Can potatoes be sexy? Can sex be potato-ey? And what does either have to do with moving slowly in a Feldenkrais lesson?
First, can you recall a potato dish that made you swoon, salivate or succumb? Maybe potatoes mashed with butter until creamy, drizzled with truffle oil and dotted with beluga caviar. Or perfectly prepared french fries, thinly cut, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, served hot in a sturdy paper cone and paired with dipping sauces. Chances are whoever created such memorable dishes didn’t whip them up on the first try, or even the second or third.
Now, are you someone, or do you know someone, who prefers sex just one way, like a person who insists on baked potatoes? There is nothing wrong with baked potatoes; sometimes they hit the spot, either on their own or as a side dish. Simple foods have their rightful place in the menu of life, ditto for familiar positions. But without curiosity or a sense of play in either the kitchen or the bedroom, life can get dull quickly. The Feldenkrais Method, which fosters choice, can add spice to movement of all kinds.
In one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ lectures (or monologues) recorded in July 1980* of the training he taught in Amherst, MA, he explained the essence of Functional Integration, the one-on-one format of his method, to the assembled students. He said that a practitioner must be clear about how they themselves move in order to help others find easier ways to move. As he sat, back straight, on a wooden stool at the front of the Hampshire College auditorium, he said:
“It’s [Functional Integration] not a question of therapy. It’s not a question of healing. It’s a question of reorganizing the nervous system in such a way that it keeps on improving, like everything we do well, our system keeps on improving.”
To illustrate his point more concretely, he said:
“…anybody who can cook well makes new dishes all the time. Anybody who can cook will not cook the same potato in the same way every time…”
I paused the recording to jot down that ‘elusive obvious’ tidbit. It occurred to me that, without making a formal goal out of it, my culinary repertoire had actually increased since I applied Feldenkrais principles to switching to a gluten-free diet and returned to eating meat last fall. The constraint of no longer being able to quickly toast a bagel for breakfast, rely on sandwiches for lunch or, in a pinch, pop ravioli in a pot for dinner, required me to expand in new directions and examine my belief that cooking “takes too long”. In recent months I’ve sought out different recipes for fish, lamb, and even humble carrots and potatoes. The more I prepare my own food, the easier it is to modify or create a dish on the fly, rather than treating a recipe as gospel, and to use ingredients I once rejected (hello, anchovies!). To my surprise, I spontaneously riffed on one of my father’s recipes I once held sacred, adding white beans to chicken paprikás, a pleasing alteration that might dismay if not perturb some Hungarians.
Valuing the process of cooking rather than trying to reproduce results or “perfect” a dish is relaxing and fun. Since each moment is fresh, yet some ingredients might not be farm fresh, to expect little to no variance across time is unrealistic for a home cook. Odd surprises often lead to better outcomes in subsequent iterations. So far, even the less successful creations have been edible, if not elegant. My facility at the cutting board has improved, and I’m more willing to try recipes I would have once deemed “too complicated”. The process of becoming a more versatile cook has felt organic rather than forced. While I wouldn’t liken myself to a chef, I know that continued practice and sense of play will lead to further refinements, improvements and inventions. It’s hard now to reconnect to the time I lived in Manhattan and, deferring to a boyfriend’s culinary skills and intimidated by the New York restaurant scene, I cooked less often and with less curiosity, sticking to what I already knew. In comparing myself to others, I curtailed my exploration and learning.
Unlike that former boyfriend, Moshe Feldenkrais was an unabashedly earthy man, for whom the topic of sensuality was not, um, a hot potato.
“…and, by the way, it’s not only with potatoes,” he said, “it has to do also with our intimate life with another…if they [a couple] do it well, it’s certainly not the same thing, it’s not the same potato every day. Now, those who don’t feel the difference eat potatoes until they vomit it and therefore they divorce. Or they don’t even marry at all, they separate long before that, and try another potato.”
The group laughed. Some students applauded. I chuckled, and wondered if the childhood ditty, “One potato, two potato, three potato, four” would now have a completely different meaning.
Moshe Feldenkrais emphasized in his teaching that to have true choice there needs to be at least three ways to do something, not two; learning multiple paths to do a movement is highlighted in many Feldenkrais lessons. In that spirit, and in honor of Moshe’s birthday (May 6), here are some ways to bring aspects of the Feldenkrais Method into the kitchen:
- Using a single knife, into how many different shapes can you cut potatoes (or carrots)?
- Do those shapes require variations in how you handle the knife or how you stand?
- Can you breathe easily while cutting, or do you hold your breath or clench your jaw?
- If you try this exercise with the messier mango, what happens?
For a more advanced challenge, how many ways can you modify a family heirloom recipe without rendering it completely unfamiliar or shocking older relatives? Is that something you’re even willing to consider?
As for fostering variety in intimate matters, I’ll leave that to you. I’m off to find some red bliss potatoes.
*July 25, 1980. Where there is (…) I’ve omitted redundant phrases or those that would confuse readers who lack the context of his earlier remarks.