“This unique and empowering method gave me the tools and knowledge to help me find my way. And above that, I can help others to find theirs.”
Meet MBS Trainer Chris van der Hoff and learn about his journey to seek a way to help others through movements, emotional support and connections with the mind. Upon finding Mind Body Studies, Chris thrives to continue studying with MBS Academy, practicing this work and teaching as an MBS Trainer in the current Foundation Training.
FROM MOVEMENT THERAPY TO EXPLORATIVE LEARNING
When MBS Trainer Chris van der Hoff began his studies with MBS Academy, he had already spent almost two decades observing people’s movements and helping them to find lighter, easier alternatives.
Beginning in 1986, Chris offered sessions in Cesar Therapy (Oefentherapie Cesar), a widely recognized form of movement therapy practiced throughout the Netherlands.
“Mostly it’s about improving posture and doing exercises focused on ‘how you should move’,” he says of the method. “It’s a holistic view and you can learn a lot from it, but it also really focuses on how things should be.”
Comparing the approach of Cesar Therapy with MBS and the Feldenkrais Method, Chris explains, “(In Cesar Therapy), you learn how you should stand, how you should sit, and how you should move your arms, but not in an exploring way, as we do in MBS.” While Chris’ work with Cesar Therapy did help students to develop their awareness and to adopt better movement strategies, it didn’t introduce them to the explorative aspect of learning. As Chris puts it, “When you tell people to move with just one option, you don’t let them explore all the options they have. That’s what I see now.”
Eventually, he also noticed that the more prescriptive approach wasn’t delivering the results that he thought might be possible. “In my (Cesar Therapy) practice, I could teach clients how to do the exercises, but once they were out of the session, they went back to all their old habits. And I thought, well, what’s the use of this?”
While attending a workshop as a Cesar Therapist, a colleague recommended to Chris that he check out The Feldenkrais Method. Chris began attending classes with a teacher who had studied with Mia and Leora and, eventually, his experiences in her class would pique his interest in attending an MBS Foundation Training, himself.
When he thinks back to his very first experiences with the method, Chris points out how,
“Somehow it was weird, because I encountered times when I thought that I knew how things should be. Then I noticed that the way I thought it should be wasn’t always how it was. At the beginning, as a movement therapist, that could be confusing.”
As Chris describes it, the experience of having to unlearn or to question assumptions would continue for him throughout the training. “I remember a moment in a group class during my Foundation training, when I was struggling, watching the clock and hoping it would be over soon. We were doing a simple movement, but I didn’t get it. I think it was the pelvic clock. In Cesar therapy, we do a lot with the pelvis and when people have backaches, you teach them not to hollow their backs so much. At that moment, as I was suffering, Mia said to the group, “Don’t do what you think. Notice what you’re doing.” And I had to think a little bit about that! So I said to myself, ‘Okay,’ and I started all over again. I noticed the contact with the floor and all of those things, and I enjoyed the movement again. I wasn’t looking at the clock. I noticed that my struggling had been in my mindset. It was in the idea that hollowing the back was bad.”
When Chris describes his developing practice and his growing interest in MBS, he points to several moments of seeing through old mindsets, not just within the movements of doing a lesson. “In the beginning,” he explains, “I had thought, ‘Well, I have to offer people something in which I know how they should do it.’” As he began to question the assumption, Chris was already moving toward his current work with MBS. But first, he came across another method, called Haptonomie.
THE ‘INNOCENCE’ OF MOVEMENT
While working with Cesar Therapy, Chris often noticed just how much tension his clients would hold in their bodies. He wondered, “Why are people tensing their muscles so much? And why isn’t it easier for them to be loose in their movements?” As he sought out answers, Chris began to see how muscular tensions were related to emotion. He began looking into Haptonomie, a mind-and-body method that uses touch and awareness practices to help people observe their emotional states, down to the minute shifts that take place hundreds of times each day.
“In a way,” Chris explains, “in MBS, we explore ourselves through movement. And in Haptonomie, we explore ourselves through what we are doing emotionally.”
While Cesar Therapy had focused on correcting posture, Chris saw in Haptonomie a more explorative means of helping his clients to learn about themselves and their habits. Again, he was able to use his experience working with the body, as Haptonomie relies in part on physical touch. In a sense, Chris found that Haptonomie offered a “missing piece”, which he had been looking for in Cesar Therapy.
Yet, in describing his training in Haptonomie, Chris also gives the impression of a search still in process. “Haptonomie centers on learning about yourself more than trying to “be good” or to do something correctly. I tried to integrate that orientation into my work as a movement therapist. But, it was kind of like two opposites. How do they connect? That was the question. And that’s where MBS came in!”
For Chris, one strength of MBS was the clarity of reference points available in the lessons, a contrast from the emotion-based practices of Haptonomie. “If you use movement to become more aware of yourself, you have clear and unchanging reference points to relate to: the floor, gravity, and the structure of the skeleton with its joints. In Haptonomie, you also want to become more aware of yourself, but you do it through exploring your emotional states. You have fewer clear reference points to relate to. How each culture deals with and thinks about emotions also varies. So there are many more variables. It’s less easy to get objective information about yourself, and especially if you are afraid of your emotions.”
Comparing his work with Haptonomie and MBS, Chris further underlines the particular benefits of a movement-based method, “with MBS, you get to know yourself, but it happens through movement. And movement seems very innocent. People can choose how much they go into their emotional system and how much they learn about it. You can stay with the movement as long as you like.”
Not only can students decide how far they go within the class, but the clear and unchanging “reference points” offer the freedom for self-guided exploration anywhere and at any time. Chris contrasts his current students’ experiences with what he often saw early on, when his Cesar Therapy students would revert to old habits as soon as they walked out the door.
“The floor is always there. Gravity is always there. You can always choose to be aware of what you do. With MBS, you have the tools to make yourself feel a little bit more comfortable, a little bit better. So, you can always do that. It’s a tool – if you have it, you can use it anytime.”
Chris completed MBS Academy’s Trainer’s Training while Assisting during the 2011- 2014 Foundation Training and is now an MBS Trainer teaching in the current Foundation Training in Bad Toelz, Germany.
When Chris looks back to his first experiences with MBS, he recalls, “I noticed that there was much more to explore than I had thought.” As he describes his more recent experiences as Assistant Trainer and Trainer, the same sense of wonder and surprise is still apparent.
“Now, as MBS Trainers, we are teaching in group classes as well as during the partner work. Teaching together with Mia and Leora is a great feeling. It’s challenging as well, because it isn’t always so easy… to make it easy.” Chris laughs. “As a teacher of a group class, you try to make the atmosphere as pleasant as possible, because when you’re in a neutral or nice state, it’s easier to become aware of what you’re doing, without interfering so much.” Creating that sense of ease partly comes down to the fine work of choosing one’s words mindfully.
Chris has found that teaching in the Foundation course, right alongside his own teachers, has helped him to focus on the key elements of teaching. “What I do to prepare is very much to listen to what Mia and Leora say, and to how they say it.
If you say certain words too much, or you use words that aren’t so precise, different things will happen for the students. I ask myself, ‘What is this lesson about?’ What are its core principles? What is the main message I want to give them? And what are the words to use?’”
For almost 30 years, Chris has been working with individuals in movement. For more than ten years, he has been using MBS to encourage explorative learning instead of handing out cut-and-dry answers. Now, Chris continues teaching as an MBS Trainer. Yet, despite his lengthy background with the work, Chris’ words spill over with the enthusiasm of someone for whom the subject is always fresh. He’s looking forward more than back.
As we wrap up our chat, Chris notes, “When I see Mia and Leora teach, I feel like there’s a long way to go! This is what I want to do. I want to continue this – what’s the word? – this voyage. This trip. My direction is clear – not a direction like going to Amsterdam or going over there – but more of a direction in life. I’m clear about it now. And the direction may change, and I’m okay with that, too. Actually, it’s just like in an MBS lesson. This unique and empowering method gave me the tools and knowledge to help me find my way. And above that, I can help others to find theirs. To me, that’s a big and fulfilling thing.”