Thoughts on the Book “Body Cognition – the Method”
by Prof. Judd Ne’eman, Ha’aretz Health 10.7.2011
Even those who have come to terms with the fact that one day gravity will defeat our wonderful body at last, strive in the meantime to reside in a well preserved body and not to experience “the death of Ivan Ilyich”. We seek a life free of suffering, without pain, with a sense of wellbeing, and if possible, longevity. However, our body is predisposed to deteriorate and fall apart in strange and various ways, the body’s deterioration is often accompanied by suffering and many strange pains. “Body Cognition” is a method that undermines the accepted ideas and methods of successfully managing the skeleton and muscle system and thereby prolonging the inevitable. Yosefa Michaeli developed an original method with precise instructions on how to improve and refine muscle and joint function and promote proper operation that will grant us a few more good years. However, within the body’s cloak live the internal organs and hence keeping good posture and good body movements are not always miracle cures, a mythological Panacea, guaranteeing eternal happiness on earth. Body Cognition method is mainly a sophisticated study system for the operation of our body’s skeleton and muscle systems aiming to improve the ability of our body to cope in face of the gravitational power pulling us toward the earth and annihilation.
As I persist in the study of Body Cognition, it becomes clear to me that all I once thought to be “right” in physical activity needs a serious rectification. School education, army service and the gym trend have taught us to believe that muscle strength, the ability to move fast, maximal flexibility and stamina are components of an ideal body. Yosefa Michaeli does not dismiss these values, but puts them at the end of the list. First and foremost, she says, that a person must find ways to be free of certain limitations of the body so that he may live a life more free. This sounds vague, but certain limitations of the body are a result of evolution, of man’s transition from walking on all fours to an erect posture which created an overload on the spinal cord. This very development, standing erect face-forward, grants us various new possibilities of motion and action, very beneficial in evolution, but at the same time causes distortions in weak spots. For example, overly concave vertebra cervicales, or overly concave vertebra lumbales. In order to cope with the physical limitations of human nature, Michaeli suggests a few basic principles: consideration of the weakness of skeleton and spine, diversity and balance of movement, continuous movement, moderate and deliberate motion. In other words, we must develop a rich repertoire of movements as bipeds in response to the new and damaged nature of the human body. Michaeli believes that a correct movement is evident in its “beauty, flow, the balance between moderation, power, preciseness of details and attentiveness to the ensemble”. Her method is built on constant learning and practice, but also on listening to our body and being aware while performing daily
Teaching the Body cognition method is a process of investigating and defining the anatomical and dynamic elements of the human body’s movements. Moving forward, as is well known, is first and foremost a direct result of the latent capabilities of the skeletal structure, the joints and the muscles. Each movement is a sort of vector with power and direction that may be deciphered and studied. It is possible to isolate a movement, reduce its components and study it specifically as one of a whole. In the classes, Michaeli repeats an important rule to her pupils and that is “slow is the fastest way”. Movements should only be executed slowly since a slow movement allows listening, linger on sensations and internalize the correct mode of executing the movements. Michaeli believes that it is possible to develop a listening skill much like the skill of listening to music. Throughout her method various imagery reiterates: the body as a swing tower, the body as an oblong between the shoulders and the bottom of the thighs, or a body made up of three cubes riding each on top of the other – head, chest and pelvis. However, I feel that the most challenging image is the internalization of movement as the listening to music. Is it really possible to follow the movements of our bodies like developing the ability to listen to music? Does the body, under the right choreography, play like music? This conjures up the myth of the singing of the angels. What is lighter and more feathery than the movement of angels? It is the “unbearable lightness” of the measured, balanced, moderate movement that is in tuned, repeating with great restraint, with a released breath. It is the movement to long for, the one and only movement in which Yosefa Michaeli
Michaeli claims that the erect human structure is not perfectly suitable for all its functions. On the map of the skeleton and muscles hanging in he studio, Michaeli describes for her students the anatomical and functional foundation for all of those things she refers to as “the in-depth look into the human body”. In order to get on the fascinating but challenging road the students must be equipped with a basic knowledge of the skeletal and muscle systems and their pathologies. The awareness of the body is supposed to increase our control of the less than perfect function of the body, to improve and enhance it through diligence and great restraint – all this cognitively. Michaeli believes that it is better and most effective to give direction in words and not by demonstration. The spoken guidance assumes the existence of an autonomous person who is supposed to make his way through the entanglement of movements by means of transitioning from the spoken word to movement, for only thus he may achieve the correct conduct. Shortcuts of demonstration and mimicry disrupt the search, the getting in touch with the inner sensations and the developing the ability to imagine the movement in one’s mind before executing it. The verbal direction also enriches the vocabulary of movement description using the array of imagery mentioned, such as the swings and three cubes, which in turn forces the pupil to reconsider the planning of the movement given the suggested imagery.
Yosefa Michaeli touches an open nerve in our lives – the stagnation of movement and the repetitiveness characteristic of our times, while each action is anchored in efficient division of labor and the enslavement to production lines, even in high tech, the human body loses. The method she has developed and taught to generations of students and teachers constitutes a radical antithesis to the common solutions. Her book Body Cognition which recently came out is a wonderful key to the method as well as a call to go ahead and “rethink the body”. Since I have spent many a day and night in the body laboratories of medical school and later in the surgical ward I take the liberty, in the spirit of Marshall McLuhan’s famous words, to call for a new direction: “the body is the message”. These days when many flock after “spirituality” of this or that kind, it is worth reminding ourselves that the human body is unique in the animal kingdom, our body is the most sophisticated machine to ever develop on earth, and thus we
must listen very closely to what the body has to say.
The writer is a director and producer of films, an Israel Prize laureate of Cinema 2009, has a medical training, and have worked as a surgeon in the emergency room