It’s interesting to me that touch is often equated with being emotionally moved: “I was touched by his musicmaking.” As a musician I aim to move our audience simply with soundwaves reaching their ears.
Touch, being touched, and connection is a basic building block of being human. I think one of the things so many of us have found difficult in the last 18 months is the lack of touch. Not hugging friends, even if we get to see them, not even feeling other people’s touch in the shaking of hands at hello. Or kissing those with whom we have a different level of closeness. For those of us who are tactile, that’s an important level of non-verbal communication that has been missing.
When I first started having hands-on sessions many years ago, it was very profound for me: to be touched by another who wasn’t family; who didn’t want something from me, and who wasn’t a doctor moving me to find what was wrong with me. Rather someone who listened to me through their hands. I felt held and seen on a fundamental level, accepted on a profound level. Who without talking was able to communicate that I wasn’t broken, I was OK just as I was, even if I did have challenges in certain areas.
When we are touched without another’s need or without desire, in a platonic, in an almost neutral way, it allows us to sense ourselves in the prioperceptive mirror. A physical version of the idea of a psychotherapist, mirroring back a client’s thoughts to them. Because of the skeletal touch that we learn in a Feldenkrais training, we can touch and hold people in a way that can feel like it touches us at our core. As we are moved by someone else, who is looking for where we can move fluidly, elegantly, we start to notice where we can move fluidly, elegantly, or where we’re holding on, perhaps unnecessarily. With the gentleness of movement of a Feldenkrais lesson we can sense more precisely where our tension is being held. Sometimes it’s at the end of a lesson we realise we were holding more tension than we realised. And over time we can grow the resources to let go of what we don’t need.
As a primate, touch is part of our social function. Like them, we touch to calm, to soothe, as well as to show status. And in that we aren’t so far away from our gorilla counterparts, (although they spend a lot of more of each day grooming than even the vainest of us).
Platonic touch can help us co-regulate ourselves- it can help us bring ourselves back to our body, our physical self. We can do this on our own too. For those of you who have been to a Feldenkrais class or two, you may well have heard me suggesting that you touch your collarbone before we move it, in order to feel it, to locate it more easily in your brain’s model of yourself.
When we touch, we send information to the brain via the area being touched, and the hand touching: twice as much information in one activity. When we touch others in areas we can’t reach on our own bodies, it helps our brain create a neural picture of those parts of us at the same time. We touch another, we build a 3-D picture of ourselves too.
In addition, touching or being touched, allows our brain to move into the direct experience network, this non-verbal network in the brain which down regulates the amygdala, and helps us move into a more parasympathetic state (aka rest and digest).
If you’re someone who finds it difficult to sleep, or you feel stressed, or anxious, try this out. In bed, gently stroke along your forearm and hand with the other, Go slowly, and time it with your exhalation. Slow down the stroking, and slow your breathing at the same time. Stroke downwards, or with “the grain” of your hairs, wherever is convenient and easy to reach. Go all the way down to your fingertips, sensing the changes in contours underneath the stroking hand as you go.
To literally feel yourself is to sense the physical boundaries of where you begin and end. And as long as you’re doing it in a way that feels nice, should help your sense of calm, and grounding. It’s a simple way to self-soothe.
Slow your exhalation, and the speed of stroking on the out-breath. Slowing our breathing down is the simplest way of accessing our para-sympathetic system. And slowing the out-breath is easier and less threatening to our system than controlling the inhalation. Usually, the in-breath will slow on its own as you concentrate on the other part of the cycle.
If you’re looking for a little more of a wake-up, literally ruffle your feathers- stroke upwards, against the grain of your hairs, vary the speed, vary the level of touch, and see whether there’s a little more liveliness in your face, your arms, hands, or wherever else you’ve chosen to explore.
Why am I so passionate? Poor mental health holds us back from acting in the world with pleasure, performing with joy, stops us being able to take risks, or make healthy connections.
And we can learn to improve this. That’s what Feldenkrais shows us- we can learn, and when we know what we’re doing we can change what we want. (I paraphrase a little).
When we understand that we create our model of the world in our brain, that it is our construct, not an objective reality things can shift. It’s as if we play the movie of our life on the backdrop of our mind. When we know this, then we can start to change the behaviours that keep us rooted in the past, or hold us back from moving forwards. We are the most adaptable creatures around, with the right conditions we can change, improve, grow.
Moshe Feldenkrais was passionate about us all becoming more mature humans: we all have the potential to get better, to feel better about ourselves, to sense ourselves better, so that we can fulfil our dreams and desires. Emotional maturity in his thinking is the ability to allow the whole gamut of emotions in, without holding on to any of them. Without getting pinned down by any of them.
If I can go from someone with a poor self image, only seeing what was wrong with me, with a lack of self kindness, of self belief, of self-like, to a more stable, kinder, easier, self-likeable person, I believe we all can. I know we all can.
And I didn’t do it alone. I had help. The hardest thing for me, back then, was to ask for it. To recognise that there is no shame in working together with others to improve ourselves. After all, we get stuck in our own habits, left to our own devices. It’s easier to look inwards, to see new options for moving, sensing, thinking and feeling when we have others to do help us do that.
I’ll be talking a little more about this, and my passion for Feldenkrais and how it can help performing artists at the Never Stop Feldenkrais Online Summit, Oct 25-30th. Put the date in your diary and join us!
I’m really delighted to be a speaker at this amazing event, alongside my many fantastic colleagues!
Registration is free and you will have access to all the presentations for 48 hours for free, along with a host of giveaways (my offering is a workshop on Breathing and Anxiety).
The Summit is being run by Cynthia Allen and FutureLifeNow, who have offered high quality International Feldenkrais Summits online for many years now, so there is sure to be something interesting and new for everyone.
If you’re a musician do come, and if you have friends who are actors, singers, dancers, or do any kind of performing, this is for them too. All the speakers are giving their time for free, but if you register through my affiliate link below, should you decide along the line to buy long term access, I’ll receive a percentage.