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My Year of NSV



Introduction

Over the past year I have been developing and teaching Neuro-Somatic-Variations (NSV) online to a small group of participants from all over the globe. The development of NSV reflects my background as a Medical Doctor, philosopher trained in phenomenology and Feldenkrais practitioner. NSV integrates Feldenkrais Awareness through Movement (ATM) lessons, Integrative Neurobiology and Micro-Phenomenology. The duration of each NSV session is typically 2 hours; comprising of an ATM lesson followed by group discussion. NSV sessions differ from typical Feldenkrais lessons for the following elements: a.) The expanded conception of awareness; b.) Explicit didactic references to neurobiological correlations; c.) The phenomenological analysis of pre-reflective experience; d.) The small group context supporting discussion and analysis.

In what follows, I shall discuss each of these core NSV elements individually and as they seamlessly inter-relate. This blog posting provides an opportunity to reflect on my year of NSV – coinciding as it has with the unfolding of the global Covid-19 pandemic.


Awareness

Moving with awareness provides the key ingredient within the Feldenkrais Method for personal transformation. Moshe Feldenkrais defined “awareness” as “that part of the thinking mechanism that listens to the self while I am acting.”[1] This somatic awareness means simultaneously listening to the action as well as becoming part of the action itself. Movement without first-person awareness is merely robotic and does not possess the feedforward and feedback characteristics essential for neural rewiring and transformation of conscious experience.

Most Feldenkrais ATM lessons tend to focus primarily on two forms of perceptual awareness, i.e., kinesthetic sensation and proprioception. In NSV the focus of awareness is intentionally expanded to include additional states of embodied awareness, such as, kinesthetic awareness, proprioception, exteroception (such as hearing, sight, touch, pain), interoception (the sense of the internal state of the body), emotions, thoughts, memories, attention to the external environment, neuroception (Stephen Porges’ term used to describe an organism’s sense of safety or danger), attention to the external environment, and different forms of attention. The latter includes, focal attention, open attention and the “awareness of awareness” – a concept adapted from psychiatrist Daniel Siegel’s interpersonal neurobiology and “Wheel of Awareness” meditation (See, www.wheelofawareness.com). Techniques developing this expanded repertoire of awareness elements are thematically included in both the NSV movement lessons themselves and in the consequent group discussion.


Integrative Neurobiology

As with the explicit focus on different forms of Awareness, NSV explicitly informs ideas from Integrative Neurobiology, which applies research from living biological systems. Awareness and neural wiring are two faces of the same coin. As Daniel Siegel emphasizes in his teachings, “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.”[2] However, NSV differs from most mindfulness practices by incorporating embodied movement patterns fundamental to the Feldenkrais Method. The Integrative Neurobiological focus within NSV that I have developed over the past year, includes for example, the neural correlations of particular movement patterns and associated kinesthetic sensations, as well as tracing effects on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) informed by Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory.[3] Movement lessons based on infant developmental patterns, rooted in evolutionary phylogenetic shifts are a particularly important resource for NSV sessions focusing on the ANS.

Yochanan Rywerant – a close colleague of Moshe Feldenkrais – noted that “patterns of action affecting the trunk, back, pelvis and legs” are characteristically associated with “lower-level” cognitive control associated with the limbic system.[4] NSV sessions often reveal how eliciting movement in the trunk, lower back, pelvis and legs are indeed associated with experiences of deep relaxation and revitalization associated with the limbic system. Whereas, NSV sessions focusing on the shoulder blades, neck, and head are typically associated with experiences of shifts in more explicitly cognitive dimensions of self-awareness, such as the location of one’s sense of self in the head or chest.

A strong theme that has developed during the past year’s online teaching program has been particular movement lessons highlighting anatomically midline structures, i.e., the head, the spine and the pelvis. In my lessons I have tracked the generative hypothesis that midline movements provide a somatic means of integrating midline brain structures, especially middle prefrontal cortex with limbic and brainstem structures. It is, perhaps, simplistic to consider that structured anatomical-kinetic somatic awareness movements will directly influence particular brain structures and correlated functions, yet this hypothesis merits further experiential exploration.

The NSV groups I have developed over the past year herald an ongoing project developing and refining the methodology of the NSV process. The investigation thus far has been primarily in terms of verbal reporting of the effects of each session. The data derived from first-person verbal reporting of NSV sessions is by definition amorphous and may become more concretized through combining first- and third-person research methodologies. Measuring HRV and EEG waves are two readily administered neurophysiological modalities that appear particularly amenable for future NSV research.


Phenomenology

The aim of phenomenology, as developed by philosopher Edmund Husserl, was to provide a methodology of revealing the correlations between objects, and the way they are presented in consciousness, i.e., between experiencing and what is experienced. Phenomenology from its outset has provided a method of paying attention to lived experience, reflecting on the body simultaneously from “inside” and “outside” perspectives, even possibly without jeopardizing kinetic action. [5] Phenomenology provides an exemplary methodology for the analysis of NSV sessions, moving back and forth between the kinesthetic event and its reflective analysis. The teaching of NSV has demonstrated that every movement lesson has its unique kinesthetic associations. This is of course particular to every individual but also generalizable to all participants. In this sense, NSV can be considered a form of embodied phenomenology. (This is also true for the Feldenkrais Method, which provides the kinesthetic foundations of NSV.) In turn, the phenomenological method provides a means of analyzing the NSV experience.

NSV particularly applies methodologies derived from micro-phenomenology – a rigorous interview methodology for studying human experience based on the neuro-phenomenological approach first articulated by Francisco Varela. [6] At the end of each session, participants are invited to spend time writing notes about their personal experience of the session. Obviously, this process of recall is not “in the actual moment” of the movement experience. Yet, it is close enough in time that the participants experience will still be freshly in mind to recall. It is enough to recall one significant experiential moment of the session that serves as a stimulus for group discussion. The NSV process also shares similarities with Eugene Gendlin’s embodied practices of Focusing and Thinking at the Edge (TAE), which are also deeply rooted in theoretical phenomenology. [7] However, as with other mindfulness practices referred to earlier, NSV is distinguished by the movement dimension grounded in the Feldenkrais Method.

A key aspect of the NSV process is to reveal the underlying perceptual invariants revealed through the experience of movement and its explicit analysis. The conception of invariance was developed in the psychological phenomenological work of J.J. Gibson, who in his research on perception realized that the invariant becomes revealed through movement. The object of perception, the perceptual invariant, remains the same in-itself, but becomes clearer to the perceiver through shifts in the observer perspective. As Feldenkrais practitioner and researcher Carl Ginsburg notes, “The percept is an invariant because in moving the relationships between object, and perspective in relation to the position of yourself as an observer, follows an invariant set of relationships. Thus, the percept is a higher-level extraction of construction”. [8] The name NSV is derived from this phenomenological conception of the invariance, highlighting its importance in the NSV process. The NSV process systematically helps reveal the underlying hyletic data from sensations forming the embodied basis of actual kinesthetic experiences.[9]


The Group Context

Teaching NSV online in a small group has brought home to me the potential of this unique form of shared space, allowing for personal vulnerability and openness. The online zoom format provides a surprisingly “suitable” forum for developing an intimate social space with the protection of physical distance. The participation in the NSV group process is incredibly rich and diverse in terms of personal experiences and responses arising from the exploration of self in relation with movement and consciousness. It is remarkable to feel the energetic connection of simultaneously shared movement and experiences in real time from all around the globe. Being part of the NSV group has also provided a valuable somatic resource for personal resilience and interpersonal connection during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Committed participation in the NSV group process inevitably results in an expanded self-awareness. I do not, however, consider NSV a form of somatic psychology. Rather it is an embodied process facilitating explicit verbalization of the pre-reflective domain of hyletic perceptual experience. Nonetheless, the focus on experiences associated with the movements has meant that the NSV process may be a powerful adjunct for psychotherapy. I consider the NSV process akin with clinical phenomenology, bringing to the fore pre-reflective embodied experience. For example, in one NSV session, one student remarked that the lesson brought him a sense of being home in his body. In my mind, descriptions like these are closer to the realm of pre-reflective sensibility than psychology per se.



Conclusion

Reflecting on my year of developing and teaching NSV I am confident that I am developing a novel somatic modality that has staying power. Following the teaching of a NSV session, I typically feel a sense of buoyancy that I do not feel with the same force that I do from my general teaching of Feldenkrais ATM sessions. I am building up a repertoire of NSV lessons and recordings as the basis for continuing to develop and research the NSV process. I am very excited about what the future holds for the development of NSV. A close friend and fellow Feldenkrais practitioner, Ami Shulman, commented at one point that the NSV lessons feel like Feldenkrais lessons the way Moshe taught them. This is of course obviously not literally the case. Yet, there is an excitement in terms of participating in the NSV process in terms of an experiential discovery, openness and curiosity in terms of exploring Feldenkrais based movement lessons. In this sense, the lessons remain true to its origins in the Feldenkrais Method, while extending it in new directions. This is what Feldenkrais intended when he described each student of the Feldenkrais Method developing it further using their own personal signature.


References

1. Feldenkrais, M. & Katzir, A. (2010). “Moshe Feldenkrais Discusses Awareness and Consciousness with Aharon Katzir.” In Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais, edited by Elizabeth Beringer, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California, p. 167.

2. Siegel, D. (2018) Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence. Penguin Random House, LLC.

3. Porges, S. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation. W.W. Norton & Company, New York & London.

4. Rywerant, Y. (1983). The Feldenkrais Method: Teaching by Handling. Harper & Row Publishers, San Francisco, p. 61.

5. Shulman, A. & Braude, H. (2018). “‘What If…’ A Question of Transcendence.” In Back to the Dance Itself: Phenomenologies of the Body in Performance, edited by Sondra Fraleigh, University of Illinois Press, pp. 183-204.

6. Varela, F.J., (1996). “Neurophenomenology: A Methodological Remedy for the Hard Problem.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3(4): 330–350.

7. Braude,H.D. (2020). Review of Eugene T. Gendlin: Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order, Edited by Edward S. Casey and Donata M. Schoeller. Northwestern University Press. https://reviews.ophen.org/2020/01/19/eugene-t-gendlin-saying-what-we-mean-implicit-precision-and-the-responsive-order/.

8. Ginsburg, C. (1970). The Intelligence of Moving Bodies: A Somatic View of Life and Its Consequences. AWAREing Press, p. 56.

9. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2012). “From Movement to Dance.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, vol. 11, pp. 39-57.

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