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Feldenkrais and Practice

Emma Alter, tutor for our regular (now Zoom based) Feldenkrais classes, discusses, “How do we as musicians incorporate or involve Feldenkrais in our instrumental (or singing) practice?” and how we can practice embodiment in our everyday movement too.

Photo ofEmma Alter
By Emma Alter Published: 29 May 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:30 PM

Please note: This blog was originally published on The Moving Brain. We’re republishing it here with the kind permission of the author, Emma Alter.

How we involve thinking about movement in our every day life too?

I took part in a plenary session today of Specialist Music and Feldenkrais teachers today, after our successful week’s event- Daily Feldenkrais for Musicians.

One of the questions that came up was an interesting one. How do we as musicians incorporate or involve Feldenkrais in our instrumental (or singing) practice? Even if you’re not a musician, read on, as I think the answer isn’t only about how we incorporate embodiment thinking in our musical practise, but how we involve thinking about movement in our every day life too, a question I’m often asked in classes or workshops.

Start small. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of your practise checking in with and exploring one idea, one small thing. Perhaps your “base of support”: let’s take that as an example. (You don’t need to be playing something to do this – you can do it whilst washing the dishes, cooking, or sat working on your computer.)

What do I mean by “base of support”? If you’re standing: that’s your feet, and if sitting: both buttocks and feet. The part of yourself that supports you on the floor. Shift your weight around them. And what would I call exploring? Something like this: Try it out, and then feel free to improvise around it: (N.B. if you do try this out you need to take responsibility for your safety and comfort – only move within your comfortable range, and in a way that is effort-free)

Feel from the inside when you have both sides of your buttocks, or both feet spreading your weight, and play with where your feet are at a distance where you feel stable. If not, move to what feels evenly spread between the two sides.

Measure yourself from your midline

How do you know you’re in the middle of yourself, with both feet/buttocks evenly taking the weight? One way is measure yourself from your midline: Where’s your midline between the two? Shift your weight slowly, so you can sense yourself, to the right, and back, a few times, sensing which parts of yourself stay near the centre line, and which move further away. Then move to the left. Do you move in exactly the same way to the left? Or do you collect different parts of yourself at slightly different times. (Hint: the slower you move, the more you’ll notice). In structural terms, you can think about your midline as the line of your spine at the back, and extend it downwards, and sense the midline at the front from between the eyebrows, down your nose, over the face (use a finger to outline it) through the middle of your neck, down the sternum, through the belly button, down to the pubic bone. (If you’re in public you might want to imagine that last bit!) Then alternate slowly shifting your weight right and left, looking for when you find the middle.

To know the middle well is to enable you have more sense of how (and when) you’re moving in space, or taking a part of yourself away from the mid-line. You need to counter-balance in some way in order to remain in balance. Where do you do this?

How does the movement support your instrument

As you pick up your instrument or sing, begin to play with this idea again. Shift your weight to one foot then the other, how does the movement support your instrument? What do you gain from standing on two feet, and when you very slowly, smoothly, transfer your weight to one foot, how well does the opposite side of yourself feel supported? What’s the difference in the flavour when you move to the opposite side, supporting your instrument. What could changing your base of support add to your sound or your co-ordination?

Continue to play with this as you warm up, play scales, and then work. You could even take it a step further, pushing more into the floor with one side then the other as you make a sound, and noticing the effect.

Come back to this idea whilst you’re playing, when it occurs, or whenever you take a pause from what you’re doing (many of my colleagues work for 20 minutes and then take a break). If you stop to make tea, take your midline with you, and notice what movements in that action move away from the centre, or go towards it.

One way of being curious about yourself

When I started this post I thought I would outline a range of ideas of thinking about how we can bring Feldenkrais, or mindful movement into our practice, which has morphed into this mini-lesson. But in essence it’s one way of how we can turn a germ of an idea into an exploration, whatever you’re doing: using the medium of movement to enhance your self-awareness, and putting you back in touch with your physical self for a few minutes at time. Its one way of being curious about yourself, how you move and learn, and then by extension, how can you be curious about the way being aware of your movement changes it? Spending a few minutes through the day can begin to shift your focus, in this way designed to provoke novelty within yourself.

Then when you add your instrument to the mix, how can you play with staying aware of yourself in order to use the floor to your best purpose in the moment? What might it be useful for? When do you let this division of attention slide? Is that in itself pointing something out? For me, it can be a technically challenging moment that I need to revisit, but maybe its something else for you. I can make a bigger rounder sound when I connect to the floor, and feel more grounded, more able to be myself, and bring more of myself to the music. But play with it for yourself, and see what it brings you.

So, if you’d like to give me some feedback on what you found interesting or would be useful to you in further blog posts, please write in the comments below, or make contact in another way!

Interested in learning more about Feldenkrais? Browse our current events for MU members and enroll in one of our free, online Feldenkrais workshops.

Photo ofEmma Alter
Thanks to

Emma Alter

Emma Alter is both professional classical musician and Feldenkrais teacher. She brings a wealth of experience with her, understanding the pressures of standing in front of an audience and performing at the highest level, whatever the situation, complexities of playing an instrument, and how the body can get in the way of performing to our optimum. She has helped musicians with postural issues, restricted movement, chronic tension (including back pain and RSI ), or simply to find more efficient ways to play more easily.

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