Life on Land. This chapter read like a soma-novelette unraveling Emilie’s bodily experience. Her words flowed like water. She spoke of those in-between worlds we enter as movers, and the depth of experience available to somatic adventurers. The piece spoke of our watery existence, of waves, undulations, and the life pulse. Life on Land chronicled Emilie’s physical and emotional breakdown. Continuum emerged from this despair. The work emerged as a means for her survival. Her confined life in Brooklyn, her immersion in Afro-Haitian dance, her years as a movement specialist working with UCLA researcher Valerie Hunt, her ongoing probe into spinal cord injury—these are the forces that urged Continuum into existence.

All this watery talk reminded me of what I love about dancing—a certain quality of leaking into space. What leaks better than water? My liquid future was calling me. Within an hour, I had hunted down a workshop with Emilie Conrad at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.

In a room full of equally curious people, I settle into my first week with Emilie Conrad. After a brief lecture on the downside of linear, robotic movement, Emilie launches in to her approaches known as Continuum and Jungle Gym. Jungle Gym is the more fitness-oriented work, while Continuum has more meditative aspects. (Emilie combines both practices in her workshops.) According to Emilie, the movement culture at large has overly invested in form at the expense of flow. The more patterned our movement, the more rigidity becomes the norm. Our game plan for the week will be breaking up density, shedding years of overly patterned movement, revitalizing connective tissue, and discovering new movement.

“Breath is the movement of wind on water—it becomes a beckoning of our origins,” writes Emilie in Life on Land. Our breathing education begins with the “hu” breath, which is used as a kind of ignition to get movement going wherever it’s stuck. Emilie refers to it as a pump. It’s a quick, hot simian-like breath allowing a range of sounds and facial expressions. At some point, “hu” breathing extends throughout the body and movement emerges, and we are encouraged to follow the movement where it leads us. The “O” and “E” sounds are introduced—the “E” for lateral spreading and the “O” for invigorating bone tissue. There is a kind of poetry to Continuum breaths and sounds.

Although breath is, in itself, treated as movement, we also go on to learn specific movement practices that will eventually be put together into a sequence. The sequence of practice lays out the territory of exploration. I am amazed at how little explanation is necessary for each practice. Emilie’s straightforward teaching style has a way of keeping the action going and arousing our curiosity as to where it’s all heading.

Emilie usually demonstrates each practice—this alone is worth the workshop fee. Emilie switches from teacher to depth-mover in an instant. The room settles into an eerie reverence as Emilie starts her exploration. Demonstrations serve as a ballpark of how to begin—there is never any pressure to imitate. Emilie demonstrates a kind of tentacle-like movement of her leg while side-lying. Her toes and face morph and her leg appears boneless. We witness articulations that hardly seem humanly possible. Forgetting I am watching the human form in motion, I am reminded of that William Hurt movie, Altered States, in which too much time in an isolation tank loosens molecular structure. Perhaps that is what I am seeing, the shedding of structure and the emergence of our primordial fluid history. The expanding boundary of the body she has been talking about is smack in front of us. I’ve seen a lot of dance in my day, and I have never been issued an invitation to move as I have from Emilie’s demonstrations. The sensuous climate she evokes beckons us.

Emilie’s instructions contain fairly precise constraints in terms of positioning. Some are extremely physically challenging. Other practices are more open-ended. We explore wave motion lying in an X position on our backs. In a crab position, we play with pelvic wave motion as we invite one limb at a time to leave the floor. I am amazed at how long I can do this without falling apart. There is a juice in the novelty that keeps us all going further than we thought possible. Chairs are enlisted as impromptu apparatus to challenge our balance and get nonhabitual with gravity. Sometime during the week we are introduced to Emilie’s Explore Board, a slanted contraption that allows us to hang and suspend ourselves in unusual ways.
Once we develop a repertoire of movements, sounds, and breaths, Emilie orders them into a sequence. Sequences are repeated in layers, allowing one to go deeper with each repetition. With each layer we shed something of our past patterning, allowing space and time for new information. By the third time through, I hardly feel like the same person. The sequence itself provides just enough structure to balance the specificity of the movements and breathing with the more improvisatory spirit of the work.

The layering of sequences is sometimes referred to as “a dive” and can go on for an hour, for several hours, or even for days on retreats for advanced students. We start with a mini-dive of about 45 minutes, with four practices to explore involving movement, sound, and breath. The first dive flies by, leaving us hungry for a longer duration in which to play. By the end of the week we are moving for two hours or so. It’s our first taste of the sea before us. Having a whole room full of movers amplifies the experience.

The dive is our own dance. During the dive, we rest in “open attention,” which allows us to notice what’s changed and pay attention to any emergent movement. We can stay with any part of the sequence as long as we feel it’s necessary. Spontaneous movement often follows the sequence, as if the sequence exists to get the fluids going, which then play out their own dance.

An eclectic array of music is used as a companion rather than a dictator of tempo. The music creates a bed of sound that heightens the intensity of the dive. I find myself moving in new forms, tempos, qualities that I never touched during my modern-dancer days. I notice a slippery quality to my movement afterward. It’s enormously liberating to let go of the idea of the body as a “thing” to maintain, pump, and fluff. The movement is like good food. I leave Omega feeling nourished and satisfied.

Over the next few years, a Continuum teacher visits Houston and we form a Continuum study group. We get together in each other’s homes, at our offices, and at dance studios to practice and play with sequences we have learned. By last spring, I begin to feel ready to go back to the source. Two of us sign up for a week in June with Emilie at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’d forgotten what a striking, charismatic presence Emilie is in person—part rock star, part comedienne of the somatic world. With unruly jet-black hair almost hiding her fiery eyes, her explosive gestures lend a theatricality rare in the somatic world. A trace of a Brooklyn accent comes through in her enthusiastic speech. “You are going to love this,” she says as she lays out the day’s work. Her conversation with the group flies about from anatomy to mythology to the current political climate. She seems too well-versed in too many subjects for one person. No subject seems too big for Emilie—stars, galaxies, the molecular structure of connective tissue. She quotes Jesus in one breath and Stanislavsky in the next.

Her approach this time has a kind of no-nonsense feel to it. “Going to the gym,” she says, “is a rotten idea.” Her work with people with spinal cord injuries enters the conversation at key moments—clearly, she continues to be educated by those who on the surface appear to be “not moving.” There is urgency to her talk—a feeling of “let’s get on with it before they shut us down.”

Emilie introduces her idea of a warm-up known as “the full body drop.” In a breathtaking enactment, Emilie’s movements form a living museum of our ancestral history. The full body drop faintly resembles the old modern dance standard of rolling down and up the spine. In Emilie’s version, there are many departures along the road down and up. She spends some time in a deep squat playing with movements of digging and scratching the ground. Her movements have a raw quality. On the way up the spine, she lingers in a C-shaped curve. The journey to uprightness seems heavy and labored. When she arrives in full standing, her arms float—she appears to be in flight. After the full body drop warm-up, we are ready to begin our work with the latissimus back muscle. Specific breaths and sounds are designed to open up the back.
There is an artfulness in the play between breath, sound, and more expansive movement. The sequence is like an ocean—our job is to dive in and enjoy the water. Pleasure is everywhere. We are not so wedded to our human form in a Continuum experience—the kinesthetic imagination is given full rein, and it’s not unusual for participants to experience gills, tails, and an extra set of feet.

This workshop hones in on fluid as the primary resonating force in the galaxy. The week pours out like honey, and by the last day we have a repertoire of sequences to keep us busy for a good long while. At times I feel as if I am learning from the intelligence of my own fluids. I feel profound changes in my movement, a kind of silky ease and softening of my boundaries. My soul, cells, and psyche feel refreshed. I am privileged to have found a safe container for my wildness.

Naropa attracted a somatically savvy group of movers—most of us feel ready to take the material and run with it. Emilie muses on the obscure state of somatics: “Somatics is in the barn with the cows, chickens, and pigs.” If so, this is one group of happy pigs. Within the group, there is an immense feeling of appreciation for Emilie and her work. The idea of being part of one unbroken fluid whole seems more enticing than ever. Yes, we are on land now but the water within us is a shared resource—one body. During Emilie’s time doing movement experiments with Valerie Hunt, someone asked her how she was able to sustain such long periods of vigorous movement without strain and the usual physiological changes. She replied, “I create a wave and then I ride it.” 1
The week was equally rich and exhausting. We depart feeling connected to each other, Emilie, and—I would venture to say—the planet.

A Conversation with Emilie Conrad

The following conversation took place on June 12, 2003, during Emilie Conrad’s workshop, The Mutability of Form: The Fluid Play of Existence, at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

NGW: In your chapter in Don Johnson’s book Bone, Breath, and Gesture, you state that we are essentially water on land. Clearly the qualities of water—of wave motion and undulation—are key in your work. You said earlier today that if you had to distill Continuum into one idea, it would be the primacy of the fluid system. Can you elaborate?

EC: We’re like fish that swim in the ocean not knowing that the basic wave movements of the ocean and the undulating movements of the fish are inseparable. The inherent movement of the fish is an expression of the ocean; when fish are out of their element, they no longer undulate. We ourselves are engaged in the same way. Human movement at the most fundamental level is undulating with fields of energy that go far beyond the boundaries of a body. We are in a biocommunication with the undulating waves of our bodies/planet/galaxy as an undivided whole.

As far as I can determine, all fluid systems are basically the same. Whether in our bodies as cerebral-spinal fluid, the fluid in our cellular matrix, membranes, synovial fluid, blood—all of it comprises the fluid system and is resonant with the fluids of the planet and galaxy as one organ of intelligence that overrides any time-space differential. Ironically, of all the elements on earth, the fluid system is probably the least explored. My proof is that we are using our oceans as a giant dumping ground, as well as exploding the brains of whales and dolphins by the reckless sonar experiments the U.S. Navy is conducting.

It is really the movement of fluid that is so compelling and mysterious. Over these 37 years of Continuum, I’ve conducted my own experiments and inquiries with this magical substance, and I have made some very valuable discoveries. For one thing, it is the richness of fluid movement that becomes so essential to any healing process. Although illness or dysfunction is multicausal, we would find at its very basis a disruption in resonance. This disruption would be a loss of the interconnectedness of organism/planet/galaxy. We could see it as a kind of dismemberment in which a fundamental resonant limb is in a state of disarray.

Stress is a really good example of loss of resonance. Stress is not usually thought of as a form of paralysis, but on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being quadriplegia, stress can be as high as 5.
Here is a picture of stress from the perspective of the fluid system. Stress, among other things, produces a hormone called cortisol, which overstabilizes the fluid in our connective tissue, making it impossible for it to move through its aqueous cycle. All fluid moves from gel (semi-solid) to sol (aqueous). This movement of fluid, whether in our cellular matrix or in our connective tissue, can be seen as a form of respiration. The alternate cycles of gel-sol represent a kind of inhaling and exhaling through changes in the fluid. Gel would be a cellular inhale, while sol would be a cellular exhale. Gel (to inspire) is the taking on of form, sol (to expire) is the dissolving of form. When fluid becomes bound, it cannot exhale; it creates rigidity, locking down our connective tissue, fixating our muscles, creating an overstabilization or a structural excess that will ultimately erupt in functional disorders. When fluid becomes more aqueous, its capacity to communicate is enormous. When fluid becomes gel (or more solid, more local), its concerns are more within a boundary. The notion of a body being just gel, or local, is a misconception.
Connective tissue serves our organism in many ways, but one of its primary contributions is relationship.

Fluid governs the plasticity and responsiveness of our connective tissue. When fluid cycles are disrupted, there is a loss of a fundamental resonance, meaning that the link has been broken. Again, this is why I refer to it as a dismemberment. To be dismembered is to be severed from. Couple this with disruptions in connective tissue relationship, and you have a profound organismic incoherency. Foundational to any healing process would be to restore organismic cohesion.

Movements that undulate, arc, and spiral are movements that invigorate the fluid system. In a sense you are mimicking the biogenetic movement of fluids, eddying and tiding, which will eventually restore the severance.

NGW: You say, “Movement is something we are, not something we do.” This idea challenges the notion of body as a fixed, solid object. You also talk about the “cultural body” that is imposed upon us. Can you talk about your concept of “body”?

EC: The body has multiple interpenetrating wave motions that consolidate and stabilize as we enter the electromagnetic field of the earth. A newborn receives planetary signals that cue the adjustments and requirements to function with our planet. We see the same phenomena with astronauts, in reverse, as they leave earth’s electromagnetic field and lose the “grounding” that we have become so familiar with. The planet helps to shape our bodies so they can function successfully in this atmosphere. With the same DNA on another planet, the interactions of those cues would produce very different results.

Our bodies represent four billion years of a planetary process. In utero, we enter the domain of the beginnings of all life, as the embryonic journey carries the imprint of the beginning of multicellular life. The embryonic involutions and invaginations reflect a four-billion-year motif of cellular aggregation and the origins of form. We are species-inclusive entities, carrying within us the imprint of many expressions of form, beginning with our oceanic ancestry and eventually our movement on land.

I believe that our bodies are in a phase shift; we are very much in a process of unfolding our own biodynamic lineage. I also think that we have been colonized by the industrial revolution as it has invaded our biosystem by enforcing mechanical and repetitive movement as desirable. We accept these reductive movements not aware of their limitations.

The industrialization of the body has led to the electronicution of the body, which has created a speed that is not in keeping with the tides of a biosystem, causing, in my view, an unbelievable degree of dissociation and stress.

NGW: Your approach to fitness is called Jungle Gym, which doesn’t remotely resemble anything one might see in a gym. A Jungle Gym workout is hardly a linear experience. Can you speak to what gave rise to Jungle Gym?

EC: I wanted to develop a strengthening approach that enhanced the fluid system rather than compromising it. Once again, repetitive movement stagnates the fluid in our connective tissue, making it difficult for muscles to really move since every muscle in our body is wrapped in connective tissue. It’s interesting to note that Ida Rolf did not recommend conventional exercise for that very reason.

Using movements that curve, arc, and spiral are biorelated movements that make our internal fluid more alive. When the fluid is more vibrant, it changes our body density, making it lighter and more receptive. One of the problems with conventional exercise is that by creating increased density in so-called “muscle tone,” we are actually creating more armor, which functions as another form of defense, making ourselves less receptive to change and actually causing us to lose adaptability.

Repetitive or linear movements are not neurologically rich; no predictable movement or habitual situation can ever be an enhancement. Movements that have variety as well as multiple rhythmic changes are like manna from heaven for the brain as well as the body. When you see people at a gym watching TV as they use their StairMaster or treadmill, it’s because they are bored to death.

One of the most profound ways of stimulating our fluid is through changes in gravity. In the Jungle Gym, we use a piece of equipment that I developed called an Explore Board, which can be changed around like an erector set in order to create angles in which to curve and suspend your body in unusual relationships to gravity. What this does, first of all, is get us away from the industrialized approach and bring in more of an overall aesthetic in which our bodies are finding exquisite movements and positions to explore.

The suspension of bodies in different relationships to gravity and, particularly, finding movements that originate from internal watery realms bring to exercise something that looks more like an art form than an assembly line.

What I also enjoy about the Jungle Gym is that by changing density and creating a lighter body that is immediately more articulate, it takes the drudgery out of moving. Everything has a slippery ease, which increases the sensual pleasure and delight of developing a toned, sinewy, ageless body that can move in any direction with spirit, grace, and power.

NGW: You spent several years as the lead dancer in a Haitian dance company. How do your years in Haiti continue to inform you as a mover?

EC: I was 20 years old when I went to Haiti, after having studied Afro-Haitian dance at the Katherine Dunham School in New York and later with Sevilla Fort. I found the Haitian dances deeply compelling, and through a series of interesting events, I arrived in Haiti in 1955; and through another series of fortunate events, I was offered an opportunity to perform the mambo as a trio with two very handsome Haitian young men in a newly built nightclub.

Our trio was well-received and when asked to stay on, I said I was only interested in exploring folklore, and that would be my only reason for staying. As fate would have it, folklore it was, and my time in Haiti went on for five years. There were so many things that happened, and certainly it was the turning point of my life. First of all, to live in a culture that still maintained such strong African roots allowed me to feel in every pore of my body a connection not only to the earth but to the beginning of humans as well. I could feel in the movements we were doing the ancient sun burning through the bush; I could smell the ancient grass and feel the cool of the night in a blackness that was far different than the neon blinking of New York.

Of course, the most important part for me was the serpent Loa Damballah (a Loa is a God essence). Damballah initiated me into the caves of the earth and into the storms of the sky. It was there in Haiti that I was bitten and died, reborn into something else. That something else guides me to this day. It was the immersion in Damballah, the serpent Loa, that eventually led me to my insights regarding the fluid system. Ever since humans walked the earth, the movement of water on land has always been depicted as a snake, or a serpent.

NGW: Breathing and sound are important elements in both Continuum and Jungle Gym practices. Breath is used both to prepare ourselves for movement and to generate movement. Sound is enlisted to break up density and create possibilities for renewed vitality. What brought breath and sound onto the Continuum map?

EC: I hyperventilated all of my life. Even though I was a dancer and gave the illusion of moving, I knew that I was frozen inside. I was breath-impaired, constantly gasping, gulping, and sighing for air, never able to really fill my lungs. I didn’t know at that time that I was imprinted with a state of terror that began with a difficult delivery on my mother’s part and continued to accumulate in the frightening and desperate experiences of my childhood. Finally, when I was 32, I simply could not go on letting my immobilized childhood lock down the momentum of my adult life. I tried to get help, but I felt manipulated by the therapists that I consulted. I felt an enormous schism in our culture in contrast to what I had experienced in Haiti. Finally I had to lie down on my living room rug and discover breathing for myself.

I began to find an internal depth from experimenting with my breath, which led me to experience the constraints and inhibitions that I was maintaining in a completely different way. Externally I was very flexible, but the level of fear that I had internalized for so long was embedded within my system. It’s as if my system was split in half; inside it was frozen and outside it looked like it was moving. The only thing that would melt it down was the movement of breath. Breath is the first music, and so I approach it like music. Over the years, I’ve developed a wide variety of breaths that create an internal dexterity and start to melt constraints. Any place that breath goes will heal.

Sound came into my awareness much later. In the 1970s, I had a realization that sound could dissolve density and refine movement as well. Sound changes a gross movement into a molecular movement, giving it a complexity that the gross movement could never have. I am so completely captivated by the evolution of movement that sound was the logical next phase of discovery.

Refinement and complexity can be seen in the movement of the octopus. From my perspective, the octopus is demonstrating an advance forward to the kind of molecular dexterity we could have at some future time. One of the most important teachings that the octopus demonstrates is an astounding array of responses and the ability to quickly rearrange itself for its survival. Without the use of sound as a source for shifting densities, I don’t know how we could achieve this potential within ourselves.

NGW: As I look over your teaching calendar, I notice you enjoy collaborating with other somatic practitioners, osteopaths, scientists, and others on a similar path. Can you speak about your adventures in the somatic neighborhood?

EC: All of the people I collaborate with are interested in the development and expansion of the somatics field. In my collaborations with people from allied fields, we pool our knowledge; through the love of our work and through love of exploring, we heighten each other’s capabilities.

I think that Continuum makes a great contribution to all the other somatic practices because of our work with the dynamics of the fluid system, which will accelerate any healing process. In the 1970s I began to experiment with people who were paralyzed or who had other neurological impairments for which there were no successful protocols. I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Valerie Hunt for five years at her UCLA laboratory, in a groundbreaking research project demonstrating the “innovation” of new nerve and muscle tissue.

The movement sequences of Continuum are actually quite simple and are easy to teach to clients. I feel that with serious health challenges, clients need to have a practice that they do on a daily basis that will maintain the much needed flux in their system. A daily practice will keep the system open and moving rather than struggling with the return of habitual patterns. Healing is complex, and the tendency to return to the patterned imprint is extremely high. Every client I work with has a process that they do on a daily basis that we alter, change, and refine as new connections and responses become integrated into the system. In working with complex issues, sessions once or twice a week simply will not hold. Any long-term injury has been patterned into the nervous system, and it becomes normal for that person to have that template. The internalized pattern is like a magnet, relentlessly trying to maintain itself.

The disruption of status quo on a daily basis allows the system to stay in a biorelated flux, creating an internal plasticity, like a very young child has. This plasticity is essential to any healing process. “Flux,” which is highly coherent, is not to be confused with “amorphous,” which is incoherent. Flux is similar to the exchanges that go on in embryogenesis, where life sequencing is able to move and develop efficiently and with integrity within the fluid medium.

NGW: Continuum is a small community. Currently there are about 42 teachers worldwide. What are your plans for disseminating your work to the next generation?

EC: I don’t want to control the work. I know it will change when I’m gone because times change—the world keeps moving, developing different values, insights, and meanings.
I personally resist teacher training programs. I need to be close to the people who teach Continuum, since they basically represent me and are a continuation of a very particular vision. I like to select and help develop people who I think are gifted and have the qualities that I look for in a good teacher. This makes my relationship to our teaching community very personal, since we are all devoted to the evolving human.

I think we also need to have a greater experience and understanding of movement from molecular to cellular to the movement of fluids, etc. A person who becomes a movement educator should not just be thinking in terms of muscle, but be fully versed in molecular movement.

NGW: Can you speak to embodiment and the birth process, and how they factor into Continuum?

EC: I am putting together a body of work based on biogenesis and the unfolding of life. When I began to work with spinal cord injury, I discovered through the activation of the fluid system how one could innovate new neural networks. It became clear that whether you are giving birth to a baby or to new probabilities within your own biosystem, it is all part of the larger embryonic field that is in a continuum of unfolding life.

I feel that in our culture, poor attention has been paid to the birthing process and the devastation that can be caused by ignorance and arrogance. A culture grows and is imprinted by how it approaches the birth process. What kind of society do you think we have when we have birth processes that are dissociated and create shock in infants? Half the people on the planet, at least in our culture, are in a state of shock from their birth process alone. We are all born prematurely in order for our head to move through the birth canal. Our in utero gestation continues ex utero, and it is essential that the baby stay within the vibrational field of the mother. When that’s disrupted, for whatever reason, and put in a nursery, the baby goes through despair, having been ripped from its ex-uterine vibrational field. When this particular ex-uterine bonding is carelessly disrupted, the experience is seared into the infant’s nervous system and becomes part of its life theme.

I could go on and on about Cesarean births, forceps deliveries, closing the legs when the baby is moving through the birth canal, incubators, etc. Shock and stress make us less human and less humane. We become increasingly dissociated, less empathic. We are clearly headed toward a world of blade runners, people whose empathic capacity is so compromised they are capable of anything. The incident at Columbine is a good example of what I’m referring to.

Our brain is shaped by experience. As we continue to experience mechanical ways and create a world that represents an industrialization of our consciousness, the price we pay will be the loss of the unfolding gestating life that moves through us and the stars in mysterious wave tides that are still pulsating in our cells.

It appears obvious that our culture is more dedicated to making weapons of mass destruction than to the thriving of human beings. It’s important for us all to see this, particularly those of us in the somatics field, and to take matters into our own hands.

Right now we are the dwellers on the threshold. We still have the capacity to change the scene and reclaim ourselves as organisms that are extensions of a magnificent process that has been going on for four billion years. I think that’s a wonderful thing to want.

1 From Valerie V. Hunt’s book Infinite Mind: Science of the Human Vibrations of Consciousness, Malibu Publishing, 2000,

To contact Emilie or to learn more about Continuum: Continuum Movement, 1629 18th Street, Studio 7, Santa Monica, CA 90404; tel. (310) 453-4402; fax (310) 453-8775;;

To contact Nancy Galeota-Wozny: 13318 Oddom Ct., Cypress, TX 77429; tel. (832) 326-5234;

Fluid Play was orginally published by Contact Quarterly winter/spring 2004 Volume 29 Number 1

and reprinted by Somatics fall/winter 2003-04 Volume XIV Number 3

Nancy Galeota-Wozny is Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner of Somatic Movement Education and a free-lance writer. She has presented on mind/body movement education all over the US and in Canada. She is a 2004 recipient of the Gary Parks Memorial Award for Emerging Dance Critics, a two-time recipient of Artists Project Grants from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County, and a 2001 finalist for the Sommerville Award in Somatic Writing. Her work has appeared in The Houston Chronicle, Dance Magazine, ArtsHouston, Contact Quarterly, Total, Body, Houston Woman, The Houston Press, Somatics, The Feldenkrais Journal, INTOUCH, Houston ArtsView, and other publications. In 2004, she was invited to be a Critic-in-Residence at the American Dance Festival. Currently she edits Houston’s only dance blog, Dancehunter,

Emilie Conrad, founder and director of Continuum Movement, is a visionary whose revolutionary work continues to inspire an international audience of movement educators and therapists. Conrad teaches and is a guest speaker at various universities, healing arts centers, and movement therapy institutions worldwide. She is currently a member of the somatics faculty at Esalen, Omega, and Kripalu Institutes, and Naropa University. Her basic philosophy recognizes the fluid system of our bodies as an expression of an ongoing rapport of organism as environment, communicating its inherent biointelligence through movements that spiral, arc, curve, and undulate.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

FAQ on the FM: Frequenty Asked Questions on the Feldenkrais Method

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Photo by Nancy Wozny

What is the central idea of the work?
The Feldenkrais Method proposes that our nervous system is a self-correcting system and that movement is the most direct path to change habits towards more easeful human functioning.

Why is it called The Feldenkrais Method?
The Method was named after its founder, Moshe Feldenkrais. He was an engineer, a nuclear physicist, and the first European Black Belt in Judo.

You say that The Feldenkrais Method is a method of somatic education. What does “Somatic” mean?
Somatic derives from the Greek word, “Soma,” which means the “body as a lived experience.” More directly, Somatics is the study of awareness.

How do I know which class is for me?
All the classes and workshops have something to offer you. Choose the class that is convenient for you. It doesn’t make sense to stress yourself out going to your stress reducing class.

Why do I feel so relaxed after class?
We calm down the parasitic noise in our nervous system. We recognize this state as relaxation, but it’s really just a smoother running operating system.

What is an ATM?
ATM stands for “Awareness Through Movement,” not automated teller machine. ATM is the group modality of the Feldenkrais Method. Feldenkrais created thousands of ATM lessons for you to improve your life and was invented way before bank machines.

If I am recovering from an injury can I come to a class too?
Feldenkrais will be perfect for you. We go slow, we pay attention, and we move at our own pace.

Where do you teach in Houston?
Ongoing: The Jung Center & HBU Wellness Center. Workshops: Nia Moves, Unity Church, The Dharma Center, Synchronized Kneads

What kinds of people take Feldenkrais classes?
Smart, curious, and interesting people like you are attracted to the work. There are two kinds of people that are interested in Feldenkrais work, those with problems and those that have no intention of getting problems. Those with problems use the work as a form of rehabilitation, while those without problems use the work has a form of prevention.

What is the difference between “Bones for Life” and traditional Feldenkrais classes?
Ruthy Alon, one of the world’s most renowned Feldenkrais teachers, developed Bones for Life. There is always pressure through the feet or hands against a wall. Bones for Life is a bit more active and is not appropriate for people in chronic or acute pain. You can find out more at

If a class is about the shoulders and my shoulders are fine, is there any benefit to taking this class?
Absolutely! Just because you have no shoulder pain doesn’t mean your shoulders are functioning optimally. We improve the condition we describe as “fine” to “excellent.” If you do have shoulder problems you will be reminded to do very little.

Do you recommend using Feldenkrais tapes?
Yes, but it’s best to have some experiences with a live teacher first. Tapes are available at classes.

How do I join the e-Feldenkrais list?
Send a hello message to

Why do you use audio tapes and not videos?
We activate a different and deeper part of the brain when we listen to instructions and move from audio instructions. In most classes your eyes are closed.

I am strapped for cash, is there a way to still take classes?
Yes, the Jung Center offers scholarships but you have to apply to get one. Find out more by calling the Jung Center at 713-524-8253. I also usually teach free classes once a semester at the Jung Center. I teach free classes for cancer patients and survivors at MD Anderson.

What should I wear to class?
Comfortable street clothes are fine. There is no need to wear workout clothes. Shorts are not a good idea. Cover your limbs and bring a sweater.

Why do we sometimes get cold in a Feldenkrais class?
We get very relaxed in a Feldenkrais class so our metabolic rate slows down during the class. It’s always wise to have a sweatshirt with you.

Do I need to purchase a special mat?
No, a blanket will do. If you are in the market for a mat, you want a soft one with a slippery surface. Sticky yoga mats are not ideal.

Can I do Feldenkrais, Yoga, and Pilates all at the same time?
Well, if you have the time, go for it. Feldenkrais classes will improve your performance in these classes. Feldenkrais is not a substitute for exercise. You still need to get your heart rate up and do some weight training. I find Yoga and Pilates students really take to the work and notice significant improvements.

Do you recommend reading a particular book?
I wish I could recommend that you read my book. There is only one problem—I haven’t written it yet. I recommend reading Dr. Feldenkrais’s book, Awareness Through Movement. Books and tapes can be purchased at North American Feldenkrais Guild, 1-800-775-2118 or visit., or Feldenkrais Resources: 510-540-7600,

What if I notice a new ache or pain after class?
We activate muscles we sometimes haven’t used in decades. The aches are not unlike the ones you get when you start a new movement program. If you consistently notice this you are working too hard in class and I will remind you to do less and feel more.

How much Feldenkrais should I do?
It depends on what you are trying to accomplish. For prevention and relaxation, once a week should meet your needs.

When is it time to try a private Functional Integration lesson?
The one-on-one, hands-on work is appropriate when you have a very specific issue you are working on. Some people simply prefer to work one-on-one and are not able to make it to classes.

What if I can get to class only once a month, will I still benefit?
Of course you will. Each lesson refreshes your nervous system with new patterns of movement.

Is Feldenkrais appropriate for all ailments?
Feldenkrais can significantly improve symptoms of Arthritis, Parkinson’s, Stroke, MS, balance disorders and neuromuscular issues. I have not found the work to significantly improve migraine headaches. Remember to always visit your doctor when symptoms persist.

How do I find out about becoming a practitioner, find a practitioner in Des Moines for my Aunt Louise, check out books, and read up more on the Method?
Visit Visit the Motion Potion Reading Room for all kinds of somatic information.

Are there other Somatic Disciplines that are compatible with the Feldenkrais Method?
You bet! The Alexander Technique, Body/Mind Centering, Aston Patterning, Continuum, Nia, Rolfing, Cranio Sacral Therapy, and Yamuna Body Rolling, all resonate with the Method.

How long have you been doing Feldenkrais work?
I started in 1981. I was in my 20s, but I felt 60. I’m not 60 yet, but I imagine when I get there, I will feel like I am in my 20s. I am in my 12th year as a practitioner.

Is it important to have long and hard to pronounce name to teach Feldenkrais?
No, but it helps. When you teach something that no one can pronounce, it’s good to have a name that no one can also pronounce. So if you are thinking about becoming a Feldenkrais Practitioner you might want to add some vowels and hyphens to your name.

Will Feldenkrais protect me from injury?
No, but if you do get injured you will recover faster. Also, if you fall, you will fall with grace.

Nancy Galeota-Wozny, MA, GCPT
13318 Oddom CT, Cypress, TX 77429

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Practicing the Process: An Artist’s Perspective on Awareness through Movement

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Photo by Nancy Wozny

By Nancy Galeota-Wozny

I came to Awareness Through Movement as an artist and I stayed as an artist although one of my earliest encounters with ATM brought one of the worst disasters of my artistic career. I was 23 and suffering from a list of chronic injuries. I began studying The Alexander Technique and had begun lessons on a weekly basis. Alexander proved a gentle initiation into my somatic life. Sometime during my Alexander tenure I happened on an ATM class especially for dancers. My first impression of the class was that it was a boring, tedious process, full of unnatural and not particularly interesting or challenging movements. Yet when I stood up I felt an ease of movement I had never experienced.

It was in my Alexander teacher’s office that I noticed Feldenkrais’s Awareness through Movement book on the bookshelf. I asked to borrow it. Thus far I had one ATM class under my belt. At the time I was preparing for a premiere performance for New Music America in recognition for the opening of the Old Post Office building that houses the National Endowment for the Arts. It was to date the most important commission of my artistic career. The actual dance was a highly complex collection of rhythmic circular movements that relied on the precision and accuracy of the dancers. Mistakes caused the entire structure of the piece to erode.

On the morning of the performance I was on my way out the door to dance class when I noticed the ATM book sitting on my coffee table. I thought to myself “if one lesson felt so good why not try another lesson using the book?” I hit the floor and proceeded to change my history as both a mover and artist. I did the first lesson in the book and when it felt so good I thought I would try the next lesson in the book. The subsequent lesson felt so good I couldn’t resist the next lesson, and so on. Three hours later I had completed every lesson in the book without a break or standing or walking between each lesson. I had no way of knowing how important it was to have time to process or digest each lesson.

When I finally stood up it was as if someone had erased me. I felt nothing. There was no effort in moving any part of myself, no feeling whatsoever. It was as if I had disappeared. I quickly hit the floor thinking this feeling would pass and I would be able to feel my old self again. It didn’t. I had totally reorganized myself, but had no idea what “reorganizing oneself” entails. Anxiety set in quickly. Standing and moving were the scariest. Actually dancing felt as if I had been given a new set of body clothes to try on. The strange part was that when I moved I was actually experiencing effortless movement. Yet I had developed no context for understanding such an experience. I just felt “missing.” That night backstage fellow dancers inquired why I wasn’t warming up or doing the usual preambles to performing. I felt safest just attaching myself to a wall. At least I could feel the cool concrete substance of the wall. I could trust that sensation. I went on to deliver the worst performance of my life, confusing the other dancers, missing entrances and exits, and in the end getting a terrible review in Dance Magazine, a national publication. I simply hadn’t rehearsed with my “disappeared” self.

One could look at this experience as an artistic failure. Failure, however, often disguises learning at its deepest. This failure held something of a hidden sweet spot. My interior was so shaken by the profundity of the work that at the very core of myself I knew there was no turning back. Carl Jung says once we know something we can’t go back to not knowing. Riveted by the potency of this work I began to experience a simultaneous unraveling of both my movement and my creative process. Baptism by failure ignited my engine for change, now spanning an 18-year commitment to practicing ATM in service to my life as an artist.

As a regular ATM student for the next few years I found my injuries fading like ghosts from the past and I shifted my focus from recovery to growth. Moving better seemed larger than just “better moving.” My physical problems disappeared within the first months of ATM and I have rarely thought about them since. Of course I valued being off medications, expensive doctor visits, and constant discomfort, but it was not the relief of a set of symptoms that so attracted me to the work. That was just the outer layer of my onion: it was the interior layers that were to reveal a kinship with my artistic process. My dances at this point changed radically and could best be described as kinesthetic questions. As I was unlearning how to move I was beginning an education that I know see as critical to my development. From the day I made myself disappear I unknowingly began a process of allowing ATM to penetrate the core of my image-making consciousness.

The Components of ATM as Compared to the Creative Process

In ATM we literally practice the skills most called into play in the creative process. Inspiration is the easy part, while the act of refining an idea can be simply hard work. ATM has lightened the effort, softened the struggle, and restored the value of play. Art Therapist, Shaun McNiff, states, “The creative process is an ecology that depends upon the full spectrum of our resources." What follows is an examination of the precise ways ATM cultivates our creative resources.

a. The Quality of Inquiry and Non-Judgmental Thinking

In ATM we consciously practice a gentle form of inquiry and investigation. An ATM is structured as a series of questions where one gets closer to a given movement idea or concept that lies underneath the inquiry. Each instruction is like a proposal; each movement is a question in response. In an ATM we evoke a non-judgmental form of inquiry. For example, consider the movement of lifting the arm to the ceiling from a side lying position. After the practitioner as given the direction of the movement, he then begins a sequence of inquiries as to “how” we are doing this movement. He may draw your attention to the movement of the shoulder blade, the clavicle, the rotation of your head, and so on. Our attention dances around all that we are doing so that we may lift the arm to the ceiling. The inquiry is framed as a form of information gathering rather than assessing right or wrong. A whole world exists in this one movement of lifting the arm to the ceiling. Surrendering judgement keeps this world open for our learning. The neutral language of the practitioner combined with the exploratory quality of movement of the student keeps curiosity alive in the lesson.

The quality of investigation in ATM is also worthy of attention. In ATM we practice not trying and non-attachment to our destination. Morgan D. James, an expert in creativity and business innovation, lists the importance of non-judgmental thinking as one of the four commandments of creativity (The Thinker’s Toolkit, 1995). Nonjudgmental thinking allows me the freedom to tolerate my work in its most raw and unrealized state. We practice becoming comfortable with the less differentiated versions of the movement we are moving towards in ATM. Depending on the structure of a lesson, it is not unusual to experience some difficulty in performing the initial movements in a lesson. Our limitations are transformed into learning opportunities. We gain tolerance of the raw stages of learning and expression. Writer Anne Lammot claims we will never be a writer unless we can tolerate a terrible first draft (Bird by Bird, 1994). Few works of art start in the form in which they end. First approximations beget second and third approximations until we refine our work.

Judgment can put the brakes on a process designed to flow in directions that often surprise us. In ATM we cultivate a comfort with non-knowing, with beginner’s mind, and a willingness to suspend criticism. Our commitment is to the process, not the product. Our attention to “the way” leads us to our destination. Achievement takes a back seat in ATM. Often I am surprised at the improvement I feel during an ATM when I return to the initial movement I used as a reference point. It is as if the movement was moving toward me all along. The deeper I go in my own investigations, trusting the process all the way, the closer the image moves toward me. At times, I am not sure how a particular movement instruction is going to lead to a fuller use of myself. I need to approach each component of the lesson with trust that it is going somewhere and I need not be analytical about exactly where. Often the artistic process unravels a series of seemingly unconnected questions that lead the artist to a closer vision of a particular work. The artist’s job is to formulate the questions that best move the image toward realization. Arousing our play instinct, we weave threads that will eventually lead to a magnificent whole if we suspend judgment along the way. Carl Jung writes, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from the inner necessity” (Collected Works, 1972). The spirit of playful inquiry fuels creativity.

b. Structure vs. Non-Structure

The very structure of ATM--alternating between movement and rest--creates a parallel of action and reflection that renews both my vision and myself as the compass. We refresh our senses in the rest periods in ATM. I find myself utilizing the rhythm of making and resting in my own work. During the creative process I will make a myriad of decisions concerning the form of a particular work. I can literally move images around in my studio for hours before arriving at a satisfying image. When I get lost, and everything starts looking the same, I go to the floor and begin a scan. ATM lessons begin and end with a process called the scan. The scan is a kind of inventory of sensations that frames the lesson experience. We do this lying down where we can sense our weight against the floor. The scan demands a rigorous use of our attention as we train our abilities to sense distinctions. Feldenkrais's claims, "If we know what we are doing, we can do what we want" (Awareness Through Movement, 1972). By the end of the scan, we have an idea of what we are doing. The scan develops our aesthetic compass as my physical self becomes the compass that I bring to my work. My decisions are embodied and emerge from an aesthetic that moves beyond merely understanding the elements of composition. Adhering to ATM’s precise instructions cultivates a sense for detail and nuance that completes the compass.
The highly defined structure of an ATM lesson helps us tolerate the wide-open world of creativity. There is alchemy present when we partner directed processes like ATM with non-directed movement processes like improvisation and authentic movement. We become less concerned with filling up emptiness and more concerned with finding what’s there. Consider the usual set of fears we meet when coming face to face with our creative force. There is the unwritten page, the big white canvas, and the open empty space. Emptiness waits for our genius and meets our fear. What is it about a sequence of movements that dismantles our fears? Let’s return to the idea of moving something out of the way. Remember that ATM movements act in a subtractive fashion. If ATM interrupts the tyranny of our habits, perhaps it is also affecting the tyranny of our fears. Fears and inhibitions are also being reconfigured. Whether it a dance, a poem or a painting, we reveal something about ourselves. We are gaining a somatic confidence whereby we want to be seen. We feel safe to create. The safety we feel is linked to structure and the non-judgmental environment.

c. Sensing the Difference that Makes the Difference

ATM calls upon the Fechner Weber principle of noticing differences under reduced stimuli. The atmosphere of an ATM class aims at keeping external stimuli to a minimum. Movements are performed slowly often with our eyes closed in a quiet room. Feldenkrais Trainer Dennis Leri writes, "The Feldenkrais Method raises the question, when contemplating the Fechner Weber principle, just how is it that we can lower the background stimulation to enable us to detect just noticeable differences at lower thresholds. While learning with reduced effort is its own reward, somehow the different strata of our experience are reconfigured via a Feldenkrais lesson. In reconfiguring previous configurations we are face to face, so to speak, with the most intimate dynamical machinations of habit” (Mental Furniture, 1997). ATM cultivates a respect for precision that can be the difference between a labored or very elegant movement. We learn to sense subtle differences. Musician Stephan Nachmanovitch could have been describing ATM when he wrote about the creative state as “an alert, poised equilibrium, attentive, ready to shift in any direction with the movement of the moment” (Free Play, 1990). In ATM we somatically train ourselves as a kind of an antenna that is sensitive to multiple sources of information and inspiration. ATM has had a profound effect on my ability to generate movement. My post ATM Dancing became enacting potentials that await my presence to render into form. The whole world of generating movement had turned upside down and inside out. ATM served as a portal, lifting a veil, allowing me to converse intimately with space. As artists our job is to breathe in the world. We delineate our experience in ATM that bringing a more refined perception to the act of noticing. We cannot do that without disciplined attention to our attention.

d. Valuing Failure as a Learning Strategy

In ATM, we cultivate adaptability as we fine-tune our mechanism for change, and consequently failure. So-called “wrong movements” actually lead the way to more efficient movement choices. As an artist, I feel more resilient with my choices and with potential criticism for those choices. Failure is a significant part of the process. I robustly own my mistakes and wrong turns and see them as valuable as they inform and lead me to a deeper clarity of intention. Attaching too tightly to an idea can create an obstacle for a variation of that very idea to come through. We develop resiliency through this gentle process. What is resiliency but the ability to withstand physical and emotional insults? Dennis Leri, in his Mental Furniture Article #9 on Engineering, cites the role of failure in the human developmental process. All that falling, stumbling, babbling and fumbling leads the way to mature behavior. Adaptability leads us to a potent form of strength that values failure as a component to deep learning.

Along with failure comes risk-taking. Often ATM lessons are specifically designed to triturate risk. Large movements are broken up into smaller movements. We navigate the fall through a sequential system by taking risks where the fall is manageable. Feldenkrais’s ATM series on the head-stand is a perfect example. Students in training programs spend 4-6 weeks on a series of lessons that ultimately leads to standing on one’s head. Although not everyone makes it to this final point at the same rate, there exists a profound satisfaction in enduring the difficulties of this feat with great ease. The ATM series on the Judo Roll is yet another example. I hadn’t done a forward roll since 3rd grade when I encountered this ATM series. By the end of this series I was completing consecutive roles fearlessly. ATM ups the intelligence of our risks. Failure, falling and risk-taking cover the landscape of the ATM terrain. Surviving as an artist includes a particular fitness in risk-taking. With each new idea an artist takes a risk.

e. Novelty into New Organizations

Novel movement patterns are typical in ATM. For example, in the classic ATM lesson, Balancing the Flexors and Extensors, we find a movement pattern mid-way through the lesson where the eyes go to the right, the arms to the left, while the legs follow the eyes. Feldenkrais elegantly modulates the degree of novelty as the lesson progresses. Through non-habitual movement patterns we literally coax our nervous system into a fresh organization. These novel organizations give way to new modes of thinking, acting, and creating. It is here that movement, images, ideas, words and sound, unveil themselves with less effort. We arouse the non-habitual muse as unusual connections, juxtapositions, and novel couplings lead us to new learning in an ATM lesson. Originality is fed most by entering the places we ignore. Visual artist Doris Staffel confirms this in her interview with Practitioner Anna Smuckler. Staffel writes on her experience with the method and her art, “when you conceptualize beforehand, you are only dealing with what you have known or done in the past. If you allow the process to take you grazing, you get into territory you didn’t think was possible” (Feldenkrais Journal NO.5, 1990) Immersion in novelty readies us for improvisation in any art form. Robert Mapplethorpe writes on novelty, “My work is about seeing—-seeing things like they haven’t been seen before” (Free Play, 1990). In ATM we become willing participants in the land of the unusual and gain comfort with not seen before combinations. Counter-intuitive roads and discontinuous paths often yield previously unconsidered possibilities. In ATM we gain comfort in going “off-road,” realizing our sidetrack may be as important as any linear progression. Musician Don Campbell claims creativity has a profound wastefulness, as mental meandering is an essential process. Familiarity with the unfamiliar gives us access to the richest soup of ideas. Painter Edgar Degas writes, “Only when he no longer know what he is doing does the painter do good things.” Novelty in ATM is a learning strategy. We literally create new situations with each lesson. Novelty invites our whole self to participate in movement. At the core of novelty we find complexity.

f. Variation, Complexity and Deconstruction

Often in ATM, in order to understand the wholeness of a movement, we take it apart, examining each element in relationship to the whole. Feldenkrais used this strategy in many ATM lessons. The act of separating out the components of an image is also significant in the creative process. There are times I need to take the image apart before I can see it whole. Deconstruction finds a place in construction. Changing one component in an art piece can create an entirely different piece. The wealth of possibilities of a single image or movement opens up in the deconstruction process.

Feldenkrais claimed we have learned something if we can perform the action at least three different ways. Variation, diversity, and flexible thinking are highly valued in the ATM process. One common ATM strategy is to keep the movement relatively the same and shift the postural orientation. We may move between lying prone, supine, sitting or side lying during the course of the lesson. A particular orientation may open up a possibility that wasn't available to us before. Creativity expert, Morgan D. Jones, advises us to rephrase the question as many ways as possible for effective problem solving (The Thinker’s Toolkit,1995). Scientist Linus Pauling comments on his own ability saying, “I think the one thing I do is to bring ideas from one field of knowledge into another field of knowledge” (Creativity, 1996). The practice of shifting orientation has also penetrated my practice as I move between dancing and making two-dimensional images. Shaun McNiff, in his book Trusting the Process, encourages experimenting with disciplines other than our own. Our drawings inform our dancing and so on. Shifting art disciplines is not unlike shifting orientations in an ATM. Diversity and variation are often necessary components to the artistic process as well. As artists, we sometimes do not know what we are doing unless we can do it as many ways as possible. The subtleties between one variation and another can be the difference that makes the difference in any given work. The practice of variation gives us a more likely road to realizing our intended vision.

Embedded in ATM’s focus on variation is an appreciation and understanding of complexity. Complexity can find its way to the core of even the simplest composition. Familiarity with the interactions between various elements in one’s work gives one confidence in playing with many interactive systems. If we look at the operation of any given image, there may be relationships between scale, density, color, materials, etc., that all work towards bringing that image forth. I realize that compositional elements exist nested within one another. Changing one changes the whole. Practitioner and Graphic Designer Sharon Starika writes, “I can see how one small adjustment can and will affect the whole layout, just like one movement will affect the whole skeleton system (Feldenkrais Journal No.5 1990). ATM breeds a certain fluency in playing with the layers of complexity embedded in any given movement.

g. The Use of Constraints

In ATM we gently interrupt our habits through the use of movement constraints. When we can’t do what we usually do, we do something else. That "something else" is most often more efficient. We learn through finding the “other way” what the constraint reveals. For example, in the ATM lesson Coordinating the Flexors and Extensors, we find the opportunity to rotate without involving the hip sockets. Feldenkrais accomplishes this by simply having us cross one leg over the other as we drop our knees. The rotation movement needs to come from a new place in our back. The constraint acts as an invitation to new movement. In a regular practice of ATM, we become comfortable with various roadblocks along the way and see them not as obstacles but as passages to something new and yet undiscovered. You will often find yourself doing familiar movements in unfamiliar postures and vice versa. Bypassing our familiar habits through the introduction of novel patterns of movement, we arrive at more balanced use of ourselves. Constraints lead us to a fuller freedom of expression. Creativity also thrives on constraints and structure. Constraints have been a part of the artistic process throughout the generations. Shakespeare wrote for certain time durations. Musical and poetic forms dictate constraints. Actor Eric Booth writes, “To artists, limitations are not liabilities, they are opportunities to find fresh, invention solutions, to clarify key questions, to prioritize and go deeper” (The Everyday Work of Art, 1997). Creativity consultant, Roger von Oech, claims limits can be a powerful motivator as constraints light the way to our innermost resourcefulness. The limits we impose on ourselves or are imposed upon us from the world often open the doorway to our most expressive state.

h. The Role of the Imagination

It is not uncommon in an ATM to call upon the imagination to do some of the work. It’s important to remember that there is no demonstration of a movement in ATM. This fact alone calls on the imagination in a powerful capacity. Imagination is used in several capacities in practicing ATM. If a lesson begins on one side, we may do the second side only in our imagination. At the end of the lesson we will notice improvement in both sides. "Rolling a Ball Down the Spine" is a classic ATM lesson that calls upon the image of the ball to actually elicit the movement. In this lesson we make an imaginary ball roll down our spine. We enter the world of “as if” in this lesson. We let go of moving our spine in ways that we know and let the imaginary ball summon the movement within us. My student characterized images in ATM as a “way to latch on the movement.” He claims, “I take the image in and the movement appears.” His language speaks to an embodied image experience. Images are used freely by Feldenkrais to clarify intention, and denote direction and quality. Sometimes in ATM we imagine a movement before we actually do the movement. This mental rehearsal prepares us to move with deeper grace and efficiency. In agreement with Feldenkrais, Pablo Picasso writes, "Everything you can imagine is real" (Creativity, 1996). We activate the imagination in ATM like a muscle though the variety of ways we engage the imagination. We practice making ideas up where it is easy to do so. We don’t ask you to imagine just any movement, but a specific movement. For example consider Feldenkrais’s mostly widely known lesson, The Pelvic Clock. As we imagine ourselves moving our pelvis around the numbers of the clock, it’s the very specificity of the image that clarifies our movement. When we are called on to use our imagination in a more unstructured way, we have already warmed it up and it’s ready to fire. Borrowing a phrase from the renowned scientist, John Lienhard, “the engines of our ingenuity” are fired up and ready to create. Art Therapist Pat Allen writes, “imagination is the deepest voice of the soul and can be heard clearly only through cultivation and careful attention” (Allen, 1995). Trainer Frank Wildman speaks to this point on ATM, “artists like to use this work not for what it does to the physical body, but because it unlocks the imagination” (The Intelligent Body, 1996). Philosopher and Art Education Activist Maxine Green claims that a return to wide-awakeness, of awareness, is key to the recovery of the imagination. ATM, as gentle a process as it is, demands a rigorous use of our imagination. Edward Hopper writes on imagination, “ No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination”(Artist to Artist, 1998).

i. Beauty

ATM both creates the possibility of, and deepens appreciation of, beauty. Before Feldenkrais work was in my life, I participated in a very narrow vision of what constitutes beauty. Years of traditional dance training left me with antiquated notions of beauty. I was sensitive to heavy-handed beauty and not the delicacy of form that can go beyond cultural standards of appreciation. Beauty seems to be reinvented on a daily basis in ATM class. I have watched even the most unlikely movers dazzle me with a newfound finesse that comes as close to beauty as I have ever seen. There is an aesthetic present in watching an individual move with appropriate effort to the environment that is universal. ATM develops our sense of efficiency and economy. It might sound as if I’m talking about running a smooth business and not making art, yet I found efficiency and economy central to my effectiveness as an artist. I am in search of the equation where the piece is as simple as it can be but no simpler. We concretely practice this in seeking the least amount of effort in any given movement. Acting with a sense of appropriate effort and sensing the "enough- ness" of any artwork are skills valuable to the creative process. Beauty is linked to knowing when you are finished. As witness to my students’ processes, I cultivate a diverse and delineated sense of beauty that confines itself to no one set of standards. This expanded concept of beauty opens my compositional field of possibilities.

What is about art that draws us in, requests that we use ourselves in a full and engaging manner? D. H. Lawrence writes, “Art is a form of supremely delicate Awareness” (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 1979). At its core, ATM brings us home to a state of organic creativity. The challenges ATM proposes evoke our most creative solutions. Because there is no demonstration, there is an enactment process occurring. We bring the lesson to life through our movement and in the process bring ourselves to life as well. At the biological level we are inherently creative. We might even argue that the very mechanism by which ATM operates demonstrates the creativity of the human nervous system. If we embrace this thinking, then the domain of art no longer belongs to a select few. The transition from ATM into art seems seamless and logical and gives form to dynamic taking place in ATM. Using ATM to support my creative process has given me an opportunity to experience the harvest of ATM in a concrete way. There are many approaches to supporting the creative process. ATM has been the one most meaningful process to my own development. Immersion in ATM humanizes and demystifies the artistic process. This is not so much a formula for success, but for fulfillment.
As Feldenkrais Practitioners, we act more as facilitators than teachers in a traditional sense. We engineer environments in which learning can take place. I identify with this role as an artist. I am not so much the creator, but the midwife, the one who brings forth the image or movement. My job is to be in service to the image. ATM trains me exactly for that task. It is through movement that an image comes forth. Art arrives with its own logic, its unique system of operation. The partnership between ATM and creative process challenges the myth that creating art should be a struggle. Dr. Feldenkrais created his method to encompass improvement of all human activity. The spirit of his work dwells in a return to wholeness that includes creative expression.

In ATM we are not after repairing ourselves as we our recreating ourselves. We lie quietly on our backs, nursing our interior worlds. The wealth of our interior takes form in our dances, drawings, music, and words. By pairing practices of awareness and creativity we tune the muscle of our attention, quiet the critic, and summon our innermost muse. Feldenkrais Practitioners speak of “getting out of our own way.” As artists we need to “get out of the way” as well. Only then will the image reveal itself fully. . In order to get to my most authentic work I had to first disappear to become a more neutral receptor. Looking back on the fateful day I made myself disappear, I now see that I had to go away in order to bring anything of meaning back. My career survived this early failure, and I continue to work as a dancer and visual artist. Now I willingly disappear hoping to find something of beauty on the return trip.