Monday, October 15, 2007

Taming the Wild Child

I have a confession to make. Back in my pre-Feldenkrais® days, when I first started teaching dance, I worked primarily with children. One ballet class stands out in my memory, for it was one of those classes in which a number of the children just didn’t know how to focus. They were constantly talking or fooling around between combinations.

One day, feeling totally exasperated and ready to loose patience, I said, “Ok, let's see who can hold their breath the longest.” Suddenly—there was silence. As I watched those angelic little faces turning various shades of red, I was stunned—they were suddenly completely committed and focused. The really interesting thing was that even after they let go of their breath and returned to dancing, they remained pretty focused—at least for the rest of that class. I must admit that I used that trick on a number of occasions, with similar results.

I have noticed that there seems to be more and more children these days exhibiting the behavior that I witnessed in that class. I suppose some would call it Attention Deficit Disorder; others might blame it on poor dietary habits. Whatever you call it and whatever the cause, these children simply have no means available (other than medication) to quiet themselves.

Learning to quiet oneself is a skill worth developing for all children. Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) lessons are one way to develop this skill, for they teach us to bring our awareness inward. They also teach us how to quiet our system. Although any ATM lesson can help, I have found breathing lessons to be especially effective for my students. Not only does it quiet them down, it has the added bonus of getting them into a state where they are much more receptive to learning.

This week’s lesson incorporates breathing and the use of imagination. I have used it with children as young as eight with great success. The next time you have an unruly class on your hands, give it a try.

IntelliDANCE Podcast: Lesson 3

1 comment:

Andrea Higgins said...

I received a question from a dance teacher asking why breathing would affect behavior. I answer this question not as a behavioral specialist, but from the observations I have made and experiences I have had in my Feldenkrais® training and work.

Breathing is a primary, life-supporting function. Sustaining breath is wired into our nervous system and the way we breathe affects our entire system. When I asked that group of children to hold their breath as long as they could, I wasn’t thinking in terms of human function. I just wanted them to stop talking, and I knew they couldn’t talk if they were holding their breath. But as I think back on that day now, and how all the children in that class immediately calmed down afterward, I have to conclude that by holding their breath they were shifting their normal functional pattern in a way that refocused their body and mind away from activity and more toward and inward experience of the body.

Try it yourself, hold your breath as long as you can and notice what happens. After you expel the breath, the body regulates itself back to a normal breathing pattern, but in the few seconds it takes to get there, your whole system is focused on your breathing. You’re not thinking of anything else—not food shopping, not calling your friend on the phone, not anything external. Your focus is inward.

Feldenkrais® lessons, including this weeks breathing ATM lesson, always address some aspect of human function. But because breathing is so important to survival, any experience that alters our perceptions of our breathing will immediately draw us into a more internally focused state. And that internally focused state is a fertile field for learning. It is my hope that dance teachers can use the breathing lesson as more than an exercise. Think of it as part of an overall strategy to help get your students into a state where they will not only be well behaved, but actually receptive to learning.