A human being is a complex system and any attempt at defining us inevitably involves some simplification. Similarly, Feldenkrais is a complex Method, and naturally so, because it was designed to maximise the ability that distinguishes us from even the most intelligent creatures, the ability to intentionally set out to learn new skills at any stage of life. The majority of organisms are specialists, and thus a change in environment or situation can quickly devastate a population, but a few creatures are highly adaptable generalists (bacteria come to mind), and humans are the most adaptable of all. We evolved to learn, to invent, to create, to accumulate knowledge–to self-evolve–and Moshe Feldenkrais intended his Method to enhance and prolong our ability to benefit from this powerful aspect of our nature.
Systems Theory & the human brain & nervous system
When people talk about complex systems they usually reference “the human brain”, as if it could somehow exist by itself. In his online lectures Dr Dan Seigel sometimes mentions how his daughter teases him for referring to the “embodied brain”, yet as long as the mainstream has yet to fully recognise just how indivisible our interacting physical systems are, the concept remains worth clarifying. Fortunately, as our investigative gadgets get more sophisticated, so does our understanding. Neuronal networks keep turning up in unexpected parts of our physical being, and you can easily find current research ascribing intelligence to our gut, or our heart, with just a quick Google search. Of course these organs have long been associated with emotional intelligence, i.e. the aspect of our intelligence that is the least amenable to scientific testing.
Feldenkrais: boosting your awareness & learning power
To boost our learning power, Feldenkrais focusses on enhancing two interrelated abilities; our ability to expand our conscious awareness, and our ability to integrate this expanded awareness into our everyday functioning. It should be obvious that regular practise is required, but what makes Feldenkrais so effective also makes it less easy to practise in the ways most of us are familiar with. In class you are learning to repeat movements without being repetitive, and to move in new ways without copying anyone else, with the overarching goal of learning to become less compulsive and more spontaneous and innovative in your daily choices. Once you are back in your life, without the benefit of your teacher’s vigilant attention, it is all too easy to slip back into a narrower state of self-awareness, and return to the routines of behaviour that leave your mind free to endlessly chew over your routines of thought, and your familiar knee-jerk emotional reactions .
Practice is vital…
To emphasise the importance of regular practice I compare Feldenkrais to learning to play an instrument, or to mastering a martial art. Recognition that our developing brain and nervous system have a huge reliance on learning–the shorthand for which is the term ‘neuroplasticity’–is an important counterbalance to the “selfish gene” narrative, highlighting just how vital nurture is for our adaptable human nature. It also explains the vital importance of consistent practice for embedding new abilities. In actuality very little about us is “hard-wired”, and even our most ingrained habits can be unpicked from their neural circuits, it just takes time.
It is commitment to putting in the time that enables you to make that shift from the beginning slog of practising scales, or mastering kicks and throws, into the fun part where you are learning new songs and writing your own music, or actually using your fighting skills in competition.
With Feldenkrais, time spent immersing your attention in the overlapping sensations flowing into your conscious awareness thanks to your highly-sophisticated human sensory system is the perfect way to become less robotic and more authentic, less constrained and more potent, the most responsive and effective version of yourself – plus, this kind of practice makes it easy to find effective ways to practice anything else you would like to learn as well.
New ways to deal with chronic pain…
This means that for some time now I have been looking for ways to make it easier to work with yourself in between regular classes and intermittent private lessons. That is what Quintessensual Consciousness is all about. Many of the people who come to me are looking for help with managing pain, and often other chronic symptoms as well.* As modern pain research indicates, anyone who has been in pain for longer than the average six weeks it usually takes to recover from an injury may be beginning to adapt to being in chronic pain–one example of the way in which being so good at adapting is not an obvious advantage in every situation. Once we have become accustomed to long-term pain our experience of it tends to become both more intense, and easier to trigger, and this increase in sensitivity does not necessarily have any direct relationship to what is going on in our physical tissue. Unlearning pain can be a slow process, but a hugely valuable one, and, as we learn to liberate ourselves from the fear of current and future pain, it can become a genuinely empowering experience.
Feldenkrais As Meditation
Anyone who sets out to research alternative pathways to better health will quickly realise how many people embrace meditation techniques after experiencing the benefits for themselves. After several failed attempts to learn to “quiet” my mind I discovered Tai Chi (often described as a sort of moving meditation) and didn’t look back. My Feldenkrais training continued the process; my sensory-motor awareness improved, I began to inhabit my whole self more fully, my pain issues and my anxiety lessened, I became marginally less clumsy, and by the time I qualified as a teacher I had confidence in the Method and was very happy with my chosen profession. However, I was only in my early thirties and had little idea of just how deeply ingrained my negative habits were. Despite choosing a path so focussed on learning to lessen the pace of life, I nevertheless contracted a mild form of Chronic Fatigue and had to return to my self-examination–and–maturation process, at a new, deeper, more emotional level.
I will cut what could be a very long story short by saying that fibromyalgia was my most lasting symptom, and as the generalised pains retreated I was left with one stubborn area, a left shoulder so painful I could not lift my arm to shoulder height. Unlike the trapped nerves of my youth, this pain did not respond well to movement, and my Feldenkrais became more subtle and refined out of necessity. Despite my “nature” I was learning to be kinder to myself, and to pace myself in a way that suited me better. The pain intensified and I remembered that I had never mastered quieting my thoughts. Tim Parks wrote a wonderful book–Teach Us To Sit Still–about how learning to meditate changed his life. I decided this time I was going to keep on going until I had achieved the ability to quiet my mind at will. That journey is ongoing, but the process has been so thoroughly liberating, so life-enhancing, so useful, that I see no good reason to wait until I have fully achieved my goal before sharing some of what I have discovered with others.
There is more to say. I will follow this post with more details about the format of the classes. Back tomorrow…
*This is not all Feldenkrais can do for you, but in my experience it tends to be prolonged problems with pain that motivate people to come looking for something outside the mainstream.