Despite his closely cropped salt and pepper hair and crow’s feet near his eyes that give away years of travel and toil, one wouldn’t guess that French dancer-choreographer Michel Casanovas is 50. And, that’s because he moves with the grace of a swan, twirling his long limbs around with enviable ease. His movements remind one of flowing water. They are organic in their origin and beautifully strung together. Such ease, says Michel, has come from years of practising, learning and teaching the Feldenkrais method. Trained in ballet and contemporary dance, and having performed all around the world, Michel is in the city to conduct a two-day workshop on the Feldenkrais method, in association with Alliance Francaise.
A somatic practice that reduces pain, improves physical function and brings about self-awareness through movement, Feldenkrais method can be practised by all irrespective of age, says Michel. As curious onlookers try to make sense of this novel way of getting in touch with oneself, Michel takes time out to explain to MetroPlus more about Feldenkrais method and his love-hate relationship with India.
Edited excerpts from a chat:
Firstly, what is Feldenkrais method and how did you get introduced to it?
A lot of people mistake Feldenkrais method to be a dance form or an exercise exclusively to be practised by dancers and performers. This is not true. Feldenkrais is a unique somatic practice that helps us readjust or realign our bodies and minds through movement. Moshe Feldenkrais designed it while he was trying to rehabilitate his injured knee on his own, but it is not necessary that you have to be injured to reap benefits out of this method. I stumbled on it when I had an injury, which I was nursing for long, and despite consistent physiotherapy sessions was refusing to recover.
With Feldenkrais, there was a very slow readjustment of my body and I recovered. But more than just recovery, I got a whole new perspective about movement. I realised that I moved with increased ease and I had less injury during my dance practice. Feldenkrais put me in touch with the intelligence of my body. It opened up my mind and that helped me creatively even in my art practice. So Feldenkrais is not just about dealing with injury or alleviating pain. Feldenkrais is about readjusting your whole body, finding a connection with it and listening to your body’s voice. It is unique because it gives you the space to explore your own body and you can realign it in your own way. There are no rules or formulae that apply equally to everyone. Each one finds their own way by slowly learning to understand and be aware of their bodies. It is a beautiful practice, but it is not so easy. Though we talk about ease and comfort, all that is achieved only with a lot of patience and practice.
That sounds a lot like yoga. Does Feldenkrais also work on releasing stored up emotions in the body?
Yes, I hear this a lot from people I work with in India. Feldenkrais is similar, yet very different from yoga. The main difference being that we do not emphasise on forceful postures. Feldenkrais uses movement to release stored up emotions from the body. Movement is something that comes instinctively to all human beings. Right from the time we are babies, we tend to move in one way or the other. With movement, the body fuels up the rest of the nervous system, ease muscles and releases stress. I do not believe in forcefully making your body stay in a certain posture. Nor do I believe in the adage ‘No Pain No Gain’. When you are in pain, it means something is wrong with your system. It is not right to then push yourself believing that you would feel better once you conquer the pain.
So how did you decide on India as a potential place to teach Feldenkrais in?
I decided to come to India almost seven to eight years ago when I craved a drastic change. I wanted to put myself in a very different environment. I wanted to see a different culture and learn more. For me, like any other European, frankly at that point of time, India was a bag of cliches. And, I came here in search of all those mystical, surreal experiences. All through these years, I have seen India changing a lot. My exchange with the people here have been very interesting and rich. I am not just a teacher, I am learning every minute. I have learnt a bit about classical dance. I wanted to understand the techniques and then explore whether these forms of dance like ballet, jazz, Odissi and Bharatanatyam could exist without the technique and just movement. So the most of what I have learnt here is beautiful. Professionally, Feldenkrais is a very new concept here. Not many have heard about it. So it was the perfect choice for me, both personally and professionally.
But what I feel sad about is that despite the fact that many things like yoga and Ayurveda trace its origins back to India, what is being practised here now are completely Westernised versions of these. If you go to a yoga class here, you see that what they teach are now in capsules for quick fixes like weight loss, fitness etc and it has no connection with the Patanjali. My only request to young Indians is that they be open to understanding and revisiting the real essence of Indian culture.
Where do you go from here and what is your larger plan for teaching Feldenkrais method in India?
What we are doing here is a group session. This is called Awareness Through Movement. We are touring all over the state with such sessions. We will be in and around Thrissur, Kochi, and Kollam till early November. After which till mid-December, we will be touring bigger cities such as Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata. We need to reach out because Feldenkrais is still in its nascent stage in India. We want to start a training programme for Indians in this method. But again this will be more demanding as it is spread over 800 hours and four years. There is no quicker way to get certified. So we are looking to reach out, present our work to the people here, find a connection and establish a strong base.