01 January 2016 - Personal stories
Emma Alter, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Feldenkrais, working with a musician

Sarah came to me through curiosity. She’s a world class cellist: a member of the Callino Quartet,and principal cellist of Academy of Ancient Music. Her playing involves playing both modern and baroque cello, which require slightly different set-ups and techniques. For the modern cello the spike at the bottom takes the weight of the cello and the legs steady it. The baroque cello is different in that there is no spike, so the legs turn out more and the cello is held between the calves, in a slightly more upright position.

In her second lesson she brought her cello, she’d come direct to me from a rehearsal.

She’d talked about wanting to be more aware of what her shoulders and back did, so as she played by gently touching her shoulders with my hands- first the palms, and then more directly into smaller areas with the fingers, I gave her bio-feedback of what her shoulders do when playing, by touching and outlining each part of the shoulder, as she played her cello.

I moved slowly downwards the spine, noting which parts of her body were vibrating with the cello when she was playing — I could literally feel the sound through her, which was an extraordinary feeling. Especially as she played on the lower strings on the cello, which are exceedingly resonant.

There were parts of Sarah’s back which were working very hard, and the muscle tension was high enough that the vibration couldn’t move through it.

All whilst she was playing — dividing her attention between what we were both doing.

Then we moved the lesson to the table, I worked with tiny movements firstly with the head, and shoulders, freeing them, and showing Sarah’s brain the differences in how the shoulder blade can slide on the ribs. The back between the shoulder blades can be a very unknown area – we don’t feel it much in day to day life, except in lying against a surface.
I then worked with her on her side, with the musculature of the spine, gently showing her through my fingertips in which areas her muscles are working very hard, and which were relaxed, which helped her brain process the differences, in order to let go of unnecessary tension.
When we can learn to allow ourselves to be more relaxed in lying, we have more ability to use less muscles, move in a more ergonomic or if you like, lazier way. This creates less stress, strain and shearing on muscles and discs. If the movement is easier, we can do more complexity with less effort.
By working up and down the spine with my hands, I moved precise parts of her back more into the tension, in order for her brain to feel it clearly, and then it was possible to slowly release the muscles’ over-work, so her lower back could more relaxed, which could be felt as being flatter on the table.
At the end, we worked in sitting for a while, asking (with my fingers) the hips to have greater participation in the movement of her spine. So as her hips came backwards, all of the vertebrae were in involved in gently curling the spine into a forwards “C”, including her neck and head. We built this up slowly; and then as Sarah rolled her hips in the opposite direction together we taught the whole spine to move into a backwards “C”. The idea was that it would be more communistic movement, that all the vertebrae moved a little, rather than a few areas doing more of the work – which over time can lead to problems.
When we came back to the cello, this translated immediately into a freer, rounder, sound. For Sarah, she felt a very different sense of her shoulders and arms moving in space as she played, and a greater feeling of freedom and fluidity in her back. She said that she felt more relaxed whilst playing, and it seemed less effort. My fingers felt the whole of her back vibrating with the sound, not just patches, and I saw and heard a large change in how she moved whilst playing from the start of the lesson.