Posted by Rosemarie Morgan-Watson, Tuesday 14th November, 2017
I started meditating over ten years ago and if my husband had not been involved too, I doubt whether I would have continued. My initial experiences, unexpectedly, unleashed pools of tears while I was sitting. I was mortified in more ways than one.
My saving grace was not the traditional mindfulness ‘methods’; for me it was beginning the four year training in The Feldenkrais Method®, a somatic education programme. I had attended classes called Awareness Through Movement in the 80s, when I lived in Brighton. At this time, I did not connect it with mindfulness. I just experienced new ways of being, real discoveries of myself, and was fascinated by it.
A subsequent move where no classes were available in the locality, meant that I let things slip for a while, until once again I reconnected with The Feldenkrais Method®. I was now immersed in more intensive movement lessons, developing specific attention practice and shifting focus.
Integration of my new learning meant a deep listening to myself, with no judgement, no requirement to complete a goal and an amazement at how my movements and sense of ease were changing. If, as you read this, you are already making the connections to Mindfulness, you are on the right track.
Discovering deeper levels of mindfulness and body awareness
Mindfulness is inherent in The Feldenkrais Method®, named after Moshe Feldenkrais. He was an engineer, a scientist and also a respected martial arts expert, who founded the Ju Jitso Club in Paris. A knee injury threatened his ability to walk, but with results of surgery being unpredictable in the 1950s, he chose to research many new disciplines to add to his extensive knowledge. In applying this, he developed a new approach, overcoming his knee problems in the process.
He recognised the vital importance of working with the whole self and the skill of learning how to learn. He was years ahead of his time and spoke about many features that we now take for granted, such as neuroplasticity. At one stage, he nearly gave up, because he didn’t have the evidence-base to back up his claims and others thought he was crazy. His insights contributed to the development of the field of somatic education.
This was my way into finding how to pay attention to sensations and make sense of them. I began to develop a sense of being ‘inside’ my experience. I was under the impression that I had been doing this already for many years. However I was now discovering that I had to own up to a certain number of blind spots about my abilities and self-observation: a significant growing point.
I was also becoming aware that trying hard, in an attempt to do my best, had been messages that had not served me. Through the movements I was learning to let be and allow sensations to arise. I was no longer thinking about sensations themselves, but raising my self-awareness through them. I realised that it was not only my cerebral cortex that was capable of thinking but my physical being had a say too.
Now in my meditation practice I was beginning to notice how much clarity there is in thoughts. In the stillness, words came from nowhere, ideas popped up. As enticing as these were, I had to learn to simply acknowledge them and return to the breath each time.
I was beginning to understand that for me, over-thinking with worry and a need to appear good/clever, drove my mind literally into distraction. How I wish I’d known about this at times in my life when I was taking exams!
It is so important that any mindfulness/meditation work becomes integrated into everyday life, and to do that I suggest you make it your own. I have gathered suggestions from others, have received many inspirational teachings, followed particular programmes, but ultimately I select and decide on the best practice for me.
Sustained Mindfulness and the Inner Body
In my own experience, it is my thinking centre that often leads me into stories and perceptions which are self-deluding. And yet in presence, with mindfulness, words and ideas arise from an inner wisdom, unfolding with enquiry. These are my truths.
In my mindfulness in motion classes, I trust that I am encouraging individuals to experience more of themselves, their whole selves not just their bodies. I guide them towards getting in touch with stillness when we are in a rested position, where there is continual movement of breath and internal organs and recognising an inner quality of stillness, whilst in active movement.
It is my experience that numerous individuals are out of touch with sensations. Many express body awareness because they exercise. In reality these movements become automatic, a series of well-known commands which are no longer connected to self. The brain is not engaged but usually distracted by videos or pounding music. I hear the judgement in my words and I have to own my reactions to certain gyms I have visited. However I recognise the importance of a variety of exercises and the need for high energy workouts too. I just fear that individuals participate in programmes and mindlessly carry out what they think is helpful to them; only to find out years down the line, that they have been overusing and creating unhealthy joints.
Sensations are telling us about levels of physical comfort, proximity or distance from other, relationships to all that surrounds us and also the inner world. They are the front line telling us when we need to take care. Recognising the intelligence here is so important to me. It can inform and connect at a different level, where all that I am is greater than my mind and my body.
A deep respect is given for the messages that become trapped inside our defences and armour us for getting through life. They are challenged gently through movement, the sensori-neural system, the language of the body.
‘Embodiment’ is a complex word to define in this context, yet it captures the essence of a way of being. From a personal experiential perspective, I could explain it as being a state of ‘sustained mindfulness in the physical body.’ Staying in this territory, there is an opportunity to fully own the unity of what we call mind and body, to inhabit the physical rather than jumping into our heads.
Perhaps then, I am embodied when those defences, fears and desires which project an image, are dropped; when the opaque becomes transparent and luminescent.
Students who learnt with Moshe often speak of his amazing skills and I have the impression that in his work, he was truly embodied.
Who has the answers?
I guess that experts are normally seen to have the answers, that is, those individuals who have studied and had their own direct experience of what they teach or transmit.
Feldenkrais did not call himself a teacher and when you train you become a practitioner. This is because the work is aimed at individuals discovering how to learn and how to be their own teachers.
I would equate this with my previous work in counselling. In other areas of my work, I would be prescriptive and giving programmes of exercises. There are times when this is necessary and beneficial as part of the path towards each person taking responsibility for their own growth.
So I am not saying that there are never times I do not direct, give information or advise. However I do believe that true embodiment cannot arise from a sticking plaster, or absorption from another. It involves a personal ride of ups and downs, experimentations, evaluations and a gradual arrival at an understanding.
Moshe Feldenkrais’s intention was for every student to reach their human potential.
I encourage you to continue to explore and be your own expert.
© 2017 Rosemarie Morgan-Watson
Photo credit: Grahame@Triguity.com