Tag: Feldenkrais

Feldenkrais, Survival, and Supernovas

I love the connection between martial arts and Feldenkrais. After all, Feldenkrais is based on martial arts, the art of movement, and the art of survival. Moshe Feldenkrais believed that all human beings were intended to not just survive, but to thrive in their environment. He also wanted to return to each person their human dignity. How beautiful is that?

To have human dignity, you must be able to protect yourself and have strong personal boundaries. As a martial artist, I understand that, and I always integrate the principles of martial arts, self-defense, and survival skills into my Feldenkrais sessons. I get so passionate about Feldenkrais and the art of survival that many of my clients wanted to explore this connection at a deeper level, with practical application for daily life. Some of them even talked about trying some martial arts classes, but were worried about getting their heads knocked off by over-enthusiastic training partners. After being on the receiving end of some of those partners myself, I could certainly understand their concerns.

But I also understand how empowering the practice of martial arts can be, and I wanted to be able to offer that sense of empowerment to my clients without having them risk their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I was at a loss, until I finally had a head-smacking moment as a light bulb went off in my head. Why not devote a two hour long class to Feldenkrais and the art of survival?

I chose one of my favorite Feldenkrais lessons titled “The Golden Ball.” It is a deliciously gentle but powerful lesson where you imagine a golden ball placed deep in your abdomen, somewhere between your pubic bone and your belly button. As the lesson progresses, you visualize the ball moving, rolling, sliding, and gliding as you move through the movement patterns.

Before we began the lesson, we started in traditional Feldenkrais-fashion with a body scan. However, instead of lying down and sensing our contact with the floor, we walked around my office and the long hallway outside of it to notice our connection to the floor, our environment, each other, and within ourselves. “How do you feel?” I asked them. “Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?”

The response was rather lukewarm until I uttered those magic words, “Go to your mat, and lie on your back….” Ahhh, the rewarding sound of sighs of contentment filled the room as I began guiding them through “The Golden Ball.” Halfway through the lesson, I stopped, had my clients slowly come to standing, and walk around the room and the hallway again. Once more, I repeated my questions: “How do you feel? Do you feel confident and powerful? Or do you feel timid and unsure of yourself?”

This time the response was a bit more introspective as well as enthusiastic. Their comments included a sense of increased awareness, feeling centered, stronger, and grounded. Interesting, to say the least. I was mind-boggled by the changes that I observed in all of the participants as the lesson had unfolded. Of course I kept my comments and my observations to myself as I had them return to their mats to prepare for the grand finale.

When the lesson ended, as I watched my clients transition from the floor to standing, my jaw dropped in amazement. The power in each and everyone of them was electric, and I had to take a step back so their combined energy didn’t knock me over. Before I had the chance to ask my three questions, one of my clients exclaimed, “It’s like a supernova! At first I couldn’t feel the ball, and then I started to feel it a little bit. But after the break, it got bigger, brighter, and stronger–now it’s all around me! It’s a Feldenkrais supernova!”

I ended the class as I always do, with a recap of the lesson and what I lovingly refer to as the “family talk.” But before we did, we had one more walk around the room and the hallway. The light and the wisdom from those golden balls just lit up the room, and it certainly lit up my heart. Because I knew that all of those people now had a few more skills to take home with them….the skills of Feldenkrais, survival, and supernovas. Feldenkrais….turning on the power for people everywhere. You simply have to try it to believe it!

Live and learn….

What a wonderful weekend I’m having! It started last night with a fantastic instructor training class at Kusa Dojo. Okay, so it was a bit difficult to get to the dojo on a gloriously beautiful spring evening, especially being Friday evening and everything. To make matters worse, I had to maneuver around all the revelers getting an early start on their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at the local pub. But it certainly was worth the effort. It’s amazing how much you can learn about how you move when you really slow things down, listen to the quality of your movement, and go back to the basics. Oh, and it also helps to have two highly skilled teachers coaching you.

I was able to find where I was making my mistakes and now have the opportunity to work on them, on my own, without judgment, but in the spirit of interest and curiosity. When I practice on my own, I can slow down my movement patterns even more so I can interrupt the habits I have developed that are holding me back. In the context of learning, slowing down and doing less helps you feel more. I could feel new synaptic connections developing in my head. You’d think I’d be exhausted after that, but I was strangely energized as I picked my way around the party goers from the pub after class. Hmmm….this sounds really familiar, like something else I know.

I didn’t think my weekend could get any better after last night. Until this morning, when I taught a two hour Feldenkrais workshop at my office. Watching my students discover new movement patterns as they moved slowly through the lessons was fascinating. And extremely rewarding. Listening to their experiences of the movement lessons was incredibly enlightening as I felt more synaptic connections making contact in myself. And I could once again appreciate the close relationship between  martial arts and The Feldenkrais Method. What fun!

So, it begs the question, both from the perspective as a student and as a teacher….am I teaching to learn or learning to teach? I think they go hand in hand, and are reversible, just like one of the principles of learning in the Feldenkrais way. Recently I was explaining the principles of Feldenkrais to a friend of mine. I explained how it was based on the science of neuroplasticity, that we are always able to learn new things during our entire lifetime. She responded by saying she was too old to learn new things, and she meant it. I felt sorry for her, because that is part of her belief system and her self image. Not only is that sad, but just think of all the fun she’s missing out on!

Anyway, it’s been a great weekend, full of wonderful experiences and discovery! And just think….it’s only Saturday afternoon. Who knows what the rest of the weekend has in store!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Habits, constraints, and neuroplasticity….let the learning begin!

In my martial arts class, we often practice something called “randori”. One student stands in the center of the room while the other students form a circle around them and take turns randomly attacking the person in the middle. It’s kind of like the Ninja version of monkey in the middle. And it scares me to death. It is my least favorite training activity, but my incomparable stubborness won’t let me opt out. And besides, the guys would make fun of me if I refused to play with them.

Last week, after we completed our randori, just as I heaved a sigh of relief, Sensei said, “We’re going again.” He looked at me and said, “And you are not allowed to do the same techniques. I want you to find new ways to react to each attack.” My response to that constraint was not very mature or Ninja-like. I threw a hissy fit.  Apparently my little temper tantrum didn’t phase him. Either he is immune to them or I need to work on my hissy fit skills. Anyway, he wouldn’t budge. Sheesh, I thought I was stubborn!

Before we began, he had me stop, breathe and relax. Not an easy task when you are surrounded by men waiting to attack you. Against my better judgment, I listened to him. Then I took my place in the middle of the circle and let the games begin. The attacks started coming. And something very interesting happened. I felt new movement patterns come forth without even trying. My reactions were more thoughtful, meticulous and less effort. I discovered that I had a lot more techniques under my belt (so to speak) than I knew I had. I was calmer, my breathing was easier, my chest felt softer, my movements were more fluid. I felt myself responding in a visceral, organic way.

By giving me that one small constraint,  my Sensei gave me the opportunity to interrupt my habits explore new movement patterns, and discover new sensory patterns.  He did this in an environment that was safe, supportive and non-judgmental. What ever I did, it was not right or wrong, good or bad, just opportunities to learn. Hmmm….this sounds familiar. Why does this sound like  Feldenkrais? Because it is. The Feldenkrais Method(R) gives us the opportunity to learn new patterns of moving, sensing, thinking and feeling in an environment that is safe, supportive and non-judgmental. What Sensei did that day was absolutely brilliant! But let’s keep that to ourselves, shall we? We won’t tell him I said that. After all, if I encourage him, who knows what devious new methods he will use to help me learn and grow. Hmmm….on second thought, maybe I will tell him!

Ninjas at Play