RIE in Real Life – Moving is Thinking

Over the past week, I’ve had a few new families come to join my classes (side note: I love the various paths people take to find my classes…from connecting with a like minded parent in a playground, to following Janet Lansbury’s podcast, or from happening to come across one of my RIE in the Wild classes in…you know, the wild!). Because of this, I’ve found myself re-telling the story of how I discovered RIE and how I came to teach.

The short version of that story is that I discovered it in a childcare center that I lucked into working for right at the start of my studies to become a Parent Educator. It took me quite some time to actually find myself fully in that role of parent educator, erm…educarer…but that’s okay. The time on that path helped shape me into who I am today.

This has gotten me thinking about one of my first mentors. I was reminded of it from an email from a parent quite some time ago. But before I get to the email, let me start by introducing you to one of my dearest friends and mentors, the late Carol Pinto (pictured above).

Carol was my first RIE teacher, and while RIE training makes sure you have a variety of different mentors along the way, I really believe your first teacher has the greatest potential in shaping your vision of RIE and your articulation.

I’m so lucky that Carol was my first teacher.

She taught me that the most important thing for students to feel is comfortable and safe. That the lessons that are self-discovered are the most powerful and long-lasting. That sometimes it takes a long time for a lesson to sink in, and that’s okay. And sometimes lessons don’t sink in, and that’s okay too. That you never stop learning and growing and that’s a beautiful and inspiring thing. She taught me that the connection was…well, I was going to say more important than the lesson, but truly, she taught me that the connection was the lesson.

Carol was a Feldenkrais practitioner, and if you know anything about Feldenkrais work (I didn’t and still don’t know terribly much), you understand how that work goes hand in hand with RIE (I love to have parents watch this sweet Feldenkrais video about the development of crawling). The story I heard is that the practice (named for the person who came up with the method, Moshe Feldenkrais) was developed by someone who broke both his legs and had to re-learn how to walk again. His method? He studied the development of babies’ movements. And what do we do in RIE classes but watch how babies move!

Feldenkrais is so much more than that story, of course, and I can tell you that from the workshops I’ve participated in, and from Carol’s own small ministrations, it makes an incredible difference in the way adults move and feel. And as a practitioner, Carol could always tell when things were ‘off’ with me. As I never studied Feldenkrais, I could never do that with adults, but her guidance helped me learn how to watch babies with a keen eye.

And the thing about babies’ movements is that they are so illustrative of what’s going on for them inside…gross and fine motor development are, quite simply, brain development writ-large. We sometimes get so excited about what babies can do that we forget why they do them. All of those motor milestones we look for and laud (rolling, sitting, standing, walking, climbing, leaping…) are manifestations of children’s ever-developing brains. And it’s a glorious feedback loop…brains push the body to move, the body’s movements bring new information to the brain, and so on and so forth. And all of those exciting milestones come to be by all of the tiny little movements that came before…the foot chewing that strengthens the core, the reaching that elongates the spine, the wobbly side lying that teaches stability…And more importantly, all of that time it takes, wiggling and wobbling, falling over and failing, resting and starting over…what that’s teaching babies is how to learn. Teaching them to follow their own instincts and interests. Teaching them that new things take time and persistence. And if you watch, you’ll see how children often really don’t mind persisting. Even when they get frustrated or need help, they are ready to go back to it at the next opportunity.

I’ve often said that this one piece of RIE, natural gross motor development, can actually be a metaphor for all of the Approach: we trust the child to know how and when to move. We simply create a safe place for them to do it…safe physically, and safe emotionally…we provide presence and security and rescue them when they are worn out or overwhelmed. But we trust that they will figure it out and we don’t have to teach them…we have to let them learn.

But back to Feldenkrais for a moment. Let me share part of the email that sparked this musing…the writer is a parent in my classes. Her mother is a Feldenkrais practitioner and teacher.

Much of Feldenkrais’ work facilitates adults moving back through periods of early gross and fine motor development – rolling, crawling, squatting, sitting, grasping, reaching (there is even a famous and rarely taught set of lessons on “suckling”!) that were experienced (or even skipped) in infancy and toddlerhood. The lessons also direct attention – a very deep, abiding non-directive and non-judgmental attention towards oneself and one’s way of being in the world.

Through a certain lens, Feldenkrais classes can feel like a way to access being a RIE infant or toddler as an adult by nurturing and nourishing oneself with the kind of presence we give babies during RIE. We might uncover moments where we want to force the movement, fix ourselves, “do it right” etc. . . these may be our own voices or voices we internalized along the way. The lessons allow for another way of approaching oneself and even unwinding these unconscious patterns. In short: it’s never too late to RIE-yourself!

Here is a quote my mom shared from Moshe Feldenkrais: “I believe that knowing oneself is the most important thing a human being can do for himself. How can one know oneself? By learning to act not as one should, but as one does. We have great difficulty in sorting out what we “do as we should” from what we “want to do with ourselves”. An obvious solution is to preoccupy ourselves not with what we do, but how we do it. The “how” is the hallmark of our individuality. It is an inquiry into the process of acting.”

In RIE classes, we practice allowing babies to do what they want with themselves rather than doing ‘as they should.’ It’s my hope (and my experience) that they will carry that message forward into their lives as they grow up. And you know? I think that parents often end up RIEing themselves in the process of RIEing their children. Unlearning the lessons they’ve internalized along the way, unlearning society’s messaging, and accessing their own authentic voice. Which ends up being an amazing example for their children.

What do you think?