“an holistic approach to learning”
By Mhairi MacInnes, Feldenkrais® Practitioner
I will be visiting family in Orkney over Christmas and New Year. It is time to remember the winter solstice and just how dark and light it can be at this time of year. It is also an opportunity to share a bit with my old community about what I do in Vienna now.
I gave up full time teaching after 30 years in international education in order to retrain as a Feldenkrais® practitioner. I think my motivation was to discover after so many years of working in schools what exactly that elusive thing called learning actually felt like; I was intrigued with neuroscience and the functioning of brain. More and more it seemed to me that the school system was interfering with the kind of learning that is deeply embodied within us, the stuff that we know we understand but we didn’t get it in a classroom. I was searching for something that could also shine a light on why so many young people and teachers become disillusioned and lack motivation in schools. Why are schools so often not the places of discovery and curiosity that they so readily claim to be on their websites?
Awareness Through Movement
I attended classes of Awareness through Movement at an adult education centre in Vienna. I had read about the Feldenkrais Method and had no idea what it really was. The lessons were on a Friday evening after a week of school. I remember getting up from each class calm about the weekend, having had all the numerous thoughts, anxieties, problems and conflicts associated with working in a school dissolve during the lesson. I felt a greater sense of ease and possibility, a bit more space.
I was intrigued to attend an intensive workshop designed for those interested in becoming a practitioner. Those lessons both threw me and convinced me that I had to know more about what was going on in this method. The teacher focused on very small eye movements and I became nauseous and felt a bit unstable when I stood up. I remember wondering how on earth something so apparently insignificant as moving my eyes could have such a profound effect on my entire system. Little did I know that I was re-jigging my autonomic nervous system and beginning to sense the difference between the para-sympathetic and the sympathetic (I also had no idea what that meant!). The books I had read on the brain were all very well, but if it was possible to actually sense learning, I wanted to experience it.
Three years later, I gave up my job and signed up to do the 4-year training. In the back of my mind I also had the thought that I wanted to be able to so something with my hands as I got older and stay engaged with community.
The Feldenkrais Method® is an holistic approach to learning named after its originator, Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), an engineer and physicist as well as a Judo teacher. By moving slowly, in gentle repetitive sequences, neuromuscular pathways are re-educated, strengthened or recovered. Anyone interested in moving with greater efficiency, ease and comfort can benefit from lessons. They help with every day, athletic and artistic movements. The benefits can include pain reduction, a more extensive self-awareness and greater precision in performance (sport, music, dance, yoga, meditation). This lasting change in your ability develops through improved awareness of what you are doing and the quality with which you do what you do.
You don’t get treated for a problem when you come for a Feldenkrais lesson, rather you become the centre of your own deep learning process, discovering how to work more carefully, respectfully and efficiently with yourself.
Feldenkrais initially developed group classes called Awareness through Movement® lessons. In order to teach the method effectively to his own students and to reinforce it in himself, his second application of the method emerged called Functional Integration® Lessons are places of discovery for the participants. The work is non-invasive and focused on how you function. Often the learning is surprising, joyful and calming. Sometimes it can be frustrating, confusing and challenging. The method provides an environment for us to experience ourselves in all of these situations and to learn to function optimally in the direction of our potential.
There may be many reasons to come to a group lesson or a workshop; curiosity, pain, stress, a reduction in your basic functioning (e.g. after a stroke) or to improve some element related to what you specifically want to do (ride your bicycle, balance on a slack line, sit in front of a computer, dance tango, play fiddle, stand at the sink, feel more comfortable during pregnancy, connect to your newborn child, reach your shoelaces…).
A typical Feldenkrais lesson provides space, time and attention so that your nervous system can change, rather than just ‘fixing’, ‘adjusting’ or ‘manipulating’ you back ‘into shape’. In Neuroscience, this process is known as neuroplasticity; the brain’s extraordinary ability to constantly develop more efficient connections and networks of neurons that lead to improved movement, cognition and function. No matter how old we seem on the outside, we can constantly encourage our brains to think, learn and perceive in new ways (rather than becoming fixed on our thinking, our moving and our experience).
It is entirely possibly not to notice anything during a lesson; that is interesting learning. It is also possible to pay attention to details you had never thought of before and in doing so, increase your range of available movement (for a child labelled with Cerebral Palsy, this is enormously important), improve your flexibility and coordination (yoga teachers discover a completely new approach to their teaching ) and rediscover your own potential to take action effortlessly, pleasurably and with with grace.
I will teach two workshops in Stromness (December 19 and 22) to introduce the method to anyone who is interested. “Take a Breath” offers time on the floor to reconnect with the breath, pelvis and ribs. “Wisdom within and without effort” allows time to explore how to lie, sit and stand with greater ease. The connections between pelvis, hips, shoulders and limbs will become clearer and you will be invited to bring a more informed awareness to all that you do.
For more information and to reserve a place, please contact me by email; email@example.com
There are hundreds of Awareness through Movement® (ATM) lessons. They are taught by the Feldenkrais teacher to individuals, groups or via recordings and are non-tactile. The lessons are delivered verbally. Students normally lie on the floor on a mat or sometimes sit in a chair. One lesson will take approximately 50 minutes to deliver. Often lessons are taught in sequences and form workshops that investigate one area of movement e.g. Standing with greater stability or Sitting with greater ease. Wear loose clothes that are easy to move in and bring a blanket/towel to lie on and socks to keep your feet warm when its cold.
Functional Integration® (FI) lessons happen in a private space (usually the practitioner’s studio) and are designed to address the specific needs of the individual student. This is one-on-one tactile work where the Feldenkrais® teacher listens, guides and initiates movements with the student in standing, sitting and lying. There is no manipulation, fixing or, mending, rather a process of learning unfolds involving the student with the practitioner. An environment is established in order for learning to take place. Comfort is of primary importance in an FI lesson and often this can be a new area of discovery for the student. To aid in this process, a low, comfortable table stands in the studio with many additional rollers and pads used in many different configurations during lessons. Wear comfortable clothes.
Classes specifically focused on comfort and mobility during pregnancy are offered to small groups. These include pelvic awareness lessons, breathing lessons and preparation lessons in bonding and connecting to your new baby.
It is never too early to observe movement or the lack of movement in your child. Becoming aware of what to look for and how to interact in a playful, non-interfering way with your healthy baby benefits everyone in the family. I welcome parents with young babies to my practice or visit them in their homes.
Cognitive ability is directly influenced by movement; this is particularly noticeable when I work with children who have suffered some kind of brain injury. In this work, the emphasis is on celebrating progress no matter how small it may seem.
I finished my 4 years training in 2019 at the Feldenkrais® Institute in Vienna where I continue to participate in advanced training. I am currently studying to become a Child’Space practitioner working with babies and their parents (with typical and a-typical development). Having uncovered a universe of new learning, it seems there is even more out there to explore. The difference now is that I do it with such curiosity, pleasure and laughter. In fact, learning has never been such a pleasure.