[Editor’s Note: The following article has been adapted by the author from one that previously appeared in Flute Focus while I was the editor. The author, Caryn Truppman, originally from Miami, Florida, now lives in Auckland, New Zealand where she in private practice teaching the Feldenkrais Method which she describes as follows:
“The FELDENKRAIS METHOD® makes use of the brain’s natural capacity for learning and for increasing human potential at any age. Developed over 40 years of research by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904 -1984), it is a revolutionary approach to understanding human movement and for enhancing both physical and mental performance. These gentle processes help you to change your muscular habits and create a better skeletal use of yourself resulting in dynamic flexibility and strength and new pain-free possibilities.
It is useful to anyone wanting to enhance the quality of his or her everyday life and activities. It is especially valuable for children who are musicians and athletes, and also for those with neurological, learning or developmental difficulties.”
Caryn was attracted to this system of exercise and guided movement by her own personal history of injury and recovery. Her article gives an insight into the practical application of Feldenkrais exercises. It is included as part of our growing series on health issues for flutists.]
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“Feldenkrais represents a revolution in human health” Smithsonian Magazine
“The Feldenkrais exercises are ingenious and simple.” Yehudi Menuhin
How can you listen to your body with as much detail as you listen to your playing? How can you play with comfort and without pain? How do you access breath in a way that you intend?
The Feldenkrais Method is available to musicians as a vast resource and addresses many of these concerns. It is a complex way of viewing ourselves that creates the capacity to make changes in surprisingly simple ways.
A lesson in this method evokes an awareness of the support that the skeleton provides. A flautist who holds the flute up and whose stance is asymmetrical tends to under-utilize his/her skeleton and overwork his/her musculature, especially in the arms and back. These gentle processes in the Feldenkrais lesson shift automatic habits; improving breath, performance and ergonomic use of oneself.
Feldenkrais practitioners offer a unique set of tools for musicians that utilize the flexibility of the brain and it’s potential. I have summarized them into a few conceptual areas.
Learning and Practice Concepts
Flautists tend to concentrate attention on specific parts of their bodies, such as the hands or fingers and may be unaware of the rest of themselves. A Feldenkrais lesson is designed to shift attention between the body as a whole, and specific parts. For example, if a musician has pain in the back or shoulders when he/she raises the flute, we might extend awareness into the feet and explore balance. This lengthens the back, engages the abdominals, brings the weight forward and changes the habitual way of lifting the flute. Instead of continuing to recreate a pain pattern, one can create a new habit instead. This process can be explored in the example lesson.
Feldenkrais lessons are process orientated – rather than outcome orientated – where ‘mistakes’ are prized as the building blocks of exploration and create freedom to find new options. This approach can be very useful as a practice strategy to change habits and to find new modes of expression.
The focus of Feldenkrais is to discover what is possible and then to make it easy, rather than focusing on what is not perfect. The result is a flexible brain and an ability to do what you intend.
Visualization of your Body and Instrument
How do you experience yourself from the inside (as a whole and as individual parts)? And sensing yourself, how can you allow this to inform and illuminate your practice?
We develop the subtle and precise capacities to visualize and sense our use of ourselves in the Feldenkrais lessons, in a comparable way to the way in which musical practice develops. The ability to “sense” or “see” oneself from the inside matures in a similar way that the ability to “play” and “hear” and “coordinate” does on the flute. An internal authority begins to emerge – Feldenkrais lessons are designed so that you learn to listen to yourself.
We can discover very precisely the unconscious interference that underlies control (for example, the inability to master a technical aspect after many hours of practice and repetition). Through the process of engaging attention in this way, the body has the capacity to reorganize automatically. More effort is used by the brain, and less by the body.
“The aim is a body that is organised to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength, but increased consciousness of how it works.” Moshe Feldenkrais
Lessons can be designed for the musician and his/her precise needs. Areas of interest for a flautist often encompass the breath and diaphragm, use of the back, neck, arms and hands, balance over the feet, and easy turning. Qualities that are also enhanced in every lesson include ease and comfort, tone (muscle tone and musical tone), sensory awareness, and reduction of unnecessary effort.
Lessons can either be in the form of an individual lesson or in a class. During an individual lesson the practitioner senses what is occurring in a musician’s subjective somatic experience and introduces new possibilities. During a class participants are verbally led through a series of uncommon movement sequences, usually done lying down or sitting. Classes are process orientated and are designed to explore awareness of the body and its natural ability to find comfort, ease and elegance.
This is a movement exploration which illustrates some of the concepts described. You will need a firm chair or bench where your feet can be on the floor. You can use an imaginary flute, or actually use your flute for the movement parts.
1) Sit on a chair with your eyes closed. How do you balance – a little forward or backward or perhaps more on one hip joint?
Hold your flute in the air close to your lips. As you continue the movement to the lips, do you (in the minute beginnings of the action) bring the flute to your lips or do you bring your lips to the flute? Of course you do both gestures at the same time, but one initiates a moment before the other. You can only sense this if you do it in slow motion. How does it feel in your back, fingers, tongue, arms, neck, and your breath?
1a) Lie on your back and rest.
2a) Return to sit on a chair. Take the flute to the opposite side (your left) and begin the same awareness exercise (as above), however this time do the opposite of what you did on your habitual side (e.g. if you brought your lips to the flute, bring the flute to your lips). This may feel very unnatural. Do the very beginnings of this movement for 5 repetitions. Go slowly and rest in between each movement. Can you reduce the amount of effort you are using by half? Continue to do 15 – 20 repetitions until it becomes more natural. Observe how it feels in your back, fingers, tongue, the back of your neck and breath. Can you do this with breathing that is effortless?
2b) Return to doing the original pattern of either bringing your lips to the flute or the flute to your lips (on this non habitual side). Observe how it feels in your back, fingers, tongue, neck and breath. Where is there tension? How is this different from the other and from the habitual side? Lie on your back and rest.
3) Return to sit on a chair. Go back to holding the flute on the traditional side and return to step 1. What do you do now? Is it different from the beginning? Is the movement of the flute to the lips and the lips to the flute more simultaneous? Go slowly enough so that you do not hold your breath; much in the same mode as nodding off to sleep. Do 10 repetitions. Does it take less effort in the head and neck? Do you have a sense of how the torso can do some of the work and make it easier (reduce tension) for the head and arms and the breath? How is your balance while sitting different from the beginning?
It (the Feldenkrais Method) is not just pushing muscles around, but changing things in the brain itself ~ Karl Pribram, MD, Neuropsychologist
The Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education is a ground-breaking resource for all musicians. Particularly for flautists who, because of the asymmetrical organization required have a need to use themselves in the best possible way. Utilizing movement and embodied attention, it is possible to attend to yourself as the instrument that plays the instrument and thus enhance musical practice and health.
This is my first article for Flute Journal and I would like to ensure that future articles are as relevant as possible. Please feel free therefore to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or article suggestions you may have.
Caryn has been a guild-certified Feldenkrais practitioner for over 20 years, is the current President of the New Zealand Feldenkrais Guild and an Assistant Trainer. She specializes in working with performing artists and children. For some examples of the latter see: https://www.feldenkrais-auckland.co.nz/feldenkrais-and-children-film
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