The jet flies in a series of parabolas that create negative G forces and allow passengers to be “weightless” for a minute or two at a time. Notice how people move once they become weightless:
once they start floating through the plane, everyone smiles. It’s seems to be an almost universally beautiful and euphoric experience (except for those who get nauseous).
As soon as they start floating they cannot direct their movements through space. They can flail and float, but cannot locomote, and cannot maintain their orientation in space.
They can’t change their basic intentional direction of travel unless—wait for it—they have contact with a surface! That includes the walls of the plane, other people, objects, etc.
No contact with the surface, no control.
The “facilitators” on board (who help newbies in their first flight) have their feet strapped to the floor of the plane. This gives them a constant connection to the surface of the plane and allows them to be grounded, stable, and effective in helping the “floaters”. Otherwise they’d be as helpless as everyone else.
There are similar moments of “floating” to be had on a rollercoaster, usually just after the big drop and come up over the next rise. But they are much shorter, and you are too constrained, or, as I remember, screaming too loud, to soak it in.
Different Surfaces give Different Support
Clarifying What The Ground Does for You
Let’s walk over to this 80 lb. barbell on the ground next to the swimming pool. Go ahead and lift it over your head. It’s heavy. Maybe you wish you had stronger muscles, or better form. People often assume that lifting weight is all about muscles. But before you start to rely too much on pure muscular effort, we Feldenkrais practitioners will tell you you need your skeleton well organized, too.
Unfortunately, a messy conversation then ensues:
But, (they say) the skeleton can’t do anything without the muscles!
Yes, (you say) but the muscles organize and act on the skeleton!
“But, what about the brain!” says a Feldenkrais assistant trainer.
….and round and round we go, all of us “learning” about the wonders of movement and awareness in the most disorderly, disorganized fashion.
Before we get distracted by the inner-workings of the nervous system, let’s get back to basics. Or at least back to high school physics. At fault here is our ignorance of simple Newtonian physics.
If you think muscles are all that’s required to lift an 80 lb. barbell over your head, that the ground isn’t doing any “real” work for you, I have a proposal. Please walk over here to the swimming pool, jump in and tread water in the deep end. Good. Our assistants will now lower the barbell down to you. As you tread water, please lift the barbell overhead again.
It’s the same weight. Is it the same experience?
The environment. The whole context for muscular work and skeletal support has changed. We’ve taken away the hard, supportive ground against which your skeleton could press. With only the buoyancy of the water for support, lifting the barbell in the deep end of the pool feels next to impossible.
Did you hear all that?
No, course not.
You're at the bottom of the pool.
A Walk on the Beach: A Different Kind of Surface.
Now let’s go out to the beach—Jones Beach on Long Island, if you don’t mind. Out here we’ll find a few special moments when your quality of support from the ground changes.
The first moment is when you step off the boardwalk into the sand. I say “into” (not “onto”) because a defining characteristic of moving in sand is that your weight sinks into it. This sagging at each step is the additional time it takes for your body weight to press into and compact the sand enough to get a reflective push back from the sand. This sagging is less efficient than the immediate support of the boardwalk, and it requires more muscular effort.
On your way out to the water’s edge you don’t mind the distance you have to walk (schlepping your umbrella, toys, towels, etc) because you anticipate getting to the ocean. Walking on sand feels new and usual and announces “I’m at the beach!”
The second moment might be when you decide to run on the beach. You can immediately sense the additional work it takes compared to running on asphalt. That additional “lag” in the sand’s support requires more muscular work from you, and makes your skeletal support less immediate and as a result you fatigue quicker. Notice most people will take their run closer to the water where the sand is firmer.
The third moment arrives just after the long slog to your car. You’ve lugged all your equipment back across the beach. The change comes as your foot lands on the boardwalk. Here again you walk on solid ground, where the wood or the concrete gives you much more immediate support—suddenly your skeleton is back in action in a much more efficient way.
These every day moments are happening to us constantly. We need only pay attention to appreciate the work the surface affords us.
I remember a story Jeff told of walking in Paris with Esther Thelen, the developmental psychologist. They had been walking on a wet, stone sidewalk, cautious in the slippery and precarious nature of their support, when they crossed the threshold onto a gravel walkway. In an instant, new qualities in their posture and acture emerged: traction, friction, stability, and safety in orientation. Walking on the more stable gravel surface brought to mind her disagreement with the prevailing view of infant motor development as progressing from “head-to-tail” (or top-to-bottom). She turned to Jeff and said, “You see, it’s not cephalic to caudal. It’s caudal to cephalic.”
Engaging with the Surface:
Getting out of the “Neutral” Mindset and Finding a Gear
In his workshop at the Feldenkrais Institute in 2008, Jeff spoke of his dislike for the word “neutral”. A practitioner in the workshop was talking about the “neutral” position of the spine, or the “nuetral” posture in standing. Jeff said, “I don’t like the word ‘neutral’, and I’ll tell you why. When a car is in neutral, what happens if you step on the accelerator? Nothing. The gears aren’t engaged.”
The word ‘neutral’ leads practitioners to imagine that nothing is happening when people are “standing still” or “just” standing, or “just sitting”. In fact there is a whole world of support, muscular engagement, vestibular orientation that are both continuous and emergent, based on the specific contact the person makes with the ground. And that support, to a large extent, is what creates the potential or the biases in potential for the person to move in the directions, and in the patterns, they choose. It also sets the stage for the aches, pains, injuries and limitations in movement the person may acquire.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road