by Sheri Cohen, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner
When we think of balancing, we often think of extreme acts and acrobatics—a gymnast’s beam, a circus highwire, a yogi on one foot for days and days. These extreme acts of balance are examples of the awe-inspiring capacities of the human body, mind and spirit.
For the rest of us, balance is a kind of everyday miracle. How is it that we get across the room, transferring our weight from one foot to the other, over and over again, without ending up on the ground? We’ve all experienced a misstep, or a slip on the ice. In that sudden, suspended moment of awareness that we’re about to bite the dust, our whole worldview changes. We are no longer graceful, and in control, on our way to complete an important task. We are subject to the laws of physics, gravity and momentum carrying us swiftly from up to down. Balancing is something we take for granted until we’re not doing it so well.
For humans over the age of two, balancing has a lot to do with feet, standing and walking being our primary vehicles for activity. But when we look more closely, we notice that we are balancing all the time, in every action we make. When I reached for a water glass from my cabinet a moment ago, I transferred my weight to one foot, reached one arm up, counter-levered my free leg behind me, and perched my head over the middle of the see-saw so that I could watch my hand meet the glass. Come to think of it, I was never totally still at any point during this movement. Does this mean that I was not balancing?
If we look at the continuum of actions we make in our daily lives in detail—like in this Muybridge photograph—we can see that BALANCE HAPPENS all the time. When we shift from the everyday notion that balance is static, and understand that BALANCE IS DYNAMIC, then we can actually study and improve our movements in real conditions. Moving better means balancing better.
How do we study something so continuous and multi-dimensional? The Feldenkrais Method is uniquely equipped for such a task. In Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes, we practice making small movements very slowly, so that we can observe the process of each movement. We don’t just move to arrive at the end goal, but to observe in detail: first the moment we think of moving, then the very beginning of the movement, then the next part of the movement, and so on. We repeat these movements so that we can learn more about them, and introduce improvements that make the movement easier.
How do we make the movements easier? There’s a funny thing that happens when we observe ourselves in detail while in the process of making a small movement. We are innately very intelligent this way. If we notice effort, and think just a little bit about preferring ease, our nervous system guides us to a more efficient movement. It’s like a baby preferring to learn. It’s just how we’re built. We also might become conscious of our habitual ways of moving—the ways that aren’t serving us so well—and discover we have choices to move other ways as well.
The Feldenkrais Method offers us another way of improving movement, and thereby improving balance. During private sessions, or Functional Integration, you get to lie on a comfy table while a Feldenkrais Practitioner moves you, slowly, in small, subtle ways. The process is similar to the classroom work, but can sometimes lead to more profound and immediate improvement. This has to do with the way we respond to touch, and the extra-deep quality of rest we can achieve during Functional Integration. It also has to do with dialogic relationship between you and your practitioner, who can really catalyze the learning process for you.