The Ground Within
Article from the November 2021 edition of the Australian Feldenkrais Journal. Made available courtesy of the Australian Feldenkrais Guild.
Soft Ground, Soft Feet
Accompanying lesson from the above article. This video is taken from the Australian Feldenkrais Guild Online Summit 2021.
Introducing the feldenkrais method
Article written for The Otway Light, Issue 11, 2022. Introducing myself and the ‘Method’ to my local community. And discussing the pitfalls of thinking getting older means deterioration with age.
demystifying the method
Why the Feldenkrais Method is so hard to describe…
Demystifying the ‘Method’
What is the Feldenkrais Method?
A body therapy?
An emotional development tool?
A psychological process?
A relaxation method?
A learning exploration?
In various ways it is all of the above…and depending on the practitioner it can hone in on particular focus areas.
For this reason The Feldenkrais Method is notoriously hard to describe… in a simple way. For to hone in on one area does an injustice to the rich gestalt of the method.
The FM sees life as a complex of FEELING, THINKING, SENSING & MOVING. So the practice of method touches all of them. And yet the practice of the method, both in FI with a practitioner and in ATM where the process is largely a self exploration, uses MOVEMENT as the chief operable element. In this way the method is in the SOMATIC domain of learning. It is in essence a way of learning through the body’s experience of moving.
And here’s the thing: MOVING requires THINKING, FEELING and SENSING. Movement simply can’t occur without the other 3. Through the process of entering into a somatic experience, thinking, feeling and sensing are both being acted upon and enacted. And this creates the opportunity to learn. With the super bonus prize: not only to learn, but to learn how to learn. It becomes a meta experience. And one that not only remains with a person for life, continues to contribute to ones evolution through life.
The chief architect in the process of learning how to learn is AWARENESS. With awareness we are afforded the choice to act. Awareness is the base from which adjustment can be made and habits can be identified, modified, broken and reformed (consciously to ones betterment).
To this end (what is awareness?) FM brings to bear key principals like reducing effort, spreading attention, softening focus, encouraging exploration, making mistakes, noticing discomfort and creating the circumstances and learning to arrive at a state of comfort and ease.
And coming full circle, whilst the chief vehicle is the body, the driver is movement: the journey toward comfort and ease here, traverses the terrain of thinking, feeling and sensing which leads to comfort and ease there.
Therein lies the gestalt of the Feldenkrais Method, it is an inclusive learning process, it respects the human experience as a whole experience; and has at it’s philosophical heart an interest in setting up the understanding that can bring one to a satisfying sense of wholeness for and in themselves.
The benefits of mindful movement
Interview from Mindful Puzzles Magazine
The benefits of mindful movement
Interview with Simon Slieker from Mindful Puzzles Magazine
9th June 2022
In the face of life’s relentless busyness, it pays to take a step back and reconnect with the ground beneath our feet. DJ and Feldenkrais Method practitioner Simon Slieker’s upcoming Eco-Somatica movement workshop at the Sydney Opera House’s Centre for Creativity promises to help us do just that. He tells us more…
Eco-Somatica is a process which incorporates sound, rhythm, and movement to raise awareness of the self as part of an ecological ‘whole’. The difference between a somatic exploration of movement and something like a more performative, dance-orientated movement is that rather than copying someone else or moving for the purpose of experiencing how it is to be seen, you move with the intent of feeling how it is to move: it is about your own internal experience. I use sound and audio together and apart in different ways to explore movement and assist people to feel what’s going on in themselves, to explore, and to connect. Eco-Somatica assists people in dealing with the complex feelings that come up in response to the times that we’re living in, specifically climate change and all the layers connected to it.
It sometimes feels as if the stress of everyday life causes us to live in our heads so much that we lost sight of our bodies – we move so relentlessly, always on, shoulders up, heads dropped, but almost without real purpose or awareness. Why?
There are many things that contribute to that, and it’s true that you see people hunching their shoulders and dropping their heads and kind of caving in through the middle and walking in quick, small steps… Picture someone walking through the inner city with their headphones on, shutting out the world to listen to this other world, which is also separating them… There are multiple layers of separation going on.
Here’s the thing, though: the world we live in is actually our physical body – this is the world that we’re going to inhabit for our entire lives. But the apprenticeship that we serve to learn how to use ourselves well, our ‘self-use’, is microscopic. Yes, there’s learning to move while we’re babies, and that apprenticeship essentially finishes by the time we can walk and have learned the main things. From then on maybe we do some physical education, but that’s generally just how to do certain sports. People such as athletes and artisans will spend time honing their craft and their self-use, and they get really good at particular things, but generally speaking that’s still a particular strand of movement. There’s this vast absence of attention to detail when it comes to how we are in ourselves and how we move. That continues through our whole lives, and when we get to the point where things go wrong, we don’t know what to do about it, and we just suffer it. We get injured, we go and seek expert assistance, and our bodies are treated like machines: it’s all very mechanical and that’s the end of it. But there’s another possibility out there and that is that if we attend to our self-use with more awareness, we’re able to feel what we’re doing with greater sensitivity, and we’re able to move through life with enhanced efficiency and grace.
What can participants expect of a typical movement workshop?
We set people up to succeed. The starting position is more often than not lying on the floor and lying on your back. You’re lying in a position where the habituated muscular responses to being upright in the gravitational field are removed. Then I’ll give verbal instructions to do particular things, such as ‘bring your knees up and your feet to standing’, perhaps asking you to repeat it, and guide you to just notice exactly how you did that movement. It becomes a process of slowing a thing, a moment, a movement down and simply feeling it in yourself, instead of immediately responding to an instruction without even thinking about what it is you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Are you straining your lower back? Where is the movement coming from? Therein lies the lesson. Because each movement is reduced into such small steps, it gives people a really great chance to succeed in perceiving themselves in these small moments. Parts of the workshop includes sound immersion where people can do their own exploration, and parts include verbal prompts and spoken word, where the process is more creatively poetic in the way I combine sound immersion with spoken word.
You emphasise the importance of finding ground, or reconnecting with the ground beneath our feet – can you explain why?
There are parts of the process that are about the sound immersion, the sound bath, and there are parts that are specifically about okay: let’s get grounded, find the ground. It really is about exploring the idea of making contact with the ground, which I think is such a beautifully fascinating idea… How do we contact the ground? And then, if you flip it, if the ground were conscious, how would it be experiencing us? Are we prodding it, are we being reactive, pulling away from it, or are we fully allowing ourselves to just surrender to the ground? There’s a whole lot that can be entered into through that as a physical process but also as a philosophical process, which I love.
At the end of the day Eco-Somatica is really about a person learning to experience themselves with more sensitivity. If I distilled it all down then what I want to encourage is this: people who are more able to be more sensitive more of the time, and I’m talking physically, emotionally, mentally, and psychologically. That’s kind of the ultimate distillation of my work as a whole in response to climate grief and concern: that people will have a greater sense of what it is to be able to trust themselves, and with that sense of being able to trust oneself and one’s responsiveness to the environment that they feel that some of the congestion of feeling and emotion is eased.
How do the Eco-Somatica workshops benefit participants in everyday life?
It is something that you’re able to draw upon all the time, and once you’ve done it, you’ve opened a door of consciousness, and even if it’s closed again, you have the possibility of opening it again. So, for instance, being able to choose to come into more focused attention about what you’re doing in a moment is a really useful thing to do, but that doesn’t mean that you’re aware of yourself in every moment of every day, because that would actually be disruptive: you can’t function if everything is being kind of meta-analysed like that! I’ll give you an example. A pivotal moment during my Feldenkrais training came when I was driving somewhere and running late. I was sitting at traffic lights when everything coalesced, and I just brought myself into a state of awareness of what I was doing: I was GRIPPING the steering wheel like I was about to rip it off the stem and my body was just in this state of utter contortion. The next step was being aware of what I was thinking in the moment: that the car in front of me is too SLOW and in my WAY! It wasn’t just the physicality of what I was doing, but also the state of mental tension and agitation that was making me an awful person on the road, looking at other people as if they were the problem. Once I became aware of this, it also restored my choice in the situation: the choice to soften my grip on the steering wheel, and letting that simple act cascade through my body to soften my shoulders, soften everything… And once this physicality was transformed, so was my thinking. That’s an example of how learning to attend to yourself restores choice, and options: you’re not just locked into a thing because you’re unaware.
It’s very practically applicable!
That’s the thing: people often misunderstand the Feldenkrais Method as something esoteric, but it’s the furthest thing from it, it is absolutely super practical. Founder Moshé Feldenkrais was a physicist, a biomechanist, and a martial artist, so he was absolutely grounded in the physical and the practical, and so was his work. But it ripples out: it begins with the physical and movement, and the effects ripple out into the emotional and psychological.
Kind of like an adapted Maslow hierarchy of needs: if you’re in touch with your body, inhabit it, have intention around it, the rest of the pyramid falls up on top of it.
Hence why I think it’s important we enhance our sensitivities and our capacity to feel, so we have access to that. Because, you know, the more sensitive people are in themselves, surely the more sensitive they can be with one another.
The ‘Soundbath and Movement for Climate Anxiety’ workshop aims to help you discover how our senses, emotions, and bodies can positively connect with our deeply held anxieties around climate change, through a creative exploration of movement, sound, and music. Saturday, 18 June at the Centre for Creativity: www.sydneyoperahouse.com/learn/adults.html
Discover more of Simon’s work: simonslieker.com
Atmos Magazine Interview for feature:
How Sound Can Soothe Eco-Anxiety
How did you get interested in sound, rhythm and movement work?
In the early 90’s I stumbled into the electronic music world known then as the ‘Rave scene’. This was a vibrant and socially progressive movement of people that incorporated themes of inclusion, modern tribalism, societal critique and (in better moments) subversion of consumer capitalist culture. It was about getting in touch with the ground (the earth), our bodies (as Individuals), our community via dance and movement. It was a potent moment of aspiration and reclamation of the abandoned warehouses of the industrial landscape and re-imagination of a new village mentality. That said this was my own take of this culture and it is a rose coloured glasses view. Nevertheless I was compelled by a vision that seemed very positive and affirming at the time.
In 1994 I wrote: Western society is conditioned into a certain way of being. We’re constantly being removed from our sense of connection: to ourselves, to each other, to the planet. There is a great danger in this, that through our disconnection we’ve circumvented the conscience that would have prevented much unnescessary and indiscriminate carnage.
Our planet is starting to buck up under the strain we’ve placed upon it. And the revolution that needs to happen has to begin with each individual; it’s a personal revolution. That’ll only happen when people start to feel connected.
It’s my belief that in the raw form of dance exists the primal thread of connection. I’m one of many who, together make up a movement given to drawing that thread through the eye of the needle. It’s up to us all to drive that needle home, deep into the fabric of our future. That’s what it’s about for me; that’s where I’m at.
What are the healing qualities of sound and rhythm—and how do they work?
Sound and rhythm ripple through everything. By their very nature they exist as waves and vibration. And we are set up with apparatus for receiving the waves and feeling the vibration. We are sound and rhythm receiving machines. In short music moves us and we do well to be moved. Moving in accordance with our felt response to sound, takes us to places beyond the perfunctory of every day movement, movement for utility, the linear of getting up, sitting down, reaching forward etc… Moving in response to sound and rhythm can take us into different trajectories and unseen paths. We begin to explore the range of human movement possibility and in doing so awaken to a more mysterious thread. And who knows what healing such mysteries can awaken?
The last few years have seen a rise in the popularity of sound baths and music therapy in part due to their restorative effects. From your experience, why have people increasingly turned to sound as a form of therapy?
I’d like to draw a distinction between the concept of the ’sound bath’ and the idea of the healing or energising effect of sound for movement. The difference as I’ve seen it is that the ’sound bath’ is a passive experience, and the name conveys this somewhat, as having a bath is not an active exercise, and in it we soak up the restorative qualities on offer. Likewise the sound bath. For me, coming from a dance background I see sound and movement as being quite linked. Most of the ‘journeys’ I create have an intentional, volitional component. I entreat the participant to enter into the audio and engage in the experience. Even in lying, in receiving, there is still the idea that the participant is bringing themselves to the experience, they are moved. I find this a powerful exchange, where the very presence of each person adds weight to the effect.
It is clear as I mentioned earlier that waves and vibration can have a direct effect on the human body. But it is also the feeling response to rhythm and musical motif. And then there is moving with intention and in relationship to the sound. So there are multiple layers all occurring at once. Each layer has an effect. The sound bath idea really rests in the first layers of being acted on by waves and vibration. Our very cells become excited and can become entrained.
“Brainwave entrainment, also referred to as brainwave synchronization or neural entrainment, refers to the observation that brainwaves will naturally synchronize to the rhythm of periodic external stimuli, such as flickering lights, speech, music, or tactile stimuli. As different conscious states can be associated with different dominant brainwave frequencies, it is hypothesized that brainwave entrainment might induce a desired state.” Wikipedia
I wonder a little whether part of the appeal with the sound bath concept is the simplicity of being acted on. Thus ‘being healed’. I think like most things in life, it is not so simple, and it serves us to feel our self responsibility and know deeply that it is also what we bring to life that plays out in our lives.
The climate crisis is causing an uptick in mental health issues like eco-anxiety and climate doom-ism. How can sound and rhythm therapy help us heal in the fight for climate justice?
First and foremost it is the ultimate remedy for inertia in a most literal sense. Some of the big symptoms of eco-anxiety et al is the feeling of impotency, the real sense of ‘who am I’, ‘what can I do’, and becoming lost in such ideation. In effect becoming docile and vastly at the effect. So getting moving, encouraging feeling, unlocking ourselves, untethering our emotional worlds and inspiring our personal movement power is a wonderfully agentic force. Once we’re unlocked, we can get unblocked and it is only through the reclamation of person agency that we’ll drag ourselves out of this mess. So long live the dance.
What role can sound baths and music therapy play in our collective efforts to stop ecological collapse?
They can vibrate us out of the lethargy of the age, restore our visioning capacity and inspire volition to move and act.