I taught a friend a genre of Feldenkrais lesson where most, if not all, of the movement is focused on one side of the body. Afterwards, we talked about his experience as a student and mine as a teacher. While the lesson facilitated a huge insight about how he moves, and what might have impeded freer movement, he also expressed some mild frustration at the lesson’s singular-sidedness. He said he kept wondering whether or when I’d tell him to do the equivalent movement on the other side.
That moment never came.
As the lesson giver, one of my tasks was to deliver the nearly identical instructions that focused on a single side in a way that made them sound fresh each time. It’s a huge challenge for me, as I’ve spent years insisting I hate repeating myself and I’m not naturally patient. Since I’m new at this, I tried to recall the learnings from a poetry reading a few weeks ago, that there’s no such thing as “repetition”, and to alter my voice accordingly. I also remembered the first time my teacher led us through a one-sided Awareness Through Movement lesson. After it ended, I felt incomplete. Disappointed. Half-baked.
“What about the other side?” asked an insistent voice in my head, as if it had ordered a pair of socks and only one had arrived.
From the point of view of the brain, the nervous system, and learning, a one-sided lesson isn’t half-baked. The side that wasn’t the focus of attention can still pick up what the other side learned. That a person might experience the two sides of themselves more distinctly after the fact allows them to become more cognizant of how they organize movement on each side and of the impact of the lesson.
From the point of view of the mind, however, a one-sided lesson can frustrate or irritate. We might label the experience tedious or boring. A strong desire to switch to the other side might keep us from sensing the designated side. To remain present in a one-side lesson is not an easy task if the mind interjects. It’s a challenge to direct to one’s attention to what is actually taking place rather than to what the mind believes “should” be happening instead.
Off the mat, “one sided” has a bad reputation. It conjures bias, imbalance, a lack of reciprocity or an inability to listen to another perspective. Yet, life presents many occasions when what is happening might not be what we want or expect. Learning to be fully present for a one-sided lesson is excellent training for when a scenario or circumstance off the mat goes on for longer than we think it should. To learn to be with what is, even if it’s unfamiliar or challenging, requires the cultivation of spiritual muscle. Feldenkrais can help with that, too, even as it helps relax our actual muscles.
(for more on one-sidedness, check out the blog of Ethan Cowan, my teacher)