If the Feldenkrais story were a film, it could be Lord of the Rings. A short and tubby hero, holding a truth few others know of, crosses many lands to eventually cast out darkness and liberate mankind. He has an inner ring of powerful aids (Gandalf, Legolas, Stryder, etc), and an outer ring who provide the numerous foot soldiers (the kings of Rohan and of the elves). In the Feldenkrais profession, the inner ring are the high profile trainers, the outer ring are the low profile trainers and assistant trainers, and the foot soldiers are the graduates of the training programs.
This metaphor also mirrors the structure of hierarchical organizations, where knowledge, authority and decision making are distributed from the top down.
However the ‚Zeitgeist‘ of today is ‚creative destruction‘, whereby ‚digital disruptors‘ use digital media to bypass established hierarchies, and to innovate. In addition, the general population uses social media to pressure those in authority to account for their actions.
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 (feldynotebook.com, openATM.org, Facebook ‚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 since the 1980s. Progression up the hierarchy is slower than ever. Change is glacial. And the individual practitioner battles on isolated and often alone.
Moshe Feldenkrais was a creative disruptor. He looked at existing data in 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 give rise to a legacy of innovation. But it hasn’t. Will the profession mature away from the stop 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 council‘, 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, 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 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. When the last lesson was read, on 27th February 2019, there were 88 persons attending, a Facebook group with about 1,252 members, and many individual stories of personal transformation and community growth as a result of doing an AY, each day. Having finished all 550 lessons, the group is now redoing groups of lessons by theme.
To make it possible, Kwan used digital technology and the power of the internet. The group meets daily using a video conferencing app called Zoom that you can download 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 photos or videos, references and resources. 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.
Membership is free. To join, you just need to be a Feldenkrais, ABM, MBS practitioner or student in training.
The lesson reading happens at 5pm European time. The lesson is read in English. About 50% of participants come from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Britain. The rest from North America, Japan, Australia, and other countries. German readers are quite numerous.
There is a second group at 3am European time, that started about 200 days after the first group, and which is attended by North American and Australasian practitioners.
What has been the impact of this experience, and how is it changing the Feldenkrais profession?
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 250 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 and 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.
Personal transformation: intensive self practice, systemic transformation.
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. Throughout the last years I practiced very often, even though I have no practice group at home in Croatia. I learned the structure of the lessons themselves, the sequences and connections between lessons. It inspired my practice and enriched it 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 will gain experience in a couple of months that might have taken them 2 years. The fact that the lesson is not recorded and can not be listened to after the event is a great motivator that really helped me commit to doing regular practice.
Repertoire: learn new lessons, experience new themes.
Participants say that their teaching repertoire has exploded. Because the lesson of the day is a given, we constantly experience new lessons, and themes that we may have spent years avoiding. Doing lesson after lesson brings a new perspective. For instance, 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.“
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 what I choose to teach in my classes. These lessons have got me to teach in a way that I wouldn’t intuitively do, perhaps because of the biases in my own body. 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.“
Growth of the individual in the community, co-coaching, networking.
One day I read a lesson. The trainer Larry Goldfarb was present. Afterwards, he said, „great reading Ben“. It felt good, but more than that, 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. Barbara 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! Thank you very much for sharing all your rich experience!“
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 this contribution to our well being.“
Growth of the community.
Every day you can meet practitioners from Paris, Montreal, Perth, Vienna and Tokyo. Larry Goldfarb, a very regular participant, says „It is really important that, if we are going to have a profession, we have a community.“ Cate Thomas says „It takes us out of being a sole practitioner“. Although there are some high profile participants, like Larry, Laura Yadweb (creator of http://www.Feldynotebook.com), Cynthia Allen (who runs the Feldenkrais Summit), Ellen Soloway (who edited the AY volumes), most of the participants are just regular practitioners trying to improve the lives of their local populations and looking for support and sharing with colleagues.
It has happened that I have spoken with an experienced practitioner about how amazing the effect is, and heard them say ‚I’ve done them all already‘. I sense that they have missed the point(s) of the group: experienced practitioners like Larry and Ellen and Cate do not come because they are invited, fêted, or to ‚teach‘, but because they understand the benefit of change and transformation on multiple levels that comes from doing these ATMs regularly.
Ellen, 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.
For 0€, 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. Egos are put aside.
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.
Learnings of the group
When I asked Kwan what his biggest take-outs were, he said an absolute highlight was the first ever reading of the final draft of the English translation of the 1978 Paris Workshop, that Moshe taught for Peter Brook. 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 workshop material that the IFF possesses.
Kwan adds that his vision of the project is as an exploration into whether the community can embody the principles of the Feldenkrais Method. He mentioned experimenting to see if the global Feldenkrais community can act together as one organism. What are the principles of Feldenkrais: 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“. Humbly, the group is just one ‚function‘ in a long 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% live in Israel, Germany or the USA. While 4% of trainers live in San Francisco, there are no resident trainers 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 and grow the profession. 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, France(?), 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. It’s going to be so hard for us to give up control! To treat the public as adults, not 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 central European time.
Sign up. Log in. Lie down.
Technical details of the AY a Day Group
„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.“
Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1777378065907644/
Zoom meeting ID to join the meeting at 8am Pacific Time / 5pm UTC: https://zoom.us/j/810745255
Zoom meeting ID to join the meeting at 6pm Pacific Time / 3am UTC: https://zoom.us/j/177660720