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Why Feldenkrais®?

This is an edited version of an older post from my music website.

Why I decided to train to become a Feldenkrais Practitioner:

It was May 2005. I struggled through half of my second Master’s recital and got to the end of the Bach solo sonata and just couldn’t see the music anymore. For a moment, everything looked blurry and my body just couldn’t function normally. I think I just made up something and kept playing while I tried to get it together. I did finish the piece and the entire recital but it’s not a performance I want to revisit.

At the time, I was living and practicing with nerve pain and numbness in both arms. I also battled dry mouth and blurry vision when performing. I seriously contemplated selling my flute and quitting my flute career but it wasn’t due to the pain and the discomfort while playing. I wanted to quit because I was frustrated that I couldn’t make music with my flute. My physical and mental limitations prevented me from expressing myself through this instrument.

Luckily, a friend suggested that I attend a week-long flute masterclass that summer, where the teachers also taught the Alexander Technique, Body Mapping, and the Feldenkrais Method®. It was my first exposure to such movement-related education. That summer class saved my career. The Feldenkrais Method, in particular, completely changed the way I taught flute students and how I learned new music.

The Feldenkrais Method is all about curiosity, exploring possibilities, developing a better sense of discrimination, and no judgment. It’s the no judgment part that was so bewildering and empowering.

After my 4 years of Feldenkrais practitioner training, I am still impressed by the non-judgmental approaches to teaching the Feldenkrais Method. Instead of evaluating or judging a client’s movements, a Feldenkrais Practitioner would observe the person and ask questions (to the client or quietly to themselves) instead of labeling a movement or posture as good, bad, wrong, or right. When I touch a client in a one-on-one Functional Integration® lesson, I am looking to make a connection with the other person and their nervous system. I do notice when ribs are not symmetric or one limb moves differently than another but I just gather that information in a spirit of curiosity. I am never thinking, “Oh my. This person’s right leg is really messed up and I need to make both legs move the same way!” My goal is never to “fix” anyone or make someone do something the “right” way. My goal is to explore the client’s current potential and possibilities and help them increase their potential. One cannot be an effective Feldenkrais practitioner if they are not able to set aside their judgment when teaching the method.

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Over the last decade, I’ve been fighting my own judgment reflex in all aspects of my life. Even when I was taking a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® lesson, I would be disappointed to discover that my left shoulder didn’t have the same range of motion as my right. I would then try harder to make the left shoulder get as good as my right. This was a completely futile exercise, for trying harder prevents learning and there would be less improvement than if I kept an open mind. The best case scenario would be that my left shoulder would move better but my right would also improve so the differences were still there. It was only recently that I was able to start noticing my movements, thoughts, and emotions without judging myself.

In my musical life, I used to compare myself to others constantly. I would compare my technical ability or my overall career to my colleagues. I would also think snide thoughts when I hear a less than perfect performance. I relished schadenfreude. It is embarrassing to admit this to the world. Unfortunately, judging others means that when I made a mistake in performance, I knew others were judging me as I had judged them. Knowing that others would be there to judge me as I judged them was one source of performance anxiety. It’s a never-ending cycle. Once I stopped judging others, I was able to stop judging myself. Once I started forgiving myself for wrong notes, I was able to forgive and forget others’. And vice versa.

I know that I will be working on being less judgmental for the rest of my life. I am grateful though that if I want to be an effective Feldenkrais practitioner, I have to constantly practice observing without evaluation — at least within the context of teaching the Feldenkrais Method.