Move Free Be Free

All the times I’ve taken big risks to be in alignment with my evolving path, I’ve never had regrets. The opposite is true.  I look back on those moments as essential markers for the awesome life experiences that came after. These could not have happened without stepping away from something (even if it was mostly good) to step towards something else that I felt a little or a lot drawn towards. Leaps of faith and trust are risky but without them I would not grow. 


We don’t have a lot of support in our culture to grieve. When grief does not move through us it gets stuck in our hearts and bodies and turns into physical pain, numbness, illness, etc.  Having opportunities to be in our bodies and creativity helps grief move. From a student who recently experienced a loss in her family:

"Hi Tiffany, I wanted to thank you so much for yesterday’s workshop.  I had a kind of unusual reaction afterwards.  I was expecting to feel elated, but actually, I felt so calm and relaxed that I was able to feel my grief.  Not what I expected!  But later last night (wee hours of the morning) and today, I feel like a new person. I have hope and joy and energy to tackle some things that I had been dreading for months.  I feel like a heavy, dark curtain has been pulled away and I can re-organize my life now, according to the bright landscape behind the curtain. Thanks!!!" - Christine B.

Self Care Brainstorm (from Lower Back Love Feldenkrais series class #1, September 2012)

I am feeling nervous, anxious, fluttery.  I feel not quite in myself, not quite here, not there either.  This is where I begin.  I notice I am here.  I write these words:  nervous, anxious, fluttery.  I draw a scribble of lines, try to get at the image of my feeling.  I set the paper aside.

Now I enter the movement space.  I ring a bell and drop down to my knees.  I rest my forehead on the ground.  I stretch out my arms overhead.  Breath fills my abdomen and lower back.  I land here in this moment without agenda.  I feel grateful for the space and time to be with myself in this way and the freedom to play in whatever way I like.  I roll on my back, lift my legs in the air and kick.  I feel my hip joints, my pelvis, the weight shifting on my back, my shoulders and arms wake up too.  My head rolls from side to side as I reach with one arm and then the other.  I roll from side to side: legs arms spine head pelvis breath.  I luxuriate in the smooth pleasurable transitions – my whole self awake in this moment.  I transition to my belly, arms stretched overhead.  My armpits open to the ground.  My head lifts.  My arms lift.  My legs lift.  I am flying.  I rock back and forth like this, one arm lifts and the other lowers, rolling onto one side then the other.  I flip to my back, my arms like angel wings sliding on the ground.  I hear the sound against the rug.  My hands interlace above my head and come down to rest on my belly.  My fingers relax on my abdomen, rising and falling.  A quietness opens up in me.  Space.  My arms open out, palms up to the sky.  My fingers relax.  I feel my weight on the ground.  I don’t have to do anything.  There is no rush.  Here I am.

I ring another bell, closing my movement time.  I check in with myself again.  Where am I now?  I write the words:  Here I am.  Blessed.  Present.  On the ground.  I draw the image of a body on the earth, arms wide open.  I paint a yellow background with blue rays of light coming off the page.  This is my experiment.

I play with this experiment before and after Feldenkrais and Authentic movement lessons.  It is a way for me to track my experience of the transformations that occur through entering embodied experiences/explorations.  The experiment shows there is always a shift.  And regardless of where I begin there is a shift towards wholeness.

This sketchbook is a record of these experiences.  In addition to drawing before, after and sometimes during movement experiences I have also been playing with revisiting the sketches of these experiments at another time to paint them.  In re-entering the sketch I reconnect newly with the impressions and states that emerged in the experiment and experience a sense of compassion and awe at these recordings.  Adding color and care to the pages folds in another layer of integration and helps remind me of the power, wisdom and magic of the body, play, creativity and awareness.

I so easily forget and the records remind me again and again to return to the practice of sinking into my sensation as a map to come home to myself.

This is an artist’s statement created as a part of the Sketchbook Project exhibited and archived at the Brooklyn Art Library, 2012.

Part 1
“From infancy through old age we are taught to conform our bodies to external shapes. We learn to perform physical activities in specifically prescribed ways. We are rewarded for keeping quiet and controlling our bodily impulses. The implied meaning of these recurrent nonverbal messages is consistent with the explicit teachings: our bodies, with their feelings, impulses, and perceptions, are not to be trusted, and must be subjected to external controls to keep them from leading us stray. They must be trained to support the status quo.” – Don Johnson

At some point most of us learn to stop trusting our sensations. In his article, “A Loss of Sense,” Don Johnson recounted a memory from his client Charles, who had been challenged by his ability to sense himself. Charles remembered a moment when he was five when he excitedly told his mom that he loved a piece of music he had just heard on the radio and her response was, “‘Why, you’re such a silly little child… that’s a trashy piece of music.’ I never recall telling her again how I really felt about anything.” As he shared this memory, "…his elegant body visibly shrank, head dropping, shoulders slumping like a sad little boy."  The vulnerability of his open excitement and passion was met with the shock of her disapproval. Internally and externally his shape was profoundly impacted by his mother’s rejection of his truth. Not only did this experience mark the moment when he no longer trusted his mother, but this was the beginning of a life of not trusting his own perceptions.
This process continued into his education, sports, posture training, politics, reinforcing that  "Charles did not possess sources of wisdom within himself, instead there are external standards… Images and body shaping methods designed to evoke suspicions in Charles about the reliability of his own perceptions." Johnson links this to authoritarianism. When we can no longer trust ourselves, our sensations, feelings, internal impulses, we have lost our own inner authority.
“One of the most pernicious motivations that persists unrecognized in many of us is the longing for approval.” – Moshe Feldenkrais
"Authoritarianism is more than an idea or psychological force. It is woven into our bone marrow, causing us to behave like machines, rather than self-regulating organisms." – Don Johnson

to be continued…

To follow up with a question that a student asked in the open house:
"Is there a way for us to do this process on our own?"

There are a few ways to do this:
1) You can pause and recall bits of what you remember from Awareness Through Movement lessons and experiment with variations and or qualities in movement (or in your imagination). 
2)  You can listen to audio recordings of lessons that verbally guide you through the process. I find that using audio recordings supports my ability to slow down and attend in unique and novel ways that I might not otherwise do on my own. (I hope to be getting more lessons online in the coming months).
3)  You can create your own creative experiments like Feldenkrais did. Pause, slow down. Get interested in your sensation & movement. Listen to the wisdom of your body. Another practice that supports you in really tuning in to your own body’s guidance is: Authentic Movement.

We had an amazing turnout for the Feldenkrais Open House on Monday. 20 folks got down on the ground for a movement lesson, followed by a hands-on demo.

Several people said, “It’s magic!”

I did the hands-on demo with Christine. This is what she emailed me the next day:
"Just the few minutes of the hands-on demo made a big difference.  I feel like some of the things you "ironed out" in my shoulders are now ironed out permanently!"

"Untitled", Dana Walters. Approx 23" by 27"

A note from my cousin
in response to an article I wrote in 2011:

How many ways can I say do less?

“I can tell you this: that I oft struggle to slow my work down.  In a real sense, my work is a pursuit of slowness to invent/deliver an image that rises like a suspended hallucination in front of our sight-line.  And it is important to me that the labor (time-events) are embedded within the image.  When I rush, the lines look less meaningful to me, less actual.  And then I don’t feel ecstatically in tune with the building process.  I can make a less successful image with my impatience.  I want to produce but that desire can ruin the end result of an image.  My work and working habits insist I crawl for the greatest satisfaction; the action must move, metaphorically speaking, like a land mass halting, that you nearly can only feel through your waiting eyes. Something like that.  So our lives are parallel in a way…”

A note from a student in the From Anxiety to Harmony series:

"I had the most amazing experience today with breathing and ease of movement in exertion that I think is totally related to our lessons the past few weeks! It was AWESOME!! I couldn’t wait to share.

I had to take the bus to visit a friend today. She lives on a street with a very long steep hill. Like a 40 degree pitch! Today was the first day I’ve walked up the hill in +5 years. The last time I did I was a lot lighter in weight but I also smoked regularly.

Today I didn’t stress or obsess beforehand about having to walk up the hill. I’d forgotten how steep it was but even still, I wasn’t “threatened by it” or anything. I just put my feet in motion. And my breathing deepened and expanded. I felt my breaths go as far as my diaphragm, and I felt my ribcage expand in every direction. And I felt two centers of energy - in my chest, taking the air in, and in my lower abdomen and pelvis, where it was like the expenditure of energy of movement to get up the hill was coordinated and began.

I think my core is more tone/awake and in coordination with my breath and my awareness of the different parts of my body and their capacities, it was like I was this amazing machine, everything was moving in concert and I never got “out of breath” because I was aware that my ribcage could move in every direction. I was aware that the kind of ‘strong’ aggressive breathing that needed to happen to fit the task of moving up the hill had to take place in my chest. I felt my diaphragm expand but I also was aware of it being like a line of demarcation of the different kinds of effort that were taking place. Below and around my diaphragm, the different sets of abdominal muscles were acting to stabilize and my legs were pivoting from my pelvis which was the center of my body where the effort was being expended. My quads and hamstrings were firing up as required (hard, but never burning out), but the MOVEMENT was starting in my lower abdomen and the comprehensive effort of getting up the hill was distributed across a large set of muscles, all working together. 

I was completely in AWE of myself and this observation of a kind of effortlessness I’ve never known, but maybe have always longed for. My body was on MY side. It was all working together, the effort was distributed and the various parts were in harmony. It was totally awesome. I never ran out of energy. I didn’t even really sweat. And I never doubted myself. I was just purely amazed, profoundly grateful and totally psyched about how strong but flowing I felt.

This experience felt like an amazing gift. I couldn’t wait to share!!!

Thank you!

In the summer of 2011, I lay in a hammock in the South of France happily swinging under a tree on a hot summer’s day. It had been easy to get into the hammock but once in it, I was trapped, I could not easily escape from its clutches. My struggle to do so, watched by my highly amused family, left me feeling that I had to find a way of improving my flexibility and not merely for the purpose of getting out of a hammock. I returned to Cambridge in October and a chance conversation with my yoga instructor led me to Tiffany Sankary and Feldenkrais. This was the first time I had heard of Feldenkrais and I was intrigued by the possibility that it might help me. I decided to have six sessions with Tiffany and check out the benefits of Feldenkrais.

At my first meeting with Tiffany, I found her manner to be immediately calming and empathetic. She put me at my ease as we discussed my reasons for seeking her help – my lack of general flexibility. Tiffany did not engage in long discussions about Feldenkrais but proceeded to demonstrate by action what it was.  I lay down on a low table in a warm room, and she gently touched and moved my body in a way which made me begin to understand how each part of me was connected to the whole. It was a new way of thinking for me which I realised would lead to my moving in a different way, a way in which I would be more aware, more mindful, of the interconnectedness of every bit of me.  It became evident that the body is a complex machine, a system, which requires each part to cooperate for it to work properly. My body at the end of this session, felt elongated and very relaxed, so much so that I wanted to sleep.

In subsequent sessions, I walked up and down steps learning to sway and move the core of my body (your pelvis rocks was Tiffany’s imaginative way of describing the movement). I returned to the low table but this time, after Tiffany had gently moved my limbs, she asked me to try the movements for myself. At first the movements were simple but gradually Tiffany introduced me to more complex ones but they were never too difficult and certainly never painful.  She emphasised that each movement should be deliberate yet relaxed and unforced. If it hurt, or if I could not breathe freely whilst doing it, I was not listening to my body. One of the most enjoyable movements was rocking from side to side like a baby. At the end of each session, I walked the length of the room and felt that my body had been very gently stretched and that I was moving more freely.  In my final session, I realised that I was actually aware of muscles, which I did not know existed. It also dawned on me that, with practice, I could move these muscles at will in a way which would benefit the whole of my body and enable me to be more flexible in my movements.

Six weeks of course is not enough. I was left wanting more but the holidays had come. Feldenkrais had begun to feel like a way of life rather than a short-term remedy for getting out of hammocks. Now it was time to try and do some work on my own at home, using the excellent lesson downloads on Tiffany’s website, and put what I had learned into practice on a daily basis.

©Mary Welstead, Professor of Law, Writer, Artist