Or “Hashtag Moshe Feldenkrais”.
If the Feldenkrais story were a film, it could be Lord of the Rings. A short and tubby hero, possessing an elusive truth that few others know of, crosses many lands to eventually cast out darkness and enlighten all beings. He has the help of an inner ring (Gandalf, Legolas etc.), who provide council and are ‘important’ characters, and an outer ring (kings, elves trees, etc), who don’t decide which battle will be fought, but who provide the manpower.
Coincidentally, the ‘inner council’ and ‘outer foot soldiers’ metaphor mirrors the structure of many organisations (including the Feldenkrais profession), where knowledge, authority, decision making, and resources are concentrated in a small number of founder members.
The Feldenkrais profession’s inner ring is made of up many people who were trained directly by Moshe Feldenkrais, and some who were trained very shortly after, plus some current and past board, committee and guild administrators. The outer ring are the assistant trainers and remaining trainers. The foot soldiers are the practitioners.
While all organisations need a core of leaders, there is a concern that the long term accumulation of authority in a few, and a lack of renewal, can lead to paralysis, outdatedness, or irrelevance in a rapidly changing world. It would appear that a balance needs to be maintained between continuity and change. How to balance continuity and change? Via intermittent revolutions, or via deliberate renewal initiated by the leadership?
In the Feldenkrais profession there has been very limited evolution since the 1980s. Membership of the trainers’ group is byzantine and exclusive. With all the seats already filled, progression up the hierarchy is slower than ever. Change is glacial. And the individual practitioner battles on isolated and often alone.
What about revolution? Is the profession being set alight by today’s burning themes and sparked into activity? Are there signs of a digital generation undermining the generation before? No, No, and Not Yet.
Change today has two appearances. Firstly, ‘creative destruction’, whereby ‘digital disruptors’ use digital media to bypass established hierarchies, and to innovate. Secondly, the use of social media by the masses to pressure the few to account for their actions or to press for change.
How much digital innovation do we see in the Feldenkrais profession today? Not much! Individual colleagues are blogging and vlogging on You Tube. There are a few community platforms (www.feldynotebook.com, www.openATM.org, Facebook’s ‘Feldenkrais Practitioners Around the World’ (FPAW), the Feldenkrais Awareness Summit). However, Feldenkrais has no You Tube stars and brand awareness is, possibly, lower than in the 1980s.
How much disruption is happening in our organisation? #Me Too has arrived in our professional Facebook groups and impacted some Feldenkrais guilds, but there has been no structural evolution of our profession as a result.
Moshe Feldenkrais was a creative disruptor. He looked at existing data in a way no one else had and discovered the ‘elusive obvious’. He ‘programmed’ a solution, made it ‘open source’ so others could understand how it worked, subjected it to ‘user-testing’, and supported the formation of a user community. His last act was to make it ‘creative commons’ so others would be free to develop it further.
In theory, such a revolutionary, innovative start should have given rise to a legacy of innovation. But it hasn’t. Will the profession mature away from a top down structure towards a community of peers where information flows in all directions, and where networked individuals are empowered to innovate?
It may be that this process has started, due to the most significant event to have happened since the creation of the Feldenkrais training curriculum: the creation of the worldwide study group, http://www.AnAYaDay.org.
Contradiction and transition
The Feldenkrais Method did not start life as a hierarchical organization. It started, of course, with an individual and his knee.
Moshe’s immediate followers, the ‘inner ring’, learnt directly from him through apprenticeship. Over time the pedagogical form of the profession changed and apprenticeship was replaced by a classic western education, with a teacher at the front on a raised podium with students arranged in rows, and where knowledge flowed from top to bottom. Upon graduation, students are now cast adrift to sink or swim to the best of their initiative and abilities. Mentoring and apprenticeship are absent for most graduates.
What can we as practitioners and students in today’s world do to make up for this absence? The answer is to be found on the internet, and has three components: to get back down on the floor and start doing hours and hours of ATMs. To find our own mentors and coaches. And to seek out sources of information across all disciplines.
All this is now available in the An AY a Day study group.
Obvious, not elusive
In 2016, Kwan Wong, a young practitioner from San Francisco, heard a colleague say they had just finished all 550 Alexander Yanai (AY) lessons. Kwan asked, “How did you manage such a massive task?”. By doing one a day!
This conversation sparked a genius idea. Would it be possible to create an online study group for practitioners to do one AY lesson a day, every day? Having checked whether it was permitted to read the AY material out loud (it is), Kwan set up an event online. When the first lesson was read on 1st June, 2017, there were 12 participants. 88 people did the last lesson, on 27th February 2019, and the Facebook group had 1,252 members. Having finished all 550 lessons, the group went back to the beginning and started out again.
To make it possible, Kwan used digital technology and the power of the internet, and a dedicated support team, and especially Katarina Halm in Canada. The group meets daily using a video conferencing app called Zoom that can be downloaded from the internet for free; then you simply log in via the link on http://www.anAYaDay.org. A volunteer reader signs up in advance online and at a set time each day, practitioners and students all around the world log in from their own home and do the lesson as it is read out. At the end, there is an discussion to share experiences, insights, and suggestions.
The post-reading discussion is recorded and posted onto Facebook where it can be downloaded, together with the meeting chat, including research materials, photos, videos, references and resources.
Participation is free, but participants make donations to cover the technology costs. To join, you just need to be a Feldenkrais, ABM, MBS practitioner, or student in training. There is no need to be on Facebook to participate by Zoom, and no obligation to read if you are shy or struggle with English.
The lesson reading happens at 8am Pacific Time / 5pm Central European Time. The lesson is read in English. About 50% of the attendees are from Europe, the rest from North America, Japan, Australia, and other countries.
There is a second group at 3am European time, that started about 200 days after the first group, mainly attended by North American, Australian and Asian practitioners.
What has been the impact of this experience, and how is it changing the Feldenkrais profession?
In the AY a Day group, you can explore a wide range of ATM lessons with unlimited mentoring from the comfort of your own home. You can experience the up-ending of the traditional hierarchy of our profession. Information flows in all directions and egos are put aside.
I first joined the group in spring 2018. Shortly before a four day holiday in Barcelona, my foot swelled and became incredibly painful. As I walked around the city each day, it got worse and worse. That Monday, 2nd April, I logged in and did AY274, ‘Introduction to Walking’. The next day the pain was 50% better. I then did the following lesson, taught by trainer Arlyn Zones, AY275 ‘Continuation’. The next morning the pain had gone and I went running on the beach. It was a classic Feldenkrais A-ha moment. ‘I don’t exactly know what is wrong, but I will do a targeted exploration and rely on the intelligence of my body to sort itself out’.
Since then I have participated as often as my schedule allows. I’ve now done about 300 ATMS. I’ve joined lessons from home, from my garden, from holiday, whilst skiing, wherever and whenever I have had time. My life has changed as a direct result of the quantity and variety of ATMs that I have done. For example, the meniscus I tore skiing in 2014 is now pain free because my hip moves freely, and so I can play soccer, garden, and ski again. And my 25-year ‘tennis elbow’ that started in 1993 disappeared in 2018. 100%!
There are many others who also testify to how their lives have changed by doing regular ATM. From personal growth to professional growth and community growth, the benefits are clear, rapid, and massive. Here are some of the stories.
Benefit 1. Personal transformation: Systemic transformation through intensive self practice
Not since training have most practitioners done so much ATM. Jazminka Muzinic, a student in training in Zagreb, told me “The process of following the AY lessons is intense and beautiful. In recent years I have been able to practice often, even though I have no practice group near me in Croatia. I learned the structure of the lessons and the connections between lessons. It has inspired and enriched my practice more than I could imagine. And I met beautiful minds.” Other participants have said that lessons they disliked became possible for them, stopped causing them pain, and even turned into friends. Intensive ATM practice turbo-charges one’s learning. New practitioners can gain as much experience in a couple of months as they would have in 2 years. The fact that the lesson is not recorded and must be listened to live is a great motivator that has really helped me commit to doing regular practice.
Benefit 2. Repertoire: Learn new lessons, experience new themes
Participants say that their teaching repertoire has exploded. Doing lesson after lesson brings a new perspective as rare jewels are experienced or revisited after a long absence. Because the lesson of the day is a given, we experience all the varied themes that Moshe taught, at the frequency he taught them. As an example, 26 AY lessons, about 5%, relate directly to breathing. Do we practitioners address the function of breathing in 5% of our lessons?
The discussion helps participants clarify the ‘red thread’ of the lesson. Sue Seto from Toronto, Canada comments “I taught the AY lessons right out of training. Now, doing them every day, I find so much clarity in the lessons, as opposed to when I first started.”
Benefit 3. Teaching skills: Teach better, clearer, simpler.
Most of the lessons are short (35 to 45 minutes), lack a scan, use clear, direct language, and are thematically pure. People say that their understanding of the structure, interconnections, and themes of the lessons has deepened and this has changed how they teach. Laura McMurray from near Seattle says “It’s enriched and changed my thinking about selecting what to teach. My ego has less need to know the right lesson to teach a group, and I am more deeply engaged to present any material to the students as an effective learning experience. The pallet that I am working with now is extraordinary. I can’t overstate how good it has been for my teaching.”
Barbara, in Kansas, says “For me it has been a whole expansion. I am in Kansas by myself and it’s been over 30 years since my training. Doing this together is big for me! There is a lot of this material that I do not remember. It has translated into my teaching, actually my teaching is getting simpler and simpler.”
Benefit 4. Individual Growth: Co-coaching
There is a huge flow of information and support within the group because it is a flat, peer-to-peer community that promotes co-coaching. One day I read a lesson. The trainer Larry Goldfarb was present. Afterwards, he said, “great reading Ben”. Even if I was just reading somebody’s words, it still felt good to hear words of support, and this kind of willingness to listen, advise, inform, and share is very empowering for all levels of experience.
Katharina Groß from Dusseldorf says “It is so valuable for me as I am a beginner and will only finish my training this November. There are so many great impulses and ideas!” Barb Houston lives in Western Australia. “I am finding this group a really important link to colleagues. I live in a remote area and the opportunity to receive live ATM is very rare for me. … I feel connected to our Feldenkrais community again … I can not put a fixed value on its contribution to my well being.”
Benefit 5. Community: Growth
What happens when practitioners from Paris, Perth, Montreal, Mexico, Berlin and Boston meet every day on line? An AY a Day is creating relationships with colleagues and setting up new business opportunities. Cate Thomas says “We each arrive at An AY a Day ready to experience, differentiate and learn on every level, physical, emotional, and spiritual, and for that the community is really precious. This group takes us out of being a sole practitioner”. Larry Goldfarb, a very regular participant, says “It is really important that, if we are going to have a profession, we have a community”.
Although there are some well known names, like Larry Goldfarb, Laura Yadweb (creator of www.Feldynotebook.com), Cynthia Allen (who runs the Feldenkrais Summit), and Ellen Soloway (who edited the AY volumes), no one leverages their reputation for personal advantage. Whether a graduate of the 1975 training, or a student in training, everyone online becomes ‘just’ a regular practitioner, trying to improve the lives of their local populations and looking for support and sharing with colleagues.
A couple of times, I have been speaking to an experienced practitioner in my city about how amazing it is, and they have said ‘I’ve done them all already. I don’t need this.’ I sense that they have missed the point(s) of the group: experienced practitioners do not come because they are invited, fêted, or to ‘teach’, but because they understand the benefit of change and transformation on a personal and professional level that comes from doing regular ATM.
Ellen Soloway, an Amherst graduate, says “Some people ask me why I show up as often as I do, and part of it is that I just like the lessons, they make me feel good! But the other thing is that this has been a remarkable sharing with minimal ego.”
In the group there is no ‘trainer’, and no ‘student’. One day you might lie on the floor, the next you might read a lesson. Students teach ATM to Trainers! Participants span every area of expertise: Feldenkrais with horses, with children, with Parkinsons; anatomists, musicians, actors. Whatever the question, someone in the group has the answer, or knows where to find it within five minutes. How wonderful, how liberating, what a breath of fresh air to democratize our community and to complement each other.
On 27th February, 2019, Kwan read the final lesson, AY550, titled ‘No Name’. The end was just the beginning however. The next day, the group started with 19 days of vision ATMs, then standing ATMs, Breathing ATMs, etc, exploring various themes. Then on 1st June 2019, the whole process began again with AY1.
Learnings of the group
Peter Brook. © Thomas Rome
When I asked Kwan what his biggest take-outs were, he said an absolute highlight was the proof reading of the brand new English translation of Moshe’s 1978 Paris Workshop, (the Peter Brook workshop). For the first ever time, the Feldenkrais community came together en masse to dispatch a time-limited project.
The intelligence of the crowd makes light work of big projects. It would even be possible to quickly complete other community projects by crowd sourcing, such as translating more Alexander Yanai lessons from Hebrew, or transcribing unpublished IFF material that have lacked resources and time till now.
Kwan mentions that we are experimenting to see if the global Feldenkrais community can act together as one organism. He adds that his vision of the project is as an exploration into whether the community can embody the principles of the Feldenkrais Method. What are the principles? There should be an even distribution of effort between all the parts and the absence of ‘a leader’; an appropriate reaction to stimulus; and an environment for learning. In Kwan’s words, this group offers us “the ability to come to this work in a complete way, rather than selecting certain lessons”. He sees the group as just one humble ‘function’ in the longer developmental journey of the Method.
How can the AY a Day group change Feldenkrais in the future?
The Feldenkrais profession is a narrow pyramid. The worldwide population of trainers is 71 persons, 37% of whom trained in Tel Aviv, San Francisco or Amherst (1969, 1974, 1980). 72% of trainers live in 3 countries: Israel, Germany and the USA. To highlight a point by sensing a difference, 4% of the trainers live in San Francisco, but none whatsoever in Africa, South America, China, India, Japan or Russia.
Some of the 71 are retired. About 55-60 remain. This small number can not by itself influence the general public. That is up to us – Feldenkrais practitioners around the world who are working extremely hard to reach out to the market and to innovate, and now is an opportunity to innovate like never before, such as by teaching over the internet.
The idea of internet classes may send shivers down the spines of some of our colleagues who worry that the public will injure itself without our supervision. But Moshe already taught over the radio in Israel and Switzerland, and dreamed of teaching by television. Is it time for us to trust the public and to give them the tools for their own maturation and growth, without the restrictive intermediation of personal supervision by us?
The history of the internet shows that viral growth occurs when many individuals have access to free information without gatekeepers. By keeping all our materials behind a professional fire wall we retain control but we inhibit public uptake. Logically, original public workshop materials, like the Toronto or London workshops, could be made public. And yet it’s going to be so hard for our profession to give up control, to treat the public as adults, not as children. To trust them. To live by the dictum, ‘I do not teach, but I set up the circumstances so that others can learn’.
The internet is a tool, to be used for good or bad. As an individual practitioner, I can’t influence the pyramidal structure of our profession, but rather than dwell on what can’t be done, I say ‘don’t fight what I can’t change. Change what I can by starting with myself.’ An opportunity now exists to come together in a flat, peer-to-peer community, building the intelligence of the crowd, and transforming society one person at a time.
The ‘An AY a Day‘ group is an example of how we practitioners can leverage modern digital channels and create something bigger than the sum of each of us, in order to make the biggest positive impact on the greatest number of people.
To quote Jazminka again, “The group offered me a vision of life in which regular ATM practice and learning are the thread that carries my health and enriches my profession. I am deeply thankful to everyone who held the space and to everyone who participated.”
The lessons happen every day at 5pm UTC. Sign up. Log in. Lie down.
What to do if you want to take part: technical details
“An AY a day is a daily online ATM study group open to all Feldenkrais practitioners and trainees. The premise is simple – each day we go through an Alexander Yanai lesson together. One person volunteers to read directly from the book, and the others do the lesson. A short discussion follows immediately after the lesson.”