In 2004 a group formed in Berkeley, California to begin studying the 550 published Awareness Through Movement® lessons of Moshe Feldenkrais's Alexander Yanai series. On October 19, 2015 we reached the last: #550 “No Name.” It’s been an incredible journey and we believe unique as a study group endeavor.
This article will share what happened — how we got started, why different folks participated, how the experience changed over time, and how it changed us. As a participant in the group and writer of this article, it is my hope that our story will encourage others to study the lessons of Moshe Feldenkrais and to dig deep.
The idea began with two friends who met to explore an AY lesson. Judith Dambowic recalls that “many years beyond graduation, I came back to knowing that [studying AY] would be a great opportunity and approached Jennifer.” As Jennifer Lee recalls, “We were confused about the movement instructions. We thought it would be a great idea to create a group of interested people to work on the lessons together.” Although there wasn’t the momentum for just the two of them, the idea took hold later.
During a public Feldenkrais birthday teach-in held in 2003, Jennifer discovered that several classmates who graduated from her training in 1997 did not seem to understand classic ATM® lessons.
By then Jennifer had graduated from a 2nd Feldenkrais® training program with Mia Segal. “Because of the way Mia taught and having one Feldenkrais training under my belt as well as practicing and teaching for three years, I could understand the lesson conceptually.” The group process she experienced (taking turns teaching and learning to support each other) reinforced the insight that practitioners could help each other grow.
She also knew Moshe could help. “I had the idea that everyone could benefit from simply reading through the AY transcripts as they are written in order to learn what a lesson is, and explore why a lesson is a lesson.” Proceeding in order would allow following the development in his thinking over a long period of time. She started to recruit participants.
Most participants in the initial core group had graduated from one of the early Berkeley trainings with David Zemach-Bersin and Elizabeth Beringer, so they knew each other. Weekly Monday night sessions were held in the Feldenkrais training building. A little later, others from different trainings joined. Members flitted in and out over the years. Many were new graduates. Others were experienced practitioners. Of the original group from Year One, six participated through all eleven years.
Teaching duties rotated. Discussions followed the lesson. They were largely unstructured and varied greatly depending on who was teaching and who was attending.
For Elaine Yoder, “our conversations after class have been a completely unpredictable aspect of this endeavor. I found this lack of agenda to be an interesting, open-ended and thought-provoking time.”
For others, such as Michelle Drerup, “I had expected/ hoped for more discussion, analysis, and experimentation with the lessons; but I think the late hour at which we finished made that difficult. In fact, I found that I definitely did not have energy left for much discussion after 8 pm. So I started to just appreciate the chance to get to do these lessons.”
What we all shared in common was a respect and love for the Feldenkrais Method®. The effects of the ATM lessons were always significant and personal.
The most important shift was deciding to read Moshe’s words verbatim.
In the beginning each of us took turns teaching in our own styles. Soon, we decided that in addition to learning the lesson, we should teach it word for word as Moshe taught it.
“This shift was very important for me,” notes Sonja Sutherland. “I wanted to hear how Moshe historically taught each AY lesson. The words he chose, his comments, his demeanor, his pacing.” (At the top of each lesson was the duration) Afterwards, the person who taught could share their interpretation. Everyone could chime in having just experienced it as Moshe taught it.
This protocol offered a consistency to the class and it allowed for deep discoveries.
Teaching Skills Improved
Relying more directly on the text improved teaching skills.
It proved a perfect forum for practice teaching ATM lessons. Those with questions were encouraged to consult with others prior to teaching, but beginners did not have to understand the lesson in order to teach from the transcripts. The learning and understanding blossomed through the process of teaching, observing and discussing itself.
"In our lack of understanding his instructions," Jennifer believed, "Moshe would be our guide." We could combine our insights and help each other interpret and understand the instructions and the bigger picture of the lesson.”
The process worked, Michelle Drerup verifies. “Of course, one of the challenges we faced with these lessons was determining what Feldenkrais actually meant by his words or the interpreted version of those words, let alone the challenge of interpreting the meaning into action. Over time, I got much better at understanding Feldenkrais’s way of speaking and much better at waiting for the later clues that would clarify his meaning.”
The source material allowed Kay Ellyard to see the engineer’s mind in Moshe’s work. “He found a way to teach the physics of movement, breaking it down – deconstructing it – until it all came together in an elegant, efficient, pleasurable way. I really appreciate that engineer’s aspect of his thinking/teaching.”
Despite how diverse the lessons were, how Moshe constructed and taught all 550 AY lessons was brilliant, thorough and consistent. Moshe maintained a multidimensional underlying structure that was universal to all human functioning. Yet his approach encouraged and supported individual inquiry and learning.
“To experience this with other Feldenkrais practitioners and recognize the diversity amongst us practitioners as well as what connects us, is inspiring,” Sonja Sutherland remarked.
Movement is Life
Whatever our place along the continuum of learning, the focused study of the AY series energized and changed us.
Kim Wakabayashi gained a break-through: “The last year of doing ATMs has changed for me. I feel I am learning more or it feels like something popped and these lessons are different.”
The AY series became a vital learning tool for Gregg Nakanishi. A participant from day one, Gregg, who helped us record our lessons, said "I continue to use our recordings to redo lessons, randomly flipping through my notes and choosing one. It was really something to show up once a week and do the next lesson - whatever it was - month after month, year after year. I think the AY series is an unbelievable resource and marvel that the translators were able to complete work on it."
For university professor Marianne Constable, whose main occupation is not as a practitioner, “the continuity and regularity of the group was grounding.”
Michelle Drerup says, “I’m a much more aware and well-coordinated person for having done these AY lessons over the years, which helps me enjoy every aspect of my life more.”
The weekly classes provided physical therapist Jane Graly with time and space for personal exploration. In addition to making improvements in her physical organization she also distilled guiding principles for her professional practice. “The multiple talents of the group of practitioners added insight and perspective I could not have found alone.”
Sonja Sutherland was nourished. "I am in the trenches with clients and students all the time. But to take this class weekly and experience this systematically with other Feldenkrais practitioners rocks me personally and professionally. Our group members went through different life-changing experiences over the years. We began supporting each other through difficult and good times in different ways. It is special to support and be supported amongst people who share this work."
Kay Ellyard concurs. "All this exploration and learning is done with a relaxed, interested bunch of practitioners who made a community while learning together. This community supported me when I went through breast cancer treatment a few years ago. They all gave me FI®s, organized by a member of the AY group. Some drove me (through rush-hour traffic) to San Francisco for my chemotherapy."
For Jennifer Lee, “What lives in me from this process is that we all have something to learn from each other and to teach each other, that knowledge is a collaborative process, and learning is an independent self-reliant action.”
For Judith Dambowic, “it meant a lot to be part of this core group for such an extended time, to have ongoing discourse and chances to ask questions to others that I trusted so much. We were like a family on Monday nights with lots of care and concern for group members that we did not see in our lives the rest of the week. I am very proud of this as a personal and group accomplishment.”
The AY experience has created a momentum. Our group is eager to restart the whole process, revisiting some of the early AY lessons and moving on to a whole new series.
Jane Neilson has been teaching ATM lessons twice weekly for the past eleven years at the Open House Senior Center in El Cerrito, California. Participation in the AY study group has kept her learning, growing and excited about teaching.
2/26/2018 4:29:42 PM
Thank you for this article! I am a recently joined attendee of the AY a Day group on Facebook and am totally enjoying the immersion it allows and the discussions are a rich benefit!
6/24/2017 7:36:09 AM
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story of how community of spirit and sharing allowed for so much learning. March Dolphin & Leslie Wilder have been providing a wonderful study group in Brooklyn for many years where we have a theme for the year, do ATMs in that theme, i.e. standing, feet, eyes etc. and then convert the lesson to an FI-It is always enriching to share the lessons & insights with fellow practitioners. Thanks for sharing your impressive group & experiences!
1/9/2016 5:28:22 PM
As a member of a study group in Sonoma County, I am inspired by the commitment of your group and and depth of understanding that you describe from undergoing this extensive process.
Thanks so much for sharing this with the rest of our community!
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