Awareness Through Movement® = Well-Being Through Well-Doing
It was thirty years ago that I limped into an Awareness Through Movement class at the Brighton Natural Health Centre, stricken with an unexpected bout of sciatica, and strode out free of pain six hours later. With Feldenkrais an instant improvement of this sort is not that unusual, and although I did not know it at the time, therapeutic movement is a standard treatment for sciatica. It did grab my attention however, because although my bouts of acute sciatic pain usually disappeared spontaneously after a week or so, none had ever melted away so completely in less than 24 hours before. I knew I had discovered something important; to add context, at that time I had been injuring myself during strenuous activity–running, dance classes, aerobics–and healing myself again (mainly with Tai Chi) for most of my adult life, but I had never experienced such an immediate improvement with any kind of movement–or any kind of treatment–before.
I should also mention (because of what I know about the “placebo” effect*) that I only went along to try it out because I thought it might be interesting and fun – I did not have any expectation that the class would relieve pain, I chose it because I shared so many interests with the teacher, Feldenkrais Trainer Garet Newell. We both liked dance, we both liked Tai Chi, we both liked the Alexander Technique, so I strongly suspected I might like this Awareness Through Movement thing – and I was right. I love this work
Dr Moshe Feldenkrais was certain that learning to perform with focussed attention on minimising effort and maximising enjoyment was the right tool for achieving the full potential of our brain and nervous system…
“I believe that the unity of mind and body is an objective reality. They are not just parts somehow related to each other, but an inseparable whole while functioning. A brain without a body could not think … the muscles themselves are part and parcel of our higher functions.”
…and modern neuroscience is constantly proving him right. The evidence is clear that moving ourselves around is overwhelmingly what our brains are for, and I have to thank Todd Hargrove for unearthing this quote from neurologist and author Oliver Sacks – whose autobiography is actually called On The Move:
“Much more of the brain is devoted to movement than to language. Language is only a little thing sitting on top of this huge ocean of movement.”
– and this one from roboticist Hans Moravec:
“Encoded in the large, highly evolved sensory and motor portions of the human brain is a billion years of experience about the nature of the world and how to survive in it. The deliberate process we call reasoning is, I believe, the thinnest veneer of human thought, effective only because it is supported by this much older and much powerful, though usually unconscious, sensorimotor knowledge. We are all prodigious olympians in perceptual and motor areas, so good that we make the difficult look easy. Abstract thought, though, is a new trick, perhaps less than 100 thousand years old. We have not yet mastered it.”
For more Inspiring Quotes On Why Movement Matters check out Todd’s always excellent blog.
There is a lot of brain-training on offer, much of it fairly poorly supported by relevant research, and much of it focussed on the relatively narrow area of our conscious processing. Dr Moshe Feldenkrais’ great leap of understanding was that, because so much of our brain is involved in organising movement, we humans can develop the process of moving with heightened awareness to interact directly with the sensory-motor organising part of our brains, and thereby enhance our ability to delete old, outdated behavioural programmes and replace them with newer more useful “updates”. The amazing thing about humans is that it is not just our brains that are ‘plastic’–i.e. reprogrammable–but that, by evolving what we do and how we do it, with persistent practice we can upgrade our “hardware” as well.
Lorimer Moseley – a world-class expert on the relief of chronic pain – has embraced the term Bioplasticity to raise awareness of just how much of our self is upgradable if we want it to be – here is a link to his article on the subject, It Is Not Just The Brain That Changes Itself… and Deepak Chopra is really inspiring when he explains just how quickly the physical self is renewed and replaced as we go along. This is a huge subject that deserves a whole article to itself, and I will write one soon, but in the meantime here is the expert with his own article on the subject, sample quote:
“If you want to stay healthy for life, you need to take care of yourself. That’s the conventional wisdom. It’s a frequent guilty reminder when we look in the mirror and realize that we aren’t in the best shape. “I’ve got to start taking better care of myself.” But the real secret to life-long good health is actually the opposite: Let your body take care of you. I’m not being contrary. The human body consists of hundreds of billions of cells that function perfectly, and if we were single-celled creatures, immortality would be normal. An amoeba or blue-green algae keeps on living indefinitely by constantly dividing in two to produce the next generation of cells. Absent death from external circumstances, such as being eaten or drying up in the sun, one-celled organisms exist in a state of perpetual well-being.”
The Real Secret Of Staying Healthy For Life – Deepak Chopra, Huffington Post
So, if we begin to do things differently, we can change our brains and our bodies – something it has become vital to recognise, because the way our language–and much of our science–separates brains and bodies is an out-dated convention that is most certainly not helpful in our current climate of chronic stress and trauma-induced health issues.
Learning to move freely in all dimensions, with mindful self-focus and heightened awareness, is a wonderful tool for…
– and Self-development
Become the most self-aware and fully integrated version of yourself – use mindful movement to bring your whole being into unity and harmony.
“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centred on the body.”
The connection between Awareness Through Movement and mindfulness is pretty easy to recognise, and perhaps can even provide a way to develop a better understanding of what Feldenkrais is all about. Using the brain’s ability to learn, unlearn and relearn (the practical meaning of “neuroplasticity”) as a tool for health and well-being should be obvious, but somehow isn’t. Even when it is better understood it is mostly in the context of curing serious neurological problems, not for those of us who have just developed bad muscular habits and self-defeating approaches to new challenges in life. I have been thinking about these ideas for a while now and am beginning to finally put them down on paper. I think Feldenkrais is particularly useful for those who find it difficult to meditate effectively! Developing your Awareness Through Movement skills can enable you to move, do and be in a meditative way throughout your day. For more on this concept, you might like to read my most recent article on Mindfulness In Motion.
And finally, for a charming talk on the subject of brains and movement I leave you with Daniel Wolpert at TED:
*The link is to a very good but rather old documentary – be patient with the occasional gaps, it is really worth watching.