“We do not say at the start what the final stage will be.” – Moshe Feldenkrais
After my first month of Feldenkrais training in Santa Fe, I surprised myself by embarking on a road trip…at the last minute. Several weeks before I received an announcement for an evening of storytelling about Moshe Feldenkrais to honor the 30th anniversary of his passing. The event was in San Rafael, California. I wanted to go but, before the training began, the thought of traveling that far for a two hour gathering seemed outrageous, even if I could combine the trip with other activities. My practical brain nixed the idea. Yet, after my training, I was even more eager to hear stories about Feldenkrais from Russell Delman and Dennis Leri, some of his first American students, that might never appear in print. When I received the Evite reminder for the event, I was eating lunch in a cafe on a Monday afternoon. I felt the pull of longing and realized how much I wished to attend. The event was on Wednesday evening. The question became: Could I get there on time?
I looked online: San Rafael is 1,155 miles from Santa Fe. If I left at that moment, and with the sun setting late, I’d be able to make it without driving at night or otherwise pushing too hard. A voice in my head declared that since I hadn’t planned the adventure enough in advance, I couldn’t go (hadn’t a similar voice nixed the idea to begin with?). Because a month of Feldenkrais had left me in a different state of mind, focusing on the possible rather than the reasonable, I challenged that voice.
How much planning did I need when my new iPhone, which I resisted getting for years, had a GPS? Were maps, hotel reservations, or even a guidebook necessary when I could use the Priceline app and Hotwire to research hotels? Could I enjoy being on the road without feeling obligated to see everything noteworthy along the way or thoroughly explore an area? Could I be carefree instead of deliberate? It seemed that this naysaying voice came from an era when advance research was helpful if not critical for a safe, smooth, economical journey. At its best, the voice is one of reason and thoughtfulness, to keep me from doing things I might regret. But sometimes the voice is a killjoy and often I don’t figure that out until it’s too late.
The voice also reminded me that I hate sitting in the car for long periods, and warned I’d undo a month of Feldenkrais by parking my behind in my Subaru for a few days. Was I willing to risk ruining the ease in my body and become stiff, sore and cranky? I decided not to buy into that story, either.
Before paying my lunch bill and heading west, I considered how I might make the most of my time there. There was another Feldenkrais training in San Rafael, taught by the storytellers, that I could visit for a day or so. I had a friend who had moved to San Francisco within the last year. That annoying voice didn’t want me to contact her since it was such short notice. According to this voice, “adults” make their plans far in advance, and since I wasn’t doing that, it meant I was a freak…and shouldn’t I try to hide that from people? Still, once I had overcome my resistance and was driving towards Arizona, I decided to challenge that story, too. Not only was my friend around, she offered to host me for a few nights and rearranged some of her schedule to spend time with me. Within a short period, everything fell into place. Suddenly, what my mind had deemed “impossible” or unthinkable was not just possible, but easy.
After the first long day of driving, I arrived at a Howard Johnson’s and discovered I practically floated out of my car. My body was light and supple. While I noticed some fatigue in my system, that sensation did not translate into physical heaviness. I thought the lightness would wear off, that maybe it was just adrenaline. But, even after three days and many miles, I felt younger than I had in years. My hunch paid off. Attending the storytelling, the training and visiting my friend turned out to be highly nurturing.
At her encouragement, I’ve continued traveling. Since Feldenkrais is very much in my cells, here’s how being on a road trip reminds me of Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lessons:
1) Sensing my body
In an ATM, we usually begin by feeling our bodies on the floor, noticing how the weight is distributed, whether one side seems longer or shorter than the other. When I get into my car in the morning, I take a moment to become aware of how I’m sitting. Is my derriere evenly distributed on the seat? Am I forcing myself to be upright, am I slouching or am I allowing my spine to do the work? Are my hands resting comfortably on the steering wheel? Can I easily reach everything I might need (water, snacks, lip balm)? Before starting the car, I make any adjustments if something doesn’t feel comfortable. I repeat this process throughout the day. So far, so good.
2) Deliberately using my eyes and attention
As I wrote earlier, there are Feldenkrais lessons that help develop peripheral vision for those of us accustomed to staring at screens. Moreover, the direction of the eyes can also facilitate movement; if we look towards where we want to move our body, it becomes easier (try it, you’ll see!). On the highway, I’m noticing my eyes have much to keep track of at many focal lengths. At short range, they glance at the fuel and temperature gauges, climate control settings or the stations on the radio. To maintain awareness of other vehicles, my eyes scan in front (mostly) and occasionally in the rear view mirror. I also track gasoline prices on the signs that crowd the exits, changes to the scenery and anything unusual. The other day, on I-5 in California, they spotted a hand painted sign for olives. Curious, I left the freeway and followed a few more faded signs to a farm selling olives, oranges, pistachios, walnuts and pecans. To purchase food there was far more rewarding than buying snacks at a gas station. Perhaps consciously varying how I use my eyes and also my attention, rather than fixating on the asphalt in front of me, has minimized my fatigue.
3) Resting. Often.
When I first began Feldenkrais, all the resting confounded and irritated me since we had barely moved, let alone broken a sweat. But the nervous system needs to rest to integrate what it has learned. In a class, the teacher will either announce when it’s time to rest or tell people to rest when they need to. On the road, I heed the signs for rest areas and scenic overlooks more than in the past. I stop frequently, even if just for a few minutes, to stretch my legs, take note of my surroundings and snap photographs so the day doesn’t disappear into a blur. While I don’t set daily mileage records, I am traveling at a pace that is sustainable for this solo driver. Some days, I rest more than I drive.
4) Listening for the next instruction
Many Feldenkrais lessons are designed so that the student has no idea what’s coming next, to help people practice being in the unknown. For example, while some lessons repeat movements on both sides of the body, others do not. If a student anticipates or assumes what is next, or tries too hard to figure out the structure of the lesson, she might miss the opportunity to be fully present with what’s happening. On this trip, I’m taking some of my cues for places to see from people I happen to meet who know the area. It feels more relaxing to travel this way, to listen to my environment for the next step, rather than researching like mad, trying to figure out what to see and touring by checklist. What matters more is that I take in what I do see.
5) Being open to the unexpected
Even if a Feldenkrais ATM focuses on a certain part of the body, afterwards I might discover changes elsewhere or notice improvements in my movement that are seemingly unrelated to what was emphasized in the class. There are no predictable outcomes when one travels in the realm of awareness, and having strong expectations or hopes might work against noticing what is arising. On this trip, since I am not “saying at the start what the final stage will be”, I’m open to surprises rather than expecting certain things to wow me. I spent part of a day at Yosemite. Based on many other people’s accounts, I thought I’d be smitten and find it hard to tear myself away. And, it’s possible if I had visited at sunrise or sunset, on a mysteriously misty day or simply when it was not swelteringly hot, I might have fallen in love with the park. While I’m glad to have seen it, it was more thrilling to spot a black bear cub crossing the road after I left the park. I’ve been just as captivated by quieter and subtler forms of beauty on my trip and surprised by sudden changes of vista and terrain when I turn a bend.
In short, I’m practicing the Feld-Zen-Krais of planning and not planning. We’ll see where it takes me.