The beginning of the year coincides with the beginning of my personal year, and I try and make time to think about what went well, projects that didn’t work out as planned, what I’d like achieve in the different areas of life this year.
A recommendation by a friend recently led me to the website of the Shaolin monks in Europe. I’ve always been a secret kung fu movie fan, there’s something super cool for me about people who are in control of themselves. Jackie Chan combines skill with comedy and lightness, something I admire.
I did some wing chun for a while when I lived near a dojo in NE London. I loved it, was pretty bad at it but didn’t really care. My Sifu told me a I was a fighter, and that was praise enough. Over time I realised the bruised knuckles and risk to my hands at a time when I was performing concerts a lot was a risk too far. No-one was going to be sympathetic if I had to pull out a gig because I’d hurt myself whilst practicing martial arts.
One of the things that so many of the Eastern martial arts look for is balance. Balance between our inner and outer worlds, between thinking of ourselves and others, between time spent giving and receiving. Balance between work and play. Where do you have areas of your life where you’re happy with the balance, and which areas would benefit from a little attention this year.
Right now, in our current lockdown, not knowing when it will end, I have found that my experience doing, and teaching Feldenkrais has helped enormously with finding balance in my life. Time spent thinking about how to serve others has lessened my fears about my own career, and given me a positive focus.
It’s also one of the underlying themes of every Feldenkrais lesson. Taking time to explore internally, and learn more about ourselves can be a positive, to find the depth of our inner resources, and strength, or indeed to find the limits of that strength, and when we need to take time to re-coup, to re-set. It’s not to navel-gaze, rather find balance here too: we need to be able to pay attention to both internal and external sensations and stimuli to be well-functioning human-being.
The balance of attention or energy is one thing, another is our physical ability to balance. This is reliant on how well we know ourselves, our body. Imagine any cat making a big jump, they know exactly where they start and finish, and where they are in space- that’s how they can turn in the air to land on all paws. My theory is that a cat’s daily grooming process where they lick themselves from top to paw(s) allows them to have a better self image than most humans. Then when they’re in different orientations they can sense themselves more easily.
How could you add some self-touch to your routine, to help you map yourself out? When I teach lessons and ask people to outline their collarbone, or touch their ribs whilst moving, the experience is much clearer for many of them.
We go slowly in our movement exploration in a Feldenkrais lesson to find that out. To explore the borders. Hopefully, when we have had an experience of ourselves with less effort and strain (what many of us would think of as being more relaxed) we can learn to distinguish the difference, and then hone our skill over time.
We’re looking to be able to be sensitive enough to notice the moments before we cause ourselves pain, rather than pushing through discomfort. When we push through pain, we are improving our willpower, rather than our skill level.
Our physical balance is about the relationship between being static and dynamic: much of the premise of our work in Feldenkrais. We’re looking to find a way of sensing our balancing and moving from the inside. We need to be able to fluidly change between shifting weight from one foot to another as we move, or balance our body weight out as we move through space. (Just like in the picture where the little girl balances on a beam, her head forwards, and pelvis backwards to allow her to stay on top.) When we can sense both the parts, and relationship between the parts, we can do this more intuitively, an embodied knowledge.
Sometimes, given the emphasis on reducing excess tension in a Feldenkrais lesson, people ask me if it’s only about finding relaxation? The answer is that we need a level of activity in the muscles to move, so achieve anything we need a balance of relaxation or tension, but most of us don’t really know how much is enough, or how much is too much.
A Feldenkrais lesson is an opportunity to find out. When we can understand that we add too much tension to a move, or something else completely unnecessary, then we can change it: when we can locate the problem, we can do something about it.
When we know our limits and possibilities more intimately, it makes it easier to know where and how we can take action, or when to stop, take a bath, curl up and read a book, shut out the outside world in order to refill our well of energy inside. (Substitute whatever you like to do to unwind and re-fill of course).
How is the balance of your life right now? Not only the physical, but emotional and mental? It’s not indulgent to look after ourselves. It’s a basic need, especially during these times of uncertainty and challenge. If we empty the cup of our energy, we’ll have nothing left to nourish ourselves with, or give away to others. How do you refill your cup? What small things can give you enjoyment or pleasure, fill you with a sense of life, or how could you easily, realistically fit 5 minutes of sensing yourself in space into each day?
And thinking about the balance between movement and stillness, silence and sound (and of course finding easier ways of moving), I am offering two workshops on the 6th and 28th of February, as part of my new String-Moves project: specialist workshops for String players. The first is for bowed string players, the second for plucked.
There are a few spaces left in the workshop on the 6th, and plenty on the 28th. For more details, and to sign up, please go here.