This is a response to a question about working online from a Feldenkrais Practitioner®. However, her concern is relevant for teaching in-person and for any practitioner whose work helps people transform, because it touches on the way we show up as transformational leaders.
The practitioner noted that the feedback forms she got from participants in her online class indicated that people who said they were stressed in some way at the beginning of the class got little to no benefit from it.
Others who didn’t acknowledge stress did benefit.
She was looking for ways to address that in the future without putting herself in the position of being an authority on her student.
The hidden gold in claiming your authority
My initial response was ‘What a wonderful opportunity this is to take people deeper into their own experience, and to understand more about what they are doing with you—and you can do it in a way that is not only completely “Feldenkrais,” but is also a demonstration of how to take the lesson with them when the Zoom room closes so they can use it in other ways than through the usual vehicle of movement.’
Despite the fact that many practitioners feel uneasy about claiming authority, I firmly believe that as the person “in front of the room” you are the authority–not on what your student is experiencing, but certainly on what you’re teaching and the basic conditions that are best for learning it. While it’s not your place to tell your students or clients what they feel, it IS part of your job to help people step into their own best conditions for learning, so they can get the most from their work with you.
Moshe Feldenkrais once was invited to give a talk/demonstration to a large group of people. He thought they were meeting in an empty auditorium, where he planned to teach an Awareness Through Movement® lesson with people lying on the floor. When he walked into the room, he found a lecture hall with banked rows of fixed chairs with wooden seats and arms. He changed his idea of what he was going to do, and taught a sitting lesson that worked in the confined space that was available.
Regardless of what “kind” of practitioner you may be, I’m sure you resonate because when it comes to what you “know” your work is about, you’re very creative and inventive.
It’s when we get outside the realm of the obvious that things get a little less clear, and we are less likely to claim our authority.
Step into transformational leadership
The key is to figure out how your work is related to things you don’t normally think of as “what you teach” but nonetheless are integral to it.
In Feldenkrais terms, we all know it’s not really about the movement, but it’s easy to get stuck in thinking only about the obvious things connected with a lesson. Whatever your modality, it’s a mistake to assume that people are going to figure every single thing out on their own—a lot of them are going to go away before they do, because they don’t have a way into that space inside themselves. When that happens, you lose the opportunity to help them.
What better way to begin working with a group than to address what you know is important and give more people a chance to discover the real value of your work?
Ask yourself why is this “issue” is important
For example, you might begin by talking for a minute about the nature of attention, why it’s essential to Feldenkrais and why our work—though it might look like exercise to the casual observer—is something quite different. You could note that often, we begin with a body scan and today we’re doing a different kind of scan.
Then help them identify all the ways in which—right now—they might not be able to fully attend to their own sensation and wellbeing during the time you’re together.
- You could ask them to survey their surroundings for things that will draw their attention away from themselves… they’re going to lie on the floor so will they be distracted by dust bunnies? Is it cold on the floor? Is there a draft? Is the spot they’ve chosen too hard for them?
- If they have children, are they occupied for the time you’ll be with them?
- If they have animals, are they going to be a bother, lie on top of them, or crowd their ability to move?
- What options do they have?
In other words, ask questions that come from the experience you’ve already had with students and clients—or with what you see happening in the moment—and tie it to the lesson you’re teaching. You can do that in a general way that doesn’t make anyone feel singled out, but at the same time, allows people to feel seen and attended to.
What else is it about?
To take it deeper, ask them to find out what they need to do in order to deal with that distraction.
Physical distractions like the ones we’ve already mentioned are often easy to see, call attention to, and fix. On the other hand, if there’s anything worrying your students, it’s harder to know about it.
You can simply ask them if there is anything like that, and then ask what can they do to set that aside for this time in order to help themselves.
At various points throughout the class, bring their attention back to their ability to discover what’s in their way and do something about it.
At the end of the class…
Give them a minute to ponder…
- What are they taking with them from the class into their usual life?
- How did taking care of distractions at the outset enhance their experience?
- What’s another situation they can anticipate, in which using the same process they followed to focus on the lesson could be helpful?
- What’s the most important thing they learned about how they can get more of what?
Be the transformational leader your clients need
When you allow yourself to show up as a transformational leader, you claim your own authority as a practitioner, you’re fully present to see the situation your students or clients are in, and you can address it in a way that they can find their own way to take control of their life and their learning.
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