The Feldenkrais Method and the real meaning of ‘breath control’ – part one

June 7, 2012

When I started this blog many moons ago, I said my discovery of conscious breathing was like a revolution in my own life.  I wrote several things about what I was discovering, but then stopped feeling like I had something useful to say .  Since then, another revolution hit me: the Feldenkrais Method.  Last week, after my morning run, I decided to start writing about it, but it turns out, there was much more to say than I thought!

So, looks like I need an escape valve…therefore, I’m going to break this into parts…and here is part one.

– – – – – – – – – –

I thought I might never write in this blog again.  Or maybe I’d throw it out and start a new one.  Or change the name.  Or leave the name, but erase all the old posts.  But actually, looks like I can just continue.  In any case, the best part of this blog for me so far has simply been the fact that I have started to write.

My last, unfinished, post – something like nine months ago -returned to one of the themes that started my writing: running.

In my first post, I celebrated running one hundred miles in a month.  Following that, I may have repeated the feat once more, but the focus on quantity slowly but surely shifted to quality.  Over several months, my morning jog evolved into an extended meditation and breathing exercise made of increasingly complicated numerical breathing patterns accompanied by imagined melodies that became something like an attempt to write a musical composition performed by my body and brain while in motion.

I envisioned all sorts of things growing out of this: an ensemble of running musicians, recording moving music with contact microphones, recording specialized music to listen to while running, etc. I hoped somehow that my routine was increasing my inner musical rhythmic flexibility and simultaneously improving my health, vitality and brain power.  I wondered if what I was doing could be made into a system and generalized such that others could benefit from it as well.  I did in fact have what felt like some small successes in the pursuit of my goals, but increasingly, I also became aware of the arbitrary nature of what I was doing and the enormous areas of knowledge on relevant subjects that I did not possess.

Anyways, I didn’t finish the entire train of thought, nor did I ever truly “finish” my composition for a musical runner, and then, I surrendered, as so many do, to cold, rain and winter.  I didn’t run and I didn’t write.

This is not a blog about running, but it seems like a theme so far.  And since I passed a new running milestone this morning, I thought maybe I should try to get back to putting down my thoughts about breath control.

The milestone?  Well, I can’t prove it, but I’m quite sure that the short sprint I took at the end of my jog today was the fastest I have ever run in my life.  How did I do it?  That will take more time to explain, but the shortest answer is to say that I owe my advances to the work of a man named Moshe Feldenkrais.

His discoveries, now known as the Feldenkrais Method, amount to a very efficient and easy method for reprogramming the human nervous system in order to reduce tension (ie, unnecessary muscular efforts), improve posture, breathing, flexibility, agility and ultimately, clarity of mind.  The method has helped people of all ages and abilities.  It has served in many cases as a seemingly miraculous instrument of recovery for people who have experienced injury or to overcome severe limitations caused by central nervous system disorders such as cerebral palsy or stroke.

Feldenkrais’ “Awareness through Movement” (ATM) classes and individual “Functional Integration” (FI) lessons use simple and gentle body movements, but ultimately are directed at the brain.  One gains better body awareness and control by learning to do unusual things such as looking to the left while turning the head to the right.  In this example, by teaching the body through its own experience that the head and eyes’ functions do not always have to be locked together, a kind of unlocking takes place.  The functioning of each separate part may be isolated (sometimes for the first time since we were in a baby in the cradle trying to figure out these movements for the first time) and improved.  When the parts are placed together again, the changes can be astounding.  In one of the first exercises I tried, a series of simple movements done while sitting in a chair that lasted about 20 minutes, my ability to twist my head and look backwards improved by not just a few inches, but something like a foot and a half!

I have spent something like six months now immersed in the Feldenkrais Method.  I have participated in group classes, received a few individual lessons, done many more lessons at home with DVD programs and read several books on the subject.  I am very seriously investigating the possibility of training to become a professional practitioner of the method.  So undoubtedly, I will write many more things about it.

At this point, though, I simply hope I can convince you to try it, too.

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Despite the fact that most people have never heard of it, there are thousands of resources on-line about the Feldenkrais Method, from articles to videos.  Below I am placing some links to get you started.

A short video documentary about the Feldenkrais Method, featuring Anat Baniel (more about Baniel in the next post…)

A brief movement lesson you can try at home – or just watch to give you an idea what happens during a lesson (NOTE: this is a pretty good presentation, but in general I wouldn’t rely on YouTube for Feldenkrais lessons.  If you like this, you’re probably better off finding some classes locally or getting DVD or audio programs)

Downloadable podcasts of complete ATM lessons (for a suggestion of which ones to try first, look here)

– And explore more starting here:

http://www.feldenkrais.com

http://feldenkrais-method.org/en

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I hope you will find out more about Feldenkrais, because it might just change your life, as it has already markedly changed mine.  The subtitle to this blog is “using the breath to unleash music from the body.”  What I didn’t fully understand when I wrote that about a year ago is that the breath itself must be unleashed from the body.  You can work on breathing deeply, but if your body is stiff, you can only go so far.

At the end of my first post I said that I wished to “also reserve the right to periodically stray a little further afield from my starting point of music and breath to discuss the even broader subject of music and the body.”  Practicing yoga, and then discovering the Feldenkrais Method have taught me that, in fact, it is ridiculous to suppose that the body and the breath are two different subjects.  Gaining greater control of the breath is done precisely by gaining greater control of the body (and/or vice-versa, whichever you prefer).

So, indeed, I’ll have much more to say about the Feldenkrais Method.  But first I want to go back to this morning’s run and last summer’s running song and get into more detail about the physical and mental exercises I have integrated into my running routine, how I have evolved them, and what they have taught me.  What is most striking to me when I look back is how many elements of Feldenkrais’ ideas I was already unknowingly working with.  I hope this will help show a bit of what the future might hold, now that I’m armed with a more methodical and systematic procedure – but a procedure that, as it turns out, is still very much an improvisation.  Then maybe it will become possible to more accurately define the kind of breath control I am looking for.

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