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What is health?

“In short, health is measured by the shock a person can take without his usual way of life being compromised”  Moshe Feldenkrais

Moshe Feldenkrais the founder of the Feldenkrais method for somatic movement education wrote a beautiful piece on health in 1979. His vision of health at that time was quite controversial because he focused on the possibilities and capacities in everyone to act consciously in the world and to shape life in spite of personal difficulties or challenges.

At that time – and I am not convinced that much has changed – health was seen saw as the absence of disease. This is quite a limited definition that is rather focused on how someone does not medically fit into the picture of the ideal human being? But what else is health?

“If a human being needs no medical services for years and has no complaints of pains or aches, is he or she healthy? If, on the other hand, this same person leads a dull, uninteresting life with marital difficulties that end up with suicide — is that a healthy person? And is a person who never brings his or, her work to an end one way or another, and who keeps changing his employment only to avoid his duties time and time again — is he in good health?

Obviously, health is not easy to define. It is certainly not enough to say that not asking for medical or psychiatric help is proof of health.” – Moshe Feldenkrais

We live in a culture of fear and shame. Many people are preoccupied with what is wrong or wrong with them, with their bodies, their desires, their lives, whether it is about pain, difficulties or the fear of not belonging, fear of mistakes, failure… More than 2 million people in the Netherlands alone are walking around with chronic tension and stress complaints and all their consequences. Of course we all have great challenges, sad and violent events in our lives. Life throws its curve balls. But to what extent does it deprive us of the space to feel and experience the other side of life? The joy, the pleasure, creativity, spontaneity? What is health?

A ‘billion figure Fixing industry has emerged in which people are even more confirmed in what is wrong with them and remain stuck in their malaise. Give me a pill so I can keep doing what I’ve been doing. Outside interventions that rarely result in the person in question asking himself the question ‘How are my behaviour, movements, and thinking connected to my emotional and physical well-being? People give away the responsibility for their own health and well-being. They outsource feeling better. And so the story keeps repeating itself. What is health?

The first thing we as children unlearn as we get older is learning in a playful way by exploring, discovering with trial and error. Because in this society making mistakes is synonymous with failure and failure very often has negative consequences. Do we still dare to fail, are we still allowed to learn by ourselves? How often did I come across students in my dance school who already knew they couldn’t dance before they even had taken a step, completely stuck in their beliefs about themselves and unaware of the chance they had taken away from themselves to discover something new, to broaden their horizons? What is health?

I believe the answer to what is health lies in learning about ourselves. Learning to be aware of the movement of the emotions in ourselves, our feelings, our thoughts and the way we move, A Learning with our senses and our brain. An organic way of learning that engages and invites our entire nervous system to make new connections.  The magic words for this kind of learning are playful movement.

I would like to call it Embodied Learning. Because in this ‘learning’ head and body are equal and one. I can also call it animated learning because in play, curiosity and spontaneity we meet our soul and connect with our dreams and creativity. From this Learning; we do and think in connection with our whole self and movements arise that are supported by a deep understanding of what our body and soul need to live life to the fullest and to be in our own strength, to live our dreams…

I am convinced that a caring, listening relationship with our body and a large dose of self-awareness are the keys to health, vitality and meaning. If you understand what you do and how you do it, then you can do what you want. And you can stop something, that too is an action. In other words then you create the possibility to make another movement. Movement that makes you sparkle, where dreams come to life and your energy and zest of life flow exuberantly.

“A healthy person is the one who can live his unavowed dreams fully.” -Moshe Feldenkrais

I left for Spain in 2019. It was my dream to live in the mountains, to feel more peace and sun, to live closer to nature. The first time I had this dream was in 1999… With a dart and a map of the world at hand, I expressed my wish in November 2018. “Where will I really feel at home?”. Not in Rotterdam in any case. Then I threw the dart. It landed at a point somewhere between the villages of Lanjarón and Orgiva in southern Spain, in the wonderfully beautiful Alpujarra. But I didn’t know that at the time. Of course I went to see it, several times even.

My husband still had a job back then, so moving wasn’t done overnight. Oh how that stood in my way and how scared I was that he would quit his job. Fear, dilemma; it was all there. One day I wanted to leave and the next day I clung to everything I didn’t really want anymore. Who knows, maybe I could make it fun again? The umpteenth attempt to silence that voice of my heart.

Intention is strong and so is being aware. you can’t make yourself unaware of something you are aware of. I felt very deeply what I wanted and did not want. The dream wanted to live. And with every attempt to suppress my dream I lost more energy and pleasure. On a drizzling grey day when I felt extra flat and frustrated, I told my husband with quite some emotion that if his work was not there, we would have been long gone. Oeps! A few weeks later he lost his job due to a restructuring. And so it happened that all the excuses fell one by one and only the courage to do so remained. I then learned that the plural of courage is life

In the meantime I have found a beautiful place in the beautiful Alpujarra, between the villages Orgiva and Lanjarón. Yes the dart! And I feel at home, delightful! How grateful I am to have taken the step, despite my fear of the uncertainty of a new move, to have followed my heart. After the Covid crisis I want to organize great retreats here, full of dance, creativity and movement, to guide people to be healthy and vital in life, to play.

Below is an extract from the essay by Moshe Feldenkrais in which he shares his strong vision on health:

….Even in our culture a number of us succeed in continuing their healthy life process to an old age -an age, that is, where the unhealthy are already dotty and sick-. Some of our best and healthiest men – who, by the way, may be hunchbacks or have other deformities – are the sort of people of whom we think as artists. Most artists, they cobblers or sculptors, composers or virtuosos, polish, or scientists, like good wine, are best when they are old.

The outstanding difference between such healthy people and the others is that they have found by intuition, genius, or had the luck to learn from a healthy teacher, that learning is the gift of life. A special kind of learning: that of knowing oneself. They learn to know ‘how’ they are acting and thus are able to do ‘what’ they want: the intense living of their unavowed, and sometimes declared, dreams” – Moshe Feldenkrais

If you want to read the whole essay, click here