In the last weeks, as the disparity between the black experience and that of white people has been brought under the spotlight, I have wondered how to address it, if to address it within my Feldenkrais teaching. Is it relevant to Feldenkrais, and lessons that I teach? Would it put you off to read more about this subject when you’ve only signed up read blogposts which are about learning, from the physical realm? And yet, it is such a momentous time, and Black lives do matter. I know of the heartbreak, the sense of diminishing, that comes when others treat us as a lesser being, someone to be diminished, left out, called names, assaulted, rather than to be included, made equal. So my heart goes out to my fellow humans of colour, and I’d like to share something short with you all.
Feldenkrais is about learning more about ourselves and challenging our habits. Through self examination, rooting out those habits that no longer serve our present, and looking to replace them with better ideas and strategies, whilst maintaining the openness and curiosity of our childhood as we move through an adult world. That sounds very much like what many communities are looking for right now.
Racism stems from a lack of knowledge: one only has to look at the work of Darryl Davis, who persuaded around 200 racists to leave the KluKlux Klan, simply by befriending them. ( https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/kkk-klu-klux-klan-members-leave-black-man-racism-friends-convince-persuade-chicago-daryl-davis-a7489596.html )
And Feldenkrais is about gaining knowledge, learning to see what’s accurate in our perception of ourself, and what needs more clarity. What is really there, rather than what we imagine to be there. What the details of our biases might be, and how that adds up as we move our whole selves. And how we can break down and improve the component parts of complex ideas.
Many of our habitual ways we hold ourselves are the results of thinking habits: some learnt, some experienced. When we hold areas of ourselves habitually still, it is often from physically ingrained patterns of anxiety and fear, learnt during childhood, and held long after the event that caused the holding is gone. All these layers of holding or tensing habits make it harder to sense ourselves, make it more difficult to think clearly. And we physically amplify our emotions through our bodies. If I am fearful, and hold my breath, stiffen my back, that fear will continue, or build. If I am angry and I tense my muscles my anger will remain longer. If I know that, recognise it, and do something to self soothe, to bring myself back to my physical self, I can let go of the emotion along with the change in physical sensation. If I can find ways of learning what my physical responses are to each emotion, I can dial down the emotional tone. Neurologically, every action is accompanied by a sensation, a movement and an emotion. They are inextricably linked. We change one, the other has to change.
So, how do we respond to ourselves during a challenging lesson- do we hold our breath? Stiffen our ribs, our spine, in a kind of armour? Can you choose not to, or notice it and let go? What do we do with people who are unknown to us? Something similar? Discovering how we respond habitually mentally and physically to the unknown, to ourselves and others, may well assist in finding new ways to respond to the world and people around us in a more constructive way.
When you meet something in a lesson where we don’t know precisely what to do, how do you respond? Do you get irritated, frustrated, or get curious? How do we stay curious rather than the latter when we meet people whose life experience is very different to ours.
In a lesson, we look for the space before a movement, to be able to create options for ourselves, to be able to move with less effort, with less strain, more openness to who we really are. Moshe Feldenkrais was interested in human potential: he believed that working with his method was a way to learn how to learn, to become a mature human being, and a way for every human to recognise and fulfil their unavowed dreams, and that’s what I’d like for you all.