For those of us with sight, so much of our movement starts with our eyes. The eyes direct the movement and, often, by co-ordinating eye movement we can improve the facility of other movements, big and small.
On the other hand, it is also the case that, like all areas of movements, we can narrow down our patterns of movement as certain habitual ways of moving come to dominate over time. This is in part an inevitable consequence of our habits. Chains of actions become wired together and the more often the chain is enacted the more likely it is to be enacted and repeated in future.
How then do we learn to move differently and re-introduce options that might have become redundant? Simple: through awareness and exploration.
Awareness and exploration go hand in hand. By bringing attention to our movements and exploring the experience of movement, noticing how it feels, how we feel, our attention is brought to other possibilities.
This afternoon’s workshop, lesson one: eyes. For 40 minutes, we were ‘resting’ on the floor. Sometimes on our backs, sometimes on our fronts. Guided by Veronica, we explored eye movements. Making small movements, often with our eyes closed, being aware of our experience.
As far as looking and seeing is concerned, we can look in a very focused way or we can gaze in a soft way. In the former way we might look because we have a specific idea, something we are ‘looking for’. The softly focussed gaze occurs when we simply receive light and colour. Babies begin their lives doing the latter. Many adults mainly do the former. This Feldenkrais lesson was an opportunity to explore how our experience of vision might be affected by exploring the experience of each.
Our visual cortex is one of the most active parts of a sighted person’s brain. So it was interesting to explore the effect of calming the activity in that area, being guided to make moves and then to enjoy darkness. In the spells of darkness, resting on our backs, we were guided to place the palms of our hands over our eyes and block out light. This exercise is not the same experience as just closing your eyes. Often when we do that, we might continue to run pictures in our visual centres as we think about actions. In this exercise we focussed our attention on the darkness. This was something we did a number of times throughout the lesson and it was interesting to notice that, in the early ‘darkness’ there were often lights. Residual impressions of visual activity. Repeating this, during the lesson the darkness increased. Focussing on observing the darkness a calming experience compared with just closing our eyes.
Practising the soft gaze brought an awareness of the intensity of always looking and maybe some insight into how this way of looking can generate tensions elsewhere in the body, as we observed how breathing rhythms could be synchronised with eye movements. As an example, keeping your head still, experiment with slowing moving eyes to the right with an in-breath and slowly to the left with an out breath.
After 40 minutes of these gentle explorations a new participant simply said: That’s amazing! Others commented on the way they felt they had widened their field of vision or reduced tension around the eyes. After a 20 minutes refreshment break, we were all ready for the next lesson.
In some ways this was even more of a revelation. For most of this lesson we lay on our sides, with knees bent, one arm extended for a head rest, the other arm extended in front of us. There were a variety of movements to make, all of them deceptively simple and yet, so often revelatory in the nature of the movement. For example the palms of the moving arm were flat on the floor and we lifted one finger at a time, noticing the different amounts of ease. Then we raised more than one digit at a time, experimenting with pairs of movement, again noticing differing levels of facility. We noticed too that we were engaging muscles in our hands, but also in our wrists and forearms, our intrinsic and extrinsic muscles.
Since each participant has a different life experience, then each individual has a different experience of these movements. Pianists undertaking this lesson, often notice that it improves their playing as it develops awareness and improves movement. I may not be a pianist, but anything this simple that can improve manual dexterity is worth doing and surely must be a way of offsetting that stiffening which can happen with the passage of time.
In our third lesson, again on the floor, mostly on our sides, we developed connections between the two aspects of the first couple of lessons. By this stage in the afternoon it is quite common to feel so relaxed, and in such a trance like state, that much of the detail can seem to be lost. It may be lost to a particular part of the brain, and yet, the body remembers. Moshe Feldenkrais may have been ahead of his time, and yet all we know about muscle memory supports this approach. So while I certainly wouldn’t be able to talk you through this third lesson, I know that my body has benefited and I know that my muscles will remember. My body has been given a few more choices and that will allow increased ease.
I do recall that for a part of this third lesson we were on our sides (and then our backs?) with arms at shoulder height extended. We experimented with movements. I do remember the joy of feeling our arms extend as we inhaled and relaxing with an exhalation. Allowing, as we did so, our hands to open out in the periphery of our vision. I recall bringing one hand to rest, with the palm on the chest just below the clavicle and noticing the sensations in hand and body. Moving this hand, slowly, palm down, to trace a path across the chest towards the underside of the other arm. In sequence, building up this movement , extending the reach, lifting the hand and palm away from the arm, arcing the hand up and over and back to the original extended position, enjoying a rolling sensation.
We experimented with movements which we followed with our eyes. Then with movements where our heads and our eyes moved in opposite directions. Not easy to describe these kind of Feldenkrais sequences. One of those areas in life where there is no substitute for action. You just have to experience an Awareness Through Movement workshop to see how it helps us move with ease.
At 4pm, we felt the benefit and took the gains with us into our daily life.
Next time: Feet
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