The Potent Self: Feldenkrais

August 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm Leave a comment

I’ve been reading The Potent Self by Moshe Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais was interested in the relationship between how people used their bodies (how they functioned) and the way that their experiences had formed their bodies- the individual complex of nerves, muscles and bones that was the vehicle for bodily expression. That is, we all create a body for ourselves out of personal experience – life’s events – and we then we have to use that specific body in our daily activities.

Feldenkrais, like the Tao Te Ching, would say that when we are infants (before too much experience has altered us) we are a perfect mix of form and function. Our bodies are adapted well to what we need to do with them: feed, digest, get rid of waste, move to explore and so on. But as we grow up, and our parents and society warp us with rules and conventions, our form gets altered so that function can often become dysfunction. This is the area he explored, looking at how we as adults move in a semi-dysfunctional way and originated movement therapies to try to correct these imbalances.

Looking back (and looking even now as well) at my own body, I can see so many parts of my body (and so many body systems) that diverged from that perfection of infancy. In fact, I have spent the last 20 odd years discovering these dysfunctions and trying to correct them, through yoga, tai chi, meditation, self-massage, breathing, and so on. I’m pleased that at 67 I suffer no obvious ailments, take no medication, have no pains, and that my body functions pretty well for someone of my age. This must be due to the practices that I have taken on during these past 20 years. Still, I inherited a strong body from my parents, so genes must also have a role to play in the well-being of an aging body.

Recently, I have been trying to get rid of cramps that I have been able to induce in my upper calves. Years ago these cramps would erupt spontaneously, when I would bend my legs at a certain angle while lying in bed. The pain, which is intense, would force me to straighten my legs to get rid of the spasm.  However I decided at a certain point to try to live through the spasms, and to try not to straighten my leg. This was not often possible, because the pain was too intense and I would have to go for relief. But sometimes I could tough it out and remain breathing into the pain.

Why did I do this? What did I think I would achieve?  The theory (maybe this is my theory) is that the cramp is caused by muscles which are in a state of tension, so that they can easily go into spasm. However the question that precedes this assumption is, why are the muscles in tension in the first place? The cause of this muscle tension, I think, is trapped chi, chi that has stopped flowing, and that has stagnated at a particular point in the body, in this case the upper calves, where several layers of muscle slide over each other. Of course the question can then be asked, why has the chi hardened or obstructed here? The answer for me is that it has an emotional origin. Tensions elsewhere in the body, probably originating due to stress from the belly or solar plexus have a kind of ripple effect down the body, so that the chi which should be flowing from these middle areas have become stuck, and caused a corresponding blockage down in the legs.

So you can see that to deal with cramps in the leg, I am really also dealing with some kind of blockage or stagnation in the solar plexus/belly, caused by tension which originates from an emotional response. This emotional response is very hard to characterise, since it can be seen as nervousness, fear, anxiety, and all of these can have many reasons for existence, depending on when these experiences happened and how I dealt with them at the time. When you have lived for 60 odd years, your body is a vast repository of emotional experiences from all your previous ages, so its not easy to pick apart what action or feeling caused which blockage. However, if you do a certain amount of self-therapy along with this kind of bodywork, you often get insights into what has caused what. At times the release of a particular tension gives rise to an image or a memory that gives clues as to why that particular tension was formed.

So the practise of bodywork: self-massage, yoga, tai chi, allied to meditation and self analysis can often give us insights that are valuable in curing both body and mind.

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