September 10, 2016

What is Aufrichtung for me and how does it show in my Feldenkrais work

by Eytan Mandel

Published (in German) in The Feldenkrais ZEIT – Journal for Somatic Learning, September 2014 Nr. 14,  Aufrichtung

Aufrichtung is translated as “being in a vertical position” Maybe that is why in German, French, English Hebrew and Arabic these combinations of words do not only describe that but refer to quality wise (morals, sincere). Maybe because being in a vertical position describes our attitude to Gravity and defines us; walking on two, namely: humans. The position grammatically is not passive but round. The person who is doing the action does it to/on himself: Se tenir droit. The problem of Terminology is referred by Moshe in his book “body &mature behavior… chapter 8 explaining the word Posture: “here we are restricted again by misleading hints in certain words. “ponere” and “postitura” relate to position so the static idea already is hinted by the word “posture”. Yochanan  Rywerant in his book “teaching by Handling” p.64 chapter 2 refers to it also: “to say Antigravitational is a bit misleading, because we don’t always fight against gravity but frequently turn it to our advantage …” He continues: “There is one situation that stimulates this neutralization of gravity: it is the act of lying down on horizontal surface, a position which provides the sensation of being securely supported.”

Aufrichtung for me is a sensation I learned through practicing the Feldenkrais method. I describe it as a sensation which is ordinary, simple and part of everyday life. It is to allow breathing create itself spontaneously, it is not to interfere with music-to allow the piano play with minimum interference. It is to enjoy Alexander Yanai ATMs and the surprise when “taking a walk” is without much effort or the necessity to show off or hide my faults. Aufrichtung  is to allow myself to “rely on my own skeleton” (as Yochanan called it) enabling me to move freely, rest completely, feeling closer to myself accepting my age, weight, strengths and weaknesses. Being aware of the habitual & unintended movements I do. Understanding that there are things I could do and even change while others are the natural course of life.

Working with people both in FI and ATM, I try to bring them to the sensation that they can “rely on their skeleton” by giving up unnecessary & parasitic holdings. When coming up to sitting and standing I keep on asking them to recreate the sensation of ease they reached in lying. I do it with my hands of course but also by  explaining the idea that low level  control is in charge of balance while “just” sitting and” just” standing or walking-“sparziern gehen” as Moshe uses in AY ATMs. These systems have done it so well since they were babies! Not to mention that they do it for millions of years to all living creatures! Not even to mention that Gravity does always the same, whether it is for you, me, a skyscraper or napkin. This kind of thinking with a bit of “kratzen humor” asks the person to be humble and holdback feelings like: the desire to control, fear of falling &fear of pain. The  inhibition itself is already a higher level of control taking the place of lower level and if it comes after the comfortable sensations reached lying on the table, it happens quite often that the persons feel and describe it as: Aha! I feel my feet spread & connected more to the floor, my feet are rooted to the ground. Aha! I stand without effort and feel “unstably stable” (a 16 years old violinist’s phrasing). “Finally, the sense of support provided by the skeleton elicits a lowering of the muscular tonus all over the system, therefore enhancing flexibility, lightness, and vitality. There is also a continuous neurological vigilance (not necessarily conscious) in having underlying support for the body’s weight. The moment the firmness of support is felt, the weight of the body rests upon it with the muscles relaxing accordingly. Most of these responses become habitual early in life and are therefore effected through lower-level control” *p. 68

Recently I worked with two young men ages 24 & 34. Both had a traumatic experience with Gravity. The first one, a brilliant student jumped a Bangi jump (tied with a rope jumping) which left him in a state of stress, with pain mainly the neck and shoulder girdle. The second one; a tall & slim farmer, was hit by a wooden timber which fell on his head breaking neck vertebras which were connected in surgery. In those two extreme cases my FI sessions were addressing the two levels of control encouraging the high level to take over and start a learning process about the exclusivity of the lower level anxiety patterns and extreme pain causing these young men to lose hope and seek for constant help, pain killers and a miracle. I used also their awareness and ability to notice movements recognizing non-differentiated movements as representing low level control.

I wish to share an experience working with Artificial floor as I consider Artificial floor to address only the low levels of control. Working from the little toe to the big toe, followed by the sole and finally the heel than straightening   the knee completes the sensation of a standing leg. Adding the other leg and lifting both in the air, creating a circle with the torso lies supine is a surprise followed by ease and a deep breath showing that the sensations of effort substitution to the belly muscles and by that to the back muscles free both flexors and extensors to allow lying without unnecessary work of these two groups.


Jonathan Cohen suffered from “Verding-Hoffman” disease. He was treated by Moshe and Mia Segal from childhood followed by Feldenkrais practitioners till he passed away Nov.2011 at the age of 60! When I met him he could move his eyes & eyebrows, talk and smile without opening much his lips/jaw, rolling his head a little bit to the right and moving the fingers of his right arm very  little. He could cough and spit every few minutes to remove saliva and mucous. The first principal I followed was: Relate to the healthy part of the person. In that particular case it was by ignoring the fact the I worked with a person who lied supine and could not  be in any other position, and  keep on addressing this position as one option out of a few. After sometime working with my hands on his legs I asked myself: how would he, who did not leave his room nor stand on his own two legs/feet for more than 7 years, react to Artificial floor? Jonathan called me that evening to share that the sensation: his lying skeleton became much clearer and It  was so strong that it allowed him to be aware of parts of his crooked spine and ribcage, parts which were hidden from his awareness usually and he added that he felt longer, breathing lightly. He could not use it in standing but the effect of stimulating the lower system using artificial sense of standing activated the body exactly as any other person. I think that he described: Aufrichtung; not vertical but horizontal. This experience showed me the humanity of the Feldenkrais approach explaining the success of the method with people with special needs.