At my recent training segment, we did an Awareness Through Movement lesson that felt familiar. I asked Paul Rubin, the Educational Director, the source of the lesson. He told me and mentioned that he had taught it a year ago, before I joined the San Francisco program. Still, it’s likely that I did this lesson at my original training or in a class before that. During the break another student and I talked about why a teacher would repeat lessons given that there are more than one thousand from which to choose. Shouldn’t we be exposed to as much of Moshe Feldenkrais’ repertoire as possible? Or was some other thinking at play?
In a group discussion after the break, this student asked Mr. Rubin about the purpose of repeated lessons. In response, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that it’s useful to revisit material over time, to refine and deepen our experience of it. This student, undeterred, mentioned that since we had done the lesson before, and had it recorded, we could revisit it at home. Listening to her reminded me of my experience at my first training, where we did a breathing lesson that I’d been taught a few months prior, by a practitioner in Boulder. My first reaction was irritation at “repeating” material when I hoped I’d be introduced to something “new” in a training program. That irritation, initially, prevented me from being present to the lesson as taught by someone else, and to tune into how I was breathing in that fresh moment. Once I realized that my mind was (again!) interfering with my experience, I ignored the cranky thoughts and dropped into the lesson.
To enter a Feldenkrais Training with the desire for a specific curriculum or checklist of what will be learned (and when) is to court frustration if not hair pulling exasperation. Both my original and current trainer have explained that a Feldenkrais Training is a like a four year functional integration lesson; just as one-on-one work between a practitioner and a client doesn’t follow a predetermined protocol or sequence, but proceeds from moment-to-moment inquiry and might involve revisiting certain movements, what happens during a training has a lot to do with who the students are, the questions being asked, and how quickly they are learning. As Paul Rubin explained, rather than developing an ironclad agenda, he and his co-trainer, Julie Casson Rubin, decide, often in the moment, what material to introduce or, in this case, repeat, based on what they are seeing in the room. Those accustomed to a spelled out curriculum or a linear learning process can feel a bit adrift, if not skeptical.
As the discussion unfolded, I remembered how at the beginning of my training I had been eager to write down and, ideally, memorize the sources and titles of lessons we did, sort of like being able to recite chapter and verse of different Biblical passages. To know where things came from and cite sources easily is a habit I developed in both public school, especially when I was on a debate team, and Hebrew school. While it can be handy to have certain information at one’s fingertips, my need to have an answer at the ready stemmed from the less healthy pattern of believing that accurate information, offered to the right people at the right time, was the best way to navigate in the world. To have an answer, or at least appear smart, had been a survival strategy. To be caught without knowing something was practically as humiliating as being caught with my pants down. One of my more powerful Feldenkrais moments happened in the April segment when, after teaching one of my favorite lessons to a small group of fellow students, the observing trainer asked me the source. She hadn’t encountered this lesson in decades of teaching and practicing, or in her studies with Moshe Feldenkrais himself. More importantly, she didn’t seem perturbed or self-judging that she hadn’t seen it before. She was not holding herself to a perfectionist (if not impossible) standard and her success as a practitioner did not depend on it. What a relief!
Back in the discussion, Paul Rubin likened the experience of sampling many Awareness Through Movement lessons to going to an all you can eat buffet where there is a strong temptation to try lots of things (or everything!) and eat past the point of satisfaction if not satiation. While the food itself might be tasty and pleasurable, the body can only handle so much in a given period of time. With food, if we’re paying attention and can regulate ourselves, we’ll stop eating long before it becomes painful to swallow just one more bite, even if that means some dishes go untasted. With movement lessons, it’s harder for some people to know when they’ve had enough, especially when the desire to sample as many as possible is strong. The role of a trainer, I’m learning, is not only to impart the method but to do so in a way that does not overwhelm students’ capacity to absorb the material. It’s like having a well intentioned chef serve samples of his repertoire, rather than every single dish, so that they’ll be savored. While intellectually I understand that less is more, my emotional self, which can be downright gluttonous in certain settings (including buffets) more or less disagrees. As the training progresses, perhaps I’ll feel less is more in my viscera, too.