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  • Rosalind Ridout

Reconnecting with my flute-playing body

Covid-19 has disrupted our lives in all kinds of ways, but being forced to stay home has provided me with some much-needed and appreciated headspace. I have read more. I have drawn, written, cooked. I have played the piano, sung with my partner, been able to devote time to various musical projects. I have practised. Properly. For the first time in a long while. I am spending time with my flutes, reminding myself of their quirks, their intricacies. I haven't needed to play anything in particular, rather I have spent time with their sounds; enjoyed the quality of each note, and revelled in how both the room and my body are filled with their sensuous sonorities.


Feldenkrais has also entered my life. Thanks to Ed Woodall's generous Facebook group "Isolation consolation. Feldenkrais to get you through the crisis," I have been aware of the movement in my body in new ways. After a lot of time spent practising Alexander Technique in the past, I know there is great joy and worth to be found in listening to my body, and I am feeling quite transformed by this use of movement. I have been following his twice daily lessons 5 days a week for two weeks (barely) so I'm hardly an expert, but I have already learnt a lot about myself and my body.


Ed keeps reminding us to use as little movement as possible or to do things as easily as possible. As a runner, as someone who goes through phases of doing a lot of yoga, and perhaps just as someone who is also pushing for more, this goes against my natural instincts. I have long-believed that my 'worst trait' is that I rush into things with great enthusiasm, wanting to do (all the) great things, but not always taking enough care* **. But in these small movements, I am starting to feel their repercussions around my body. I'm learning a new meaning to 'listening through my body'. Furthermore, it is challenging me to be honest with myself: I have to trust my body to show me the way. Instead of seeking validation from the teacher or an outside party telling me if I was moving better (or sounding better or more in tune), I had to discover it for myself through deep listening. It is only with trust, honesty and deep listening that I will make these discoveries for myself.


Being aware of these tiny movements is already giving me a better sense of my body's working in relation to flute playing. For example, I have noticed that when I'm breathing with strain, or when I'm reaching the end of my breath, my back warps. My backside sticks out and my chest puffs up and out. (How have I not noticed this before?) From what I have read (in 'Running with the Whole Body'), it is important that the back relaxes and therefore is longer - more of my lower back should be spread on the metaphorical floor. This is something I will work on releasing. When I'm actively trying to ensure it happens in my explorations, there is a greater sense of freedom and my breath lasts longer. It helps me to achieve that feeling of 'groundedness' which, for me, is long sought after.


Feldenkrais is definitely helping me in my quest to feel more 'grounded' overall, and a large part of this is feeling a focus at my pelvis. It is heavier than I ever realised before. In the first Feldenkrais lesson I did, I considered which part of my body felt heaviest on the floor. It was my head. This changed by the end of that first session, and as I have progressed through these sessions, the overall image of my body has changed. I now understand my pelvis to be the centre of my body, not the bottom; it is connected to my legs, my ankles, my toes. I never think about these body parts, which is perhaps why I forgot to include them in my own body map. After an early lesson on the legs and hips my feet felt different on the floor with a new sense of articulation. Not what I expected! I have also noticed how my torso feels weighted backwards after these sessions, making me realise how much I usually lean forwards. It's a lovely feeling.


I have been struggling with shoulder pain (right) after practising more, particularly after playing baroque flute (this will need its own blog post or ten...!). Because of this, I've trying to listen to other connections as I play the flute: to that between my shoulders, my arms, my fingertips and my back, to that between my fingers and the flute keys. The latter in particular feels tense - when I can let go this there's great sense of somatic tenderness. It is appealing in its freedom and I want to seek more of this sensation.


These are all early musings, but I am convinced there is a lot more to unpack and it is genuinely exciting. I decided a while ago I didn't like the word 'mindfulness' as it once again brings focus to my brain, as separate from my body. Feldenkrais is bringing more attention to my body as a whole in my flute playing, teaching me to 'listen' deeply, to be 'aware'. There seems to be something in the mantra of 'awareness through movement'.


#isolation #flutepractice #practice #flutes #sonority #feldenkrais #alexandertechnique #listening #discovery #trust #honesty #breathing #groundedness #torso #pelvis #shoulder #pain #mindfulness #awareness



*This tweet sums me up. N.b. I'm the dog, not the cat. https://twitter.com/BlackHalt/status/1249344368819032064?s=20


** I've also found connections between this feeling and Robert McFarlane's writings about Nan Shepherd's "The Living Mountain" (from RM's "Landmarks"). I would like to explore this at a later date, but the gist is that taking time to walk around the mountain, taking different paths and getting under its skin, offers up more than a hike to the top and down. (This also interests me from a gender theory perspective... for another time!) I've been taught to believe that 'overcoming' something = good (= masculine). As I start this journey on qualitative research I want (and need) to shed this ideology. After all, I've always enjoyed the journey, not just the destination.


#robertmcfarlane #livingmountain #mountain #gender #qualitativeresearch #journey

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