The last few months I've had the opportunity to practice my teaching of these lessons with some pretty awesome people, two of whom have generously allowed me to write about and share the details of their experiences.
Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lessons are verbally guided lessons where the practitioner talks students through intricately crafted movement sequences. The goal is to develop more awareness of one's own use of their body in movement and to be able to explore and discover new possibilities, more depth, and greater ease and potential within their own experience and abilities.
Lessons often lead toward an awareness of habitual but limiting movement patterns and then explore new ways of doing the same movement, creating new options, creating new neural pathways.
The focus is not just about the experience during the lesson, but also what these new discoveries offer as the student continues on throughout the activities and actions of their lives.
Today's story is about my work with Jane Jackson of Bookends Farm.
When I started working with Jane in December 2015, she said she felt uneven between her two sides, she wanted to strengthen her core, and she wanted to have more control of the pace and timing of her walk. Jane described her goals, not just as they related to her but also to the ground work that she does with her horse, Percy.
Ground work (sometimes referred to as “in-hand” work). as Jane explained it, is the process of training exercises with the horse while the person is on the ground, either still or walking. This allows the horse to learn about his own body and how to coordinate, balance and move, before we add the stress of a human’s movements and balance on top of him.
With the positive reinforcement training model that Jane uses, Percy has become extremely attuned to physical cues and all of her movements. Jane wanted to be able to have not just a greater awareness of her movements, but to have the ability to adapt them when needed, specifically the pace and timing of her walk in relationship to Percy's.
Though Awareness Through Movement lessons don't focus on core strengthening in the way that it is often thought about, there is a strong emphasis on how one organizes themselves, including the use of core muscles in relation to the motion of one leg moving in front of the other and all of the other movements that take place to complete a fully integrated and functional action like walking.
Since December, we've been able to coordinate a fairly regular once a week virtual session that ranges from 30-45 minutes, depending on the lesson.
We've done dozens of lessons at this point, starting with a series around balance and walking and then moving into some specific lessons around hip and shoulder mobility, lengthening the hamstrings, accessing the deeper muscles of the pelvis, explorations of the specific movements that initiate and stop a step, and how to organize and propel movement forward.
After the lessons, we'll often talk about how specific elements or movements from the lesson can also be practiced when Jane is outside, working in the barn, and preparing to work with Percy.
Over the course of our work together, Jane has commented that she notices a clear difference in Percy's responses to her when she takes the time to connect into her own movements before and during the time that she works with him.
Just a couple weeks ago, we revisited movements from one of the initial lessons we had done related to balance. Jane's comfort, ease, and range as she performed the movements on both sides were visibly different. And though she said her two sides were still not "the same", that they were getting closer.
And after our most recent lesson, when Jane stood up and began to walk around to feel into any differences in her body following the lesson, she described it as being similar to "when you stand in a doorway and press your arms against the sides and then walk away and your arms start to lift away from your body". Except the feeling wasn't just her arms. It was the feeling her whole body had. A sense of lightness and lifting away from the floor as she walked.
Here's how Jane has described her experience with the lessons:
Understanding and correctly utilizing one’s own balance is integral to helping a horse find and use hers or his.
I love the way Mary focuses on helping me be aware of different ways of moving, as opposed to trying to correct or change something. We are all built differently and I feel simply being aware allows us to explore what works best for our own individuality. As a Positive Reinforcement teacher and trainer, I greatly value her non-judgmental approach of helping me notice, rather than criticize, my decades’ old habits.
It always helps to have a new window with which to observe. Changing from a muscular to a skeletal view has been enlightening!
Learn more about Jane and her expertise on positive reinforcement training with animals (and their humans) at Bookends Farm in Vermont.
If there is a specific movement related goal you are working with, injury you are recovering from, or just want to find a more comfortable way of being in your body, the Feldeknrais Method and Awareness Through Movement lessons offer a beautiful opportunity to engage with your body, find new ways of moving, and get closer to those goals.
I'll be working with a couple more practice clients July through September. Lessons can be done in person at one of my offices or virtually via video chat. If you are interested in whether this might be a good fit for you, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My projected certification for teaching Awareness Through Movement is September 2016.
If you are interested in learning more about The Feldenkrais Method and finding a Guild Certified Practitioner in your area, you can learn lots more at www.feldenkrais.com.
Did you miss the first post in this series? Check it out at Teaching Practice #1: Running in Bangkok.