AN INTERVIEW WITH ALEX
June 6, 2017
How did you become interested in the Feldenkrais Method®?
I was introduced to the Feldenkrais Method at Bay View Music Festival. They offered a class, and it seemed like it might be beneficial, so I started taking it and really liked it. I was always a little interested in how music related to other disciplines. When I went back to school at Arizona State in the fall, I saw that the dance department offered a Feldenkrais class, so I enrolled and ended up taking it for four semesters. The more I got into Feldenkrais, the more I liked it, and the more I realized how much there was to learn and how much of a difference it could make. It was like falling down the rabbit hole. By the time I finished my undergrad, I knew I just had to continue and train to be a practitioner. Feldenkrais had made too much of a difference in my life to stop.
Can you explain how Feldenkrais helps musicians?
The biggest thing I’ve heard from other musicians who do Feldenkrais is that it changes the way they hear the music. By putting musicians more in touch with their kinesthetic sense of themselves, it helps quiet some of the “noise” going on in the nervous system, which results in the ability to hear a lot more of the details in the music and for music to be not just an intellectual experience, but to feel it throughout the body. Hearing music then utilizes the entire nervous system, which is located throughout the whole body, not just the part of the nervous system in the skull.
Feldenkrais can also help musicians reduce pain, prevent and recover from injury, improve technique, and provide the musician access to parts of herself that she wasn’t aware of. For me, it really helped with my vibrato—to be able to locate the muscles used for vibrato and to learn to control them.
How do you apply the Feldenkrais Method to your teaching and playing?
Learning about neuroplasticity and other principles behind Feldenkrais has really furthered my interest in how learning takes place. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we optimize the conditions for learning when teaching a Feldenkrais lesson, and how I can transfer that to my teaching and practicing bassoon. This question could be (and is) a whole article in itself, but these are basic ideas I’ve distilled it down to:
Feldenkrais is an option for many people who suffer from chronic pain, but many times these people are afraid to try something new and unfamiliar. How would you encourage someone who is nervous about trying Feldenkrais?
Well, the first thing is to ask yourself why you’re nervous. A lot of times it’s because the process is going to involve change and the person isn’t sure what that will look like or where they’ll end up. To this, I would suggest that you trust yourself and your ability to know yourself and decide what’s right for you. No one can make you change in a way that you don’t want to or make you change before you’re ready. The thing you’re afraid about losing—either you don’t really want it in the first place, or you’re not going to lose it and it will probably improve.
Another thing that happens is people become desperate, especially if they’re in pain or their career is at risk, and they try everything without really investing in anything. There are a lot of different methods and therapies, and each has their value. If you try to learn Feldenkrais and Alexander technique and Reiki and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction all at the same time, you’re going to end up overwhelmed, stretched thin, and not getting anything out of it. Pick one thing that’s easy for you—that feels good and that feels like a good fit for you—and stick with it for a little while. If it doesn’t work for you, then move on to something different, but just try one thing at a time.
Feldenkrais is sometimes less accessible than other methods or therapies, but it’s very often the thing that works when nothing else does. I’ve found it can be a big investment, but it’s an investment in oneself, and it pays off ten-fold.
How has your life changed since studying Feldenkrais?
It’s overwhelming, really, how much it’s done for me. It’s changed how I relate to myself and the world around me. I feel better about myself—more secure, sure of myself, and empowered, and less stressed and anxious. I have better interpersonal relationships with my friends and colleagues, and especially with my family and my significant other. I relate to school and to music differently, which is allowing me to feel less pressure, become a better musician and a better student, and not burn out so much. I have a better sense of what I want and I what I need. Plus, it’s opened up a whole new possibility for my career.
 Alex Toenniges, “Creating Optimal Learning Conditions: A Practical Application of the Feldenkrais Method® in Music,” The Double Reed 39, no. 3 (2016): 77-82.