“Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.”
Moshe Feldenkrais; Embodied Wisdom–Collected Papers, 2010
We are formed by an alliance of many, many cells; “a cooperative community of 50 trillion single-celled citizens”, as cell biologist Bruce Lipton put it, in his book Biology Of Belief.
He goes on to say that “almost all of the cells that make up your body are amoeba-like; individual organisms that have evolved a cooperative strategy for their mutual survival.”
The evolutionary process is usually modelled as a competitive struggle for survival, but modern biology is increasingly recognising the value of a more cooperative “systems theory model” of our planet’s more mature ecosystems. Elisabet Sahtouris explains this model clearly and concisely here:
“A Cycle of Maturation…
Our still youthful human species’ intelligence and creativity follows in the footsteps of countless other species in their own immature phases, when feisty, competitive behaviour coupled with creative invention helped them establish themselves in their niches and permitted their expansion. But many a species eventually learned the energy efficiency and security advantages of sharing territory and feeding their enemies rather than killing them off, thus evolving into mature cooperative species, such as are found in the great interwoven diversity of rainforests, coral reefs and prairies. This maturation cycle of species, only the first half of which Darwinian theory covers, plays itself out anew for each species. This is evident in the transition from Type I “pioneer” ecosystems to Type III “climax” ecosystems—from youthful, hostile, if creative, competition to mature collaboration and the interdependency of true community.”
Elisabet Sahtouris, Ph.D. Planetary and Personal Health: Global Health and Agriculture. 2009
It is becoming increasingly recognised by us, the public at large, that we humans carry within us a colonising ecosystem of microorganisms that play a vital role in our health. Every month it seems new research emerges connecting our “microbiome” to some aspect of our health, whether physical, cognitive, or emotional.
This cellular aspect of our design is overwhelmingly composed of water – the percentage figures usually quoted are large, 50% to 70%, with 60% as the commonly quoted average – however, even more of us is made of up of water if we use our molecular composition as the model: then the figure is 98.73%. This information comes via the fascinating research of Gerald Pollack on the unusual behaviour of water as a chemical substance – here is a great TED talk on the subject:
The descriptive language of water – fluid; rippling; undulating; always in flow, even when apparently at rest; at risk of stagnation if that flowing nature is clogged up in some way – provides us with a treasure trove of useful metaphors for many aspects of life, not just how we move, but also how we think (ideas flowing freely, problems dissolving, memories “flooding” in), how we sense (rhythms “undulate”, powerful aromas can”overwhelm”, rich colours are “saturated”), and feel (joy “bubbling” up, feeling as if we are “drowning” in our miseries).
A creature moving in water naturally utilises rippling, undulating, pulsing motions. To move on land life needed thicker encasing membranes to keep our insides nice and moist – we are still carrying a salty ‘sea’ around inside us – and a denser skeletal structure to provide a deep framework. Our skeleton evolved to be resilient enough to withstand the compressive forces generated by moving on land while keeping all those membranous structures from collapsing in on themselves, so that all that watery stuff inside us can keep flowing.
When we emerge from the water after a swim we feel our own weight more heavily; our sense of gravity is temporarily enhanced, until we revert back to being a land creature. Internal pulsation and peristaltic wave motions keep everything in flux throughout our complex physique, and when we can be still enough, we can feel this constant internal movement as it happens, signalling our aliveness to our conscious self.
This watery aspect of life on dry land is visible in the way a snail oozes along the earth; in the intestinal peristaltic wave motion of a worm out of its usual habitat on the pavement. If you had access to a garden as a child you probably remember the way a worm can escape by narrowing itself in exactly the place you are holding it – literally ‘pouring’ itself out of your grasp. With the advent of slow motion filming we can see the ripple through the skeleton of a big cat chasing its prey, and in the ripple through a human face in the aftermath of a punch.
We associate moisture with youth, and drying out with ageing, and certainly we are composed of mostly soft cartilaginous matter – and our largest percentage of water by mass – at birth. Developing necessitates growing big enough to carry our unusually large brain around; a great deal of our brain power is focussed directly on the process of maintaining mobility in gravity, and, as we grow, our increasing weight demands that we build some strengthening materials into our structural framework.
We are in the midst of a revolution in our understanding of that structural framework. Pioneering anatomists are finding new ways to model the way we are made; shifting out of mechanical models into systemic and process-focussed concepts. Taking a dead thing apart can be really misleading it seems; the lifeless tissue under the scalpel is already drying out.
Living things grow. They begin as a singularity that divides – that “invaginates” in on itself in order to expand in size. However big a creature becomes, it is still made out of this self-generating stuff. As living in gravity makes its demands, some of this self-organising material packs itself with contractile proteins to become muscle, some with denser calcium deposits to produce a gravity-resisting skeletal system.
Our skeleton’s solid appearance is misleading; certainly when you bake a bone you get something brittle that breaks into shards, but if you take the same bone and instead soak it in a mild acid, such as vinegar, for long enough then you will get something that looks just like the brittle thing we are all familiar with, except that this time the more solid parts have dissolved away and now the same bone will be malleable, bendy, and resilient, like rubber. Treat a femur this way and you will be able to tie it in a knot, provided it came from a creature with a willowy structure, like an antelope, rather than something very bulky, like a hippo.
This is our adaptable, bio-plastic “connective” tissue; we are made out of this fascial material, and our structural integrity is compromised when our connective tissue loses its healthy malleable and resilient quality.
In honour of Moshe I have decided to call my new live classes and workshops “Movement Is Life!”. In Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes we describe the movement sequences we teach, rather than demonstrating them. By allowing each person to discover their own unique version of the primal pattern we are exploring we aim to avoid any suggestion that there is one correct way to do anything, and that “teacher knows best”. The overarching intention behind the Method is to undo the damage done to our natural curiosity, and our innate impulse to develop and progress through life, by a culture and upbringing that encourages conforming to constraining societal norms, at the expense of our natural instincts, and our unique personal dreams and desires.
In Feldenkrais you are learning to reinstate your autonomous individuality, fine tuning your awareness to recognise your inner promptings again. The system that keeps us in tune – in “resonance” – with our most authentic state of being, moment to moment, is the sensory-motor feedback that keeps us intimately connected to our connective tissue. It is the totality of our substance; organising our whole self, generating and encasing our organs, transporting nutrients, conveying impulses – throughly alive with all the busy activity of aliveness.
Stop and “listen”– turn your awareness inward, attend to all your various feedback mechanisms, feel-sense all that is available to your consciousness – i.e. the part of yourself that science has no proper explanation for whatsoever!
As you learn to move as in integrated whole – an intelligent colony of trillions of cells, with a vast cohort of friendly immigrants running the digestive system – not a mechanical construct of separate bits and pieces, not a robot made of levers and pulleys, not a muddle of out-dated anatomical models based on 19th century physics – but a fabulous quivering, constantly self-healing, adapting and learning quantum-mechanical being:
“Did you know that the embryo is not a matter of the past but is still active in us … ? That our body is not a kind of biological machine, but a process, an appearance in time, the body as movement. More than our genes and our brain? And: we are not made!
Jaap van der Wal, MD, anatomist-embryologist
A selection of quotations about movement…
“Movement is life, without movement life is unthinkable”.
Moshe Feldenkrais: The Master Moves, 1989
“Thou seest how sloth wastes the sluggish body, as water is corrupted unless it moves.”
“The rhythm of movement, similar to the movement of huge oncoming ocean waves, leads to an impression of unchangeable infinity of the natural cycle…”