MBS Trainer Naomi Silver graduated from MBS Academy in 2003 in the Netherlands. Since then, she has had a private practice in Tel Aviv, where she specializes in working with babies and children, specifically those diagnosed with autism. She also works with adults who bring her a wide range of concerns. She has traveled to Thailand and Burma to learn bodywork and has spent time in monasteries studying meditation and mindfulness work. Naomi also specializes in education, fine arts, health and wellbeing, meditation and Traditional Thai Massage. She holds a degree in Fine Art and Education and has worked as an art teacher at a Montessori School.
Naomi recently served as an assistant trainer for MBS workshops in Germany, Korea and Japan. In the process, she assisted on a wide range of lessons, from post-graduate seminars to introductory workshops, and worked with the full spectrum of MBS students, from seasoned practitioners to first-time participants. Though Naomi has worked as an MBS practitioner for over a decade and has taught at MBS workshops around the world, when she describes her most recent experiences, her emphasis is on how much she continues to learn, from students and teachers.
Teaching with Precision, Presence and Flexibility
When looking back on a busy period of assisting for MBS during the fall of 2013, Naomi admiringly points out Mia’s skill at creating lessons that can be useful to each student in the room, even when teaching highly mixed groups. “It was an amazing learning for me,” Naomi recalls, “seeing how we can always find a common teaching for students if we go to basics.” Bringing the students’ attention to “the basics” –such as noting differences between the sides of the body—can help ground an experienced practitioner and can offer a starting point to newcomers. At the same time, Naomi describes any teacher’s ideal orientation as one of balance: if you give too much instruction, you’ll overwhelm the students. Give too little, and you’ll lose them. The same can be applied to any mode of communication; the art lies in determining which details are most vital to include. Finding that point of balance is a feat of precision, a word that comes up regularly in our conversation.
“Being in Japan, this was even more emphasized, as the Japanese culture places a lot of value on precision. They go to a master and study martial arts. It doesn’t matter if it’s Karate or Judo or Kyudo or Shodo (calligraphy) or Ikebana (flower arrangement): it’s all about precision.” The connection to Naomi’s work with MBS quickly becomes apparent. “These arts are also about having something that is complete in each moment. This is something that we use in our teaching: being able to change direction at any moment. In getting up from a chair, for example, maybe someone takes the chair away, but we want to be able not to lose our balance.” An underpinning of MBS work, this capacity for reversibility and spontaneity comes directly from Moshe’s teachings and writings, where he describes the possibility of freeing oneself from compulsive behavior. Finding the ability to change one’s movement at any given point is simply one aspect of this freedom, which can transfer to emotional and cognitive functioning as well as everyday, practical spheres of life.
As Naomi notes, there are endless practices for learning flexibility and this in-the-moment presence from various cultures. While assisting in the MBS seminars in Japan, she had the opportunity to try her hand at Kyudo (Japanese traditional archery). “Even though it’s a practice of archery,” Naomi clarifies, “the aim is not reaching the center of the target, but of having a unity between your movements, the moment, the target, the arrow: everything should be one.”
While the recent taste of Japanese culture offered numerous parallels to her own work, Naomi has long valued precision, presence and reversibility, both as a practitioner and in her daily life. Describing how she works with young students on the autism spectrum, Naomi explains her primary task as removing distraction. She looks at “how I can reduce distraction and then have the students available to focus on something that is reachable for them, that they can develop with.” As students can bring their attention to what is happening in each moment, their observational skills begin to expand and become more precise.
Remaining mindful and present in MBS work is one quality that Naomi particularly identified as she assisted Mia on recent trainings in Japan and Korea. “Mia will change her lesson if she sees that she and the class are not united. She can change direction with a whole classroom, and she can do it with one person in a one-on-one session.” It’s a quality Naomi continues to develop: as a practitioner, as a teacher, and in her daily life. As she juggles a demanding and ever-shifting schedule, often staggered across continents, Naomi notes the great value in becoming even more flexible. “I’ve always had the ability to adapt to various cultures, but the fluidity of it is something that I’ve improved over time.”
Engaging the Student’s Own Abilities
In a conversation on “education,” Naomi reflects on how best to define the word. One key to her approach is a fundamental respect for the student’s own abilities and resources. “My student’s way is not necessarily my way – I just want to enable them to succeed in going their way.” She settles on the role of an educator, then, as to offer “a kind of guidance,” to provide the precise instruction or feedback that will allow each student to continue in discovery. When working with autistic students, Naomi creates an environment that minimizes potential distractions. When working with young children, she creates lessons that seem, to the child, more drawn from the playground than the classroom.
Naomi mentions a recent session with a girl whose parents were concerned about a particular movement pattern their daughter had developed. “One of the things I did with this child was to see if she could roll, if she could enjoy that. When she rolled, she put her head down and didn’t round her back so much. But after five minutes, when I showed her there was another option, it changed. Actually, she could start to feel something, when something wasn’t her best choice of her body.” Naomi creates an environment and proposes specific activities whereby the child can learn new possibilities and patterns for herself. This approach to learning isn’t just more effective, but it opens up richer possibilities than if Naomi had imposed a specific new pattern or a set of rules for the girl.
Later in the lesson, the value in letting students explore becomes especially apparent. “When we play a game of jumping and accuracy of movement, I see that she is not just intelligent in movement, but she is very intelligent and is capable of jumping with an accuracy and in ways that older kids often cannot do. The mother was surprised to see that her daughter was so virtuoso in her movement, and had so much joy in it.” Allowing the child to find out new body patterns through direct experience is a matter of respect as well as efficiency. “When a child can do this, her body should not be interfered with,” Naomi explains, something that she conveys to the girl’s parents, as well. “It’s a strong belief of mine that you don’t interfere where a person has a talent, but you open the ways to continue the exploration, curiosity and self-discovery.”
Naomi’s approach takes the whole person into account: the student is regarded as a functional and creative being, who has already learned countless complex human manoeuvres (such as walking or using language.) Instead of trying to fix a piece of the system, the teacher asks questions or creates situations in which the student can engage her own intelligence. Naomi engages the child’s parents in a further extension of this global view. “When I work with a child, the parent is always present,” she explains. “It’s important to me that the parent sees my attitude towards the child. They are part of the whole process.” Soon after seeing the young girl, who came in with a problem and discovered a skill, Naomi received a thank-you email from the parents. They wrote not simply because the session had removed a problem, but to tell Naomi “how much it changed their whole way of thinking and understanding.”
Toward the completion of her degree in Art and Education, Naomi focused her thesis project on the relationship between art and movement. Naomi’s wide-ranging interests and diverse applications of MBS principles speak to an intense curiosity that she betrays to colleagues and students in the briefest exchanges. Yet, she describes the heart of her work – whether with autistic children, art students, or MBS practitioners – in extremely simple, grounded terms. After lengthy study to better understand education, wellness, mindfulness, art and child development, in the end Naomi relies on clear observation of each person in front of her instead of theories or labels. “As we learn in MBS, I’m always looking at where the movement is stopping and where the thinking is stopping. So there’s always a parallel between the emotional development, the cognitive development, and the way the movement goes.”