Baby Steps: Learning To Learn

Interwoven throughout this course introduction are videos from Alexandra Beller’s dance company, exploring how babies move, led by her child, Ivo. These films are lovely; joyful and inspiring, and very like the movement sequences I teach in my classes every day. My ongoing intention as a Feldenkrais teacher is that more and more of us discover that we can regain this easy spontaneity in our moving, and with it more flexibility in our thinking, and more playfulness in our living.

You can easily see in this clip how a performance piece could form from the inspiration of a happy toddler in motion…

Recently I taught a workshop on improving the ability to squat. I was inspired by a headline on the cover of New Scientist that supports my ongoing campaign to get you all to spend some time sitting on the floor every day; “How Changing The Way You Sit Could Add Years To Your Life”. The article continues “…our bodies evolved to take rest breaks, but sitting on chairs and couches can cause long-term damage. Here’s how to change the way you sit and boost your health” – as I already knew this I didn’t pay to read the rest of the article, but you can if you wish

The workshop was fun – they usually are – but numbers were low, and I am always conscious of just how many people cannot actually comfortably spend three hours moving around on their hands and knees, even when you factor in the slow, attentive quality of the Awareness Through Movement learning process, the frequent pauses for releasing any accumulation of unconscious effort, and way our movement sequences are designed to lead you from ‘impossible to possible, from difficult to easy, and [finally] from easy to elegant’.

In our professional training we return to the developmental patterns that enabled us to learn this way as children. We explore how we came to move as adults by immersing ourselves in how we moved as babies. This original learning process cannot be perfectly reproduced for several interesting reasons: adults have different bodily proportions; adults have deeply ingrained movement habits they are simply not conscious of, meaning that improving our sensory/kinaesthetic awareness is a long slow process of undoing what is familiar and ‘semi-automated’* in our nervous system, and – possibly more significant than any of these other examples – adults have self-constraining belief systems that can keep them stuck in uncomfortable behavioural patterns, even when those beliefs are draining all the joy and hope from their lives. 

Ivo leads the dance…

Many of us have completely taken on board our culture’s obsession with achievement; striving, competing, “no pain, no gain”, “the end justifies the means” – and when it comes to our everyday activities those “means” often entail ignoring any signals from your nervous system to slow down, take better care of yourself, give yourself more time to get to where you want to be, and completely forget how it was when you were a toddler, and life used to be fun.  

The cultural paradigms that associate ageing with loss of mobility, healthy functionality, and mental acuity are dominant in our culture. These ideas are stated as immutable truths so often it can seem natural not to question them – unless you really understand just how neuro- and bio-“plastic” we are. Humans have evolved to learn, to adapt, to self-organise for any eventuality. The paradigm of life as a competition is so dominant that almost every useful concept is discussed in the ‘[this] versus [this]’ competitive format – even when that is patently absurd, as when exploring right and left brain function, to offer just one significant example. The obsession with the ‘survival of the fittest’ narrative obscures the vital element of cooperation that is so fundamental to social mammals.

So as usual I could go on forever, but instead I want to share another video where children are leading and adults are following, all in the purpose of having lots more fun…

James Corden and Jennifer Lopez prove you don’t have to be a professional dancer to get the hang of these moves!

My Baby Steps course is all about this sort of fun, with the ultimate goal of rediscovering just how beneficial and effective a little bit of fun can be for improving our quality of movement, our capacity for self-development, our ability to ‘move in any direction, without preparation’ – our whole quality of life. 

*I am emphasising the “semi” element here; very little of what we do as humans is programmed in at birth, most of it is learned, but the earlier we learned it the more stubborn it can be to shift. These entrained habits are often described as ‘hard-wired’ – a term that perpetuates the unhelpful metaphor that we are machine-like in our functioning, and unable to change ourselves in a beneficial direction should we choose to do so.

Baby Steps

…a Feldenkrais ‘foundation’ course…

*Contact me directly if you are interested in this workshop, or join my mailing list for regular updates…

The first question new folk usually ask me is “what is Feldenkrais”, and the second is “How does is differ from…” *something else* the questioner already knows something about. There are many answers, but the one that I would like to explore in my first every Summer School is the connection between how we approach teaching people to be better and more effective independent learners and the early developmental process we all go through as children. 

Moshe Feldenkrais was married to Yona Rubenstein, a child development expert, and her perspective helped him recognise how naturally and spontaneously we humans accumulate new learning and new abilities when we are allowed to explore and discover and play in an unconstrained way. What is holding many adults back from the continuous learning process that evolution has designed us for is the less flexible ways of thinking and doing that become instilled in our nervous systems once we are pressured into learning by rote, in a physically limited environment, with an expectation of narrowly defined “correct” outcomes – in other words exactly what our current education system is founded on. So this will be an alternative foundation course, one that explores the foundations of life-long learning. Each day will be the natural preparation for the next stage of development. Just as in real life it will not matter if you miss a day as this holistic learning process allows for the gaps to fill in naturally, but having the recording for each day will enable you to go back to any development stage that feels particularly relevant to you. 

My natural interests mean that we will be looking at the development of the voice and the organisational importance of the eyes as we go along, and my current researches into state-of-the-art anatomical science means I will be including not just neuroplasticity, but also bio-plasticity and the elements of our development that are already in place in the womb. 

Each daily lesson and discussion will be recorded so that you won’t miss a day, and will have plenty of time to explore both the Awareness Through Movement and the interrelated Embodied Voice sequences after the Summer School is over. This will be an ideal way to prepare for joining a ongoing regular class. I will have three weekly classes running from September onwards– two on Zoom, and one live (SE14) –however there are many other classes to choose from, and other teachers to connect with, all over the world, both live and online, so there will be nothing to prevent you getting the full benefits of a regular Feldenkrais practise wherever you are in the world.

Syllabus (still being finalised, but this will give you some idea):

1. First breaths – sucking, and squawling

2. Flexing – Hands & Feet – Bell Hand #1

3. Flexing and rolling – 180 degrees of horizontal motion – Eyes #1

4. Flexing and rolling – 180 degrees of vertical motion – Eyes #2

5. Rolling and coming to sitting from lying on your side – Bell Hand #2

6. Extensors – Crawling

7. Integrating Flexors & Extensors – Rolling On Belly – Eyes #3

8. Hands and Knees – Lying to Sitting to Standing – Exploring Locomotion

9. Exploring Coming To Standing

10. Moving in any direction without preparation – including upwards into the air!

Here is some background about Milkdreams, and an appeal for funding from Ivo’s Mum – probably a bit late now…
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