Margit Hrasdil is an MBS Trainer and Practitioner based in Bolzano, Italy, where she teaches locally as well as in MBS Academy’s international Trainings. Prior to her training in the Feldenkrais Method (1995) and her advanced study with MBS Academy, Margit worked for many years as a physical education teacher and as a track and field coach in elementary and secondary schools. Here, Margit speaks with Danielle Hill about her background in athletics and education, and her continuing experiences with Mind Body Studies.
DH: First off, could you explain a bit about how you came across the Feldenkrais Method (and eventually, MBS Academy)?
MH: I found Feldenkrais by reading Moshe’s book Awareness through Movement. I had found it in a bookshop in Bolzano, because I was looking for some alternative movement things for a school program I was working on. I was a physical education teacher at the time, and my region had decided to review and develop the national physical education program. Several of us teachers worked on this project, over two years, and it gave us the possibility not only to teach during normal school hours, but to do something more in the afternoons. We thought we could add in other subjects, creative things like pantomime or dancing or even yoga, to make physical education a little more interesting for the students who did more in the afternoons.
At that time, I was also a coach for the track and field club. So, when I started to read Awareness through Movement, I felt like I’d found something that I had always been looking for. When you train people, you can easily see that they have very strong patterns. Often, unless they can get rid of these patterns, or change them, you cannot really help them improve further technically. Someone who jumps very well, for example, may have a good feel for it and real talent. But then, you may work together to further improve, and find that he just cannot learn the technique. At that point, you have to find some different strategies: Awareness through Movement improves the self-image and gives options.
DH: After reading Awareness through Movement, how did you decide to do a training?
MH: At that time, there was no internet. But, I just looked around a little bit to see where I could try this out and see what it is all about. I found a weekend seminar in Munich and went three times. At the first seminar I attended, I was not so happy with it! I remember thinking that I had traveled a long way to be there, and I paid a lot of money, and we did so little. And what for? It was something that I, as a teacher, could do in half an hour, and we spent the whole day just to do that! But, the next morning, my back was not hurting any more – it felt very good, actually!
At the next seminar, we did the movement that Mia calls ‘Noguchi’. It was amazing to me, to see how you can turn in that movement. How much better your turning can become.
Then I started to be really interested. I asked about trainings and found one starting the next autumn in the UK. So, I did that. In fact, I made the decision to quit my job at the school, because otherwise, I could not take such long holidays. I stopped coaching track and field, too. I worked a little as a secretary for the Track and Field Federation and did some other things like that, and I went to the Practitioner Training in England.
DH: Following graduation, did you begin to work right away? Or did you continue studying anywhere?
MH: After I graduated, I opened a practice and immediately had enough students, because many people knew of me and knew that I was now doing something completely different. But, I did not really feel very confident. So, I went back two times to learn from Chava Shelhav, in Tel Aviv. She had been the main teacher of my Practitioner training. At that time, I was always looking around for different teachers, to see how they were working. I went to Ruthy Alon’s courses, as well. But somehow, somebody always told me about Mia, and so I was wondering. In 2000, I learned that Mia was doing a workshop in Oxford, England. So, I went on holidays with my husband to the UK, and while we were there, I did five days of training with Mia, for the first time.
DH: What stood out for you about that first workshop?
MH: Well, it was a mixed workshop, with practitioners and just ‘normal’ people, too. She taught that mixed group so beautifully that everyone went out and said, “She worked just for me!” I was so amazed how she could do that in that class. So, from that point on, I started to go to her advanced trainings in Holland, twice a year.
DH: And then you continued attending advanced trainings.
MH: Yes. When Mia went to Belgium, I did her training there, and then she told me that she would go to Bad Toelz, and so I followed her to Bad Toelz. And here I am! So, I did a crossover from the Guild to MBS.
DH: Have you noticed changes to how you work, over the years? Or since beginning to train with MBS?
MH: Since I began to learn from Mia, my work has changed a lot. Really the quality has become much better: I see it myself, and also I think that my students enjoy how my classes have changed. I have clients that have been in my ATM classes since 1995. This is really nice, because you can see how they change, too. When they began, they were much younger, but now they are much better, in moving and everything!
Also, Mia is very creative, but she can also just look and know exactly what she is going to do. And Leora gives the whole training a pedagogical structure. In many of the trainings that I visited, before I came to Mia, that wouldn’t happen. So, if you were not so skilled in imitating, or were not so lucky to have figured things out for yourself, you could come out of a training and not have much idea how to teach. You would still need some skeleton of how to really build up a group lesson. For example, we did those little pieces of ATMs in the MBS training. Once you have that skeleton, or outline, of course you add in much more about the movement. And as you give a class, of course you speak about what you see. You ask questions to bring up whatever you see for your students.
As you teach, you always have a little bit in mind how the pacing should be, and what you are looking for with this ATM, so you always have the principles a bit in the back of your mind. That makes a difference. What is also different about MBS trainings is the hands-on work. We start touching from the start. Also, things can change from one training to the next. It’s different for different groups. With the new training, Mia and Leora watched how this class was responding and there was even more hands-on work, from the very beginning.
DH: Do you continue to work in schools at all, or with children?
MH: I still like to do things for children and I have worked as a freelancer in the schools. It can be difficult because of bureaucracy, but I wanted to know if it could be possible, so I did two big projects in two different schools.
I gave classes primary schoolchildren once a week, over ten weeks. The first time I did it, my students were 11 and had already completed five years of school. It was difficult, because the school program changes how they think so much. The next time, I asked specifically to work with children in their first year of school. But even with the little ones, it was difficult, because the teachers started immediately to train them to sit still, and to do it right, not wrong, and to be punished if you they didn’t.
Now, children sometimes come to me, too, but usually only one or two in any group lesson. They have so many after-school programs already, that you never find enough of the same aged children to group together! But of course, I am always working with children with special needs.
DH: How would you describe your teaching, when you’re working with children?
MH: Children are so much better at learning and at feeling. They just learn immediately. You also have to pack the lesson into something playful. Sometimes we imitate animals or do something like that. Or you can give them something to solve. You might ask, while they are sitting, “Without lifting your hands from the floor, how can you change from sitting to lying on your front – and then come back?” Something like that. And how can you come back again? Then you see different solutions and you can let them show their own solutions to the others. Letting them make up their own choreographies is also nice. At that time, my background in teaching helped me, too, since I had all these types of games in my head.
DH: Given your background in teaching and in physical education, do you find that there’s any crossover, of how this method of learning can help out in a regular classroom?
MH: It’s very useful. But, it also requires you to use all of your knowledge in another way. It has changed a lot of my thinking. In physical education, we would always be goal oriented. Everything you did, you had to do it right and make an effort.
So, when I first tried Feldenkrais, I really had difficulties. I didn’t understand what they wanted from me. Often I had to open my eyes and look around. I found out that I understood something very different than the people around me. Often, they were much freer to use whatever they could use to do a movement. I noticed that the dancers and physiotherapists and physical education teachers – anyone that had learned to make movements right or wrong – they all had the same difficulties that I had at the beginning.
I really had to let go — and then to bring it together in another way. All that I knew about the body, about physiology, about muscular movement and everything was very useful to know, as a scientific background. Now I can use it with a new way of thinking. That was the most difficult part.
So, this method should be highly recommended for teachers, but sometimes it takes time to really understand just how useful it is, and how different. The ‘aha’ moment for me was when my back pain suddenly went away. By around 40, physical education teachers usually start to have pain everywhere. They just overdo, and they get pain as a result. So, that was what I first found so interesting: such change in such a short time. The second “aha” moment I got after a few Feldenkrais lessons. I was downhill skiing and realized it was much more effortless and elegant!
DH: It sounds as if, in some ways, your change in profession also marked a shift in philosophy or outlook. Would you say that you approach your work differently now?
MH: You know, what I like in this work is that you never get bored, because you always have different people, different ages – from little ones to very old ones – and you see how everybody is very different. So, your mind isn’t shrinking, because you have always to be aware of who you are working with, and what kinds of questions you can offer them. Then you can see what results come out.
It was interesting when I decided to quit teaching and to start a training, because a career in the school system is so secure. If you don’t kill a child or something, you can stay there forever! It doesn’t matter if you teach well or not well. That really bothered me. I didn’t want to join that reputation of a teacher. While I was teaching, I gave my heart to it. And I did what I could do with my profession, at the time. Of course, now I know I could have done so much more, if I had known! So, that was part of the reason I quit. I didn’t want to just keep teaching, counting the years until retirement. With this work, getting older, you find that you can always get better. You always say, “Ah, something new!” Fantastic!
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