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Posted March 23, 2011
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"A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Feldenkrais spring"
The title of this review comes from four lines In Alexander Pope's 1709 "An Essay on Criticism": "A little learning is a dangerous thing;/ drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:/ there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,/ and drinking largely sobers us again." *** I cautiously transfer Pope's advice to potential readers of Moshe Feldenkrais's 1972 classic of healthy movements, AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT - EASY-TO-DO HEALTH EXERCISES TO IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE, VISION, IMAGINATION, AND PERSONAL AWARENESS. This is a deep, provocative, sometimes counter-intuitive book about how to shock your old bad habits out of their ruts and replace them with new good habits. *** The book's title coincides with the official name of Dr Feldenkrais's method to improve bodily postures through minutely attentive self-consciousness: Awareness Through Movement, acronym "ATM." He prefaces 12 Lessons of exercises on posture, breathing, carriage of the head, how eyes organize body movements -- and more -- with a series of mini-essays. One is on the human person as he evolves from his genetic givenness through societally imposed education/training in conformity, into fully self-conscious self education and freedom to choose between options. Another essay tackles three "layers" of the human brain and how they relate to muscles, ligatures, bones, lungs, memory, imagination, self-image, the human will and the dangers of trying to change bad habits by sheer grit and aggressive will-power. *** Dr Feldenkrais uses metaphors and similes well in explaining how we can change through noticing things we often do not, e.g., as centuries ago men were so happy to be able to keep reading after sundown that they didn't pay attention to the soot and heat poured out by their lanterns. Similarly, how often to we notice that we are unnecessarily grinding our teeth when we are lying on our backs exercising scissor kicks? Or do this mental experiment: imagine that our skeleton is held together entirely by ligaments, not muscles. Think of our supine or prone bodies then as rag dolls or marionettes and how they would be lifted to standing erect by a string attached to our head. Ideally, that is the same pattern we should follow when standing up aided by our muscles. We can learn from lowing like a cow. For normally when we talk, we make sounds while exhaling and "emptying" our stomach (raising our diaphragm). But we can learn something new from lowing like a cow or roaring like a lion and lowering our diaphragm. And on and on. *** Let me conclude by quoting a representative passage from AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT. It may attract you to want to read more. If you take a Feldenkrais (ATM) class with a trained practitioner, you will listen to his continuous instructions, shrug a shoulder, breathe into the right side of your lungs, or whatever you are told to do. You may repeat a tiny motion 25 times. Then you rest. Before reading the book, I was content and happy just to take a relaxed "breather" in class. But Feldenkrais says that there is more: "When you rest after a movement carried out without much effort, it is not in order to regain strength, but to study the changes that have taken place during the action. It takes a minute or two, or even longer, before it is possible to observe these changes." (Part Two, Lesson Eight.) -OOO-
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