“To every emotional state corresponds a personal conditioned pattern of muscular contraction without which it has no existence.”
— Moshe Feldenkrais
Last month this newsletter ended with the idea that posture can’t be corrected but can only be improved. We usually say in Feldenkrais - “to correct is incorrect” - and you can easily understand why, if you ever tried to correct your own posture. When we try to correct ourselves according to some opinion that we borrowed about what is good posture, it only ends in frustration and negative self-criticism.
We can voluntarily change the appearance of the body but only when enacting a compensatory contraction. Even if I look as if I have changed my posture, I just did it at the expense of tensing other parts of myself, because “each correction triggers a chain of unavoidable reactions in different areas of the body” (Ruthy Alon) In such a way, that the correction feels artificial and is only maintained by constant vigilance, which in turn, compromises both my spontaneity and vitality.
Eventually, “By constant vigilance and self-reminding, one learns to maintain two conflicting contractions. The results are exclusion of movement in the parts under conscious focusing, rigidity and muscular tenseness, halting of breath, and all the rest of it. In the long run the pattern becomes habitual, semi-automatic, and familiar to the point of being considered as one’s own nature, but only at the expense of strain and nervous exhaustion.” (Feldenkrais)
Also, it is very difficult to correct one’s posture without appearing pretentious, because our muscular patterns mirror our emotional states and the body innocently projects what we try to hide. According to Feldenkrais, only the mature person can dissociate emotions from body patterns, thus, he argues that “correct posture is a matter of emotional growth and learning”.
In the same way that “as a child, I learnt to walk, to speak and to use a spoon”… to acquire better posture as an adult, I need to invest time in a similar learning process. A reeducation that is not achieved with will power, through exercising or mechanical repetitions of some desired attitude, but through a process of sensorial explorations of a multitude of possible relations between myself and the environment that I am a part of. Until I can sense a meaningful relationship, that is, until I can recognise configurations that are relevant to me, in the sense that integrate my body/mind/environment in an easy and well-coordinated way.
Part of what we do in Feldenkrais® classes is practise paying attention and recognising certain sensations that can reveal to us when any action, such as “thinking, speaking, eating, breathing, solving problems, drawing, or fighting”, was a well-coordinated and well-learned one. Such recognition is essential to stop creating conflict in ourselves by imposing external views and models on our attitudes and behaviours. Instead, by experiential learning, being able to expand our self-image from within.
“Later the self-image in action already contains all the details of proper attitude and posture as part of an undivided whole” (Feldenkrais) and, therefore, constant vigilance is not required, unless we are experiencing an entirely new situation.
Thank you for your attention. I’m looking forward to seeing you in class.
ALON, Ruth, "Mindful Spontaneity", 1990
FELDENKRAIS, Moshe, “The Potent Self”, 1985