Monday, July 14, 2008

Who was Moshe Feldenkrais?

garden and gourd wall
Finally got another camera and here's some beginning
tastes of our garden.

The dude lived from 1904 to 1984, which places him among the dead.

Some think he was a genius.

Here's what I wrote about him recently:

"And who was this Moshe Feldenkrais? Well, he lived from 1904 to 1984. He was born in an area of Poland, walked off at fourteen to Palestine, re-started life there as a laborer, and a tutor, and progressed in his life to achieving a Doctorate of Science from the Sorbonne in France and inventing a system of healing and change and brain rewiring that has help thousands throughout the world.

Helped whom?

Musicians, actors, skiers, golfers, high performance folk of all sort. And children with special needs such as cerebral palsy and autism. And folks who are finding themselves annoyed or worse with painful shoulders, backs, necks, hips. People recovering from surgery. And upgrading their movement and brain and whole self enough sometimes not to need surgery.

And back to Moshe Feldenkrais.

This was a man who was a physicist, and an engineer. A man who studied the martial arts as a young man in Palestine in the 1920’s, the study and pursuit of which led to his being the first European to become a black belt in judo in Europe in the 1930’s. He loved sports, and his overzealous love of soccer led to knee injuries. Working on submarines in England during World War II, he encountered slippery surfaces which aggravated his knee injury to the point he asked about surgery.

When the doctor of the time told him they could try, but his chances of walking after would be 50%, Moshe said he could flip a coin for those odds, and proceeded to invent a whole new way of “body work,” that turns out to be brain work.

He drew on judo, and its awareness of efficient action centered in the power of the pelvis and the freedom of the head to look always easily in all directions. He drew on anatomy and physiology. He drew on his pediatrician wife’s access to children to study closely how human nervous systems learn to move from scratch, and how, interestingly enough, the moves of infants and toddlers, are often those “discovered” to be most efficient and useful in judo.

And this is core to remember: babies have to learn it all. Luckily adults can't really teach them to crawl and walk, and there is no crawling and rolling over and lifting the head and walking program. It's all learned.

He drew on the concepts of engineering: how is our body engineered as an organism that can do all the things it can do. (Hint: two legs maximizes instability, which maximizes mobility.). He somewhat discovered cybernetics, not in terms of computers, but in terms of getting very clear how our brains give us feedback which modifies our movement which gives the brain more feedback and so on, as we learn and refine.

He also studied a mystical and practical philosopher named George Gurdjieff, who defined the plague of humanity as being our being “asleep,” asleep to the present moment, asleep to what we are really doing, asleep to our lies about ourselves and our motivations, asleep in living a life almost entirely of habit.

Moshe could see that some habits were useful and time saving learning: how to tie shoes.

He also got very clear that some habits were learning that serves to keep us blocked and limited and often in pain, say the habit of clenching and holding our breath and curling forward when confronted with something “strange,” or something we “can’t do.”

(Can’t do, YET, is one of the big mottos in the Feldenkrais work.)

And most of all, Moshe Feldenkrais studied himself, trying this, trying that, deeply and thoroughly, learning again what toes were and ankles and knees and hips and pelvis and ribs and spine and head and eyes and tongue and mouth and shoulders and breathing and skin and rolling and sitting and walking and falling and balancing and hopping.

You know, like everything.

All over again, a fresh babe, unable to walk, wanting to function superbly again.

And he succeeded. His knees remained shot, no surgeon ever "helped" him, and he could lead groups of hundreds of people for hours on end, and do judo again, in his seventies.

This took many years, but curiosity and discovery kept leading to more curiosity and more discovery.

And if the books said it was this way, and he discovered a way they said was impossible or wrong, he went with the truth of what worked and connected for him.
So, he ended up with a system that pretends to be “body work” and is really “brain work.”

Don’t believe me. Go back to the pelvic clock or the twisting activities and do them slowly enough, and notice how shifts and learning is taking place not only in your body, but your brain.

Sometimes Moshe Feldenkrais called his work, “learning how to learn.”

Sometimes he liked to see it as a transformational tool for life as a whole, where in small and big movements, and then is larger areas of our life we could do this, another motto: Making the impossible to be possible, making the possible to be easy and then making the easy to be elegant.

So that’s a start.

If you made it all the way here
and can stand more,
this is what I wrote a couple of years
ago (August 29, 2006):
Who was Moshe Feldenkrais?

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