Beyond This or That.
“One of the basic binaries of life is ‘toward’ and ‘away’. Even the earliest single-celled organisms had the ability - or impulse or instinct - to move toward that which is low intensity and potentially life sustaining, and away from that which is high intensity and potentially life threatening. The primacy of this dynamic certainly influenced the development and differentiation of the flexors and extensors, nervous tissue, and ultimately the distinction of the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems.” David Zemach Bersin, Feldenkrais® Trainer
Every moment presents choices of movement and thought, for the most part obscured from awareness unless we begin to pay very close attention to the moment before we take action. Your attention matters a lot to your nervous system. But what do you chose and how do you chose it?
An endless series of tiny decisions leads to bigger choices -or even to running out of choice if we aren’t careful . Even the mildest sense of aversion or dislike can move our whole organism towards or away from an idea, situation, person or feeling- wholesale. For example, anyone with a back injury will naturally avoid complex movements like twisting, or counter rotation to protect the area while healing. A month or a year later, they may have healed from the pain and restored movement to a familiar range, and yet still avoid refined movement in their vertebrae and ribs. In that process, it’s easy to lose the trail of breadcrumbs leading back to healthy ‘pre-injury’ movement patterns. As a consequence, the ‘map’ for moving and sensing in this region is blurry or absent. Finding the way back to optimal movement is more like a winding journey than a one stop shop or a fix.
Humanity got this far from a long history of making binary choices based on survival. But for life to get richer, and the ‘organism’ of our body/mind to get healthier, let’s explore the idea of thinking beyond this OR that.
Having an abundance of movement options is easy to take for granted. When I think about the rich movement vocabulary I had as a kid; climbing, jumping, riding, falling, exploring -and compare it to now, I could rationalize the difference by saying that playful, non-purposeful movement is not practical in adulthood. And to make up the difference, I could enrich my current ‘vocabulary’ with a workout or yoga practice.
But if I feel into the difference between stretching my arms overhead, versus doing a chin up, versus hanging from a tree branch on a summer’s day, there is almost no similarity to how they feel. The theory here is: Unless you and I are engaged in -and engaging with- our environment, we don’t choose to make those ‘non-purposeful’ highly variable movements. As a second best, we could add a prescriptive version of these movements to a growing list of To Do’s in a workout or self care plan. Either way, the ability to reach overhead will silently disappear from our vocabulary. And while you and I may not seek out movements like climbing, scrambling, hanging or rolling - it is safe to say we are choosing not to do them - and before long they are officially obsolete to an adult-modern-day version of us. What movements do you find yourself avoiding?
In a Feldenkrais class, your teacher will be subtly choosing her words to shift your experience out of the ‘Binary’. We bring our whole self to the Movements: beyond self improvement, beyond fixing a bad hip or tricky neck; beyond the pursuit of symmetry and flexibility for its’ own sake. They say the Right Brain is best at apprehending patterns, and appreciating the wholeness of things. Now, what if we dropped in a few Left Brain movement instructions into a Right Brain state- gently, easily, so as not to cause any part of yourself to retract from pain or latch onto a familiar but questionable movement habit - and then planted a few seeds about a new movement or perceptual possibility. Magic? Kind of! The result is variability, novelty, experimentation and emergence of new pathways.
Awareness Through Movement® classes provide an opportunity to - safely, with attention and support - discover what you do, how you do it and what is lost or forgotten about your moving self. You’ll learn about your biases, and what you avoid. Habits of overriding comfort, or repeating strain & overuse, are now easily within reach and up for change. You may puzzle over the instructions at first, only to be surprised be a new movement that emerges a minute later that opens up sensation and freedom in your spine. After a series of these puzzles, the nervous system is primed to make more and more choices that are neither informed by unnecessary compensations, old habits - or even a fancy new ideas about improvement.
Your attention is what matters most to your nervous system. And every choice made from your somatic, felt sense experience in service of ease, variability and sustainability is a choice in the direction beyond binary, and a towards refinement and health- and the joy of moving for moving’s sake. Like a child.