Posture and emotional growth
How can you change something you cannot feel? So many of the tensions that shape us are shrouded by a veil that lies beyond the realm of our senses. It's only through immersion and careful attention that we have any hope of piecing together the source of those behaviours that confound us. Feldenkrais had an interesting perspective on how this relates to posture.
We'll be exploring this in our next series of classes that begin next Tuesday the 11th at 6.30pm and Thursday the 13th at 9.30am.
Many people think of good posture as a position or even a balance but Feldenkrais had a different perspective. He argued in his wonderful book, ‘The Potent Self’ that bad posture is not necessarily harmful. He wrote that - ‘a well co-ordinated person can adopt any position for any length of time without the same ill effects’ that a person who does it compulsively will suffer. The problem, he argues, is the lack of choice in how we move. The compulsion is the problem. ‘Correct posture has little useful meaning without consideration of the state of maturity, the situation, the emotional means and the state of the body.’
He continues –‘ In the properly matured individual activity is spontaneous in all familiar circumstances and potent when a more refined control is required. The spontaneity and potency are possible because the mature adult has learned to dissociate emotions from body patterns. She has lifted compulsiveness from her behaviour and she makes her habits with what she deems necessary ..’ “This lifting of compulsiveness from behaviour results in greater freedom and independence.’
‘Correct posture is a matter of emotional growth and learning. It is not acquired by simple exercising or the repetition of the desired act or attitude.’
He then goes on to examine the qualities of co-ordinated well learned action – Absence of effort, absence of resistance, the presence of reversibility and quality of breathing.
Well 'absence of effort' is pretty obvious. So too quality of breathing and the presence of reversibility relates to always being balanced. But what about the 'absence of resistance'?
Resistance relates to cross motivation. It's doing two things at once that contradict each other. A singer who tightens their throat when triggered by a voice from their past who warned them not to make a big noise expresses this. Cross motivated movements interfere with the intended action. A tight throat obviously interferes with your ability to sing. If we tune into those resistances rather than just trying to get rid of them we may find a source of the compulsion that is causing the trouble. It's the resistances we feel when we struggle to do those things that are important to us that are the ones to look for.
I have a rather embarrassing example. Music has been a source of beauty and wonder through life but it has also been a mine field of resistances.
I saw the Beatles movie the other day and I was able to discover a fairly significant one.
Malcolm Gladwell, spoke in the film of the Beatle's influence in the emerging counter-culture of the 60’s. They were at the forefront of the call to arms of that new movement. He argued that when children compared the 'ideal society' of the Beatles to the society of their parents it was obvious who they'd be listening to.
Sgt Peppers, Revolver and Rubber Soul made a big impression on me. I realised that it was at this time that the authority of the existing world began to wane.
I also remember watching a Beatles cartoon when I was about 11 and during the opening title song, ‘And your bird can sing’, thinking that this was what life was about – Singing songs with absolute commitment and being cheeky and irreverent in the face of expected conformity.
Well, it has happened .. but it has certainly been a long and winding road. (sic) Try as I might, playing and singing songs with gusto was never easy. Music was a struggle confounded by unseen forces, though I just felt I was a hopeless person. I was pushing a rock up a hill unaware that the shifting sands were my own. And what a hill it was ..
Twenty years ago I stopped playing and singing. I videoed myself on the eve of a milestone birthday and realised it was so wrong on every level that I gave it up. Luckily, I discovered Salsa at that time which was untroubled by those pesky cross motivations.
In the last five years things have been changing. I have found some freedom in playing and singing and have recently been writing songs. It’s been deeply satisfying. I've been able to realise the things that limited my progress and address them.
About a month ago I began getting up 45 minutes earlier so I could practice. A week later I noticed that after that process I would stand up and feel stiff. I didn’t think about it much and kept going.
I was also forcing it a bit on a few exercises I was doing and the long and short of it is that I got up one day and realised that I needed to lie down again. I remained there for about five days. I had pulled a muscle in my back!
What the hell was going on?
Clearly I was using way too much effort when playing the guitar and this unnecessary effort was throwing everything out of whack.
I was trying to find that easy state in order to play but it was eluding me! The problem is of course that the tensions and the feelings or perceptions that trigger them are unconscious. How can you change something you cannot feel?
So there I was flat on my back after 30 years of Feldenkrais, clearly still moving compulsively when practicing the guitar. How bloody annoying!
During that five-day rest period I was reading a wonderful book called “The Age of Insight” by Eric Kandel. It explores the discovery of the unconscious in both science and art in Vienna from around 1900.
I was considering all the sensations I was feeling as being a manifestation of my unconscious mind. They were sensations that were too hazy to describe but could be felt. Sometimes the only way to articulate those feelings is indirectly. In a way it's similar to the appreciation or expression of art.
At day four I begin to experience bad asthma. ‘Oh no!" I thought. 'I’ve already been out of action for four days and now I’m going to get sick and prolong it further!’ It was exasperating but I continued to pay attention to that feeling within my ribcage. It was a sense of being lost.
Now I don’t think of myself as lost. There is and always has been a pretty strong direction in my life but this was a different feeling. As I listened more closely I realised that this sense of being lost related to rejecting my father as a child. It was a feeling of not having his guidance. I was a fairly troublesome teen who left home at 16. It all worked out well in the end. Mind you it wasn't until I was about 40 that I realised that everything of note in my character I had learnt from my parents.
Just feeling that and realising that I had my fathers guidance within me if I paid attention was enough to make the asthma go away.
The seeds of that paternal rejection were probably earlier than when I was 11 but nevertheless my immersion into the music of the Beatles and the emerging culture of the day gave me permission to ignore his authority. However the reality of his presence and my debt to him through my very existence was something that could not be ignored. It played out as a subversion of my newfound resolve then continued beneath my conscious awareness through the rest of my life.
So the challenge is to continue that journey of inner guidance in my seated guitar posture. It is a work in progress. Can I turn repression into love?
It's by examining the way we feel during those moments of crisis that real learning is possible. Once seen, those compulsive behaviours seem so infantile you wonder how it could have happened in the first place.
We'll be considering these ideas in our next series of Thursday classes that begin on the 13th of October.
We’re going to explore freedom of the arms and their connection to the head, neck and torso. We’ll explore it in relation to actions that are important to you. Actions it would be useful to be able to perform without compulsive emotional undercurrents. What are those actions for you?
See you on the 11th or 13th
0404 625 326