March 17, 2021
by Paul Pui Wo Lee
Every Sunday with the musicians here at The Exhale, I feel the Zoom meeting room glow with an aura of care - an air of artistic and living dignity. This Sunday, after quite an extensive Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement® (ATM®) lesson, here are some of the responses:
I felt the bottom half of my body more lively and engaged… I could feel every bow stroke happening in my feet.
There was more freedom to use my whole body… I didn’t have to “stay on top” of [myself], and so my weight was shifting… I felt the opposition balancing each other out… Walking was pleasurable, which it normally isn’t so, and there was a nice level of coordination… In my playing, there was synergy…
My feet felt like an integral part of bowing… I feel sinuous and dreamy. There’s a feeling of joy in walking, feeling one’s body. I could feel how my pelvis spoke to my upper ribs.
The interest in “grounding” that had been expressed by the group last Sunday remained with me after last week’s lesson. We had done a lesson called “Inverted Hands in Clapping” that focused on the availability of the upper ribs and neck to afford more freedom to the movement of the shoulders and arms. It might be entirely logical to think about grounding as something that happens bottom-up, but since we are one connected system, it’s just as relevant to approach grounding from the top down, which is why I decided to go back to basics by revisiting something I had taught earlier last year: “Sliding hands and knees in sidelying”.
It’s one of those classic lessons that proves the practical value of “laziness” and “using less effort”, so as to create a quieter overall experience where one can be in better tune with the quiet and present symphony of details that reveal more efficient and pleasurable movement pathways. Just by going slower and using minimal effort, one realises that to just slide one’s hand forwards and backwards can be done:
a) from just the sliding of the shoulder blade over the still ribs of the chest,
b) by rolling the chest and head together with the hand,
c) by closing and opening the shoulder joint on which one is lying,
d) by keeping the head more stationery, which invites another movement of the chin relative to the neck,
e) from allowing a region of your spine to twist,
f) from not twisting, which means that the hips joints, pelvis, and legs become involved,
And that was just 1/10 of the lesson!
Even if the conscious you doesn’t catch all these fine details, the amazing thing is that all these movement explorations trickle into the subconscious you - another part of your nervous system - so something is acquired and, in a sense, understood afterwards.
As the musicians stood up again, I could see how they were more stable. Balance became less of a worry, and ease was restored. There was a peacefulness when they walked about through space, and their relationship to their instruments changed when they eventually picked them up again.
I had started the class with the musicians playing, in fact, and offered three spontaneous propositions to see how different intentions would affect the quality of their playing and sound. I suggested they pay attention to the pleasure of their movements, tune into the different levers/yinyang/opposition in their bodies as they moved, and then, finally, meditate on whatever “intimacy” meant to them while they played. The last proposal seemed to resonate the strongest with everyone. One of the hidden aims of today’s ATM® lesson was to become a better hugger. From my dancer’s eye, I could just feel how the action and know-how of embracing was going to be helpful for musicians.
The violinist shared a reflection before we began about how one can have a complicated and punishing relationship with their instrument. Especially when one has studied an instrument for many years, a complex physical relationship can develop. In this talk of struggle and dealing though, I hear the presence of love.
The closing remark from one of the musicians was simply, “It was beautiful.” And why wouldn’t it be? Fostering a better relationship usually begins with working on ourselves. It is beautiful to take the time to become more intimate and appreciative of one’s body of possibilities to develop a better partnership with one’s instrument and art. Especially for musicians, each move - every ounce of pleasure - gets translated into sounds that could potentially carry people into those realms of awe that words alone fail to reach. Now I’m just going to drift into my personal fantasy about how movement leads to - as one musician suggested - “heartfelt” tones rippling through as loving inspiration to people, communities, societies… the world...
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