Before returning to Budapest for the first time in 22 years, I knew I wanted to attend an Awareness Through Movement lesson taught by Csilla Perényi, one of three Feldenkrais practitioners in Hungary. I’d “met” her through Facebook where she transmitted an infectious enthusiasm. I arrived on a Tuesday, the day she teaches group classes, but too jet lagged to get there hours later. The following Tuesday, my former boss invited me to dinner. Thus, it took two weeks before I downloaded directions to my phone and traveled by metro to Batthyány Square, not far from where she teaches. Emerging from the station, a somewhat eerie and thick mist engulfed me as I glanced at my GPS. I tracked the blue dot of my position as I crossed one street and walked around two corners and then, realizing I might be late, hurried up one of the city’s tucked away staircases. I made a left turn at the top and found the gimnázium (school) where she holds class.
Csilla stood at the imposing wooden door of a brick neo-gothic building that looked like a Hungarian Hogwarts. Her huge smile brightened the gloomy evening. Unbeknownst to me, her class had been moved to a different location and she was waiting for students so she could redirect them. After greeting me with a hug, she quickly ushered me down a flight of interior stairs, through a door and across a courtyard, and then indoors and up another flight of steps. My head spun. I’m glad I arrived in the nick of time as I doubt I would have found it had someone given me directions. With graceful efficiency, she showed us a separate room where we could leave our shoes and coats and, if needed, change into more comfortable clothing. Our class would take place next door, in a room that seemed to be an art studio. That she handled the last minute reversal of location so superbly made me feel as if I had learned a lesson from a master. I typically react to unexpected changes with a grumble and a curse, not a grin.
We each took a thin, narrow foam mat and a lightweight blanket from crinkly blue IKEA bags and placed them on the floor, rearranging ourselves as the class filled. Before and during my training, I practiced on thick moving blankets or specialized Feldenkrais mats that are heavy, bulky or both. I can’t begin to conceive of the number of pounds (or kilograms) collectively schlepped each year in the global Feldenkrais community, with trainers and teachers shuttling blankets from one place to another. Not only that, I’d been fussy about which blankets I would use so I could minimize the friction between my clothing and the mat, as if the success of the lesson depended on fine gradations of smoothness. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to optimize an experience, Csilla’s easily portable and serviceable supplies challenged my notion of what’s required when doing or teaching Feldenkrais (I often forget that many of Moshe’s original students learned without mats, no harm done). Already, she had facilitated a shift in my self-image even though the lesson had not started.
After we settled in, she dimmed the lights and began teaching. I understood perhaps 70% of the Hungarian instructions. Still, even without tracking every word, the gentle movements worked their magic. I felt more connected to myself and to the ground, something that is easy to lose when one is navigating the unfamiliar. Shortly thereafter, I booked a Functional Integration lesson with her. The day before my appointment I became ill and had to cancel. I spent the next several days coughing so intensely that my back muscles felt as if they had twisted into knots. The right side of my torso curved considerably away from the ground when I lay down to do recorded Feldenkrais lessons. Except that position made it hard to breathe so I temporarily gave up.
Luckily, after I recovered, Csilla had an opening. I hoped she could help release the tension. I visited her office for private clients in Buda, at the foot of the Castle District. She kindly asked me, in Hungarian, to “befriend” the space before we started. Drawings and paintings from children’s art therapy hung on one of the walls. Since I initially rented an apartment whose lights malfunctioned, I couldn’t help but notice the many bright, bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. After I lay on the table, she asked me how I wanted the lighting and turned some of them off. During the varied lesson, she had me move my eyes separately from my head as she worked with me, something I had not anticipated. While I’ve done many Feldenkrais eye lessons, the ones I repeat usually involve lying still. When I asked her about it afterward, Csilla reminded me that the eyes can get stuck or move within a limited range, creating a holding pattern elsewhere. Of course! In focusing attention on my back, I had forgotten the rest of me.
When I left her office, I decided to take advantage of the mild weather and visit the Castle District. A few days before, an old friend had treated me to dinner there on somewhat short notice. Since I’d been tired and the weather cold and blustery, the journey uphill (even by shuttle bus) had felt laborious. I could have boarded that bus again, but I saw a cobblestone staircase and decided to climb it. Except I didn’t climb. I floated up the steps, that is how light I felt.
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