The human mind is notorious for playing tricks on us, but the body doesn’t lie. That’s among the reasons why Chani Grieve and Andy McIntosh have headed down a path that combines meditation practice with the Feldenkrais Method.
The couple, based near Bellingen on the mid-north NSW coast, graduated from the Melbourne 4 Feldenkrais training in 2013 and since then have run classes, workshops and a retreat on bringing presence to mind and body.
“In the Insight Meditation tradition, they often teach the four foundations of mindfulness and the first foundation is mindfulness of body,” Chani says. “It’s the most gross level of understanding or perception that we have, of ourselves and our movement, so it’s really accessible to people.
“I find that when you have an insight in the body it’s really undeniable – it’s so in-your-face you can’t ignore it, escape or rationalise it, or explain it away.”
Both long-time practitioners of meditation informed by Tibetan and Insight traditions, Andy and Chani decided to do the Feldenkrais training after participating in a week-long retreat in New Zealand with Leander Kane, who combines the Method with Buddhist mindfulness practice.
This year, they have run one-day workshops at Bellingen and a week-long residential retreat at a meditation centre in Tasmania, where they have brought together the two practices. Chani runs regular Awareness Through Movement group lessons in Coffs Harbour, and both practise Functional Integration, the one-on-one, hands-on aspect of Feldenkrais.
The Method has had major effects on the personal and working life of Andy, whose body was worn out from years of labouring as a builder. “I really needed to have a working life that, as well as increasing my skill and interest, was also personally healing on a physical level,” Andy says.
“Running workshops and doing Functional Integrations means I don’t have to do as much building as I used to. It’s also put me into a situation where I’m teaching groups of 20 people, and standing up in that environment has really encouraged me to be much more of a people person than I used to be.
“The teaching element has really increased my interest more in studying the Feldy lessons. I really want to learn the lessons to a point where I’ve embodied them myself so what I’m teaching I’m actually able to feel.”
Before the training Chani was a fulltime massage therapist, but strain and injury meant she couldn’t put weight through her wrist. “Gradually through the Feldenkrais training I’ve learnt to massage much better because I use myself so differently and so much more skilfully I suppose, with much more awareness,” Chani explains.
“But it also really increased my sensitivity, not just in my working life but in my capacity to be present – and I suppose this is with the meditation as well. But the Feldy’s really given me such a sensitivity for the body and I find, say I’m sitting here having this conversation with you, but I’m feeling it in my body, and that’s how I gauge what my responses to things are and what’s wholesome and what’s not and what’s appropriate and not.
“I find in life it opens me right up to other people and what they’re experiencing. I think it’s made me a more patient person, a better listener, better able to be with people whatever state or frame of mind they’re in.”
The couple will continue to run workshops and retreats, in which they alternate between sitting meditation and movement meditation – experiences that serve to deepen each other.