To Hop or Not to Hop
Hopping, for many of us, was a natural part of our childhood and development.
I said “for many of us”, but it wasn’t for me. And up until recently, it didn’t have a lot of appeal as an adult either.
As a kid, I was a terrible hopper. I was very dyslexic in every sensory modality – auditorily, visually, and kinesthetically. I was extremely uncoordinated with my movements. Things like running and hopping were exhausting to me. I was always the last kid in on the 600-yard dash, struggling and efforting the whole way.
But a few weeks ago, I said yes to hopping.
I was deciding on my morning Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson. I didn’t have one in mind, so I did a random number search on Google to choose the lesson. And it was hopping! Dr. Feldenkrais’s Alexander Yanai Lesson 281, Basis of hopping 1, to be specific.
I thought, “Really? I just wanted to roll around on the floor.” But my commitment is that whatever number shows up, I do that lesson.
It was hopping. And it blew my mind.
I became absolutely enamored with hopping. And more specifically, I became fascinated by the way Moshe went about teaching these hopping lessons in the Alexander Yanai series.
The Alexander Yanai lessons are ones that Dr. Feldenkrais taught from the early 1950s through the late 1970s. His lessons are known by where they were taught. Since his studio was on Alexander Yanai Street in Tele Viv, Israel, they are known as the Alexander Yanai Lessons. Learn more on my blog post, My Journey into the Feldenkrais Alexander Yanai Lessons.
“You see, it is not necessary to train at hopping to be able to hop better. It is necessary to learn to take away the disturbances.”– Moshe Feldenkrais, Alexander Yanai Lesson 282 Basis of hopping 2
The lessons aren’t just hopping up and down. That would be extremely tiring. The lessons explore many parts of the hop in many different positions. Some standing, some lying on the floor on the back, and some on the stomach.
The Unseen Habits of Daily Life
A key theme through the lessons is the idea of eliminating effort, to let go of the extra work that is incongruent with the movements you are doing.
Many of the movements in these lessons are large. Within the scope of these large movements, we make many subtle distinctions. These distinctions help us identify the areas of effort, and then we can make a decision to inhibit it or let it go.
“This [movement] demands a great deal of quiet attention because the habit of life is not so easily seen.”– Moshe Feldenkrais, Alexander Yanai Lesson 281 Basis of hopping 1
Moshe makes a comment in his original presentation of the first lesson, “This [movement] demands a great deal of quiet attention because the habit of life is not so easily seen.”
Let’s unpack this profound statement. What does Feldenkrais mean by, “not so easily seen”? He suggests that most of our habits are outside our conscious awareness. We are not aware of them. And we usually don’t notice them until we are faced with something unique, something that doesn’t work, or something that hurts.
Now, what does he mean by “the habit of life”? Some examples are how we interact with our environment. How we reach to open a door, navigate through our house or office, socialize with friends and colleagues, drive a car, and so on. Those are the more obvious ones.
Then there are the more subtle habits of life. These are the habits of efforting, trying, proving ourselves, being good, fitting in, and compensating for our self-perceived inadequacies. They are also the movements of the emotions that are woven throughout the tapestry of our being. These are the habits that we carry though time and across context. These are the more subtle habits of life that inhibit the lightness of our being.
How do we sense these more subtle habits of life? How do they present themselves? They often show up as tensions in the jaw, in and around the mouth, in the neck, abdomen, lower back, eyes, and chest. As well, we will hold or exaggerate the breath.
As we move through the variations in these hopping lessons, we are moving our awareness to sense these areas and to make a decision to let the tensions go. The effect creates a more holistic, complete, and aware sense of self. The movements become smoother, lighter, and freer.
An Easy, Undisturbed Breath
Throughout the series, Moshe asks us to calm the breath and not disturb it.
When we first sense the breath, it changes. Often dramatically. When the breath moves from being unconscious to conscious, there is a transition, and the breath almost always deepens, expands, or quickens.
And what happened when you read the above sentences? Most likely, your attention went to your breath, and it changed in some way.
The risk of consciously attending to the breath is that people will often make a judgment about it or try to correct it. “It’s too shallow.” Or, “I should always belly breathe.”
Correcting the breath adds more effort to it. In fact, it adds more work to the whole system.
It’s a curious experience to sense the breath without disturbing it. The first moment you sense your breath and bring it into conscious awareness, it exaggerates. Then you calm the breathing, let the disturbance of conscious awareness diminish, and the breath becomes more subtle. It’s like the breath settles into a semi-conscious state, where it is on-going and undisturbed, and your conscious awareness is merely witnessing it.
So what is so vital about returning attention to the breath throughout the lesson?
The main idea throughout these lessons is the removal of effort. The elimination of extra muscular activity. To let go of “the habits of life” that inhibit a light, simple, and easy hop.
So, keeping the breath simple, semi-conscious, and undisturbed reduces effort and calms the nervous system. This allows other “habit of life” to be more “easily seen.” That is, how we hold the jaw, tense the face, mouth, and tongue, how we hold the abdomen or the lower back, or stiffen the chest and neck.
A Simple Hop and the Lightness of Being
When I did the first lesson in this series, my first series of hops were heavy and slow. Quite frankly, I felt like a sack of potatoes. But, by the end of the first lesson, I was hopping more lightly and easily. And by the end of the series, I was hopping quickly, lightly and freely. Dare I say, even bouncy? (Most who know me would not describe me as bouncy. LOL)
Other things I have sensed after doing these lessons are:
- A clearer and more sturdy sense of my legs
- A defined contact of my feet on the floor
- A taller, more extended spine
- A lifted chest and fuller breath
- And in general, a little more lightness in my being
Join me. Find your true hoppiness.
Check out my new audio series, “Feldenkrais Hopping – Finding True Hoppiness“
Great stuff.. I discovered the hopping sessions about a year ago and really enjoyed playing with them and teaching them. Something that fascinated me was the changes in my social/emotional experience. There is something about changing our movement habits while standing that seems to generalize to social interaction. At least, they do to me! Peace.