“What I’m after is to restore each person to their human dignity.” Moshe Feldenkrais
I’ve always been intrigued by humans’ fascination with transformation. From Clark Kent in the phone booth to the Transformers phenomenon, we harbor a secret desire to be, if not superheroes, at least something more. Perhaps we sense that we each have the potential to, as Moshe Feldenkrais said, “…make the impossible, possible, the possible, easy and the easy, elegant.”
When I dream of flying, I don’t have wings, or even flap my arms. I just keep moving my legs and lift off. As I float above the street, or the people at the party, I think to myself, “Wow, I’ve only dreamt this was possible. How cool that it’s true!” Of course, then I wake up and realize that once again, my subconscious has been hard at play. Moshe’s pronouncement aside, I know better than to launch myself off the nearest cliff.
For many people, dancing, walking, even eating on their own seems as impossible as flying. Whether through injury or illness, their world is one of constraints. While Feldenkrais invited us to dream big, he also said that we should always begin from where we are. Feldenkrais practitioners don’t begin with the impossible, but with the easy, knowing that somewhere in each student resides “an impossible dream,” perhaps even one that hasn’t even been verbalized. It’s so deep, Feldenkrais called it an “unavowed dream.”
I had a student once, a very tall executive who came to class for her back pain and clumsiness. Although she was extremely successful, she always belittled her stature in the company. I found it amazing that Deborah* was doing the same thing with her posture, rounding and hunching as if she was trying to shrink or diminish her height, even though she never mentioned this habit. As she continued taking lessons, she gradually unfolded. Her clumsiness, a result of her self-imposed “scrunched” posture, disappeared. Along with it, her self-deprecating personality began to shift.
One day, she swept into my office actually wearing high heels, her already glorious six feet now attaining a basketball player’s 6’3”. “You’ll never guess what happened the other day,” she grinned. “I was walking out of a meeting when one of the vice presidents stopped me on the way out. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought, ‘what’s up with that?’ He said, ‘Deborah, I know this might sound silly, but I just have to tell you that you are one of the most elegant people I’ve ever met. The way you walk into a room is just beautiful.’ Can you believe it? Somewhere in the last couple of months, I’ve been transformed!”
When you think about the fact that we are approximately 60% water, or go even deeper into our microscopic structure to see the vast distance between the atoms that compose our apparently solid shapes, it’s clear that our shape is determined less by mass than by our own design. Where do I hold? How do I brace or defend myself by tightening in the abdomen or chest? What would be the repercussions of actually letting go of the constant gripping in my low back? (No, the pelvis will not fall off!) The Feldenkrais Method looks at people as information: an unending instantaneous conversation in the body/mind. If I can become aware of the dialogue, I can change the conversation, revise the story that my body is living in.
I have been working recently with a brilliant woman who showed up in my office because she had been told she “walked funny.” Beatrice walked as if she was trying to go backwards even as her legs took her forward. Her pelvis was thrust forward, her upper torso leaned so far back it seemed she would tip over, and to compensate, her head stretched as far forward as human possible. “It doesn’t really bother me,” she said, “But my daughter is worried.”
Beatrice* had become so accustomed to the constraints created by her situation; she did not even consider the idea of running or jumping. Balance was a never-ending challenge and she literally lived on prescription pain killers. When she stood up straighter (although still tilted quite far back) after a lesson, her eyes widened. “Oh my,” she exclaimed, “I feel like I’m going to fall on my face!” Hmmmm.
The other day, she sauntered in. Still leaning back slightly, but clearly heading in another direction, she said, “Who knew it could be so easy to stand and walk? I have so much more energy, it occurs to me that it must be a lot of work to walk around in retreat all the time!” As she strolled around the studio, eyes on the horizon instead of trying to find her feet, she laughed, “Too bad we don’t have a video of how I looked when we began, because I honestly forget what it felt like to be that me.”
One of my trainers once described the Feldenkrais Method as like walking in a soft mist. If you open the door and it’s pouring rain, you either retreat, or are instantly soaked and unhappy. But if you go for a walk in a soft mist, the water gently touches, then penetrates, so that you don’t realize you’re getting wet till you’re already home. This subtle process of transformation is like an inner alchemy that takes place from inside out. Instead of an abracadabra and poof you are a superhero, the shift happens so gradually, that you only realize you have superpowers when you reach up for that shelf you gave up on years ago, or find yourself running effortlessly with your dog, or unthinkingly lift your grandchild up into the air as if she was weightless. That is the magic of Feldenkrais.
*Names have been changed.