But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” – Book of Ruth 1:16-17
I don’t know if Ruthy Alon, one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ original 13 Israeli students, was deliberately named after the biblical Ruth, famous for following her mother-in-law, Naomi, after Ruth’s husband passed away. What I do know is that many people in the Feldenkrais community admire if not adore Ruthy, and several encouraged me to study with her if I could get a chance. Since she is 85, is based in Israel, and visits the United States once a year, I thought I’d try to meet her sooner rather than later, although she moves so gracefully that I would not be surprised if she is one of the few to fulfill the Jewish blessing to “live until 120”. When I learned that she’d be teaching in Biddeford, Maine, two hours from where my family lives, I asked the organizer if I could come for a portion of the nine day workshop. Since Ms. Alon was teaching her latest “Movement Intelligence” offering, and I hadn’t experienced any of her work leading up to it, it didn’t make sense to sign up for the whole megillah. Still, I felt meeting her would be important, as would the chance to sample how she had taken the Feldenkrais Method into a different direction.
By the time I arrived, three days into it, I felt as if I had stepped into a small yet global village. Ruthy Alon, rather than being a follower, had amassed followers from all over the world. While waiting for the morning session to begin, the nondescript meeting room at the University of New England filled with (mostly) women from Argentina, Canada, Turkey, Japan, and across the United States, many of whom had been studying with her for years. Almost everyone had come to learn something new, including several Feldenkrais practitioners with decades of experience. Yet the predominant vibe was of warmth, sharing and camaraderie rather than businesslike efficiency, organic rather than linear, as if disciples had gathered around a sage.
Coming from the more structured Awareness Through Movement lessons in the Feldenkrais Method, I had to wrap my head around her approach in this particular workshop, called “Solutions II”, in which she presented material for the first time. If a Feldenkrais movement lesson can be considered a piece of music, her solutions to specific movement “problems” (such as being able to squat) felt to me like careful distillations, selected phrases rather than a full score. That’s not a criticism; there are moments in life when we want to reach for a solution or help another person find relief quickly. Not having experienced any of her earlier work, I was in no position to evaluate her offering, which many seasoned practitioners believe to be genius in its deceptive simplicity. Others have called it “..the second chapter of the Feldenkrais Method”.
One of Ms. Alon’s hallmarks is the use of wraps, long and wide strips of fabric that can be either draped around a person to help their joints feel supported, perhaps balled up and used as cushioning, or knotted at intervals and wrapped around the head, mimicking a crown to encourage regal carriage. In Maine, we each created a handful of knots at intervals along a wrap, placed the fabric randomly on the floor, and walked barefoot on the soft yet variegated surface, moving our feet in different ways. After just a few minutes, Ms. Alon asked us to stop and stand on the flat, thinly carpeted institutional floor to which, until that moment, I hadn’t given much thought. Having softened my feet on the wrap, with my entire skeleton adjusting accordingly, standing on the floor felt harsh, veering on painful. Yet, that discomfort is so normal in our society that we either don’t notice it or take it to be inevitable, a price we pay for living with flat, hard “civilized” surfaces.
“When we walk on cement, we are imitating cement; when we walk on grass we are imitating grass,” she said.
I thought of runners who routinely pound the pavement and shuddered, not to mention people who don’t have the opportunity to walk in nature. I remembered the props and paraphernalia I had purchased at various times to increase mobility in my feet and heal my leg injury, when perhaps all I had needed to do was move my feet deliberately upon a knotted piece of fabric, simulating a gentle hike on varied terrain. During a meal one day, I told Ms. Alon how astonishingly effective that exercise had been, her “solution” so inexpensive and quick. She smiled and nodded. I hoped more people would learn about her work or have access to it.
In the midst of my Feldenkrais training, I’m not about to pick up and become a “Ruth” to Ruthy Alon. But I can attempt to follow her example. At an age when others are sedentary if not set in their ways, she is teaching, traveling and presenting new material, fulfilling Moshe Feldenkrais’ somewhat enigmatic saying that “a healthy person is one who can live fully his unavowed dreams.”