Thursday, February 24, 2005

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

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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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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.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Reflecting: Dance Mirrors and Feldenkrais

Each one of us speaks, moves, thinks and feels in a different way, each according to the image of himself that he has built up over the years. In order to change our mode of action we must change the image of ourselves that we carry within us.

Moshe Feldenkrais
Awarness Through Movement

When I think about Feldenkrais and dance together a whole host of emotions and ideas surface. We carve our own path to meaning in this work. For me that path included a surrender of previously held convictions about what it means to be a dancer and mover. Each Feldenkrais practitioner has a "story" of how they landed in the work. We tell our story over and over in classes and workshops answering the question: "So how did you get interested in this work?" Over the past year I noticed my story getting shorter and shorter. It went something like this: "I was a young dancer. I had many injuries. I tried ATM and FI. I got better. End of story." My story was getting so rote that I actually began listening to it, and discovered that it was missing its true beginning. My real story is not so much about recovering from injuries as it is about recovering my self.

Here's what really happened. For the most part I loved taking dance classes. I loved the mathematical nature of dance. I had a knack for remembering long combinations and complex patterns. The dancers behind me relied on my memory and accuracy. I was a tidy little dancer, cherishing all the details, the very corners of the movement. I most definitely had an affinity with space. What I lacked in extensions, turning ability, and other feats, I made up in pure kinetic finesse. I loved to stand in the front of class, close to the mirror, so I could see myself moving. People liked watching me. Mostly, I liked watching me. The mirror was my loyal twin, devoted audience, and partner in narcissism. As a mirror-dependant dancer, I was always getting lost on stage and mixing up stage right and left. When I wasn't in dance class, I was busy sculpting meticulous little dances, in the mirror, of course.

But at a certain point during my dance career an interesting phenomenon occurred. My image in the mirror quit. That's right, it just walked away. I like to think it had something better to do that serve as my slave. I was left stranded, abandoned, and helpless without my own reflection to tell me where I was, where I was going, and how damn good I looked getting there. I somehow had become unreflectable, invisible to both the mirror and myself. At that point I had spent some 15 years dancing in a trance, tethered to a piece of glass reflecting my image in a two-dimensional plane. The mirror was my compass, my map, and unfortunately, far too much of my territory. The trance broke and there was nothing to replace it. Left up to its own devices, the psyche will manifest concrete experiences - in my case, the fracture of my self-image took the form of invisibility.

The tether ruptured slowly. The first symptom was failing to remember the combinations, which caused havoc to the armies of dancers behind me relying on my fine memory skills. Next came a feeling of indifference and apathy, "Why bother dancing if I can't see how great it looks in the mirror?" What followed was a general feeling of "deadness" in my spine. I felt like an empty shell. So what happens to a dancer with a run away self-image? I tore both my hamstrings, and could not bend down, or even look at anyone else bending down. I made most radical of all choices: I quit taking dancing classes. Surrendering one's daily dance class routine during that era was akin to going AWOL from the army. I was leaving the tribe. My "real dancer" status had begun to unravel.

I entered the somatics shopping spree not because I was a curious, soul searching dancer, but out of desperation for my own future in dance. First I returned to the Laban/Bartineff work. I had studied this work in graduate school and had thought the Laban work was for people who liked to talk more than dance, and that the Barteineff Fundamentals were fundamentally boring. I was a reluctant learner at first. I am not sure I wanted to broaden my horizons, but simply to return to the way things worked before. I traveled to NY, taking various workshops in the fundamentals and space harmony. It was at the Laban Institute that I first discovered the concept of "organizing" oneself. Up until that point the mirror had been my organizing principle. I organized myself from without, relying on an external and visual source to anchor myself in space. The journey to recovery was one of import, of bringing my self-image within and letting go of the self as "other."

Somewhere during this period I also began to take Alexander lessons. I would feel great afterwards and then trip down my Alexander teacher's stairs. Somehow the work was not making it down to my feet. It was at LIMS that I first heard the word "Feldenkrais" uttered by no other than Martha Myers, the great mover and shaker of the American Dance Festival and author of the landmark article in Dance Magazine "Dance and The Body Therapies." Listening to my tale of woe, Martha turned to me and said, "You need Feldenkrais." As miracles happen, When I returned to DC, a young woman training in the Amherst Feldenkrais program began offering an Awareness Through Movement class for dancers at my very own place of work, Liz Lerman's Dance Exchange. Thinking back, I believe the Laban and Alexander work gradually sensitized and prepared me for the next part of my learning. Recovering from my injuries was just the first layer of my somatic onion. Much more peeling was necessary. I needed to move from a different place in order to invite my self-image back into the home of myself.

When I think back on those early experiences in Awareness Through Movement, I see Wendy sewing on Peter pan's shadow, stitch by stitch, movement by movement. I had lot of sewing to do. For the most part, I was a stranger to my own perceptions. Each lesson moved me closer to knowing myself as a mover from the inside. ATM's slow, simple, methodical, gentle, listening movements formed the perfect medicine for my disappeared self. After all, I had lost myself through movement, it seemed only logical to find myself through movement. I spent the next eight years on the floor doing ATM and Functional Integration (FI). I did not so much re-learn how to move, but learn to become conscious of what was in the way of my moving. The methodical nature of the work was compelling, and I was captivated by its "learning spell." ATM creates an internal sense of space where one desires to be fully present. I welcomed myself home with each lesson as I began to move from my own authority.

I moved to California and a Feldenkrais training was just starting a three-minute drive from my house. I entered the training thinking that I was going to channel all my creativity toward Feldenkrais and I no longer needed to dance or stay invested in myself as a dancer. In fact, it was virtually impossible to stop dancing; movement was just too delicious. I would stand up from an ATM and move spontaneously. As my fellow classmates enjoyed their coffee breaks, I wandered through the rich post-ATM zone - an antenna, receiving the inherent qualities of the space. The whole world of generating movement had turned upside down and inside out. ATM served as a portal, allowing me to converse intimately with space. From such a deeply internal process I was surprised to be literally catapulted into space. All that I loved about dance - the details, the corners, the intricate patterns - was there for me. Developing my inner senses opened my external senses in such a way that I no longer needed outside validation of my movement. Embedded in the FM are numerous opportunities to self-observe, self-reflect, and self-organize. I became my own mirror.

When we first encounter FM many of us are inspired by all the ways it could change the world, however we need to pick and choose which way to direct our energy. We are attracted to those aspects of the work that have most changed us, and those are what we want teach to the world. The good news is that it's a big world, with room for many approaches, all of which can be valid and meaningful. For me, the uniqueness of the method is tied to the development and support of creative process. I see ATM as clever, poetic packages that tickle the expressive impulse to create. It's a subtractive process, neutralizing patterns that obscure. Movement reveals itself.

It has been nearly 20 years since my first experience with the work. I am very much at home with myself now as a mover. My spatial finesse has deepened - I think of dancing as partnering with space. Daily practice of ATM allows me to be available to the generosity of space and together we co-create. I am more at ease with the ethereal nature of dance. It comes, it goes, that's its charm. Dancing is a lot less work and much more fun. I see dancing as a privilege, and the FM reconnects me to that privilege. Teaching ATM allows me to witness others returning to their somatic homes. I have a practice of moving, drawing or writing after ATM, and share it with others in classes I call Embodied Creativity and Somatic Adventures. There is an alchemy present when we partner directed processes like ATM with non-directed processes. In my own work, dance is free from the burden of entertaining anybody except myself. Dancing is a way of knowing and making visible. Letting go of the idea of dance as a thing, I no longer craft set movement, although I continue to have enormous respect for those who do. I enjoy the wonders of safe containers of expression like authentic movement, continuum, and other forms of improvisation.

I never really returned to my tribe in the dance community. I see myself joining a hybrid somadance tribe composed of individuals who experienced a similar "undoing." This summer I had the extraordinary experience of co-facilitating the first ever meeting of dancer/Feldenkrais Practitioners. Together we shared our initiations into this powerful work through our stories. We also shared some of our disappointments in not being fully appreciated by either the dance community or the Feldenkrais community. Although each story was unique, themes of recovery resonated throughout. Reflection gave way to action as we planned strategies for increased visibility in both communities.

Individuals often come to this work by way of misfortune. Dr. Feldenkrais was driven to develop the work from the experience surrounding his own injuries. I would have never encountered this work had it not been for my escaped reflection. Disappearing had a sweet spot. I now envision the self-image as an elastic, dynamic process that adapts to our need to truly see ourselves. Every now and then I wander into a dance class, and if there is a mirror, I invite my image to dance with me. Most often, the mirror obliges, and we have a fine time.
This piece was originally published in Contact Quarterly and reprinted in The Feldenkrais Journal.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Mining the Mover Inside: A Feldenkrais Approach to Dance

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When the editor of IN TOUCH called me about writing an article, she expressed an interest in hearing from people who are doing something "different" with The Feldenkrais Method. I would rather say the method is doing something "different" with me. I have always been in motion, dancing before I knew there was such a thing. The Feldenkrais Method has further refined my calling to movement and Awareness Through Movement (ATM) has a become a vital influence in my training and preparation to dance. My ongoing relationship with the method brings me more and more delicious and irresistible choices of motion.

One of my most distinct memories from my training was hearing a trainer proclaim in the middle of an ATM lesson that "no one is ever going to hire you for being able to do this movement." I always wanted yell back, "yes they will." Movement is the "stuff" of my profession as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher . The larger my repertoire of available movements, the more varied my paint box of qualities, and the more access I have to my own creative process.

I sought out the method to further the development of my craft; prolonging my career as a performing artist has certainly been a delightful side-benefit. Long before I had ever heard of this work I was on a path of wanting to explore more than technique in the training of dancers. My early experiments were, in fact, ATMs I would later encounter during my training. If you play with yourself long enough you are bound to stumble on similar ideas. "Play" is the operative word here. Dancers are not generally given enough time or space within their training to play with movement. A neutral landscape of movement is rarely presented. Each movement has a purpose, a specific goal, a certain line (especially in ballet). Bound by mirror-driven feedback and imitating movement from a teachers who stands in the front of class hardly provides an opportunity to develop an interior world. Warming up is often considered second to dancing. This never made sense to me. Why not make it all important? The Feldenkrais Method brought further clarity to the "everything is important" idea. "Technique" is not the only picture in dance. There a "self" inside that literally elevates technical strength. It is the uncovering of the dancing self that motivates me in my teaching and performing.

I have always approached The Feldenkrais Method as a tool for expression and that is precisely my focus in teaching artists and children. Although I have always been labeled a "dance educator." I have never had any inclination or interest to teach people "how" to dance. I think of myself more as a designer/engineer of learning fields whereby dance often emerges. My classes are organized by a structure I call field of play. A field of play can be anything: a skeletal configuration, a qualitative concept, a spatial intention, a phrase from poem. Anything that can be moved into and out of can constitute a "field of play." Early class fields begin more defined and gradually move towards more ephemeral ideas of play. We also play with language, as narrators of our own movement, as observers, color announcers, interviewers, poets, teachers and listeners.

Dancers experiment with movement free of a specific purpose, allowing discovery of their own preferences, instincts and passion for motion. Although the class begins with an internal focus, participants are free to follow the stream of their attention from participant, to observer, to working in small groups and eventually collaborating on their discoveries. I really think about dancing as just another way of finding out and celebrating who we are and what we want to communicate to others. Sometimes I am asked, "What am I trying to give to dancers in my classes?" The generosity of the teacher has little to do with creating fertile ground for learning. I "give" nothing per se, I am more interested in what the participant finds, uncovers, and even better, stumbles upon. As dancers we have spent far too much time doing everything right. I am interested in the investigative act of stumbling into learning. We are all movement archeologists in my class.

In the work I do in the schools any movement or subject can be an appropriate content for creating dances. First graders have created dances based on their names, second graders on the movements they have seen in their kitchens at home, a group of arts administrators from the movements of greeting one another. I like to start with the movement that is already going on. It is not the "what" that has changed all so drastically since my training, but the "how" of igniting and sustaining the attention of the children. . How I enter my students’ field of attention and interest has been finetuned by my training. As teachers we often think of bringing in our bag of tricks and seeing if there are any takers. I’m much more shifty with my
bag a tricks now; I listen for an invitation. An invitation can be anything, a nod of the head, a shrugging of the shoulders or something a student asks or tells me about dance. It is not unlike giving an Functional Integration Lesson. A skilled practitioner is constantly feeling for changes beneath his/her fingers, negotiating between supporting what is already going on and challenging us to consider new options.

I can remember a first grade class that had just finished a presentation by the fire department on fire safety moments before my arrival. The teachers had asked me to do a class on the storytelling aspects of dance yet these children were kinestically charged to drop, tuck, and roll. We began by exploring this movement pattern and gradually began weaving characters out of our movements and finally a story emerged from their movements. There is a certain skill in listening, so elegant and subtle, that is embedded in our thinking as practitioners that invites people into motion. It is enormously useful in presenting movement ideas to any audience. Should you wander into either a class for dancers or third graders you may find a similar chaotic feel in the room. Students may be engaged on very divergent paths of discovery simultaneously, yet all will be deep in play with the mysteries of self-expression.

Recently a young dancer came up to me and asked me "Nancy, how do you make the movement look so connected." I had to think about it for a minute. After a while I realized that I never think about connecting the movements, I’m not even sure I think about "the movement." A simply try to serve myself as an artist and by doing so I serve the work. The shape, dynamic, and phrasing of the choreographed movement will emerge from my commitment to myself. The Feldenkrais Method has provided this ever evolving ground to self-commitment.

This article originally appeared in INTOUCH, the quarterly newsletter of the North American Feldenkrais Guild.

Feldenkrais 101

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The Feldenkrais Method can be an extraordinary tool for dancers. The Method was founded by Engineer, Nuclear Physicist, and Martial Artist, Moshe Feldenkrais. He predicted a systems approach to understanding the brain/body connection. His early training in three disciplines highly influenced the making of his Method. His experience as the first European black belt in Judo laid the groundwork for creating a effective movement experience.

After a debilitating knee injury, Feldenkrais applied his complex understanding of how systems function to retrain the rest of his body around his knee. Often the medical model focuses on the place of injury. In Feldenkrais work, we focus on patterns over problems or symptoms. Feldenkrais’s knee was injured beyond repair, but he could address how the rest of himself supported his injured knee. He began working with his pelvis in slow gentle movements to bring more awareness and flexibility to his whole self.

Eventually he codified his Method into two modalities. Functional Integration (FI) is the hands-on work. Performed on a low table, fully clothed, the practitioner guides the student to new ways of functioning. The group modality, known as Awareness Through Movement (ATM), employs guided movement sequences that bring a more easeful mode of action. Most lessons are performed lying down on a soft mat. The experience can be deeply restful and restorative. Lessons revolve around a theme that serves as a lens into a global understanding of movement. Feldenkrais created over 1500 documented lessons. There is no demonstration and students keep their eyes closed during most lessons. Students listen and try to figure out what to do based on verbal instructions. Most of the movements are deceptively simple and easy to perform. Effortless action in each movement allows the student to find the path of least resistance. The process of discovery is key in awakening a deeper form of learning.

People participate in the Feldenkrais Method for a variety of reasons. Often chronic pain brings them to the work. Feldenkrais work can be ideal to help someone become aware of their compensation patterns due to the amount of unconscious protection habits. The work is highly potent as a means of prevention. Weekly classes keep your brain-to-body highway tuned. For dancers, this can be useful do to the amount of repetition involved in dancing. Dancers also find their creativity and skill in movement invention improves. ATM lessons are full of novel ways of moving. It’s not unusual to find a rich improvisation experience after an ATM.

The Feldenkrais Method is considered a form of education rather than treatment. An experience with a Feldenkrais teacher is called a “lesson” rather than “treatment.” The focus is on bringing an individual to an awareness of how all of whole self participates in every movement.

Feldenkrais teachers attend a four-year training and come from all kinds of backgrounds from the health professions to the arts. The work has been embraced by the musicians as injuries are so common. Washington, unique in the history of the work. Donna Blank, a former dancer and now a world renowned Feldenkrais Trainer, began offering ATM classes for dancers at The Dance Exchange during the early 1980s. This was a rare introduction to the work when there were fewer than 100 practitioners in the US at the time. Currently about 55 trainings are ongoing throughout the world. This past May the somatics community celebrated Feldenkrais’s 100th birthday. Celebrations took place all over the world to celebrate his contribution to movement science.

Learn more at or or

This piece was originally published in by the Dallas Dance Council Newsletter.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Waking up in Space: Awareness Through Movement as a Roundtrip Excursion

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At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards, at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance
T. S. Eliot
Burnt Norton, The Four Quartets

The room settled into a stunning silence. Sondra stepped into the space and the air parted to make way for her. The space seemed to be waiting for her to enter. Each movement lifted the curtains of space revealing her delicate forms. At the dance panel at the 2001 Guild conference in San Francisco, Sondra Horton Fraleigh, my training mate and fellow somadancer, chose to dance her relationship to the Feldenkrais work by performing a modern Butoh dance. In watching Sondra, I witnessed the whole of the container coming alive, the off-white wall behind her, the pale linoleum floor, the stark square pillars that framed her impromptu stage, and even the elementary school desks that housed this instant audience. There is something about Sondra’s dance that allows me to see not only her movements but space itselfshe seems to be unveiling the invisible. The space surrounding Sondra seems bright, vibrant, and anything but empty. As a viewer I can actively participateI feel the dance happening in me as well. Sondra seems to inhabit and penetrate space. The inner and outer world seem oddly fused. The separation between performer and viewer also takes on some murky boundaries. Obviously her years of both traditional and Butoh dance training contributed to her compelling performance, yet clearly her floor-bound education has deeply influenced her depth as a performer. In speaking to Sondra about her dance, she asks me to consider my own shifts in perception in viewing her dance. Do I perceive her movements as magical because I too have learned to see the invisible? Sondra’s own words summarize her experience: “This is the murkiness you seem to move toward in your description. My connection to mud and earth has to do with flesh and worldand those years of lying on the floor were also ways of exploring the mud of myself.” Who would think mud would bring such clarity to movement.

I love dancing and watching dance because I get to go somewhere without having to move my car. It’s a portable, instant adventure in space available without any supplies. So much of the dance I see these days sits on the top of space, as all figure with no ground. Oceans of innovative movement with no place to call home hardly forms a satisfying viewing experience. Dance Masters of this century, Merce Cunningham and Mark Morris, employed the whole frame of space in their choreography. Movements came alive by virtue of this figure/ground tension, much the way the room came alive when Sondra was dancing. Witnessing Sondra’s dance gives serious consideration to the value of Feldenkrais work for dancers and other movers. As a dancer I have sustained an enduring interest in this work; only recently have I wondered why. I hope to set forth some ideas on why a dancer might be drawn into the mud. Please keep in mind that the views and language voiced in this piece belong to the wonderfully warped imagination of a modern dancer and in no way represent generally accepted views on the work. In the sprit of artistic indulgence I focus on the experience of a dancer (me) doing Feldenrkais for love, fun, and profound curiosity. I have had the privilege of working with dancers in Houston over this past year and I am also informed by their perceptions and by those of my dancing Feldenkrais peers.

How could an internal process like an Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lesson improve our dexterity in external space? The Method is diverse enough for us to find what we value; yet, I find my relationship to space to be a primary component of the work. What do I mean by space? After all, space is a mighty spacey concept. For a dancer it is the medium we need to be seen, felt, and experienced. Space is where we are not. It’s our constant partner. For dancers space takes on some practical meanings, as in “Is there enough space on the stage to do this movement?” Dancers need to be highly aware of the space around them and the other dancers. Consider the corps de ballet that executes highly technical feats, all while exactly the same distance from each other. The “where” is always on the dancer’s mind. On the other hand the more ethereal aspects of space are always present. Dancers can make a small room seem vast just by the quality of their movements. The partner of space expands and contracts based on the content of our movements. Amidst all the descriptions, space remains an abstract concept. There are many functional ideas relating to our everyday movement in an Awareness Through Movement lesson. I have let go of those ideas here for the purposes of understanding ATM in its more abstract layers. Lucky for all of us, the work is broad and vast—open to a variety of experiences and truths. The mud is deep. What follows are my ponderings on all things dance, space, and Feldenkrais.

What do we have to offer dancers in the way of relevant information to improve and enhance their spatial skills? How is the inward focus we cultivate in an ATM related to dancing? We go inward in an ATM for the purpose of returning, changed, renewed, and more alive. There is a fundamental axis to our learning that straddles both inner and outer worlds and lurks at the heart of Feldenrkais work. Movement becomes the tool by which we enter space. Trainer Dennis Leri speaks to the core of this issue, “Feldenkrais said that at some point in our human evolution a simple turn in one or another direction became a ‘turn to the left’ or a ‘turn to right.’ With schema of directional reference came also the bewildering phenomena of an ‘internal’ and an ‘external’ world. That is, the human world arrived with orientational distinctions predicated upon subsuming a sequence of motor acts and sensations into left, right, front, back, above and below plus the strange abstractions designating inner and outer. Since a sensation and the motor act generating it is a complex thing in itself, it's mind boggling to contemplate their organization into reference systems like left, right or further into 9 o'clock, 3 o'clock. If, through the incredible elegance of ATM or a work of art, we unlearn our way ‘back’ to the acts of drawing, redrawing or erasing the most basic distinctions we will ‘return’ more fully human (1999, p. 10).” Leri’s words hold particular weight for dancers.
If you walked into a typical ATM class you would hardly think that “space” is the big feature in this work. You would find people lying on their backs on soft mats hardly moving at all. We may alter our relationship to gravity by lying down but we do not leave space. The practitioner’s voice is soothing, the lights are dimmed, and external distractions are kept to a minimum. Most of the time our eyes are closed and rarely do we leave the tight container of our mats. Obviously we don’t leave space when we close our eyes; yet we enter a different experience of space. Sensation, instead of vision, becomes our source of navigation. Letting go of demonstration by the practitioner requests a unique commitment to space. Simply following auditory directions without visual clues, alone, improves spatial awareness. The measurement process moves inside for the purpose of recalibrating a different relationship to the outside.

Consider the role of the scan. Scanning lays down the primary figure/ground relationship fundamental to the lesson. The scan acts as an inventory of physical sensations and information gathering that frames the lesson. The practitioner verbally guides our attention through the landscape of forces we sense from our contact with the ground. A scan may address weight, pressure, volume, or the five cardinal lines, all of which serve as references to space and links to the external world. Lying on the ground this way, attaching to the floor, literally anchors us in the room and in space. We sense the dynamics of lying still. How do we sense space when we cease to move through it? We need space to give our movement and sensations meaning, as our boundaries become informants. How do we press against space, pull away from it, or surrender to it? The scan, our first reference point in the lesson, delivers the “you are here” coordinates on the map. The language of space pervades the lesson. Each movement request describes the movement in relationship to oneself and the room. These dual instructions not only help us figure out what to do but they underline our relationship in space. Leri, in his recent work on the Primitives, discussed the five cardinal lines as the most fundamental reference to our selves in space. Listening to Leri’s tapes from his workshop I am struck by the vocabulary emerging as he delivers his ideas. Words like “line,” “direction,” “shape,” “volume,” “contour,” and “plane” characterize his talk. I am reminded of my early art education in learning about the operation of forms. The cardinal lines become an instant tracking devise we can use throughout the ATM. Leri paraphrases Feldenkrais’s bold statement, “Without orientation there is no possibility of awareness” (2001)

How we move offers us yet another dimension to space. Moving slowly has a voluptuous, indulgent, and delicious quality that lets us linger in the corners of space. If time slows down, can space expand as well? The invitation to enter space grows larger during these moments. For example, consider the movement of lifting the arm to the ceiling from a side lying position. After the practitioner has given the direction of the movement, she then begins a sequence of inquiries as to “how” we are doing this movement. The practitioner may draw out attention to the movement of the shoulder blade, the clavicle, the rotation of your head, and so on. Our attention moves around all that we are doing so that we may lift our arm to the ceiling. The descriptive nature of the instructor’s words dilates this movement in space and time by amplifying all its possibilities. A whole sea of options exists in this one movement of lifting the arm to the ceiling. In considering the space/time relationship in ATM, practitioner Dwight Pargee writes, “When time gets compressed, our shapes compress, and our spatial intelligence is also compressed and when we allow time to expand, to enter into that sacred kind of time, the deep time, the time of creation, then space dilates and how we move, sense, think and feel flows outwards” (2001, e-mail). This process gives dimension to the self in space. The multitudes of spatial options appear. We have more open roads to follow. Abundant pathways in space provide ample gifts to the dancer and choreographer.
The introduction of non-habitual movement comprises another spatial wake-up strategy. Most ATM lessons contain some movement patterns that ask us to move in a way we have not previously considered. This novelty serves as a kind of space caffeine for the nervous system. Non-habitual movements simultaneously wake us up and throw us off. Our reigning somatic philosopher, Don Hanlon Johnson, alludes to the abstract and unusual movements of ATM in his landmark book, Body, Spirit, and Democracy. Sometimes after a more challenging ATM I feel different, somewhat strange, and downright unnatural. Space takes on these qualities, as this type of movement seems to expand space. Non-habitual movement renders us lost on purpose. Modern dance has formed much if its identity from relying on odd and unnamed combinations of movements. Most innovators in modern dance developed unique movement vocabularies. When I first encountered ATM what I loved most was that the movements had no names. Finally I found a place to nurture the nameless movements that make up my art.

During the re-scan at the conclusion of the lesson I often find that my contact with the floor has shifted. Most often, more of me is in contact with the mat. I become a larger, clearer, X on the map. I gain a more accurate reading of my coordinates in space. John Graham, a longtime member of Anna Halprin’s company and one of the first dancing Feldenkrais Practitioners claims, “Dance was always there for me. Moshe made it more round” (2001, e-mail). There is a sense of recovering one’s dimension. I sense the spaciousness of ourselves which then allows us to be active in space at large. ATM peels the parasitic numbing layers of self away. I can move freely with less muscular baggage. Typically after an ATM I feel light and weightless. I feel less solid, although I may feel paradoxically more grounded. It is less effortful to move any part of myself. I meld more easily with the atmosphere. I have been reconfigured in the gravitational field. If the body is the membrane that separates me from space then it becomes more permeable. I feel less invested in muscle and more in movement. When movement is more available to us we can create a more fluid relationship to space. With too few habits to operate in the world we already commit to moving in certain ways without the benefit of spontaneous action. In this way habits act as barriers to expression in space. Excess muscular effort in any given movement has a dulling effect in relationship to our environment as the tyranny of habit limits our choices. If our effort budget is spent in just managing our everyday movements what’s left to enjoy moving freely in space? If you have ever experienced physical pain and the movement limitations that come with them then you can testify firsthand to how movement restrictions create barriers to interacting with space. If it hurts us to turn our head to the left then what’s on the left side of us is less available. After all, our bodily self is our interface with the world. Rosch, Thompson, and Varela address these issues in their collaborative book, Embodied Mind. They write, “Minds awaken in a world. We did not design the world. We simply found ourselves with it; we awoke both to ourselves and to the world we inhabit. We come to reflect on that world as we grow and live. We reflect on a world that is not made, but found, and yet it is also our structure that enables us to reflect upon this world” (1991, p.3).

Although the formal lesson ends on the floor, the frequent request of coming to standing re- orients us in the vertical plane. Walking after a lesson processes the lesson in space as well. I like to carry this post-lesson phase a bit further. In post ATM dancing I don’t “feel” myself at all and that is the exciting part. I do not “go internal” for the purpose of hanging around there. The body is more of portal than a place. I enjoy a period of non-directed movement following a lesson. I don’t use the word improvisation because I don’t want to focus on the need to generate movement. I also prefer to use movement freshly invented and not known choreography. I think of it as flushing the lesson through our flesh. I compare this process to running the water after a cleansing process. We literally run movement through the lesson. As a dancer I like to bring a symbolic and abstract way of being in space back into my immediate attention. I give the lesson a space cushion. The powerful link between ATM and improvisation has served as recurring theme among my dancing peers.

I had the opportunity to attend a conference morning ATM with dance/practitioner Lila Hurwitz. During the dance panel, Lila spoke of the Feldenkrais-friendly environment present in the Seattle Improvisation scene and the strong relevance of ATM to developing both improvisational work and more structured choreography. She used her ATM to illustrate this connection. Her ATM was part of a series of ATMs created especially for those interested in dance and working with dancers. The ATM, designed to speak to the integration of Feldenkrais and other movement/dance techniques, including Skinner Releasing Technique and various improvisational forms, was open to practitioners and the public. Lila began with a standing scan that lead to simple movements of shifting weight, gradually inviting us to travel in space. Embedded in the middle of this awareness through moving through space was a more traditional ATM focusing on our eyes. Lila writes, “The choice of the eye ATM was intended to help folks negotiate the play between their sometimes-obsessive internal sensing, and performance” (2001, e-mail). Bringing us back to standing and moving in space, she wove in themes from the ATM as we played with the our vision and attention to others in the room. She concluded with a taste of “perceptual improvisation,” an improvisational dance practice developed by Lisa Nelson and others that resonates with our work. Lila framed a particular area of the room as a stage and we imagined ourselves in the space. It was as if the space needed our presence. One by one we entered the space and assumed our shape. We simultaneously sensed our part and the whole in this brief performance. Lila succeeded in crafting an experience relevant to dancers and non-dancers that illuminates the spatial gifts of the work. Lila’s experiment serves as a reminder that I can still be in the work when I am off the mat. I can bring space into the picture in a concrete experience using the ATM container.

ATM is a round-trip excursion. I tend not to linger in a sensorial, self-absorbed grogginess after ATM, but instead feel vigorous with an appetite for big hearty movement. I want to wrestle an iguana, a nice one. We go inward for the purpose of returning to the world in a more awake, vibrant state. I imagine Feldenkrais never intended for his work to end on the ground, swimming in a pool of pleasurable physical sensations. He was not interested in awareness as an abstract end in itself. ATM is a laboratory in which to cultivate the art of awareness and attention in relationship to the environment. We attend to ourselves because we enlist ourselves as the vehicle of learning and change. Awareness is an all or nothing proposition. Listen to how Feldenkrais frames his thinking about awareness in these familiar words from Awareness Through Movement:

In the esoteric schools of thought a Tibetan parable is told. According to the story, a man without awareness is like a carriage whose passengers are the desires, with the muscles for horses, while the carriage itself is the skeleton. Awareness is the sleeping coachman. As long as the coachman remains asleep the carriage will be dragged aimlessly here and there. Each passenger seeks a different destination and the horses pull different ways. But when the coachman is wide awake and holds the reins the horses will pull the carriage and bring every passenger to his proper destination.

In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, sense, movement and thought, the carriage will speed along on the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent, create, innovate, and “know.” He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone. (p. 54)

Feldenkrais’s words abound with spatial images. The last statement speaks to the sense of unity with one’s environment. After all, we share the world with space. As material beings we too are made of mostly empty space. Space seems to be on our minds in the Feldenkrais community as well these days. At the 2001 conference closing trainer Deborah Bowes remarked, “There seemed to be a ‘developmental’ step taken, a maturing state, in our dealings and interactions with each other which was reflected in the number of lessons about standing and moving into space. It seems we are ready to get up off the floor and take our place in the world.” I attended a number of morning ATMs that reminded me that I can sense myself, myself in relationship to the room and the presence of others around me. IFF president Cliff Smyth echoes this theme in his address to the 2001 IFF Assembly in Kassel, Germany, “Moshe Feldenkrais taught us that the Method is not only about internal experience but our relationship with the world, gravity, space, tools, society and culture. We can stand up, be seen and move into the beckoning space.”
A multitude of paradoxes are at work in ATM: We almost go to sleep in order to wake up; we leave our uprightness to regain length and decompression in standing; we confuse ourselves in the complexity of non-habitual, novel patterns of movement to find more efficient choices; we claim to have the ideal body yet we seek improvement; we delineate ourselves in space to be more a part of it; and we surrender achievement to further our development. Finally, we confine ourselves to a small mat in a large room to feel different in wide-open space.

At the conclusion of the week I had another opportunity to witness one of my colleagues in motion. Cathy Paine, my former modern dance teacher turned Feldenkrais friend, decided twenty minutes before the performance evening began to join the roster of the evening’s entertainment. Twenty-five years ago I performed Cathy’s crisp, neat, and often quirky movements in her whimsical choreography. Cathy’s style is still intact post-Feldenkrais, yet now the neat, crisp, quirky movements are generated right in front of us with total confidence that the next idea will be there. She slices space with her nimble limbs and smoothes out rough edges with her sweeping gestures. Her exacting movements speak less of her training and more of an organic ability to interact with space. She shapes space and hands it back to us to admire. I witness her access to technique without making it her subject matter. Her comfort level with the unknown engages us all in the unfolding movements. She seems as surprised as we are about which movements appear next. Narrating the experience with her witty and poignant comments, words flow as fluid as her movements. One of the wonders that Feldenkrais work has to offer us dancers is a refined partnership with space. I am no longer a stranger to space—I am an insider. Space lets Cathy in and I the viewer get to sneak in with her.

For many years I worked as a teaching artist in public schools. I would begin my presentation by asking, “What is Dance?” My favorite response came from a second grader who replied, “Dance is re-movements of the body.” I dare say that little fellow was on to something with his curious mismatch of words. What if we dance by letting go of the body as a barrier in space? Identity as motion rather than body is at work here. The experience of dancing can be an altered relationship to space. There is an idea of “getting out of our own way” in our Feldenkrais culture. Playing with these slippery, fluid boundaries yields a world of richness for dancers curious enough to give the work a try. I have always considered it a distinct privilege to be a dancerFeldenkrais has given me the means by which to live up to that privilege. Cathy’s dance moves towards closure with a backwards summersault catapulting her into a fast forward sequence of sliding, gliding and slithering as she mutters, “I feel at home.” She looks at home wiping the floor with her movements as the ground talks back to her. Cathy’s dance ends with wit and sparkle as her leg unfolds in technically glorious side extension with the words, “and now, for you, a trick.” A lightness pervades the room and for a moment we become one with the dancer and the dance.

Feldenkrais, Moshe. 1977. Awareness through Movement. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Johnson, Don. 1994. Body, Spirit, and Democracy. CA: North Atlantic Books.

Leri, Dennis. 1999. “Conversation with Dennis Leri, part 1, unlearning the names of things: Leri on Irwin. In Touch, May.
Leri, Dennis. 2001. The Primitives. (Cassette recording). San Francisco: FGNA annual conference.

Rosch, E., Thompson, E., Varrela, F. J. 1991. Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Boston: Mit Press.

My work on this piece has been funded in part by grants from the City of Houston and the Texas Commission on the Arts through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County.

This piece was originally published by The Feldenkrais Journal

Zentherapy: A Conversation with Patty Adamik

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Patty Adamik has been both my student and my teacher, and always a colleague on the somatic path. Together we have followed the work of Emilie Conrad in Continuum and have enjoyed a healthy somatic dialogue for the past several years. Adamik has been practicing Zentherapy® since her initial training with Dub Leigh in 1991 and has completed two advanced level trainings. She brings her early training in dance as well as 18 years experience as a Tai Chi and Chi Kung practitioner to her work with an emphasis on assisting her clients in accessing the inner wisdom of their body’s intelligence to guide the healing process. She is a Nationally Certified massage therapist and member of the International Institute of Structural Integrators. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Adamik on her work.

DH: What is Zentherapy®?

PA: Zentherapy® is a method of releasing the natural form of the body from the aberrations caused by physical, chemical and psychological traumas. It recognizes that from birth to death our life is a flow of energy shaped by our attitudes, emotions and form. The actual techniques of Zentherapy® draw on many systems, Rolfing®, Feldenkrais®, Berry work, Raymond Nimmo’s triggerpoint work and the teachings of Tanouye Rotaishi. What makes it unique as a method is experiencing and understanding the use of universal energy. There are two parts to the Zentherapy® training. Zen Triggerpoint Anatomy® which provides the concepts and techniques for releasing the ‘stuck’ patterns and Zen Bodytherapy®, a systematic, progressive series of sessions that provides optimal alignment with gravity and development of internal and external body awareness. There are also advanced training courses. Zen training is a key component of all the work.

DH: How does Dub Leigh fit into the somatics movement?

PA: Dub trained directly with Dr. Ida Rolf, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi, and Lauren Berry over many years. Dub took all of the important principles he learned from them and interlaced his own ideas to create his unique style of bodywork, which continues to evolve. Practitioners of Zentherapy® act as facilitators to assist a person in confronting and releasing that which is no longer serving them. Awareness of ‘what is’ in both the client and practitioner in each moment is an integral aspect of the work and critical to the outcome of the session and the long lasting changes that occur. I make sure that a client is aware that changes are taking place in his/her body while working on them.

DH: What does Zentherapy® have to offer to dancers?

PA: Zentherapy® aligns a person’s body with gravity so there is not a lot of focus on holding the right posture. As a body is worked free of aberrations, it becomes lighter and more graceful, able to move with the least amount of effort. Gravity and space then become allies and support to the dancer rather than a force to overcome.

DH: How do you find your background as a dancer/mover coming into play in practicing your work?

PA: I can still recall my shock, when at age 14, in a discussion with my ballet teacher, I expressed my interest in pursuing dance as a career. She immediately stated “You’re a little too old to be thinking about that now.” Conventional wisdom holds that dance is for the young and decline is inevitable. Although I didn’t pursue that dance career, it launched my interest in movement practices as a way of enhancing health and well being in mind, body and spirit. When I first experienced Zentherapy®, I was amazed at the plasticity and malleability of the fascial system. Many of our restrictions and limitations in movement are merely a force of habit and not a fixed part of our structure at all. The invitation to move in freer, lighter ways that Zentherapy® offers was a life changing experience for me. I constantly challenge my own boundaries of movement and encourage my clients to do the same. Those boundaries are different for everyone, but the delight that occurs when one steps beyond them and finds not pain and injury but a new lightness of being is what keeps me coming back again and again to the work. The effects of giving and receiving Zentherapy® are cumulative. I have less pain, more mobility, and greater freedom in my body than I did 15 years ago. So my sense is that while aging is inevitable, loss of function and mobility is not.

DH: What happens to connective tissue when we dance?

PA: Connective tissue is a very general term that can refer to many different types of connectivity. Most often it is used in reference to the fascial layers connecting muscle to tendon, and tendon to bone. In a best case scenario, the energy and movement of dance softens, vitalizes and rejuvenates those tissues. Problems occur due to overuse, or not allowing an injury to fully heal. Emotional pain also can shorten and harden the connective tissue. That is why a modality such as Zentherapy® is so important to longevity. We can clear those issues and injuries and allow the freedom of expression and heart of the dancer to be available in every performance. In Dub’s words, “The connective tissue becomes the servant of the dancer’s movement.”
In a different sense, connective tissue is also an aspect of the social field that binds us to each other and to the energies of the cosmos. It’s a form of communication and in that regard, dance is one of its most universal expressions.

DH: Thanks Patty for sharing the wonders of your work.