"Do you feel your feet?" This question was posed countless times to Eva Amsler's students while I was at Florida State University doing my Master's work. Eva is one of the few, if not only, teachers of Dynamic Integration. It's a modality of the Feldenkrais Method that involves a lot of lying on the floor and learning how to observe yourself without judging, and then putting that non-judgemental awareness into movement. For over a year I took her class and every Thursday morning we would lie on the floor of a room and she would walk around asking us things like "what part of your calf is lying on the floor? And how much space is there underneath your ankle and the floor?"
This self-awareness naturally (as it was intended to) spilled over into the practice room and daily life as well. I found myself becoming more and more aware of my daily posture in all activities and even while practicing. She was known for asking you "do you feel your feet?" during lessons, masterclasses, etc. Because, as we all know, when you are caught up in the moment of performing something, all too often we get wrapped up in our heads and are no longer aware of our bodies below the neck. Perhaps parts of the arms and hands, but really, when did you think about the spot behind your ears, the back of your neck, the space between your shoulder blades, toes, or the outsides of your arms WHILE you were playing? Or, for that matter, your feet?
Our feet literally keep us grounded, by keeping contact with the ground when we play. Being able to "feel your feet" when you play is an excellent way of being able to differentiate between Self 1 and Self 2 (as Timothy Galloway calls them in his "Inner Game of...." books). If you can allow yourself to get out of your own head and quit analyzing the music, your breathing, the notes, etc. and focus on those parts of your body you don't normally think of, especially your feet, your body can go on autopilot and let Self 2 do what it was trained to do, without the interference from Self 1.
One of my favorite techniques I learned from her in distracting Self 1 was to play standing on one surface. When you are concentrating on just standing in one position without falling over, it's very difficult to continue to overanalyze your performance. I do this all the time with my students. It can be disconcerting for a minute or two, especially when they start to play all sorts of extra mistakes they were not playing a moment before. I let them know this is a good thing. In his book "The Perfect Wrong Note", William Westney discusses the practice of letting yourself make mistakes. Too often, we tend to gloss over them and get things right as quickly as possible, when in reality, what we are doing is ignoring them, so the mistakes aren't really fixed, then they show up in the worst place possible: the performance when we are under stress. So take the time to make mistakes, find out where they are, acknowledge them without judging and then fix them. Stand on one foot, do something odd to get out of your comfort box and distract Self 1 and see what happens.
Feeling your feet is also another way to stay connected with our bodies as we play. Whenever I play now, I am keenly aware of every part of my body; how I'm standing, how I'm moving, if I have excess tension anywhere, etc. This proves invaluable because without that self awareness, I would not notice the pains beginning in various places because of extra tension. I wouldn't notice my posture had deteriorated to a hunched position, etc. This allows me to correct it before it can become a problem. It also allows me to fully use my whole body freely as I play, instead of staying wrapped up in my head.
If you would like more information on this topic and several of the techniques I discussed, some books I suggest are:
• A Soprano on Her Head by Eloise Ristad
• The Perfect Wrong Note by William Westney
• The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Galloway
• Body Learning by Michael Gelb
• Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais
• The Use of Self by Matthias Alexan