Are Feldenkrais® ATM® Lessons an Effective Body-Mapping Method?
Thursday, April 19, 2018
by: Josef DellaGrotte, Feldenkrais Trainer, and founder of Core Movement Integration

Section: Professional Develpment

Among the most intelligent and life-improving human abilities are mapping, tracking, organizing, communicating and collaborating. If movement is the ‘key to life’ and ongoing improvement, then starting with mapping its biomechanical and energy direction (called vectors in physics) through the body’s transmission of force through the relevant body components can be considered a prerequisite. In the world of movement modalities, or movement activities and disciplines from music to dance, even sports, there is a ‘common core,’ of fundamentals from which to start. Feldenkrais practitioners could benefit from a more clearly defined common core.

If you practice and learn enough ATM® lessons over time, you will recognize such mapping configurations, a kind of functional anatomy, which have been described as ‘patterns of action.’ The question then is how easily and readily can this mapping system composed of many hundreds of ATM lessons be learned not only by the trained Feldenkrais® practitioners but by the students they serve? The lessons are complex, involving several sequential steps, so much so that many Feldenkrais teachers have resorted to reading them out loud in a group setting.
Working with clients and having taught hundreds of classes, workshops, and trainings over a period of forty years, I wondered how many people could reproduce, repeat, or recreate the lessons the following days. When I looked further into how the brain learns, I discovered a great deal of research on neuroplasticity and how learning takes place. There is an emphasis on awareness, repetition, practice, and how to connect only one segment in a mapping or chain sequence at a time. Applying this, I made it a point to give clients take-home lessons (using even my iPhone camera-video) to see how that affected the rate of retention and recreation to no avail. Even among the rare, inspired generation of the ‘AY’ era, which I observed in Tel-Aviv during an extended stay, where students engaged in complex ATM lessons that involved 40-45 steps and lasted up to 1.5 hours, I met no one there, or here, who could reproduce any of the lessons beyond 3-5 steps.
While mapping systems are invaluable, some are difficult to follow because they are not well-described, while others are vague with too many confusing variables. From my personal experience as a lifelong hiker and trekker, I often had no maps to go by but had to rely on some intuitive inner direction information, or, on locals who knew the territory. The problem with this was that the locals who knew the area (like trained Feldenkrais practitioners) could not adequately communicate directions. Their internal memory images and movement direction complexities could not be easily transmitted to those who did not have the same training experience skills.  

This happened again recently while hiking in Italy. The beginning of the trail was marked, but as I followed the path, there were confusing options. It wasn't always clear where to go. Asking a few locals who knew the area did not help. I ended up in another village, miles from where I had left the car! I can also recall traveling to places with large sprawling bazaars, barrios, or suks, where the only way to get around was to hire a guide or have lots of time just to explore. While this can be an interesting experience, it is not functionally useful if we want to interest people in the potential value of Awareness Through Movement® lessons, make it accessible and rewarding while also meeting current lifestyle needs.

We need to provide a much clearer pathway map. Otherwise, as we often see, there will continue to be a big divide between the well-intentioned, hopefully, well-informed Feldenkrais practitioner-guide and the group being guided. We might think of expanding the words of our founder, ‘If you don’t know what you are doing, can you really do what you want?’, and add to it, ‘in which direction are you going?; 'what markers are you observing in your own body,’ to connect the movements into an integrated pattern of action?
Where to go from here:
I have been developing and designing body pathway mapping for several years. In what I now call the Core Movement Integration model, we apply the vector of force math-based descriptions of teacher and CMI trained colleague, professor Paul Davidovits, (physics-chemistry, Academy of Science) using his book, Physics in Biology & Medicine, [4th edition], describing the physics of movement--the only text of its kind translated into some eight languages and used as the text in physics courses worldwide. 
There are of course different mapping designs of almost everything from anatomical maps to navigational, to mechanical and electronic. If I want to get a good map of a trail system or even anatomical maps, I have to look around. Some maps are 'outdated,' have not been revised in years, are too complex to follow, or not even that accurate. 
There is no perfect or correct map. Just as in anatomical maps, there are several designs and variations. The value of the 'scientific' mindset is that we remain open to exploring and testing. Experimentation on different mapping designs is part of the process, and that requires only willingness to "look into the telescope" as the famous Galileo asked of the belief- bound and fixed Roman Catholic cardinals (who then put him under house arrest for near heresy!).
Let us all stay open to examining and applying other mapping systems. Who knows, it may open up into some other territory yet unexplored. In this way, old body-mapping systems can be revised and updated to serve the new emerging neuro-somatic methods of movement education and therapy. 
Ways to create common foundations and to communicate with related health professionals
  • Have every training include basic principles of biomechanics, the physics of levers, and especially how vectors of force move along and through both bone and tissue.
  • Have each training include the foundations of neurogenesis and plasticity.
  • Learn enough anatomy to be able to communicate especially with therapeutic modalities that use and speak that common terminology.

This needed stage of development is becoming more relevant, available, and closer to realization. It is part of the ‘great chain’ of the learning process. Vision, intention, and creativity also lead to a focused common curriculum, resulting in clearer assessments, strategies, and especially collaboration among practitioners.

Since 1977 when he trained with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais in the process of becoming one of the first certified Feldenkrais practitioners, DellaGrotte has been tirelessly studying the body, working with 1000’s of clients, training 100’s of practitioners, and evolving a whole new way to approach overall core structural health.

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