Learning to recognise our habits and patterns and learning to discover new options flows from the Feldenkrais Method® into our everyday lives if we’re open to it.
Larry Goldfarb PhD was one of the international guest trainers in my Feldenkrais practitioner training. He often reminded us, often wryly, not to rush to achieve a movement but to notice our journey, to be curious. He would remind us to hold our goals lightly and be open to the experience. “It’s a direction, not a destination,” he would say perhaps echoing humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, a contemporary of Moshe Feldenkrais.¹
In his follow-up blog, Larry provides us with tips for improving our learning not just in Awareness Through Movement® lessons but in our everyday lives.
(Shared here in full with permission | CC BY-SA 4.0.)
What You Take With You, Part 2
by Larry Goldfarb PhD, Mind in Motion, January 3, 2020
The first part of “What You Take With You” described how Awareness Through Movement® lessons can help you develop your ability to learn as well as improve your capabilities and your coordination. It also addressed the challenge of transferring your learning from the lesson into life.
In that blog, I identified the kinds of ATM® instructions that are useful if you want to become a better learner. I went into how these learning strategies help and why they work. I wrote about the initial phase of learning to learn, which is about being able to shift the gears of attention. Then I described the following phases: recognising the lead up to difficulty and tuning into the aspects of action you can change as they are happening.
To be sure, I’m interested in what we — you and I — can do so that we don’t leave what we learned on the teacher’s Feldenkrais® table and don’t forget what we found on the classroom floor minutes after walking out the door. But for now, rather than considering how to make the improvements during an ATM last longer than the lesson does, I want to ask, “Is there more to learning how to learn? What if anything comes next?”
One thing is certain. There is no pill or magical incantation that instantly upgrades your ability to learn.
Unlike the board game, Monopoly, you cannot pass “Go.” No matter what kind of ability you want to improve — from how you cook dinner, change diapers, or dive into the water — you cannot avoid honing the essential abilities. There’s just no way around it. You start by getting better at the basics, which are being able to:
- Shift your attention from what you’re doing to how you’re doing it.
- Recognise the first hints of hardship rather than fixating on where you’re stuck or running into the end of your ability.
- Explore what’s possible and easy.
Each of these abilities is deceptively easy to describe, but there are ever richer and more challenging levels of developing each skill. And even once you’ve begun to engage in learning this way, for most everyone it turns out to be incredibly difficult to implement it in the happening of life.
Feldenkrais recognised that learning and doing are fundamentally different operating modes for humans. He realised that learning requires shifting your attention from the goal, from perceiving only what you’re aiming for to noticing how you’re getting there. It comes down to how easy it is for you to change your perspective on yourself, to reorient from being narrowly focused to arriving to being able to notice more and more how you’re getting there . . . And then to notice more than one aspect at a time, to spread your attention and make the basket of your attention bigger and more inclusive.
That’s why an ATM teacher asks you to notice how you move. This isn’t any kind of vague question; what makes the request demanding is its somatic specificity — how exactly are you doing what you’re doing?
In which place — or places — do you start to move?
Are you ready to go or do you have to rearrange yourself first?
Which way are you heading? Do you follow the same trajectory or suddenly veer off in a different direction?
Where is your weight? Does it shift when you move?
Do you proceed smoothly? Do you hesitate? Speed up or slow down unexpectedly?
Does what you’re doing interfere with your breath?
Is there a moment when what you’re doing becomes more difficult, entails more effort?
Do you notice when your progress switches from smooth to bumpy, when it becomes uneven?
In all these ways, the teacher asks you to open the aperture of your awareness and take in the many aspects of what you’re doing at that moment. For the sake of your own learning, not once but repeatedly, you find yourself challenged to take your focus off the outcome. Instead of being overly determined to achieve, instead of rushing to the end, is it possible for you to notice the journey? Rather than rushing to the finish and flying over the speed bumps, can you detect the increasing effort, that sense of starting an uphill climb, from the moment it begins? What’s it take to get curious about the initial inkling of interference?
As it gets easier for you to notice the first hint of hardship, you can back up from the brink. This is what makes it possible to go to the next phase of learning: exploring possible pathways for progress. Once again, I’m not talking about any of the specific movements you do in a particular ATM, but instead about the learning processes embedded inside lessons. We only get a sense of what these are by looking across the wide span of lessons.
Here are a couple examples of these processes:
- If you notice the moment when you hold your breath or when it becomes forced or laboured, you can change what you couldn’t help but do into something that you do on purpose. For instance, rather than trying to improve your respiration or “taking a deep breath,” you repeat whatever you were doing several times while intentionally holding your breath. What’s so interesting — and useful — is that when you come back to what you were doing, way more often than not, the action is easier and you’re breathing more easily.
- When you can find the moment that the motion becomes difficult, instead of pushing past it, you can approach it slowly, without quite reaching it, and then return to the starting place quickly and lightly. Repeating this act of returning home fast many times, more often than not, makes what was difficult moments ago easy.
Moshe’s methodology includes a multitude of these means for transforming difficulty into ease. There are so many of these tactics and strategies that I won’t even try to list them all here.
What I want to do, instead, is to suggest that learning to use and benefit from these tactics is the next phase of improving how you learn. Deepening your practice requires being on the lookout for the first hints of what can be improved, being able to find these moments, a-n-d knowing what to do when you do. More importantly, for the sake of levelling up your learning, the key question is: Can you use these strategies when there isn’t a teacher around to remind you?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License –https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
For Larry Goldfarb’s original blog: “What you take with you, Part 2”
Photo ©International Feldenkrais® Archive, Robert Golden
1. Carl R. Rogers wrote, “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination. The direction which constitutes the good life is that which is selected by the total organism, when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction” (from “On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy”, 1961)
Learning to learn is at the core of Awareness Through Movement® lessons. On more than one occasion, Moshe Feldenkrais said, “I am not here to tell you what to do; I am here only to show you that you should know what you are doing”.1 He considered helping us to learn the very foundation for good “mind-and-body” health.2 But how best to approach learning in an Awareness Through Movement® lesson and then retain the new options for movement and posture that we’ve learnt?
That’s the conundrum that movement scientist and certified Feldenkrais trainer, Larry Goldfarb PhD, addressed in his recent blog, “What You Take With You”, shared here with permission (CC BY-SA 4.0).
What You Take With You
by Larry Goldfarb PhD, Mind in Motion, December 30, 2019
One of the great mysteries of life is how learning seems so often to slip through our fingers. For instance, after a meaningful and effective Awareness Through Movement® lesson, you get up from the mat feeling particularly wonderful. You’re lighter, taller, feel more connected, and, perhaps, that persistent discomfort, the one that’s been haunting you for longer than you care to remember, has vanished.
Sometimes, you’re different from that moment on. More frequently, the feeling fades. Inevitably, you return to the state you started in before the lesson began. Your habit has returned. You remember that you felt different, but have no idea how to refined that feeling. You’re left lamenting the loss of learning.
It’s so easy to decide that something went wrong, to feel discouraged or defeated. However, I’d like you to consider that this is deceptive, that this sense of failure is, in actuality, a diversion from the process of learning.
The return of the habit is not a sign of failure, it is the hallmark of success. You can and should count on it. The autopilot is working! Where would you be without all the things you do automatically, without thinking — or needing to think — about them? From breathing to walking downstairs to turning your head when someone calls your name, so much of what you do happens without deliberation or calculation. You just do it.
It’s all too easy to mistake the product of the lesson, that is to say, what happens at the end — how you feel and what you can do — for what the method is about. This is especially easy to do when the lesson is a success, that is, when you discover a new ability or recover an old one. Sometimes, you do something for the first time (or the first time in a long time), and it’s yours from that moment on. At other times, it vanishes almost as quickly as it appeared, you get only the first faint sign, a shimmering hint of what’s possible.
The process of learning is anything but linear.
Those times when a lesson’s learning happens like Punctuated Equilibrium in evolution: after a plateau, when it seemed like nothing was happening, a sudden change occurs, altering everything that follows. Plateaus are as much a part of learning as are detours, which, in leading you astray, help you figure out the which way you’re heading, and dead-ends, which, by letting you know what doesn’t work, teach you what does.
To mistake a lesson as being about what you learned or didn’t learn, about the place you arrive instead of how you got there, is to miss the point. Okay, maybe I’m being too emphatic. Where you get to — what you get from the lesson — certainly is significant. I am not saying that the capability you discover or develop doesn’t matter, I’m saying it isn’t the only thing that matters. (I might suggest that, perhaps, it isn’t even the most important.)
Moshe Feldenkrais said that his method was about developing abilities a-n-d about learning to learn. That means it is at least as much about how your inborn ability to learn can mature as it is about mastering any specific aptitude or ability. Whether you’re happy you learned to do something or unhappy you failed to (or failed to retain it), you’ve missed a basic benefit if you haven’t learned anything about how to make learning easier, more enjoyable, or more successful the next time around.
Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things, and then proceed to greater.
What does this mean? It means that Feldenkrais® lessons are as much about how you learn as they are about what you learn. That’s the promise of the method, that you can get better not just at doing, but at learning.
Okay, that’s all well and good, theoretically speaking. What about the practical aspects? How do Awareness Through Movement® classes help you learn better? The first steps are about shifting the gears of attention. They are simple to name, though not necessarily easy to do:
Shift your attention from accomplishing the action to noticing how you’re performing it. How do you track how you’re traveling instead of being focused only on where you’re going?
Slow down because there’s lag in your (and everyone else’s) awareness system: it takes time for impulses to travel from the central nervous system down the spinal cord and out to the muscles, for those muscles, in turn, to contract, and for the signals to return to your brain. You need to go slow enough to register the feedback and you also, crucially, need to be going slow enough to be able to alter your action by changing course or the amount of effort and without throwing yourself off balance and off course.
Is that all there is? Shifting the gears of your attention?
Not by a long shot.
The next phase is all about being able to tune into the aspects of action that you have the ability to change along the way — as they are happening. It’s more descriptive than prescriptive, more experiential than corrective, more noticing than doing.
Observe the initiation. Once you reach the destination, it’s too late to do anything about how you got there. If you’re going too fast, flying out the gate, or zooming out of the driveway, you miss the initial moments and, maybe, the starting place as well. The potential for change is greatest at the very beginning of an action because that’s when the trajectory is set. Are you ready to commence or do you have to change position beforehand? In what direction are you heading from the get-go? Where do your muscles engage? If you don’t change what you do when you start, you’ll most likely keep ending up in the same place.
Track the quality of the action, honing in on moments of hesitation. When does the movement get more difficult? Before you get to the end of your range, can you detect when the motion gets thicker? Can you sense when the difficulty begins to ramp up? When do you change speed, either slowing down (and efforting more) or speeding up (to fly through the rough patch)?
Practicing is about quality, not quantity.
Listen to your breath. Does your breathing continue unaffected? Or does what you’re doing interfere with how you’re breathing? (That’s a major warning sign that you’re not moving efficiently and may be putting yourself in danger of injury.) Are you holding your breath or breathing harder or faster? At what point along the way is your breathing affected? From the start?
By developing your interest in what’s going on (instead of obsessing about what’s right) along with your curiosity about the quality of what’s happening, especially about the moments when something isn’t going smoothly or easily, you are preparing for the most surprising and rewarding part of practicing the method. The practices you’re engaging in so often surprise since, instead of fixing what’s wrong, you are acting to increase the number of choices. And this way of engaging with the lesson is surprising because you discover — because you didn’t, and couldn’t, have known — something you didn’t notice or that didn’t make sense beforehand. It’s most startling when, right up until that moment, you didn’t even notice that it didn’t make sense; you were just that way. It can also catch you off guard because the consequences are disproportional: a small change — altering, but only a wee bit, when you transfer weight, the place you start from, or where you’re heading — leads to a dramatic shift throughout. Noticing something here and altering it, all the while staying in the range of comfort and ease leads to a reorganization of your overall orchestration.
This phase of practice is rewarding because, when you notice what’s not easy and explore what’s possible, it turns out you transform adversity into advancement. Learning to tinker with your neurophysical programming is figuring out how to update and upgrade the autopilot. Automaticity loosens its insistent hold, your ability to navigate becomes more nuanced, the way you carry yourself shifts, and, more often than not, your attitude re-adjusts (from “I can’t” to “I couldn’t. Now I can”; in other words, your coordination improves).
Learning is as much about how you do a lesson as it is about which lesson you do. The composition of the ATM® provides a path to somewhere worth traveling. The lesson orbits around one specific, optimal orchestration of the human frame, which is the functional pattern that students are integrating for themselves. Deepening your practice is being on the lookout for the first hints of what can be improved and knowing what to do when you then find them.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/
For Larry Goldfarb’s original blog: “What you take with you”
Photo ©International Feldenkrais® Archive, Robert Golden
1. Feldenkrais, M. (1981). The Elusive Obvious, Capitola, CA: Meta Publications.
2. Feldenkrais, M. (1985). The Potent Self. Berkeley, CA: Frog Books & Somatic Resources.
Research shows that walking has many health benefits and low risk of injury. It is now widely-known that walking:
- Increases cardiorespiratory fitness
- Lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Improves blood pressure control
- Reduces muscular pain and joint stiffness
- Improves blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
- Reduces the risk of breast and colon cancer
Four lesser-known benefits of walking for women aged 45 years and older:
- Protects against hip fracture
- Improves health-related quality of life, particularly mood
- Helps weight loss and weight maintenance long-term
- Slows the decline mental function from ageing
In this infographic, you'll find answers to the question, "How much walking is needed to achieve these benefits?" If you find these figures daunting, start small and build up, as any amount of walking is better than doing no physical activity. This includes walking to get from place-to-place and walking for recreation or exercise.
For many of us, our daily total of static sitting time (at work and during leisure-time) is not healthy. Research shows that meeting the current recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity may not offset the risks from prolonged static sitting or sedentary behaviour on your skeletal, muscular, and joint health.