Updated: Jun 7, 2022
“When its center of gravity is maintained at the highest possible position, the human body is fit to move in any direction with practically no expenditure of energy, and even this minimum is drawn from its potential energy.”
— Moshe Feldenkrais
Each of us has a characteristic way of standing, sitting or walking that makes other people recognise us at a glance, sometimes at a considerable distance, just by our particular body attitude. Interestingly enough, all that is involved in maintaining the body erect against the pull of gravity, is organised by an instinctual and older part of our nervous system. This is related to the evolution of humans as a species, and doesn’t need the participation of our conscious mind.
However, compared with other species, human posture is not simple to achieve and requires a long period of apprenticeship. The ability to learn through our individual experiences and personal history results in a great diversity in the way humans use themselves in the field of gravity. We can’t dissociate a person’s posture from the situation, their emotional state and even levels of maturity.
While the roots of the word posture suggest a rather static idea, Feldenkrais considers “posture to be that part of the trajectory of a moving body from which any displacement will, of necessity, start and finish.” Using oneself means displacing oneself, and for that to be possible one needs to change the body configurations in space, and in between those displacements, there’s always moments of relative immobility, which we call posture.
The centre of mass in humans is so high up in the body that our nervous system and our musculoskeletal system evolved together in the gravitational field in a state of dynamic equilibrium. In this way, the brain works constantly not to keep the the equilibrium but to recover it. Thus, it is more difficult to stand still than to move. Feldenkrais argues that a better word to define the dynamic state of unstable balance that the human frame allows would be “acture” - and good “acture” would be the ability to move in any direction with the same ease, without hesitation or preparation and with minimum work, i.e. with maximum efficiency. “The human body normally stores in itself potential energy to start, in the gravitational field, any five of the six cardinal movements in space. To move down, right, left, forward, and backward it needs only to let go, for the energy has been stored by rising and will be transformed into kinetic energy by taking off the brakes, so to speak.”
Such efficient use of energy is only possible when the body’s automatic reactions to gravity governed by the older parts of our nervous system are not conflicted by our voluntary control. We call it voluntary control, but most of the time we are not even aware of all the unnecessary efforts habitually present in almost any action that we perform. Unless we learn to recognise those superfluous efforts, which are so interconnected with our emotional or existential attitudes, we are preventing those older parts of our nervous system to “find for us the best possible position compatible with our individual’s inherited physical structure”.
Our embodied brain is constantly evolving to deal with a constantly changing environment, and this is what makes us so adaptive, because body, brain and environment are inseparable and constantly adjusting and shaping each other. Therefore, there no such a thing as an ideal brain, so there can’t be an ideal or perfect posture either - “Posture can only be improved and not corrected.”
Thank you for your attention. I’m looking forward to seeing you in class.
FELDENKRAIS, Moshe, “Body and Mature Behaviour”, 1949
FELDENKRAIS, Moshe, “Awareness Through Movement”, 1972
FELDENKRAIS, Moshe, “The Elusive Obvious”, 1981