Making the Abstract Concrete: Experiences in Feldenkrais

February 13th, 2008

I’ve been away from my blog for some time. I had a recital in Muenster, Germany, and have been paying a lot of attention to the forum and our new site, But many interesting things have been happening so I I am trying to find the time to share some of them with you!

Lately I’ve been giving Feldenkrais lessons to an Olympic gold medallist, Ivan Lapchevich who played handball for Yugoslavia in 2000 and 2004, and nowplays professionally in Hungary. He has been out for 6 months with a knee injury, and he came to me to see what Feldenkrais could do for him.

When the body is hurt, the musculature around the injured area automatically seize up. They inhibit movement to prevent further injury. This is smart. But when the injury heals, the movement pattern often remains in the brain, preventing complete recovery of movement even though there is no longer a physical flaw. This is dumb!

But it’s the perfect situation for Feldenkrais. The fine neuromotor communication of Functional Integration (FI) loosens things up and restores that part of the body’s ability to sense itself fully and thus to remember how it moved before. With Ivan I’ve also been finding other places in the body that weren’t moving at 100% – these may well have contributed to the initial injury. If you are hit hard, your body needs to be flexible enough to give way in enough different places that nothing snaps. Thus in these FI lessons we have been improving not only movement around the injured area but also elsewhere – this learning process will leave him in better shape than he was before the injury! Improvement is better than healing, because there is no upper limit.

The other day he came for a lesson and his shoulder had completely seized up – but it had been nice and loose the previous evening. I asked him what was going on and he said he had been catching the medicine ball (a big, heavy ball used for muscle development) and needed to stiffen his body to resist the shock. I told him that if he wants Feldenkrais to be effective, he is going to have to relearn how to do the various movements in his training program as well as in the game itself. He has to learn to catch the medicine ball in the spirit of Feldenkrais – to sense how he’s doing it, how the fingers and hand can transfer the ball’s energy into the core skeleton which has more power to deal with the stress than the digital extremities do.

In the lesson his shoulders loosened up beautifully, and so did his hip joints. The next day he came to me and said, “I couldn’t run normally in the training yesterday, my legs felt so bizarre.” I told him he’ll have to learn to run in the spirit of Feldenkrais as well. Using brute power to achieve speed stresses out the hip joints, makes them tighten, increasing the possibility of injury and making you tire more quickly. If your hip joints are looser, use this to your advantage! Learn to use your legs more like whips – if the hip joints learn to stay loose, you’ll achieve greater speed and quicker acceleration with less effort because you’re not fighting against yourself. “Gee, I never thought of that,” said he. But he likes the idea.

Isn’t this supposed to be a piano blog? Yes, but it’s Alan Fraser’s piano blog. Can you make a connection from what I write above to any of your own experiences at the piano? How do these ideas relate to piano technique? How can we practice technical exercises to cultivate a finer ability, something that will improve our playing – something worth bringing from the abstract to the concrete?


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