Compassion & Balance Inside & Out
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
by: Catherine Mitchell, GCFP

Section: Babies & Children

There’s a paradigm shift happening today. More and more people are realizing we “think” with our bodies. This shift recognizes the power of learning from inside and not just our heads.

For over 100 years, education has focused on teaching from our heads. Now a revolutionary look at how the body helps children understand information is coming alive in schools.

Our bodies are one big sense organ developing memory and perception. Ken Robinson reminds educational specialists, “A good deal of brain activity is not apparent to the conscious mind. Much of its work is a silent traffic with the rest of the body’s automatic functioning…” (Robinson, 2001, p. 99). Children prove this fact.

After teaching adults for thirty years, I got the great honor to work with kids. They got itimmediately! Children can still sense the magnitude of how sensations color our perceptions. After all, 85% of children are kinesthetic, meaning they move to think. They learn by sensations first, thinking second.

How can movement change what we think? Based on the Feldenkrais Method®, “movement” is redefined to mean life. Different than an improvisational dance or exercise, this movement with attention to the sensations fine tunes the process self-inquiry through the body. Like any x-ray machine, sensations triggered by motion make nothing hidden, physically or emotionally. This kind of “movement” magically shows awareness from a whole new perspective.

Katie, a 2nd grader, got a glimpse of what her body does with her brain. The good news is that even though it was only a glimpse, as the insight continues to unfold, it can change her future choices. On her journey, she had to look inside herself. This was foreign territory for Katie until the One Winged Butterfly lesson, a movement lesson that teaches compassion and balance inside and out. This type of movement, based on the Feldenkrais Method, isn’t like a traditional exercise class. 

The Method uses movement as a vehicle to get information from our bodies about our brains. That’s right, it switches around how to think about movement. Adults often say after this kind of movement, “I feel different, like the person I was when I was younger.”

Katie, though a child, acted old. “I can’t do this!” she pouted in class.

It was true, the lesson was challenging. It invited a movement that most children, or adults for that matter, missed in development the first year of their lives. In the One Winged Butterfly lesson, the head and pelvis learn to find each other and balance off each other. This gives us a sense of stability and foundation between the upper and lower body. This sensation of stability also supports confidence and self esteem.

With this lesson, children have to feel the physical weight and motion of the pelvis in relation to the head and vice–a–versa. The physical sensation between parts automatically starts to change areas of tension in the torso. Physical sensations and attitude change together when the whole body gets involved with its parts.

This action of rolling to sitting is similar to a movement an infant does. But when Katie tried it, her hip joints were stiff. She tumbled to the side like a rock the moment her foot lifted more than four inches off the floor. She growled. I wondered how her hip joints related to her attitude?

Katie’s body looked like she’d missed this movement. She couldn’t sit up comfortably. While sitting on the floor, holding onto her feet, her clam shaped spine showed that her hip joints were locked. With her head cocked backwards, looking out the bottom of her eyes, she complained, “I can’t do this!” and crawled to the corner of the mat.

Her attitude and body mirrored each other; mind and body were locked in the same position. How we move casts a reflection of our history on our muscles. Our motor patterns feel the sensations of our dynamic doings. (Motor patterns are different than motor skills. Motor skills fine-tune an action. Motor patterns and their function develop perception.)

Chas, an obese 3rd grader, also couldn’t do the movement. But though his body was stiff, his attitude was full of giggles. He flew one leg up in the air while holding onto his foot, then tipped to the side, and landed on his elbow, reminding me of a kid on a circus ride. Reversing the movement seemed impossible to him, but that didn’t stop him. He persevered tumbling and giggling until, “POP!” To his surprise, he came up to sitting.

The key to this lesson is to expand awareness among body parts and how they move. Then take a step further into the feelings and thoughts behind these parts. Movements teach psychological processes through the connection our bodies’ have to our brain. To bring the awareness inside, the kids have to find enough patience and compassion for themselves to “muck about.” Chas kept mucking about, playing with the joy of a puppy.

The room was filled with giggles, ...Inside & Out except in Katie’s corner of the mat. There she sat, curled on the floor, pouting. If a whole posture could protrude into the belly of a lower lip, she mastered it. There “it” is: perception wired into the motor patterns of body and attitude. “I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” she whined, crawling off the mat and under the table.

“Katie, no one can do it at first. Everyone plays with the movement to find their way of doing it,” I replied.

She wasn’t listening. “I can’t!” she stated again.

Meanwhile, Chas was still grinning and giggling. After trying again and again, though chubby and out of shape, he was now gracefully rolling to his side and back up to sitting.

The process of movement is more important then the goal. Awareness of how we are with ourselves physically and emotionally is key. Each time he tumbled onto his back, Chas fine tuned his balance. By the end of the lesson he could stay balanced all the way down, tipping slowing to his elbow and back up to sitting.

I walked over to Katie’s and squatted below the table. “Katie, have you ever had a new born puppy?”

“Yes,” she replied letting go of her feet.

“Did the puppy ever go potty in your house?” I asked, sitting on the mat facing her.

She giggled, “Yes.”

“Did you get as mad at the puppy as you are getting to yourself right now?” She looked at me with eyes of wonder. It never occurred to her that she was the one being so hard on herself. “Imagine you’re a little puppy learning something new. If you don’t get it right away, would the puppy give up?”

I went on getting a bit too philosophical, “There will be times we want to give up. If those times happen every day, it is up to us to see what we are doing that is getting in the way.”

This didn’t really make any sense to a six year old. Though there was a glimpse of curiosity, her body’s motor patterns were still stuck in the attitude, “I can’t.” But she tried it again.

“See? I can’t,” she whined.

Monitoring her level of frustration, I decided to give her more clues to what was happening inside her. I guided Katie to release her neck and head, as that was where her body held the attitude of “helplessness.” While holding her feet, I tilted her head towards a knee as she rolled to her side. Her neck tried to lock again as she mumbled, “I can’t.”

To understand the engineering of the spine, think of the Golden Gate Bridge. The spine is like a suspension bridge. One end of the bridge affects the movement at the other end. Both Katie’s lower and upper spine and neck were locking up her hip joints.

“Let go of the attitude ‘I can’t.’ It is getting you stuck. Let go of your head.”

Katie did it. She was shocked...and elated! “Ok let me try on my own?” she stated as a question.

She tried lifting her foot and this time her foot rose two feet above the ground before she fell over. Though she did better, Katie couldn’t make it back up to sitting without letting go of her feet. It didn’t matter. Her attitude shifted and so did some of the tension in her hip joints.

Class was over and we all met for the closing. Katie was disappointed again. First, her frustration made her want to give up. Then, it took playtime away. She wanted to continue the movement once she got the hang of it. I called her over to the circle.

Sitting in a circle, the kids commented they felt taller. I asked them what changed? They weren’t sure. We laid down in “Pancake Body” to see if we could feel any differences. Most everyone felt “the floor got softer.”

We talked about our process and how our bodies affect our minds. “When we get stuck in a movement, it can be very frustrating,” I mentioned trying not to look at Katie.

I continued, “If we don’t give up, we have more time to play around with what we want to learn.” I wanted Katie to become aware of how often her anger took away her joy.

“Let’s see if we can play with even our homework. Find a new way to play with struggles. See if playing helps us not give up. This movement lesson isn’t just about rolling on the floor. It’s about looking at how we are in home and school, too!”

Katie raised her hand. “But I didn’t know how to do it?”

I asked Chas, “Did you know how to do it when you started?”

He nodded, “No.”

“Pat, did you know how to do the movement when you started?”

Pat nodded, “No.”

“Wendy did you?”

I asked each child in the class.

“Katie, did you know how to do the movement when you started?”

Katie nodded no, but this time she had a smile on her face.

Katie learned awareness about her attitude from the movement in her body. Learning awareness from the movement helped her step back and view herself from a different perceptive.

Moshe Feldenkrais knew how to make movement in our bodies change how we think. To affect the brain, the movement has to change the character of motor patterns. When we feel the concreteness of how we move, we see our experiences wired in motor patterns.

This type of awareness allows for compassionate understanding of how motor patterns get addicted to attitude... and attitude gets addicted to motor patterns. The more addicted we are to who we think we are, the more entrenched the motor pattern. 

Behavior, mentally or emotionally, changes when motor patterns are reeducated. With a trained eye, a teacher analyzing movement can recognize how children think and, thus, need to learn. Moshe Feldenkrais explains, “… it is possible to analyze a personality solely by the study of his muscular behaviour” (Feldenkrais, 1979, p. 35).

Let’s help children begin life with awareness. Sensing our physical movement patterns presents awareness of the grand mirrors of perception, fiercely determined to help us recognize what we did that got in the way of who we truly are... “awareness.” 

Catherine Mitchell is the Director of the Wellness Through Movement® program, dedicated to enriching the well-being of children’s authentic nature in the areas of self-care, performance and potential from the body to the brain. She is also the author of two children’s programs integrating the State and National Department of Education’s physical education benchmarks for elementary school kids with the Feldenkrais Method®.

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Comments (1)
Mathew Heggem
6/9/2016 10:45:15 AM
Very enlightening! Thanks for sharing. Feldenkrais is such an amazing method and I'm proud to have accomplished my Awareness Through Movement certification. I feel like it makes me a better leader and I love the message here on the importance of play and exploration. It reminds me of why I fell in love with the method. Be well!

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