An athlete his entire life, Tom Rankin is a personal trainer who presently teaches fitness classes at the Health Improvement Program(HIP) Center at Stanford University, California. After completing his Feldenkrais Guild Certification, he has been studying with MBS Academy for the past 10 years, and is currently an MBS Assistant.
The MBS approach was new to me, and I knew this is the way I want to learn this work. With MBS Academy, the work felt simple, organic, and direct.
In this interview, Tom shares with Cydria Schaefer how his studies with MBS Academy influenced both his personal and professional life. Tom explains how he learned a clearer, more precise understanding of the work of Dr. Feldenkrais, which has significantly improved his insight into the work and teaching.
Cydria: What brought you to the work of Moshe Feldenkrais?
Tom: I wanted to change my life after a serious injury to my shoulder and clavicle in a bicycle accident. A recovery process of more than a year, in which I needed help even getting out of bed made me look at movement differently: less in terms of getting stronger and more in terms of how to make life better.
I attended a workshop called “Effortless Use of the Arms and Shoulders”. Lying on the floor, seemingly doing nothing, I realized I was able to use my arm and shoulder better than before the accident with no effort. I was stunned. I wondered if I could find a way to make life better through Feldenkrais’ work. The idea that I could be a better me through movement was really attractive because movement was, and is my profession and life.
Cydria: What attracted you to MBS Academy?
Tom: Towards the end of my Guild training, I learned Mia Segal was having a training in Berkley [August, 2008]. I knew she had been Moshe’s first assistant and recalled Dennis Leri saying he had learned a lot from Mia. I did the first five days with her, and instantly regretted not doing the second five days. The MBS approach was new to me, and I knew this is the way I want to learn this work. With MBS Academy, the work felt simple, organic, and direct.
Cydria: How did you continue your study with MBS?
Tom: I started with MBS Advance Trainings, CDs and DVDs. I was thrilled when the Online Academy was introduced in 2016. I started with “Demystifing ATM”. This is an excellent introduction to anyone new to MBS. You will learn the theories behind ATM and experience lessons that embody their practical application. I started a group with others in the MBS Master Practitioner program to review and practice the hands on segments of the Foundation Review series. At a very reasonable rate I am able to continue my MBS study in between Master Practitioner seminars.
Cydria: What are some of the things you’ve learned or discovered from MBS Academy that allow this work to feel “simple, organic, and direct”?
Tom: The biggest discovery is that our limitations are due to our thinking and not necessarily a physical problem. That changed my practice immediately.
Cydria: How do you see this demonstrated in MBS seminars?
Tom: There are many examples of how I experienced this in MBS seminars.
One way is guided observation of three people doing the same movement side by side, and learning to observe differences where they’re each doing the movement differently, yet there’s no “this is better than that.” Instead the differences reflect different ways of how each person is thinking and their self-image. The teachers show how physically they can all do each others’ ‘ways’, but the body image is unique to each one. There’s no judgment, but an appreciation of what we can learn from each other, which makes it an empowering and a new perspective on all aspects of life and learning. Just respecting the differences.
In class today, someone said, “It feels stuck. It hurts” And Mia asked, “What is ‘it’? Who is ‘it’?” And she does this in such a light, fun way that we realize how programmed we are to think of our arms or legs as separate parts of ourselves. In a light way, Mia wakes you to the fact that the pain in the knee was actually created by the way you use yourself and, therefore, you can change it.
Cydria: What else stands out to you in MBS trainings that allow this work to feel “simple, organic, and direct”?
Tom: In MBS they clarify the movement-sequences (ATMs) by separating the instructions from the awareness guidance. They call them ‘In-betweens’, because they come in between the movements, but this is a huge thing, because that is what distinguishes these from other exercise methods. It’s the ‘how’ – where we’re gently guided to focus our attention, using a series of questions to direct our awareness to differences – What get’s longer? What get’s shorter? These In-betweens are just essential. When I started understanding how to choose those, I could immediately see a change in the quality of my students’ movements and general progress.
Movement is means to conveying a message
In MBS Academy, I learned that awareness, not the movements, is most important in this work. As Leora clarifies in MBS’s Online Course, Demystifying ATM, the intention of this work is to learn about ourselves through the movement. I used to do Tai Qi regularly. When I do it now, I am more mindful and I am more mindful in all my work.
Cydria: You had commented, “I find the way Mia uses the ground to help us discern differences most interesting”. Could you explain?
Using the floor
Tom: Nobody uses the floor like MBS does. MBS taught me the importance of sensing the surface of external contact, such as a floor, chair or wall. “What goes to the floor? What leaves from the floor?” In my past experience, the floor is used, but it may be used vaguely, like, “How do you feel the floor?” “I feel the floor as hard, cool, etc.” But the floor is not used as an external frame of reference.
Now my attention is directed. My awareness has shifted, and it’s shifted to something precise. It’s made me see and direct my students’ attention to learn real sensory awareness.
I also gained a more precise and clearer understanding of ATMs with MBS Academy. When I started going through every MBS Online segment, I would use that segment to teach my class. A really cool thing was hearing people’s comments. For example, in the flexor lesson, people would comment, “When I move my pelvis, I can feel the movement go all the way up to my head.” I never got comments like that before in my ATM classes. And that was the result of learning these lessons in a simpler and more precise format. The students are feeling more and have a clearer understanding of what the lesson is about. And my class size has actually doubled.
The MBS training removes the mystery and makes the learning clear and simple.
Focusing on Core Principles
MBS Academy crystallizes and teaches the Core Principles of this work. This helps focus teacher and student on the deepest learning points of each lesson and the method in general, making it deep and meaningful. My favorite are “Awareness”, “Learning from Differences”, “A System of Questions”, and “Less is More”.
Cydria: MBS adds, that in learning options, you do not have to surrender what you already are doing because it has served you. Yet what has served you, now can be included among new choices, and you can decide which you want to use at any moment.
Tom: And that makes the work deeper and more powerful. Here’s the interesting thing about Dr. Feldenkrais’s work. Even if you teach it in a mediocre level, and I’ve found this with FIs too, people experience benefit, and there’s going to be a small part of the population that’s really going to enjoy it. When I started my practice, I was just learning to get a good feel and sensation how to work through somebody. Just giving someone a sense of his skeleton can help a person’s self-image, and for a lot of people, that’s valuable. And I got to a point with FIs that I could help people get out of pain.
I’m learning there’s more to simply getting out of pain. There’s actually learning about yourself, learning new options, learning new things you can do. It’s not just lengthening the leg, or connecting the skeleton. What I’m learning with MBS is that I can go so far beyond that. And like you said, what you have can serve you well now. I can still do these movements and include these movements in an FI, but now realize the effect on my student’s thinking and self image, which have a much more powerful effect on how people live their lives.
I encourage all Feldenkrais Practitioners to experience MBS. Maybe come to one MBS seminar or do one of the ATMs online, and just see.
My experience with MBS helped me understand the bigger picture of this work, of how powerful it is not only to move in a more efficient way, but to accomplish that goal of being the best me. How can I be a better me, and how to keep improving who I am.