Achieving Grace

Grace is one of the benefits that Feldenkrais teachers often mention to entice potential students to come and try out a class, but I suspect for many people achieving personal grace seems too distant a possibility. It is a lovely word, soft in the mouth and on the ear, befitting its multiple meanings; ease, elegance, beauty, kindness, the expression of gratitude, the mercy of god. As an aspect of well-being it is most obviously applied to healthy movement, and if you pause for a moment and think about what grace means to you, an image may come of a dancer, an acrobat flying through the air, a jelly fish pulsating through water, perhaps the wind gently swaying the upper branches of a tree. Grace in nature is rarely conscious - a frond in the water, a feather dancing in the wind – even the elegance of a stalking cat or snake is hard-wired into each creature’s nervous system. For we humans physical grace is not guaranteed, instead it must be learned, and, usually, actively maintained. Many of us develop our movement skills just enough so that we can get by in our daily lives; if we can run for the bus without falling, and dance without tripping over our own or someone else’s feet we are satisfied. Social grace requires an active commitment to kindness and consideration of others, physical grace requires conscious attention to developing our awareness of how we move through life.

Many of those who embody grace in their everyday actions have a daily practise of some kind; they are actively committed to a process of continuous learning and self-development. There are many wonderful practices available, something to suit every personality and level of ability. As a movement teacher myself you will not be surprised that I think we can all benefit from actively engaging in a method for improving mobility and structural health. Which technique you choose is less important than the commitment to practise it regularly, and the attention, encouragement and support of a teacher who is personally committed to your learning. Yoga, Tai Chi, the Alexander Technique, Pilates, Aikido, Judo, dancing of all kinds; these are all excellent paths to grace.

If the Feldenkrais Method has any advantage over these other wonderful practises, it is that its designer had the deep understanding of structure-in-motion that comes from a long career in engineering, physics and teaching judo; leaving a legacy of hundreds of movement sequences, the vast majority of which directly guide the student towards the attainment of greater elegance, fluidity and sensory awareness in the way she or he approaches everyday activity. To embody grace the student must bring this new increased self-awareness out of the studio and into daily life, which is why we stand, observe ourselves, and then walk for a few minutes at the end of each lesson – to begin to connect the conscious to the unconscious, the unfamiliar sensation to the over-familiar habit, the new awareness of softness and fluidity to the way we interact with gravity and the surface of the earth. Allow yourself to believe that you can experience true grace for yourself, find your method, and dance your way through life.

Maggy Burrowes
(First published in The Sunflower Centre Newsletter Spring 2010)