Coming to my senses
Lately my research and writing process has been influenced by a writing technique called ‘Sense Writing’ developed by playwright Madelyn Kent. Sense Writing is a somatic writing practice that combines Feldenkrais, a neuroplasticity method that teaches awareness through movement, with writing exercises. My initial interest in the method was driven by a desire to deconstruct my abstract academic writing style that often lacks a creative tone of voice, but I was also searching for a method that would help me to reduce the struggle of writing and overcome blocks.
Sense Writing does both – it changed the way I approach writing and has initiated a profound and ongoing process of unlearning and relearning. Throughout a 12-week online course I realized that the reason why learning something new or doing something difficult like a PhD feels overwhelming and stressful to great extent lies in how I am approaching it.
Sense Writing builds on the Feldenkrais method and uses its principles and movement sequences to establish a connection between awareness through movement and creative writing. Cultivating awareness is an effective tool to unlearn destructive patterns that lead to chronic pain and bad posture or in my case stress responses connected to learning and writing. What I find fascinating is that with Feldenkrais sequences one can learn that willpower and effort do not lead to awareness but that reducing effort as much as possible and moving as slow as possible facilitates learning. This is deeply counterintuitive because in western capitalist culture we internalize that ‘more is better’ than less, and ‘faster is better’ than slow. The sequences that are instructed by a teacher are designed in a way to sense the smallest possible distinctions between movements. This is called differentiation. Noticing differences for example between the left side and the right side of the body, or before and after a movement builds and changes brain maps. This possibly leads to a functional integration of motor activity, that means that the body aligns itself more effectively to do movements without pain and strain.
Sense Writing integrates writing into this approach for cultivating awareness to expand flexibility, choice, and flow in writing. What I didn’t expect in the beginning is that how I approach writing would equally change what I write. I learned to activate my parasympathetic nervous system with small movements before I start to write because it supports processing information and making new connections. Through Feldenkrais sequences, that work with small movements like exploring the mouth cavity with the tongue or moving the eyes very slowly from right to left, a shift in the body mind state occurs. Noticing differences and shifts builds awareness. Sense Writing exercises work in the same way. Writing prompts are designed to sift through the complexity of a topic or a story by differentiating. This works by writing constraints that are similar to the movement constraints that Feldenkrais uses, when a small movement is used to study its connections to the entire body. Writing is constrained by beginning every sentence with, e.g. “There is…” / “There are…”, “I feel, I see, I hear, I smell, I taste…”, “I remember…” or “What I really want to say…”
These constraints help explore inner landscapes, sensory information, knowledge or memories, yearnings, and desires about something that was experienced, read, or imagined. After a constraint there follows a free write and an observation of how things are coming together after differentiation.
This technique helps to access the information that is stored in body and brain in a non-linear and less forced way. Free writing and writing constraints in combination with Feldenkrais sequences allow for thoughts and less obvious connections to emerge. I am grateful for this practice because enhancing sensory awareness disrupts abstraction, and grounds and entangles my thinking in the world. But it is also a powerful method for finding one’s own voice because through learning with Feldenkrais to move with ease and without wasting energy by using force, more individuality can be expressed. Since thoughts are movements, the work of functional integration translates into thinking, that is embodied anyway, and possibly strengthens originality when we express ourselves with language.
Doidge, N. (2016). The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.