Getting to Know Garet Newell

feldenkrais lessons Jun 22, 2024


Ira Feinstein: How did you find out about the Feldenkrais Method?

Garet Newell: I was a graduate student at New York University in the Department of Dance, and Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais was one of our required reading books. This was in the mid-‘70s, and there were no teachers of the Feldenkrais Method in New York. So, I didn't have a chance to experience it, but I was impressed by what I read in the book.

Ira: What led you to become a practitioner?

Garet: After I finished my MA, I moved to San Francisco because I had done some courses with Anna Halprin, a dance and performance innovator, and I wanted to work with her. One night, I was at a meditation group I belonged to, and someone asked me if I’d met the Feldenkrais teacher who was there. I made a beeline for him and it was Jerry Karzen, a student in Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais’ first professional training in the United States.

I’d been having neck problems as a result of an accident, and I asked him for a lesson. I was really impressed after that lesson. I had a lot of skillful touch when I was in New York from chiropractors, massage therapists, and Alexander teachers, but there was something so different about what Jerry did. Afterward, I turned to him and said, "I want to learn what you know.”

Jerry told me to write to Dr. Feldenkrais and let him know I was interested in studying the Feldenkrais Method. And, a little time later, in 1980, I joined the Amherst Feldenkrais Training.

Ira: Wow! How serendipitous. What Moshe brought to the world was so unique at that time. What drew you to become a practitioner? 

Garet: I really loved Moshé's teaching, and I loved Awareness Through Movement lessons because I realized that each lesson is an opportunity for people to potentially transform themselves. That was the real attraction to me. I'm from that generation where we wanted to change the world. And so, of course, finding something that might make a little difference in people’s lives was really important to me.

Ira: What was your practice like after you graduated?

Garet: During my training, I was already teaching at a human potential center in Munich, Germany, so it was easy for me to bring the Feldenkrais Method there. After some time, I moved to England to work in a similar place called the Open Center. The people who came to my classes were mostly exploring awareness and consciousness and finding out more about themselves. I also taught at an annual festival for physical theatre performers that took place in London.

Then, in 1988, the BBC did a program about the healing arts that included the Feldenkrais Method. In it, there were scenes of Moshé working with children and adults. Afterward, we got something like 500 letters of interest, mostly from parents who were looking for something to help their children, many of whom had problems that were not being well addressed through the channels available at the time. So, my practice really developed according to what was going on around me and how the method was introduced in the UK.

Ira: Was it working with children that drew your interest in the stages of human development?

Garet: My interest came gradually. Partially, it came from that immersion in working with children and trying to find out how I could understand what a child needs. I knew that in order to understand that, I had to be able to sense what stage of development they had reached and know what they needed to learn to go on to the next stage of development.

I was working with a seven-year-old child who had cerebral palsy. He wasn't able to walk at that point, but he was pretty active, so it was challenging to work with him. But he was so intelligent and so interesting that I really loved the challenge. His mother originally brought him for lessons, but his father came one time, and he kind of just leaned against the wall and fell asleep a little bit. I think he had a long day at work.

At the end of the lesson, he said to me, "When will he walk?" And I said, "Well, he has a lot of stages of development to go through first before he'll be able to do that." I continued, ”But if you're really interested in that question, why don't you come to a three-day course I teach in which we do Feldenkrais lessons that represent the first year of life. That way, you'll understand what he's going through." And he came and did the course, and then he joined a training, and now he's a practitioner and he works with children.

That experience of being on the floor and experiencing the struggles that babies go through until they figure something out made him understand his son's challenge. I think that's what convinced me of the importance of this series of lessons, especially for people who have babies. When you go back and re-experience that very kinesthetic first year of life, you understand it in a way that no book is going to give you understanding.

Ira: What benefits have you seen for adults who revisit and explore the first year’s stages of development?

Garet: A lot of people have some kind of experience of what that early time of their life was like. Because it's non-verbal, it's not in our memory system as clearly as other times are. But a lot gets evoked by going back and redoing those lessons. For instance, people often realize that they were pushed to do something they weren't ready to do. That there was some kind of outside influence on the way that they learned and that they didn't get to take their time. You see it frequently—babies are put in the sitting position before they can hold up their heads, and they're held up to stand before they can stand on their own. Sometimes, people recognize that and say, "Oh, yeah, I really felt that. I wasn't allowed to do things at my own pace." And that's an important part of our method: learning at your own pace. So that can get illustrated through experiencing these lessons.

Additionally, one of the main things is that people go through a kind of reorganization of themselves. When you go back and figure out: how did I learn to hold my head? How did I learn to roll from side to side? How did I learn to roll over? How did I learn to be on my front and then see the world in a different way? And then, how did that lead to locomotion? And how did the locomotion lead to the change in position so that I could learn to sit and then eventually learn to get on my feet?

If you redo that, you can discover if there are some missing pieces. Many people who didn't crawl or didn't crawl for long enough have difficulties as adults with certain activities. Often, restoring crawling makes those activities easier to learn. I've worked with people who couldn't swim, and I gave lessons based on the early stages of development, and then they were able to learn to swim.

Ira: What can people expect from your upcoming series, New Beginnings?

Garet: We will go through the stages of development gradually and slowly. The lessons should be easy for most people to do. Some of the lessons will be familiar to people who've done the Feldenkrais Method. Some of the lessons are the lessons that Moshé presented in the first few weeks of the Amherst Training when he was staying with a developmental theme as a way to introduce us to his thinking. He was my big influence, of course! I hope that people will take a chance on the course. If you’re curious, I encourage you to join us for the first lesson on July 11. It is free and open to all. 

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