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Feldenkrais and Arms

Oct 12, 2020
Reading time 4 min.

This post will have extra resonance if you’re a singer, musician or performer, but we all use our arms, hand and fingers, so also relevant to all of us!

When we play or sing, one’s fingers and the instrument, the notes, the sound all come into the foreground, and sometimes crowd out the sense of the rest of one’s own physicality, which can get pushed so far into the background, it’s no longer in the picture.

The idea of practising something like Feldenkrais is to have more awareness of what you’re moving when. We improve our skill of listening to ourselves, to distinguish between different qualities of movement. The idea is to be able to play with what’s in the foreground, what’s in the background, to divide our attention around ourselves as well as the music, in order to play or sing with greater control and expressive freedom.

But let’s talk more about support. So, we need to think of the base of our support, the feet, and /or bottom if we are sitting or standing. But what supports our fingers and hands?

Our hands are what makes the environment around us concrete, we both give and take material things in the worlds with them, but in order to move them freely, pleasurably, they need to be supported. There-in , for many of us lies the problem. We sometimes see them as something separate to the rest, so we don’t equate how we hold our arms, shoulders or ribs as having something to do with how the fingers can respond. Or vice versa, how the shoulders can be in rest or motion, has something to do with the quality of how we use our fingers.

And then if we add another layer of support, we can think of our arms as wings (bear with me…). The musculature of the shoulders is that of fan-shape strands of muscles, attaching along the sternum at the front, and from the base of the head down into the mid-back. We also have all of the muscles of the ribs as well, which can assist in supporting from below-

Try slowly and gently moving your arms upwards and seeing how far down your back you can feel the muscles moving. If we think of those muscles, when we move, we can support the arms in a very different way, from a different place.

If you don’t not already, you should think of the spine as mobile. It is designed that we can side-bend many vertebrae- either all in one piece, but also in segments.

Gently take your fingertips out to the side at shoulders height. Keep your arm straight, and extend your fingers towards the wall. Repeat this a few times

As you take your fingers closer to the wall , (keeping your arms straight) can you feel a little curve in your spine as you take your arm out to the side one way? You’ll need to “allow” it. If you take your other arm in the opposite direction (allow the first to return), see if you can sense a little curve in the spine in the other direction.

Then keep your spine straight in in the middle, don’t allow any movement at all, and feel how easily your arms extend to either side now.

Return to the first idea, and see if you sense any more curving this time round.

So the spine is not a stiff straight line in the middle of our backs, but in finding its mobile curves and participation of all the vertebrae we can support the shoulders, arms and hands in their movements more fully.

How can you usefully use this in your practice? As a violinist, I would most immediately think of bowing- in your scale or study practice bring your attention to your spine, and sense the difference of how the bow can move. Do this same exploration- keep your spine stiff as you bow, or help with the bowing by allowing the spine to gently curve in its different directions as you move the bow.

As a non-musician when you’re reaching for something, think of how you can allow your spine to join in the movement, or if you’re lifting your arms think of their support starting from just above the waist!

In my weekly classes, starting next week, we’re looking at the movements and connections of the shoulders- perfect if you have shoulder, neck or back problems- (we can use the shoulders as a way into working with the neck and back or vice- versa). If that sounds interesting do join us. You can find out more via my services page.

For those of you who are musicians and singers would like a more in depth experience, we’re offering a Well Musician Autumn Course: Feldenkrais for Musicians Online, on the 21st and 22nd November. (This will be together with my colleagues Anita Morrison, and Niall O’Riordan). All of the sessions will recorded and available for 6 months after the course.

For more information, get in touch.

Picture credit: Adrien King, Unsplash.

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