trial, error, and discovery

Photo by Stacey Gabrielle Koenitz Rozells on Unsplash

unpolished thoughts 1/2/2019                    

I’ve become fascinated by one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ creations, an Awareness Through Movement lesson called “Knots in the Crotches.”

I only recently discovered this particular lesson, buried among many other gems in the archives of over 500 movement lessons Feldenkrais taught at his studio in Tel Aviv on a street called Alexander Yannai.

These lessons are known to Feldenkrais practitioners by the initials “AY” and a number, in this case AY #346.

The lessons were originally taught by Feldenkrais in Hebrew and later translated to English. I have a dozen books filled with these transcripts. Every so often I will open one of the volumes and peruse the table of contents for titles that jump out and catch my interest.

Then I read through a text of extemporaneous speech where movement directions might be interspersed with thoughts on all kinds of subjects and in response to people who were in the room at the time Feldenkrais was teaching. I make the movements I think he is asking me for, even though at times I’m not sure what he actually intends.

So I go through a process of experimenting with the movements, underlining, taking notes in the margins, and ultimately rewriting the gist of the lesson for myself in a notebook in my own words. It’s only at this stage that I can really begin to understand the lesson as a whole and make the exploration my own.

Feldenkrais himself must have also had a bit of a process to create these lessons. There are many accounts of him lying on the floor or in bed late at night, making small movements and listening to himself.

At Alexander Yannai, he would teach a class, record it, and then replay the recording for subsequent classes, observing how students responded. He would then re-record over parts of the original lesson until he was satisfied with the final product.

It makes sense to me that trial and error was involved in creating this unique process. In fact, to practice Awareness Through Movement (ATM) is to repeatedly engage with a process of trial and error, and to become increasingly familiar with that process.

It’s a beautiful practice because, after all, trial and error defines our entire lives.

Unlike exercise, where movements are repeated to gain a specific outcome, Feldenkrais gave us the gift of using the repetition of movement with attention and variation as a vehicle to experience ourselves in completely new ways.

The method is not simply a “movement practice.” It is a process whereby we can use movement as a vehicle to better understand how we construct our experience of being alive in each moment. For those who are willing to enter deeply into the practice, profound transformation is inevitable

There are a number of ATMs that I already know very well and teach frequently. But “Knots in the Crotches” is new enough that I am still in the process of making it my own.

I have only recently understood that this is my primary task as a Feldenkrais practitioner. I must make the lessons my own, because I can never know how Feldenkrais himself experienced these processes or know exactly what he used them for.

But I can discover what the lessons do for me. When I discover that, I know I have something worthwhile to teach.

The unusual title of AY #346 refers to a quite unusual challenge embedded in the lesson, where mental imagery is used in combination with physical movement.

Throughout the lesson, Feldenkrais asks us to imagine small strings tied around parts of our legs. The strings have knots on them and are turned in quarter turns around the leg.

At first, the we are asked to imagine two strings, tied above and below the right knee. Later, we  imagine one string, at the very top of the left leg – in the crotch. Towards the end of the lesson, we imagine three strings turning simultaneously – at points above and below the left knee and in the right crotch.

Not only that!

As we turn these strings in our minds, we are asked to move our legs in actuality. So the places where we are connecting to in thought are also moving through space.

Quite frankly, the whole thing can be confusing.

However,  because I became so fascinated by what this process allowed me to feel, I became drawn into revisiting it multiple times. I also found myself playing with the images of the turning strings at other moments.

Yesterday, for example, I imagined these turning strings in different ways while I was running. Through this process I was able to create a palpable difference in my left hip joint, shifting from noticeable discomfort to ease by the end of my run.

Here is something you can try right now:

In your imagination, tie a string around your wrist, with a knot on top.

Now imagine the knot slowly turning a corner turn to the outside of your wrist, then returning back to the top.

As you slowly repeat this mental movement, do you sense very small contractions or shifts in the hand or bones of your forearm?

Continue by imagining a half-turn where the knot moves from the top of the wrist to the bottom and returns. You can also explore movements of the knot in the opposite direction.

If you began to sense the small changes in your musculature that this image invites, maybe you can begin to understand the gift that Feldenkrais gave you.

As I understand it, it’s a simple tool to create highly nuanced adjustments to your level of effort. It makes it possible to explore different movement patterns at very low intensities, giving your nervous system vital information that it can use to reprogram your movement patterns for higher efficiency.

During my run, I felt like I had a finely tuned dial to adjust myself in different invisible places where something didn’t feel quite right. I was able to gradually melt away these mysterious tensions to experience myself as being more of who I wanted to be.

I will teach “Knots in the Crotches” for the first time tomorrow as part of a three-part online course.

I’m excited to share my own personal experience of the discoveries that Moshe Feldenkrais left for us to find.

Leaving aside all particular details of what I have just described, what I love most about what I do is sharing this practice of discovery.

The Feldenkrais Method offers each one of us creative tools to experience ourselves in new ways. If we allow ourselves to become curious, we can develop skills that allow us to completely rewrite the story of our experience.

It becomes even more exciting to me when I step back and look at how this process is communicated. Feldenkrais gave something to me and I made it my own. His experiments inspired me to go further and create new experiments of my own.

When I teach, my goal is to do the same. I want to offer you access to the same joy I have experienced – through your own experiments.

4 thoughts on “trial, error, and discovery”

  1. Ahh yes! The challenge of making the “lesson” my very own. It’s such a metaphor for me and in other new or formerly new learnings from other teachers. Oh yes Seth, for me my challenge becomes the “gift” to myself in taking the time to explore, experience and redefine/define my own understandings…

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kathy!

      There’s definitely an investment that we have to make to get inside the magic of some experiences, but it’s well worth putting in the time.

      I wrote this to remind myself as much as anyone else! 🙃

  2. I’m so glad I clicked on the link! We can get so busy with our practices that it can be easy to forget that the process as you describe, to deeply experience and understand, is our mission.

    1. Yes, exactly!

      And I have definitely been guilty of forgetting over and over again. This experience was about reminding myself and hopefully getting it deeper in my bones.

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