Learning How to Learn . . . Again

atm flyer 2

The world is brand new every day, as new as yesterday, and, as far as baby knows, it will still be new brand new tomorrow.  Learning isn’t part of life – it is life.

I have now been teaching public Awareness Through Movement classes, the group learning format of the Feldenkrais Method, for nearly three years. As I continue to look at how I can create a meaningful experience for my students, I found myself looking again at the very first blog post I wrote here, when I was just beginning my career as a movement teacher.

I was happy to find that I still agree with the basic approach I outlined at that moment.  And now, with a little more experience under my belt, I’d like to return to some of those ideas and flesh them out a little further.

In August 2014, I invited students to attend my class in order to “move like a child again.”

. . . rediscover the experience of pure joy in movement and learning.

I’m talking about the joy exhibited by any child who is allowed to move freely and who has not yet been inculcated into one of the infinite variety of doctrines of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.

Babies that coo and goo have no concern as to whether their sounds are as melodious as other babies and experience more pure delight in a simple game of peek-a-boo with Mommy than many of us have known in any form in years. 

The world is brand new every day, as new as yesterday, and, as far as baby knows, it will still be new brand new tomorrow.  Learning isn’t part of life – it is life.

Is your world brand new every day?

Today I know very well that, for too many of us, the world does not feel new every day.  It’s the “same old same old” and frankly, we can get a bit bored, or even pessimistic.

The people who seek out my classes are usually looking for something that will help them break out of their routines and renew their joy in living.

This idea of “moving like a child” is an essential piece of what I offer them in order to do just that.

A private client of mine recently highlighted this phrase when she came to me for help her with her balance.  At the beginning of the session, we discussed issues involving her hip joints, her neck, her posture . . . about what you might expect for someone visiting a movement specialist.

But then she explained that, in her mind, the key problem was that she held her body in a state of fear when she was walking.  In contrast, she marveled about having observed her 3-year-old grandson moving effortlessly on the floor from one position easily holding his head upright.  She noted that even when he fell on his rear, he simply laughed and then lifted himself up again and kept playing.

In our session, we worked on many basic biomechanical questions, but more fundamentally, we worked on recognizing what fear feels like in the body, and what playfulness feels like; and we began to define together a process for moving from one body state to the other.

While as adults we might have a hard time immediately finding the same playfulness as a kid, we can deliberately copy some aspects of the child’s experience if we set our minds to it.

And when we learn to move like a child – even if we can’t completely leave adulthood behind – we open up new world of possibility for ourselves.

But our social conditioning does not make this easy.  A list of some of the characteristics of that playfulness will help to illustrate this.

The following ideas are some of the essential principles that I return to again and again in my Awareness Through Movement classes.  This list could be titled “creating the ideal conditions for learning”, or, more simply, “how to move like a child again.”

  • Explore your body and your movement without judging it
  • Be motivated by curiosity rather than achievement
  • Let go of attachment to doing a LOT or doing things quickly
  • Let go of attachment to “getting it right”
  • Give up when you are stuck, rather than “pushing through”
  • Get more comfortable, more willing to spend time in a state of not knowing the answer to the question you are asking

If you try to imagine how to apply these principles in your 9 to 5 job or on the playing field of your favorite competitive sport, perhaps you will quickly see what a change in mindset this would be from the typical “grown up” way of doing things.

And perhaps you are skeptical that these ideas can actually transform your life – as the Feldenkrais Method has done for so many people.

So today, as I introduced these ideas in the first meeting of a new class series, it was not surprising that it was necessary for my students and I to discuss each of these points further in order to make sense of them.

In an ongoing exchange that took place before, during and after we explored a sequence of interesting movements, we clarified that:

  • Not judging ourselves, doesn’t mean that we don’t notice very specific details about ourselves.

In fact, dropping judgement allows us to get clearer on the specific manifestation of our asymmetries and illogical behaviors.  By gaining a clearer picture of our true selves as we are – not clouded by distracting questions of whether we are how we “should be – we can more readily find a new state of balance in our bodies and easier ways to move.

  • Dropping the focus on achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t achieve something.

In fact, the transformation of the sense of self that can occur in the space of an hour in this process can be stunning to first-time students.  A large part of why this achievement takes place is because we have shifted our focus to the quality of the process of what we are doing – something much more fundamental to the outcome than our ability to use sheer will power.

  • Making movements smaller and slower makes it easier for us to sink more directly into this process.

In most cases, when we move large or fast, the entire pattern of how we move is completely present in the first microsecond and the first millimeter of the action.  But if we move quickly, we will completely miss the earliest signals that we might be doing the movement in a way that causes us harm.  If instead we pay attention to that first crucial moment, we can find practically the whole story written there – at the best possible moment for us to make any necessary modifications to do the thing in a way that pleases us.

  • We certainly do want to “get things right”; if we don’t know how to do something, we would like to learn – but often, there is no single “right way” to perform an action.

Usually there are multiple paths and the best one for us will often become clear only by gently exploring several different options.  Furthermore, the “right way” for me to do this, often doesn’t work so well for you, and vice versa.  By not stressing about the “correctness” of our movement – just like an infant who rolls over for the first time without having the intention to do so – we open the door a little wider for unexpected discoveries.

  • “Giving up” doesn’t have to mean “giving up”!

There is a difference between admitting you don’t know what you are doing and ceasing to strain, taking a rest before returning for another exploration of the problem at hand vs. giving up hope, surrendering and figuratively holding your tail between your legs.

Don’t give up hope – but give up banging your head against the wall if it isn’t getting you anywhere!

  • Saying “I don’t know” is often the most authentic expression of our experience.

We adults spend much of our time lording it over our kids (“Look here, you’re not doing it right, let me show you how it’s done!”) and this is often part of how we define ourselves as having reached some significant level of maturity.  But, in this respect, we are often more childish than we’d like to admit.

Often we’d rather plow ahead with a challenge in order to “get it over with” rather than admit our confusion. But learning to get more comfortable in that state – in part because you discover with repetition that magical things may occur there – will allow you to lower the anxiety and associated strain of every other situation of being in the unknown that you face.

In other words, it will improve your ability to learn.

We remain adults in Awareness Through Movement class, but we allow ourselves to question our “grown up” assumptions in order to continue the process of growing.

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From 2014:

In true learning, there is no finish line.  There is always another layer of understanding to be discovered if you are willing to take the time to look.

But if you’re always in a rush to “succeed”. . . you’ll miss it!

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At the end of class today, a student made a comment that would stun me if I hadn’t heard it dozens of times before, and if it didn’t describe an experience I’d also had myself many times before discovering the Feldenkrais Method.

She said that she had found it difficult to concentrate on some of the more subtle aspects of the movement exploration because of a question in her mind that nagged at her:

“Am I feeling what I’m supposed to feel?!”

I assured her, “Whatever you were feeling was exactly what you were ‘supposed to feel’!”

How can any of us change what we feel to a different thing?!  We simply feel what we feel in each moment – like it or not.  Maybe what we feel later will be different, but right now – this is it!

The question is: what do you do with that feeling?

I encouraged this student to become interested, to ask questions, and to let go of the attachment to “getting it right.”

What would change if she told the voice asking that question to be quiet for a while?

What if she just sank into the experience of the feeling, whatever it was, and didn’t add words?

Perhaps that would be a little closer to the everyday experience of the most masterful learner of all, that magical, spontaneous and joyful being that we all once were, that still lives inside us.

Why not explore what it could mean to be in the experience of moving like a child again?

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Curious?  Come to class!

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