As part of my globetrotting, I found myself in Leeds where I attended an intensive one-day awareness through movement course, which I won through IdeasTap (great website, check it!).
The workshop was described as offering ‘an introduction to the practise of paying attention to being present. What does it mean to be present, to be aware of ourselves, and how we move? How do we know presence when we see, feel, hear, or sense it?’ This struck a chord with me, as my recent trainings in various somatic studies have helped my awareness to the ‘present’ not only with my movement practise, but in everyday life. I was and am always keen to explore new methodologies regarding ways in which I can be fully present in my physical performances and practises, with the ultimate goal of finding my own approach, enabling me to be a better performance artist.
Teresa Brayshaw is a certified Feldenkrais practisioner, performance artist, director, university lecturer – the list goes on. The focus of this course was on the Feldenkrais Method, of which Teresa is one of the UK’s certified practitioners. I have been interested in Feldenkrais for over a year now, and dabbled in bits and bobs here and there. This unique approach combines ‘movement, breathing and body alignment in a context of mindfulness’. Right up my street!
In a Feldenkrais-based ‘ Awareness Through Movement’ session, participants typically go through a sequence of movements so as to raise their awareness of the body parts involved, this releasing tension and creating new movement possibilities. We started by doing some small, seemingly easy things, which offered us an illustration of movement patterns we have created, which can be unlearned and relearned. For example, we mostly fold our arms with a ‘dominant’ arm in front / on top of the other. So we then tried folding our arms the opposite way to which we usually do. Interestingly, most of us found this quite difficult, because we need to break down the movement sequence we have subconsciously created.
We spent the day working on a few different exercises in ’presence’. My favourite were the more active, drama-type exercises which I shall describe –
Many-layered name-and-concentration game throwing us right into the present moment – This game had three parts which were finally all combined together. Part one involved someone saying someone else’s name, this person saying someone else’s and so on, until we reached person one again. Then we kept this pattern and repeated it over and over.
Part two involved walking to someone and taking their place. Before we arrived in this person’s spot, they had to already be on their way to the next person in the sequence (which is a completely different sequence to that in part 1). We repeated this over and over until we could do it with ease at which point we then incorporated part 1.
Part three involved tennis balls. A tennis ball was thrown around the circle sticking to a specific pattern (again, completely different to before). Eye-contact is super important here, and once there was a ’flow’, another ball (or even 2 more) we introduced. Finally, we combined this with both parts 1 and 2. The immense concentration and focus required means that you cannot be anywhere else except the present moment, with awareness of all the people around you whom you are sharing a space with.
The magical-stick-exercise – This was high up in the wow-factor of amazing drama-based exercises. In pairs we held a bamboo stick (about one foot long) between the tips of the right finger’s of our right hands. We took it in turns leading, being lead, or we shared the leading/ being lead. Moving around the space and relaxing into the task, we then played with eye contact. We moved our eyeline to the point where our finger met the stick, to the eyes of our partner, away from our activity, and finally, we explored both leading and being lead with our eyes closed. We did this exercise for a while, really feeling it, being in the present (if you lose concentration you will drop the stick). Then we progressed to the part of the exercise where you remove the stick but act as though it is still there.
The stick activity lead to some interesting observations. I realised that we can take whatever we want from an exercise. If, using Teresa’s expression, we have our ’director’s heads on’ then we will be looking for meaning created through the movements, facial expressions, use of space and so on. Or, we could use this exercise as a bonding exercise – it will feel entirely different doing the same exercise with a different person- to strengthen the ties between two co-performers. Teresa mentioned that this activity is sometimes done by actors who are rehearsing a script together, so they are taking the focus away from the words and multi-tasking. Eventually the way they move with the stick will complement the words and subconsciously a movement-piece will have been created.
I became much more aware of my body and felt a very ’awake’ internal energy. In fact, a 15 minute ATM exercise made me feel similar to a one hour yoga session, yet with ATM we do no physical exercise. After one exercise involving focusing on our right foot, I walked around the room as though my foot belonged to someone else. It felt so foreign to me, because I was AWARE of it – aware of every single bit of tough skin, of the sensation of every part of my foot as it made contact with the groung. I am keen to attend more Feldenkrais workshops – aparently the German football team were trained in Feldenkrais (and yes, they ended up winning the World Cup!) – for increased body awareness and for the freedom of movement it opened for me.
A very interesting day and nice to spend a bit of time in Leeds!