A Life Enriched: An Interview with Carol Kress
Feldenkrais Trainer Carol Kress shares stories from her first Feldenkrais lesson, her professional training, and more in this interview with Ira Feinstein, FA Managing Director.
Ira: What was your first experience with the Feldenkrais Method®?
Carol: In the '80s, I was an avid runner with chronic back pain. A friend of mine had some experience with the Feldenkrais Method and thought it might be helpful, so she gifted me a Functional Integration lesson with Dennis Leri.
I can clearly remember the experience of standing up after that first lesson and looking at my reflection in the full-length mirror. The visual impression was stunning: The way my clothes hung on me, the way they touched my skin, I felt like I was wearing an elegant Armani creation – the epitome of high fashion at the time. I felt absolutely regal and poised and marveled at how I carried my simple clothes, my skin, and my bones in a way that felt like high-level design.
Ira: Where did you go from there?
Carol: I started doing Awareness Through Movement® lessons with Dennis and via recordings. Initially, Awareness Through Movement lessons were challenging for me. When I first came to the Feldenkrais Method, I was very willful in how I moved through the world and pursued athletic endeavors. As an athlete, I was prone to pushing through, ignoring, and basically divorcing myself from sensation as I focussed on a goal. So I was not fully on board with the process of slowing everything down and discriminating illusive sensations by comparing side-to-side. It was an invitation that pushed me up against unreadable opaqueness.
During a lesson, when the teacher would ask, "Which shoulder moves more easily or smoothly?" I couldn't discern. I began to have this internal process of thinking and saying to myself, "Oh well, okay, it's the right shoulder, or, okay, it's the left," just to participate in the inquiry, but I didn't have an answer that really resonated in terms of connecting with my authentic sensation.
When Dennis encouraged me to take a Feldenkrais training, I joined with the intention to focus on my personal growth and improve my personal comfort. Due to my back pain, many movements were not possible for me to do, and I kept bumping up against not only my physical limitations but my personal relationship with myself. I found that part, my undeveloped connection to the truth of my inner self, even more of a challenge even than the physical stuff.
Over the years, friends have asked, "Why did you stay if it was such a challenge for you?" And my answer was that I loved the foundation of thinking in the method. I loved the qualities that my teachers had and the tenderness with which they invited us to enrich, expand and unfold our relationship with ourselves.
As I continued on, I became aware that I was learning to utilize those moments of challenge during an Awareness Through Movement lesson to discover some other parts of myself that could meet the moment. I became more resilient in how I faced challenges, both in my inner world and when composing myself to meet external demands. And over time, the process of investigating and discriminating became a delight as I developed my way of connecting to the subtleties of sensation. I discovered a huge inner world!
And then, at some point during the training, it dawned on me that I was in significantly less pain. For instance, I was able to lie on my front, which had been a long time limitation for me. And I could even turn my head both ways. And when the phone would ring (back in the days when we didn't have cell phones), and I had to get up and dash to the phone, I found myself getting up in different ways. There was a simplicity and grace to how I started to move in spontaneous moments. These seemingly small changes represented new worlds of possibilities for me, as well as providing me with access to deeper, richer paths to fulfill my intentions in my world.
Ira: Learning that I could create an internal environment that allowed for spontaneous change has been one of the most significant gifts the Feldenkrais Method has given me. When I was in my twenties, I worked with a physical therapist who taped my shoulders back to stop them from curling inward. I was instructed to "consciously pull my shoulders back throughout the day." I could only remember for a few hours after the tape was placed before I'd get distracted by my day. Over two months, the only thing that changed was that I developed a horrible rash due to a tape allergy.
In contrast, with the Feldenkrais Method, I found change didn't require my conscious awareness. One day I was walking down the street, and I noticed my shoulders were back and my chest was open. But I couldn't think myself, nor physically force myself, there.
Carol: That's right. It's so interesting to me how sometimes changes can be quick, and something new will appear in my life immediately after a lesson. Other times, new ways of moving manifest, and I'm not even sure which lesson it came from. Was it a lesson from yesterday or the day before, or maybe it was that a bunch of variations over time married in a way that allowed a new possibility for me in action? I find and delight in the surprises that Awareness Through Movement can provide us.
Ira: How has your relationship with yourself changed over time because you engaged in this process of exploration presented to you by the Feldenkrais Method?
Carol: Thinking back to my drive and the way I was with myself before the training, I can say that, over time, the method has profoundly altered my sense of self and my relationship with myself. It has enriched my way of living life. The path to knowing myself in a deeper way has opened me up to dreams and hopes for my life that I had forgotten or desired paths I was forced to abandon. And I honestly don't know who I'd be without it.
Ira: You're going to be teaching a weekly series in March called Poise and Agility in Action. I'm curious, how would you define poise and agility? How do you relate to these terms throughout a day?
Carol: There are many ways to think about the word poise. And truly, each of us will define this concept for ourselves, guided by the connection to our inner self and our movements. For me, it is about approaching one's daily activities with balance while in an equanimous state of being open. Finding the pathways to blend harmoniously - feelings, sensations, thinking, and action. It's not always easy. Emotions can dominate, or habits of organization can veil options, but that's the direction that I look for in myself when I approach whatever it is I'm engaging in.
On the other hand, agility is about what's possible for our structure in terms of action. It's about how your entire self contributes to the fluidity of an action in a graceful, efficient, and well-distributed way.
Many of us may be used to connecting agility to sports, but this isn't a term-limited to athletes. Even in such everyday activities as washing dishes, or vacuuming, I find a way of connecting with these ideas. The more I can make finer distinctions, and the more I can be present and fully inhabit myself—from the toes, to the fingers, to my back ribs, and up to the top of the head—I find I'm better. I'm better in my daily life, in my daily attitude. I live with the method as a moment-by-moment practice. Of course, it's not always easy!
If we consider this in the context of a bigger arc and trajectory: We've got only so much time here on this planet. How do we potentiate what we want to experience, live the life we have dreamed of, bring to others, and create in the world? That's the direction. It's not a destination I feel like I may ever wholly arrive at, but it's what guides me in my better moments.
Ira: How will your series help people interested in exploring poise & agility for themselves?
Carol: The lessons I've selected were chosen to help people feel the possibility of less resistance as we move and act. And this process will also create a gateway for each to discover for the first time, or renew a connection to our interior, to know more deeply and richly ourselves. We will explore how to find and maintain balance, physically and mentally, even when confronted by exterior challenges. There will be a range of positions and relationships to gravity. Some of the lessons may be dynamic for some, as we explore the different shaping that's possible for us.
Exploring all the shapes we can be in is extremely important. As children, we're rolling around and shaping ourselves in various ways, but I've noticed that as many people age, they begin to funnel their movements toward a limited repertoire of actions that are reduced compared to what their potential is. So having our spine in different shapes and in different relationships to gravity, as well as our hips, our limbs, etc., can bring an openness to how we can use ourselves to enrich the image we carry of ourselves. And from this opening comes our gate to self-determination and freedom!
If you're curious to explore poise and agility for yourself, please join Carol for a free introductory class via YouTube, Facebook, or Zoom on Thursday, February 24 from 12:00PM -1:15PM EST.