As a training provider, I’m always investigating potential for new learning and I’ve recently become interested in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais. So who was he? And why does he have such a loyal following?
I don’t profess to be an expert on Feldenkrais but I have recently conducted some research that may be of interest to both singers and teachers.
Moshe Feldenkrais was a physicist and engineer with a passion for judo. After recurrent knee problems, he developed a system of learning through movement. His intellectual ability and thirst for knowledge lead to a lifelong study of anatomy, physiology and neurology as he sought to establish whether the brain could be retrained through movement and awareness. Feldenkrais devotees consider him to be the pioneer of brain plasticity as he developed a system which enables the brain to change through forming new connections.
His body of work and philosophical teachings have great relevance to all types of practitioners including singers and voice teachers. His methodology is an invaluable tool for developing vocal efficiency because it focuses on the nervous system and provides an insight into the workings of our “somatic map”. As singers we often exhibit postural habits that compromise voice production. We are told that we need to tuck our chin in, not raise our eyebrows on the high notes, not slouch or raise our shoulders but such simple movements can be so hard to change. Feldenkrais is based on an understanding of the neurological system and change is harnessed through allowing our bodies to experience alternative ways of moving.
According to Marina Gilman in her book Body and Voice Somatic Re-education, Feldenkrais “teaches us how to have a conversation with a person’s nervous system rather than their cognitive mind” and she refers to this process as “somatic learning”. She provides a comprehensive insight into habituated movement and identifies how they interfere with voice production. A parasitic movement for example, is an unnecessary movement that interferes with our intended movement or function. These movements are often unconscious but can be difficult to undo. If we were aware of them we wouldn’t do them because they create resistance and excess effort. When we sing a high note, we may unconsciously raise our eyebrows and this unnecessary movement creates tension. Diversionary movements occur when a singer moves an inappropriate part of the body to carry out a particular vocal task.
In her book, Gilman gives an example of a student who was unable to release her abdominal muscles so instead would bring her forehead forward. She knew that she needed to do something but she didn’t know what. Feldenkrais enables “somatic learning” by using small movements to discover habitual patterns of movement and posture. It encourages new alternatives through self-discovery and play. It is highly effective because it is compatible with how our sensory motor nervous systems are geared to learn.
Feldenkrais is not built on a specific set of rules or a right way of doing things. It’s about exploring possibilities of movement and increasing body awareness. It explores how different muscles and parts of the body are interconnected and by increasing awareness of separateness as well as interconnectedness we can improve our voice.
Feldenkrais provides an important set of tools that facilitate self-awareness of habituated patterns of movement enabling change to take place from the inside out. Its non-judgemental, gentle approach empowers singers to address subtle patterns of movement that interfere with respiration, phonation and resonance.
There are many Feldenkrais practitioners who can be contacted through the Feldenkrais Guild UK and in the US at The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. Both organisations also provide a wealth of information on their websites.
There are a number of practitioners who specialise in voice and Feldenkrais and if you have an interest it may be worth taking a look. In the UK, Maggy Burrowes blends Feldenkrais into her work and she has created an effective model called Vocal Dynamix T. Her website vocaldynamix.com provides a range of interesting articles as well as information on available classes. London-based Anita Morrison of the Whole Self Singer is a certified practitioner with a background in classical singing. She’s a teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and blends Feldenkrais into her work.
In the US, leading practitioner Robert Sussama blends Feldenkrais with his advanced knowledge of the Estill Training model. His generous website conveys a passion for Feldenkrais and he provides a weighty selection of high quality training videos for you to try.
Release foot tension and pain
With regards to literature, Marina Gilman’s text is fascinating, clear and detailed. She provides guidance and exercises to work through and she tackles many issues that impedes both voice production and performance.
Although the book is aimed at voice teachers, it is useful for singers. You can also view her website voice-movement.com to learn more.