From Somatics Magazine 1985 and the book “Bone, Breath and Gesture” edited by Jon Hanlon Johnson
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This is an in-depth and comprehensive interview with Mia Segal, cofounder of MBS Academy. Interviewed by Thomas Hannain 1985, for Somatics magazine, Mia generously recounts the story of how she came to work with Dr. Feldenkrais and shares her insights into his work and their work together. She shares her wealth of experience beginning with her early life, growing up in a scholarly family, moving through her time in London, studying and working as an Alexander Technique teacher, continuing on to her years in Japan where she earned her Black Belt in Judo. She finishes up with her views on Milton Erikson and reflects on Dr. Feldenkrais’ character and his intentions for his work. I hadn’t come across this article until now and I found it to be very inspiring reading. – Mary Morrison
A breathtaking work of genius, the Feldenkrais methods — one (“Functional Integration”) hands-on with an individual teacher; the other (“Awareness Through Movement”), group movements directed by a teacher — teach a person how to liberate oneself from the narrow range of stereotypical movement patterns that we learn in our culture and to find a wider range of moving, and being. These works have had an enormous impact on the medical practice of physical therapy, since restricted movement patterns are associated with trauma, and freeing them produces significant relief of pain.
is one of the principal heirs of the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais (1904 -1984). Her years of having worked closely with him, including assisting him in developing his public trainings, give her a unique authority in articulating his work. She trains practitioners in Israel.
“Interview with Mia Segal”
Somatics: When you were quite young, you did some research and writing on the Israeli underground. Did your parents want you to be a writer?
Segal: I had the background for it. My father was the managing editor of Davar, the labor newspaper in Israel and, at that time, the largest. I was brought up to take pride in knowing literature, poetry, and the Bible. To be able to express yourself beautifully in writing was very important in my family.
My mother, who was born in Jerusalem, taught Hebrew there at a time when other languages were taught in the schools, and Yiddish was spoken at home. My mother had joined other teachers to bring about a revolutionary change—to teach Hebrew in the schools. She took pride in using the language correctly and poetically, with the correct pronunciation.
Somatics: Was your father a writer or, actually, a scholar?
Segal: I would say—both. When Israel was established as a state in 1948, there was no Israeli law. My father was asked to be responsible for the drafting of the laws, and he left the newspaper to do this.
Somatics: He was not a lawyer?
Segal: As a child in Russia, my father attended two of the most famous religious schools. He was considered an ilui, a child genius, and was qualified as a Rabbi.
He came to Israel with the “second immigration,” as did the builders of our State. (Palestine at that time) was governed by the Turks; my father, among others, was drafted to serve in the Turkish Army during World War I. As a result he spoke Turkish fluently. After the war, we were under a British Mandate. My father then studied law. Having acquired a thorough knowledge of Jewish, Turkish, and British law, he was later qualified to compile and draft the new Israeli laws. The Israeli State also had a language problem because the old Biblical vocabulary did not suffice for all the new concepts; so the Academy of the Hebrew Language was founded, and my father was one of its distinguished members. His library, books, and manuscripts are now at the Academy in a special place dedicated to him.
Somatics: You were in the Army, weren’t you?
Segal: Yes, I was.
Somatics: Did you work for the newspaper?
Segal: I never worked for the newspaper. I assisted in collecting, writing, and editing the history of the Haganah, the Israeli underground defense. My line was in the area of writing—not in bodily activities.
Somatics: When did you first do anything which involved any kind of bodily skills?
Segal: After I married. One day Maurice had an attack and could not breathe. I had never seen anything like that before. It was a terrible shock—I thought he was dying. Maurice said that he had had it before: It was asthma. He called a doctor who gave him his medication, and he seemed to be O.K. again. However, a week later, he had another attack, and I couldn’t understand it, being most inexperienced in the field of sickness and health.
In 1952, Maurice, who had been injured in an air crash, had to go to England for a series of leg operations. I remember thinking: “I know the leg will eventually heal. I am going to find out about asthma.” I was still so scared, and I was determined to find out. In England, I asked everyone I met: “What do you know about asthma?” Eventually, I met a medical student from South Africa who said, “Oh, yes, I know about asthma. If you want someone to help your husband, take him to see Charles Neal. He practices the Alexander Method.”
I went to see Charles Neal who told me he could help. Since Maurice was permitted to leave the hospital between operations, I took him in for a consultation. Charles said, “You don’t know how to breathe properly. You have bad breathing habits.” This was a revelation! After two or three sessions with Charles, Maurice was much better; he learned a way of coping during an attack, and the fear of losing control disappeared. I asked Charles if I could learn how to help Maurice in the future—when we were back in Israel. He said, “I don’t train anyone officially, but you can stay here and observe what I do.” Charles had been a star student of F. Mathias Alexander.
Somatics: Were both the Alexander brothers living then?
Segal: I don’t know. I understood that Charles and Alexander had had an argument. Charles then went on his own, taking with him some of Alexander’s pupils. He was sponsored by Isabel Cripps, wife of the Minister for the Colonies, and opened the Isabel Cripps Center.
I enjoyed my work at the Center. Although I wasn’t officially a student, Charles required me to take a course in anatomy on my own. He also gave me a list of the things he wanted me to study. This was my first contact with the human body. After two years, Charles said, “I think I’ll give you a room here, and you can start to work with people.” At that time, only a few others were working at the Center: Charles, of course, Eric de Peyer, Mrs. Gibson, and Lois Kaink. That’s how I started.
Somatics: Were they official instructors or outside the field?
Segal: I know of no other Alexander teachers at that time, although there are many now.
Somatics: Did Charles Neal give you some sort of permission to be a practitioner?
Segal: Charles gave me a letter saying I could teach, but he didn’t mention pupils—no official pupils. But I did have his permission to go ahead and work, and I felt I was effective in my efforts. I did this for two years. Then we returned to Israel.
I stopped working when my children were born. Then Charles Neal wrote that he was coming to Israel to see his old friend, Moshe Feldenkrais. I was delighted, of course.
Somatics: You didn’t know Feldenkrais at the time?
Segal: No, but I’d heard of him. He was well-known. I did know he was working with Ben-Gurion. At the time, Moshe was actually looking for someone to assist him in his work, and Charles recommended me.
Somatics: What was the relationship between Neal and Feldenkrais?
Segal: They thought highly of each other and were good friends.
Somatics: And with Alexander?
Segal: I heard that while living in England and writing Body and Mature Behavior, Moshe met Alexander. Moshe used to say that Alexander had the best hands he had ever felt. If I remember correctly, Moshe showed him Body and Mature Behavior, and Alexander said, “Actually, you copied it from my book!” This, I suppose, ended the relationship.
As I understand it, Alexander was strict about his work: The placement of the head, back, and the body was exactly specified; everything had to be just so, and no variations were permitted. I understand now those who follow the Alexander Technique have become more flexible.
Charles Neal, on the other hand, had slightly broadened the scope of work, though he too was restrictive: only the head, neck, and back. He was very open and organized in every way. He was remarkably agile: He could walk into a room and jump upon the table without any obvious preparation—just as he walked. From him I learned how important sensitivity of touch can be.
Somatics: When did you decide to assist Moshe Feldenkrais?
Segal: It’s interesting how that came about, because I had said to Moshe, “Look, I can’t work with you now. I have children; my son is four months old; I am too busy.” He replied, “Why don’t you just come and see what I am doing?”
I went the next day. Moshe had a small apartment on Nachmani Street. I entered a small room where an old lady (she was in her late eighties then) was sitting cross-legged on a bed doing embroidery.
“I’ve come to see Moshe,” I said.
“Sit down,” she replied. Continuing to do embroidery, she suddenly said, “I’ve lost my needle. Young woman, come help me look for it.” We searched everywhere but could not find the needle.
I said, “Maybe you’ll find it tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow!” she exclaimed. “Do you know what I’d be if I had said, ‘tomorrow’?”
“What?” I asked.
“A virgin!” she replied. This was an amazing statement for a Jewish woman of her age and tradition. That’s how I met Moshe’s mother.
Moshe came in and said, “I’m glad you’re here. Will you come to my workroom?” I’ll never forget that day. I even remember the details of the room: the color of the bed cover, the desk, and the chairs. The “pupil” was lying on the bed. Moshe sat down and just took up her head with his two hands. Although I had been working with people for two years or more, I had never seen that quality of work before. It was very similar to what I had seen Charles Neal do and what I myself had learned. However, there was a difference in quality—perhaps it was the sense of purpose and the integrity of his approach which were new. I realized how much I did not know. After that I came there daily, and all I wanted to do was just to observe and learn. This all began in 1956.
Moshe was a wonderful teacher. After every lesson, he would ask whether I had any questions. If I had, he would push aside the papers and books on his table, take a piece of paper, and explain what he had just finished doing. His explanations were excellent, his reasons for what he was doing were very clear, and he was most generous with his time. Sometimes he would keep people waiting in order to explain something that puzzled me. He was a remarkable teacher.
Years later, Moshe commented, “You know, I made you into the most wonderful pupil.”
And I replied, “That’s nothing, Moshe. I made you into a wonderful master!” And he really was.
Somatics: Did you begin working very soon after that?
Segal: I really don’t know when I began working. Moshe had a special way of teaching and building up my confidence. One day I found myself working on someone; and, suddenly, I realized I didn’t know when I had started to work there.
Somatics: Did he always use a bed?
Segal: No, that was the amazing part—there seemed to be no end to his inventions: bed, chair, on rollers, sitting, kneeling…It was O.K. to use any device or position imaginable. He was so ingenious and free in his approach.
I also kept up my correspondence with Charles Neal, describing my insights and experiences. Charles wrote: “Learn from him, and one day I’ll come and work with him too. He does things I cannot do.”
By this time, Moshe had become a member of the family—a “brother” to Maurice and me and a “father” to my children; and my parents got to know him very well and enjoyed his talks and stories. He usually spent the weekends with us and seemed to enjoy himself immensely. He knew all our friends and was involved in the upbringing of our children. At times, he would get all of us to lie on the floor, and we would do “exercises.”
Somatics: Was Moshe known because he was connected with the Israeli government or for his work in electronics?
Segal: He became known mostly because of his work with Ben-Gurion. By word-of-mouth, people soon discovered that he could help them in remarkable ways, and they began coming for various problems—pain, malfunctioning, and the like. Some came in desperation after medical treatments had failed; others came for self-development or to learn how to be better at sports, dance, or gymnastics.
Long before I started working with Moshe, he had classes of what we now call ATM (Awareness Through Movement). Some of the people had been coming regularly for thirty or forty years. I knew nothing about the “exercising” side of his work. My experience was in Functional Integration (although it was not called that then). I remember Moshe saying to me, “If you want to work with me, I suggest that you experience ATM.” I was surprised and wondered, “What is to be learned there?” It turned out to be a remarkable experience, for I gained a better understanding of my own self and everything I had done. For a long time, I had the strangest feeling that it was magic. I’d say to Moshe, “How do you prepare your new lessons?” He did not seem to need any preparation. I’d come to work, and he would say, “it’s four o’clock, and we’ve got to start the classes.” He was never late for a class in the fifteen years I was there, nor did he ever miss one. He was very loyal to his pupils and his work.
Somatics: Are you suggesting he improvised?
Segal: Yes. Once I asked him what “exercise” lesson he had planned for that day—just as we left for class, and he said, “While we drive to class, I’ll figure it out.”
Somatics: Did he ever explain how he started planning that way.
Segal: Yes. When he came to visit, we would often sit and discuss how he did his preparation for a lesson, and then he would demonstrate. He’d say, “Look, I’m thinking: ‘How do I move to do this?’” Then he would show me how he went through the process in his own body. In other words, he would do what was necessary in order to discover how to do a movement more efficiently; what the connections were; what changes in breathing occurred; what was going on in his neck or back. He would say, “This is what is happening to my breathing and going on in my neck…” He would explore his body for hours at a time in order to discover the process and its connections. I’d often come home and find Moshe lying on the floor with his legs up and head down, working something out. He never cared whether he was alone or among our friends—he did his own thing. Sometimes, he would say “Oh!” and lie down on the carpet, and our friends got used to seeing him do this. He drew his lessons from his own internal observations: By noticing what movements occurred in his body and then analyzing the process—by observing what happened within and how it occurred.
I once joked, “Moshe, what are you going to teach them today?”
He replied, “You do not understand. Actually, I am always teaching the same movement—only with a different sauce.”
Somatics: What do you think he meant?
Segal: Whatever you do, the initial origination of the movement, or motivation, is the same; however, there are many different ways one can go about it. The difference lies in how it is done.
How do you initiate an activity? What Moshe did, I think, was to discover how to execute a movement and what is the most direct, efficient and precise way: How to behave so congruently that when you move in one direction, every part of your body should participate; or, that even your little toe should know what the head is doing and enhance that activity. Even if you cannot see the movement of the little toe, there should be no interference from it. Those parts of you which are unaware that there is movement are interfering with your movement—not assisting it. How do you keep the various parts from interfering? By becoming aware that you have these areas. That is where his genius lies: in the discovery and differentiation of this process.
Somatics: Part of Moshe’s genius was his tremendous self-awareness. Did you see that in him? Did he make it clear how self-awareness and movement—the “awareness through movement” that came out of that—flows into the functional integration work?
Segal: As I worked with my hands, I became more and more aware of my own body; and as I did his ATM class, I discovered more about how to work with others. He did not have me make conscious connections between movement and self-awareness. In this way, he was a master-teacher in the Japanese tradition. Moshe was like a Japanese master in that he let you have the experience first before he would discuss it. He would watch and wait until he thought I was ready. He had a clever way of using his hands. (It is the way we work in Functional Integration now.) You bring a person to feel a certain organization of his body. When you ascertain that he had this awareness, only then do you point it out verbally. He taught me the same way: When I eventually understood what I was doing, we would talk about it.
Somatics: So then, you have worked with Charles Neal and with Moshe. What other sources have taught you important things about the body?
Segal: Maybe through judo. Moshe had told wonderful stories about his experiences in judo. He was a great story teller, and he had had so many amazing experiences. When he told you about some of the things he had done—he had come to Israel as a pioneer and fought the Arabs—you knew he had lived those experiences. Even though he no longer practiced judo, he loved to talk about it. He was then either fifty or sixty years old—at least, he claimed to be sixty years old.
“But, Moshe,” I said, “your mother says you are fifty.”
He answered, “She wants me to get married, so she makes me younger than I am.”
To this, his mother would retort, “He doesn’t know—he wasn’t there. I remember when he was born!”
So there was a ten-year gap. Anyway, whether he was fifty or sixty, he had not been active in judo for some time. But he never lost his ability to walk like a judo master—that special way of walking with a certain balance and lightness.
One day, my family watched Moshe do a rolling breakfall all around our big lawn without stopping. We were very impressed.
I began to study judo by getting a copy of Moshe’s book on judo. A very good friend of mine from Australia was also interested in the martial arts; and, together, on the living room carpet, we followed the exercises laid out sequentially in Moshe’s book. The next day, I could not walk, nor could my friend, who commented, “My whole back is split near the tailbone.” Of course, I was in equal agony.
Later, I said to Moshe, “Your book and your teaching—just look what happened!”
He retorted, “You must be stupid to think you can learn judo that way. You need a proper mat and the right teacher.”
So, with many stories and after much thought and discussion, my husband and I decided to take the children and go to Japan. At this point, I had worked with Moshe for fifteen years. When I told him that we were leaving for Japan, it was a difficult time for all of us: I was his only assistant at that time, and we were his family—especially on weekends. However, it was the only time Maurice and I could go, for the children would have to return to Israel in three or four years to finish school and subsequently go into the Army.
We arrived in Japan in 1969. It proved to be a fantastic experience. I studied judo every day, including Sunday. We all learned Japanese and lived the way the Japanese do, and we enjoyed doing so. My son and daughter practiced nearly every day. Maurice was working in architecture, so he would join us when he could find the time.
At that time, working with other people in the Feldenkrais way was pushed into the background, and I became a student again. However, the Japanese master’s traditional style of teaching was new to me. For example, I found out immediately not to ask questions—that I was to copy…copy…just copy….You had to get the feeling of the whole thing yourself. If you asked a master how to do a certain movement, he would reply, “I do not know. One minute…”; and then he would do the movement in order to demonstrate it. He never explained; he just did the movement, saying, “It’s like this…and like this….” It was similar to the way Moshe taught me: You felt it; you knew it—except that Moshe would then discuss it.
I found all kinds of judo masters, some of whom were excellent. Two were outstanding; one was Hiroset who was a seventh degree black belt. I think of him as being a modern samurai. He devoted his Sunday mornings to our family. We would all go there for three hours of instruction. He would say things like this: “Now father strangles son and mother strangles daughter.” He later came to visit us in Israel.
Somatics: How did you become interested in Japanese theater?
Segal: My interest in Japanese theater was aroused when I heard a European girl singing. The quality of her voice was fantastic—a tonal quality I had never heard before. I asked her where she had learned to sing that way. “I’m studying with a Japanese master of theater,” she replied. When I expressed a desire to study with him, she gave me his name and address. I had never had singing lessons, but her voice was so special in quality that I wanted to learn how to sing that way. I decided to go and see this man—but the next day I broke my leg while practicing judo.
That’s an interesting story. In judo, when you plan to throw someone, you first take your opponent off balance and then follow through by “sweeping” the feet out from under him, so that he falls. Although I was being taught by someone who was very experienced, strangely enough, he was being playful; instead of taking me off balance, he just kicked. I heard a crunch, looked down, and saw my left leg at a different angle from normal, broken at the calf. Since it had just happened, I felt no pain. Everyone in the room heard the noise. My teacher, a lady teacher, came over and said, “You broke your leg.” All the others continued practicing. The master teacher was in charge; and, as most judo masters, she was a professional honetsugi, or “bonesetter.” Very expertly she set the bones of the left leg, including the many small bones of the ankle, which were also pushed out by the break. She set the leg so skillfully. Using two pieces of bamboo as splints, she bandaged the leg. Then she said (laughing), “Come back tomorrow, but do not drink any sake.” I agreed. Amazingly, there was still no pain.
Arriving home, I said to Maurice, “I broke my leg.” He phoned my teacher to say that he was taking me to the doctor.
“If you take her to the doctor, I will never touch Mia again,” she replied.
“But the doctor can X-ray the leg,” Maurice insisted.
“My fingers X-rayed the leg, and she is coming to see me tomorrow,” she replied.
That night, my leg became swollen, black, and dreadfully painful. The next day, I could not walk and had to be carried in to see her. She looked at me and laughed, “You did not sleep last night.” Then she took off the bandage and checked the leg. She reset the leg and bandaged it, as before. I had to come back every day. On the third day, she asked, “Why aren’t you walking?” So I started walking. After all, I had another leg, and there was nothing wrong with the rest of my body. Six weeks later, I was in full judo practice.
About the same time, a man from Greece had suffered a similar injury. He insisted on being taken to the hospital, which meant a loss of at least fifteen minutes while he was in transit. It was another ten minutes before a doctor set the leg, and he was in agony. I had resumed practicing judo when I happened to see him in the doorway, his leg still in a plaster cast.
As soon as I could walk, I went to see Ohkura, the master of theater. He considered himself the carrier of the tradition of Kyogen which was started by his family twenty-three generations earlier. His first son was named Mototsguo, “the Continuer”; his second son was Motogushi, “the Helper”; and they were trained from birth to carry on the family tradition.
Ohkura was an extraordinary man. You will recall I described Moshe as walking like a judo master or tiger. This man could walk like the wind. You were not aware that he was moving—until you felt the breeze. I told him I had come to study singing and that I did not wish to act or go on the stage. he agreed and told me to come “anytime, on Friday.” What I did not know at the time was that you do not give conditions to Japanese masters; and as for the time for the lesson, you come and wait for your turn.
On the Friday I joined his group of students, we waited on one side of his small room. Ohkura would call a student who then would bow and sit opposite him. The master would start singing, and the student repeated the same sounds. There were no instruments—only a leather-covered, wooden block and two sticks on which he beat the rhythm. I listened and thought I’d have no problem because they seemed to be talking rather than singing—that’s what I thought until it was my turn to sing, and I could not repeat the sound. I couldn’t believe it: It was not a lesson in singing so much as how to use your abdomen. The master had said to one opera star, “I’m not interested in your notes. Repeat after me.” He never explained what was to be repeated. He would make a sound, and you were expected to repeat it. What I learned, I had to discover for myself, for he never explained. I had to copy him exactly. There was one instance when I seemed to be copying him exactly, yet it wasn’t the same sound. He said, “Yes, so listen again.” When I finally realized that my master’s end did not “die at the end,” he confirmed my discovery. But I had to work it out for myself. Even now, when I practice singing, I feel wonderful, and my voice becomes strong. Breathing this way gives you a sense of power, and you do not need a microphone to be heard.
In Tokyo, performances were usually given on a stage. While Moshe was in Japan, I had to perform in an open-air shrine where only a strong voice could be heard in that large space.
The teacher later taught me a song which I had to practice at home. A dance was connected with it, which I also had to learn, although I wondered why. It was danced with a fan. I had to copy his movements exactly, but I really did not know what I was doing. I was to have another lesson the next Friday.
Two weeks later, the master asked me whether I would like to see a Noh play. I was quite interested and agreed to be at a particular shrine at ten o’clock in the morning. Maurice went with me. Mototsugo was waiting for us outside the theater. “Come in quickly,” he said. “You have to change your clothes.” I though that this must be a very traditional theater since traditional clothing was required in order to attend a performance. When I was dressed, I was taken to a small door where my teacher and his two brothers, who worked with him, were waiting. The door opened, and he said, “Go in.” I bent down to enter, certain I was to be seated with the other members of the audience, only to find myself on stage!
I stood frozen. Then I heard my master say, “Walk to the center of the stage and kneel.” I did so—like a robot. “Open the fan and start singing,” he directed. By now, my master and his brothers, who were to be in the choir, were also on stage, sitting behind me, as is customary in Japanese theater. I started singing, and I was supported by the choir behind me. Subsequently directed to dance, I got up and don’t know what I did—it must have been a kind of dancing. All this time, the choir was singing behind me. I saw the crowd and my husband’s amazed face. It was a terrible experience: All I wanted to do was go home to Israel: no judo! no Kyogen! no singing! no Japan! I just wanted to go home.
Finally, the performance was over. I went back to starting position and bowed to the crowd, holding the fan in the customary way, just as I had been taught to do after a lesson in the master’s home: You bow to the teacher and acknowledge that he has taught you and to show gratefulness for the instruction you received. However, I was informed later that the performer is the “master” on stage and does not bow to the audience. To my surprise, there was applause—more than I ever got later on. I suppose they know all about novice-actors. I went back through the small doorway.
I had barely entered the adjoining room when I saw my master on the floor in front of me—in a deep bow, with his head near my feet. I was going to protest; but whenever I opened my mouth to do so, there he was, thanking me again. Then he got up, as light as the breeze; and, saying that the next performance would take place in two weeks, he disappeared.
This was the beginning of my “acting career,” and, more importantly, of a close friendship with the master and his family. My children called the master and his wife “father” and “mother,” and their children did the same with us. We spent a great deal of time and many holidays with them. Their children often stayed overnight at our house, or our children at theirs. Eventually, the master had our children learn traditional plays which they performed—very likely the only European children to act in a traditional Japanese theater.
This went on for two years. When Moshe came to spend a month in Japan, I took him to the master’s house for a lesson. I have a photograph of the two of us sitting and singing. Moshe was most impressed with the sensei and often talked about him. Because of our friendship with the master, Moshe had the opportunity to experience Kyogen as well as judo. We went with the master to Isse, a famous shrine. We had rooms at the same inn, and Moshe took a bath with the master. He talked about that bathing experience many times thereafter. Moshe also came to watch the performance at the shrine the next day, and we all had a wonderful time.
Moshe was treated as a master by the Japanese who revere age and experience. They saw the light in his face. I had often talked about my great master, Moshe, before he came to the Kodokan. He met people there who remembered his previous connections with judo, and Mr. Kotani gave Moshe a badge which delighted him no end.
Somatics: When did this take place? In the late ‘60s?
Segal: We were in Japan in 1969, 1970, and 1971, so it was during the third year we were there.
Our own private teacher was Shimizu, an extraordinarily fine judo master who was in charge of judo training at the largest sports university in Japan. He also took a special interest in us, since it is most unusual in Japan to have a European family—father, mother, and two children—all in judo. He used to say, “Sixty years old, everything is sixty years old…my legs, my arms—but I’m twenty!” A wonderful man!
Shimizu invited Moshe to teach in his place, introducing him to all his students as a great judo master from whom they could learn a great deal. This made Moshe very happy. I took photographs of the event, but something happened to the film, and I don’t think Moshe ever forgave me. “Of what use are you?” he said. I, of course, was so sorry.
Somatics: Moshe often spoke of someone he had met in Japan who was a special kind of healer. Who was he?
Segal: That was Dr. Noguchi, an amazing man. I heard about him from a viola player, a Bostonian who was a member of the Tokyo Philharmonic. At the time, I wondered whether he would turn out to be another “bluffer” who was into healing. Although I had no intention of going to see him, I made a note of his name and address. Shortly thereafter, when I was in Tokyo, I decided to go and see this healer after all. Then the taxicab arrived at the address, I could not believe my eyes: There were fine cars parked outside and people wearing festive kimonos were coming out from a house that looked like a shrine. There was a large garden in front—a rarity in Tokyo. The house itself was among trees and had built on a hill—almost a “mountain” by Tokyo’s standards. In the garage, there were two cars, both made by Rolls-Royce!
I decided to go in, even though I was simply dressed. I entered a downstairs room and met two people. After I ascertained that this was indeed Dr. Noguchi’s residence, I asked why there were so many cars and people there and was told that one of the staff was getting married and the celebration was being held upstairs. So I went upstairs and entered into a huge hall. All the sliding windows, so typical of Japanese houses, were open, and the effect was that of living in the trees.
I asked a guest, “Where is Dr. Noguchi?” It was as though I had asked, “Where is God?” He pointed to a short man, no more than four feet tall, who was dressed in the Japanese style—a man’s kimono, like a dress. The brandy glass he was holding was huge. By this time, I was wondering what I was doing there anyway and was thinking of leaving, when Dr. Noguchi looked straight at me. I realized Dr. Noguchi and two men were coming toward me. As he approached, he said to the two men: “See this lady. She works on people, just like I do; and she makes them better, just like I do.”
Somatics: Did Dr. Noguchi expect you?
Segal: No! He didn’t know anything about me. I was so surprised. I looked at him and said, “I don’t think I do what you do, but I would like to come and learn from you.”
He retorted, “What do you mean by ‘I don’t do what you do?’”
I collected my wits and said, “But I have had a master in Israel who does what you do.”
He evidently wanted to know more about Moshe, for then he asked, “Does he treat the body or the spirit?”
I could only reply, “How can you separate them?”
Dr. Noguchi turned to the two men and said, “See, I told you!”
From that moment on, I knew I had to learn from Dr. Noguchi. He wanted to know whether I worked with groups or individuals. “The latter,” I replied, “but my Israeli master works with groups, sometimes as many as forty people at a time.” Dr. Noguchi said that he also worked that way and that I could come and see for myself on Friday at the university, which turned out to be located close to where we used to live.
This particular group assembled in a basketball stadium where the Olympic Games had been held. There was this short man standing and speaking in the center of that immense space, surrounded by at least six thousand people (I arrived at that figure by counting the seats). Dr. Noguchi spoke in traditional Japanese which I found difficult to understand. (He did write books, but not much is available in English.) At one point, he said, “O.K., now come do your exercises.” The people got up from their seats and went down to the center of the stadium—waves of people, all exercising on the stadium floor. They did what he called katsu-gen-undo, a vitalizing movement wherein people move in any way that the body makes them move. It is supposed to become an unconscious way of moving, and it gains a certain momentum. It was a strange happening to see.
Somatics: Did he tell them what to do, giving specific directions?
Segal: He would tell them to start exercising. They would begin to move, and their body movements would get bigger and bigger. Some would continue moving in this way. Others would be jumping up and down, crawling, sitting, standing—whatever they wanted to do. When they were told to stop, all went back to their seats. After a while, I decided to go home—I just could not watch it any longer. Before I could escape, Dr. Noguchi was at the door inquiring why I was leaving. Instead of answering his question, I asked if I could come again. He then invited me to come and observe his private lessons on the several days he worked with individuals. The time “From morning till evening,” he advised.
So I went to see how he gave private lessons. The waiting room was the same beautiful room used for the wedding reception, and people were quietly waiting their turn. Classical music—Beethoven, Brahms, anyone you can think of—played nonstop all day long. The person to be treated would go behind the screen, lie on the floor, and Dr. Noguchi would use his hands to treat the problem. That is how he did the healing.
I was waiting outside with the others. Then he saw me through the door and invited me to come in. “Sit here and watch,” he ordered. That was a fantastic experience for me.
Five men were waiting behind the screen. When Dr. Noguchi pointed to one of them, the man would bow low and lie on the floor next to the master. Dr. Noguchi would run his fingers along the spine—as if he were playing the piano. Then he would move the vertebrae deftly; pull a little here and there—and that is all he did. He would move the legs and do something very fast. he worked quickly; all five of those waiting were treated in about twenty minutes. After five sessions, he would take a break and go to a small adjoining room to have a drink of brandy.
I once asked, “Dr. Noguchi, don’t you ever get drunk?”
He laughed, “Yes, but there’s this vertebra in my back. When I do this (demonstrating), I become sober!”
Dr. Noguchi spoke only Japanese. In my limited Japanese, I asked him why only classical music was played. “You must understand,” he said, “that classical music revitalizes your energy. Anyone who wants to get his energy back should have a background of European classical movement.”
Somatics: What was his background? Was he religious or part of a cult? You said he laid hands…
Segal: The story is that he was a man of the middle class who was a great healer and that he had married a princess who was a cousin of the Emperor. The house he lived in had been her family’s palace, moved to Tokyo piece by piece.
This is how I learned what he did: He asked me how I worked, and I offered to show him. He said, “If you will wait until I finish at seven tonight, you can work on me and show me what you do. Then I will work on you to show you what I do.” So that is what happened. I gave him a Feldenkrais lesson which he found interesting. Then it was his turn. I found what he did equally as interesting, for his hands were as skilled as Moshe’s. That is all I can say about it. It was just a quick adjustment of my body, and I know that most people seemed to get very powerful results.
He scheduled the instructor’s classes so that he’d work days ending in the number two one month and in the number three the next month, each unit lasting for three days and three nights. I was invited to join about two or three hundred students who came from all over Japan.
Somatics: Was he out of a tradition of healing?
Segal: He taught that everyone had the power to heal. He himself had discovered that he had the power when he was a young child. I believe a horse had fallen and broken a leg; when he touched it while it was lying there in the street, the horse got better. This is how he discovered he had the power to transfer vital energy from his hands to another living creature. It was like electricity—or whatever you wish to call it. That is what he was teaching his pupils to do. He lectured and demonstrated the technique of passing electricity to another person. He was known as a great expert; and many students voluntarily worked for him.
My limited knowledge of the Japanese language prevented me from understanding everything he said. Every three hours, he would take a break and head for his room, inviting me to go along. There he’d take a drink and ask me if I had any questions. I had so many questions I couldn’t even begin to ask them. I used to watch him intently to see what he was doing. I had a very disconcerting experience. I would look at him and think, “His face is so crooked on the left side.” After a few hours, I’d think it was the right side of the face that was crooked—not the left. After a while, still undecided, I wrote my observation down on a piece of paper: It’s the right side. But then a few hours later, it was the left side. His mouth was twisted, his eye closed, and his body seemed to have shrunk. Finally, I found the courage to ask him about my impressions.
“Excuse me, but you seemed to be a little crooked, once on one side and then on the other,” I said.
“How do you think I can teach for two days and for two nights without sleeping?” he replied. “Every time, half my brain is asleep.”
I’ll never know whether or not he was pulling my leg. I later wrote to Moshe about my experiences with Dr. Noguchi.
As soon as he arrived in Japan, Moshe wanted to meet Dr. Noguchi. I still have photographs taken at the time Dr. Noguchi invited Moshe to teach his pupils, and Moshe did—all three hundred of them. With Dr. Noguchi looking on nearby, Moshe gave a demonstration of Functional Integration and also of ATM. Moshe had them work on one side and then told them to imagine the movement on the other side. After the demonstration, we went to Dr. Noguchi’s room. Moshe wanted to know Dr. Noguchi’s reaction to the ATM demonstration. Dr. Noguchi stated, “It was interesting, especially the part where you told them to imagine the movement on the other side. That was new to me. As for Functional Integration, there is no difference between what you do and what I do, except that I give them the food and leave it next to them; you feed them and digest it for them.” That was a most revealing insight. As I said earlier, his lessons were very short, and his pupils had to assume responsibility for further improvement.
On the twentieth of the month, Dr. Noguchi would give a big party to which he invited “the cream of the Japanese culture.” It was held in his magnificent private home (not in his work place). There would be an elaborate buffet, followed by a cultural event: poetry or a musical performance held in a special room (auditorium) and recorded by expert sound technicians. Only European music was played. For someone who had never been exposed to European culture to be so devoted to its music was surprising and unusual. On one occasion, there was an exceptionally fine performance of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata by a famous cellist, accompanied by his sister, a pianist. After the performance, Dr. Noguchi said to the cellist, “Hold your bow like this (demonstrating). Isn’t that better?”
The London Symphony came to Tokyo. Some of the musicians were old friends who had played quartets in our home in Israel. When I asked Dr. Noguchi if he would like to hear them play, he was delighted and arranged to have them come to his home on a special evening. Afterwards, Dr. Noguchi made similar comments to them.
Every concert was recorded and added to his huge collection. There were thousands of records on shelves from floor to ceiling and sound equipment ranging from the earliest Gramophone to the latest recording apparatus. I once asked him about a certain record, only to have him climb to the top shelf, quickly find the record, climb down and give it to me. His movements were unique. Compared to my singing teacher who seemed to float like the wind with no visible movement or change in the body, or Moshe’s graceful tiger walk, or my judo teacher’s leopard walk, Dr. Noguchi walked like an animal that can turn spontaneously and effortlessly in any direction at any speed.
Somatics: He was an expert in movement. Did you learn anything from him that you have used?
Segal: Yes, I continued to go to all his classes. When the day’s work was finished, we would exchange lessons. I was considered to be more than an acquaintance, yet I never formally studied with Dr. Noguchi. I did not learn much about his technique because I do not do that kind of work. I was influence by his attitude and philosophy, perhaps, because you absorb whatever makes an impression. His comment to Moshe about “feeding students and digesting the food for them” had quite an impact on me. I decided not “to digest” in the future but to have student ponder about the unexplained parts of a lesson. I did cut my lessons shorter after that.
Moshe himself may have been influenced by Dr. Noguchi’s observation. He even cut short one of our trips around Japan in order to return and see Dr. Noguchi again.
At one point, Dr. Noguchi had Moshe and me hold hands with some of his students to pass electricity. I asked Moshe later if we did pass electricity. “I don’t know,” he replied.
Dr. Noguchi also gave a party for Moshe. We arrived in time to see the pupils standing in a corner of the room. They pointed to a plant with a flower bud and said that they were planning to use electricity, or a vital power, to make a bud open into a flower. I said to Moshe, “You can’t tell me you can influence a plant!” But they stood about two feet away from the plant and pointed to it, like this (gesture). The bloody plant’s bud opened before our eyes. They claimed it was the heat from their hands that made the bud open into a flower.
“Well, Moshe?” I asked.
“I can’t explain it,” he replied.
Somatics: Did you learn about acupuncture points in Japan?
Segal: Yes. A lady who did Kyogen with us told me that she was having acupuncture treatments. I went to see Dr. Sato. Here’s another instance of a great Japanese master: He did not want publicity and lived so privately you could hardly find his house: a simple, beautiful, peaceful place. He was startled to see me, a European. First, I asked to be taught acupuncture, but he said that he was not a teacher. So, I asked him to be my doctor. “What is wrong with you?” he asked. His treatments were extraordinary. Afterwards, I felt divine. He had the lightest hand in using needles. I would also bring my husband and my children for treatment, and they too came to love it.
One day, Dr. Sato said, “If you come next week, I will teach you.” Then he wanted to know whether I had studied European medicine. What to tell him? I wanted to say that I was a qualified medical doctor—how could he find out I wasn’t? I was about to say, “Yes,” but, to my amazement, I heard myself answering, “No.” Dr. Sato said, “Yes, I will teach you. But if you had studied medicine, I would not do so, because doctors have closed minds.” I was to bring my daughter to serve as a model and my son to interpret Dr. Sato’s instructions; my son understood Japanese better than the rest of us. My family was delighted to learn that Dr. Sato was going to teach me acupuncture—and then I told them they were to be part of it.
I bought a special copybook, and off we went to Dr. Sato’s home for our first lesson. “Come in,” he said, “and let’s have tea.” We were sitting there, and I began wondering when the lesson would begin. “I want to show you my teacups. Look at this…it’s beautiful….” Dr. Sato went on and on. “Which tea would you like—this one or that on?” My children were wondering if I had misunderstood Dr. Sato when he said that he was going to give lessons. I was also wondering if I had understood him correctly. Eventually, I decided I had misunderstood Dr. Sato’s intention, so I put down my notebook and pen. Then I heard him say, “In this spirit, we can start learning.” Wasn’t that wonderful!
From then on, we came for an hour twice a week. This busy professional set aside time for us, even though his waiting room was always full of people waiting to see him. He refused to accept payment for the lesson, insisting that he was not a teacher. To show my appreciation, I decided to give him an exquisite ceramic piece made by a famous artist. I gave him the gift. “Thank you very much,” he said, as he put it down. At the end of the next lesson, he handed me a box. It was a present—a much more expensive one. Then I understood that he really did not want to be paid, even though he gave me two hours a week for a year.
Dr. Sato also treated Moshe’s knee. Moshe and Dr. Sato liked each other immensely. Dr. Sato is the one who said of Moshe, “There’s a lot of life and wisdom in his face.”
Somatics: You had a wonderful time in Japan. How long were you there?
Segal: Just over three years. It was quite an experience. Among those people I often felt I was an ignorant child. They had a certain wisdom.
Somatics: You changed your way of working because of Dr. Noguchi. Did judo, acupuncture, or the other experiences you had every change your work in other ways?
Segal: Acupuncture had very little influence on my work. Just before I left, I asked Dr. Sato, “When do you think I will know acupuncture?” He replied, “I have been doing this for forty years, and only now have I started to understand a little.” Some of the things he taught me, I could do. I am not really an expert, far from it. For a while, I did not do any at all. I still have the needles and moxa; and I might use needles on a member of the family if it’s a complaint I can handle.
Acupuncture is more like medicine than teaching: It is doing something to a person. I once thought of combining acupuncture with teaching; for example, being able to relieve a student’s acute pain, thus facilitating learning. But I did not know enough about acupuncture to use it that way.
Somatics: Philosophy does have a lot to do with it. The Japanese and the Chinese are more sensitive to the broader philosophical—in some sense, the religious—issues in their approach to medicine.
Segal: That’s right, but I think their philosophy is the same as Moshe’s; that is, in the way both consider the whole body as a unit. Their philosophy lets you look at the whole person instead of the particular part; for example, if a patient has a pain in the kidney, the ear may get the treatment. If I learned anything from acupuncture, it was to look at the body as a unit, as a pattern, rather than divided into parts.
Somatics: Moshe always had an interest in that aspect of acupuncture, for example, treating the kidney through the ear. His fascination probably had something to do with types of reflexes—skin reflex areas that lead to the brain; in fact, it was like a detective mystery to him.
Segal: It is a very different approach.
Somatics: You have talked about many significant things in your life.
Segal: To sum it up, even after all the masters I have had, I am doing Moshe’s kind of work: You could say that he incorporated all the other things I learned. He used his knowledge of methods in the most practical and economical way, and he was able to teach very clearly and explicitly. He gave his many pupils all the necessary elements.
Somatics: It is as though his knowledge of judo and ju-jitsu through the years and the relationship of his own body to these disciplines enabled him to see through to the wisdom of the Japanese tradition: That hidden wisdom you said was in the culture. There is something profoundly Japanese about Moshe’s insights.
Segal: Yes. Definitely Eastern. He had absorbed their spirit or essence to which he added his fantastic European way of thinking and the sharpness of scholarly, logical mind. Moshe had a certain fire, really. His eyes were brown but became black when he was excited about something. Very strange, piercing, wonderful eyes!
Somatics: He would be working on someone, and it was deeply impressive to see his eyes as he looked up whenever something unusual was happening as he was manipulating the body. Did you experience that?
Segal: Yes. It was fascinating to watch him working. That is how I learned for many years. After a time, Moshe was photographed and videotaped as he worked. I got a terrible shock when I saw the first videotapes: His head, eyes, shoulders, chest, and breathing were not shown. I did not know what I was watching. I suddenly realized that the last thing I watched were his hands. In the videotapes the camera cut off part of Moshe’s body and focused on his technique—how he moved a toe…When I worked with Moshe, I would look at him—rarely the way his fingers were manipulating a body. I found nothing at all in those videotapes.
Somatics: You get back to a spirit, a way of being. You sit around a watch the master. There is no explanation. That is typically Japanese.
Segal: You can’t take out the details and think that you have the substance: The details are not the substance. I loved to watch his wonderful hands, but it really was not what I had been watching for years.
Somatics: That is where his students so often got lost. They considered what he was doing an engineering technique, so their eyes focused on the hands alone—watching which bone he was pushing as if that there the secret of it all. What was important, as he often stressed, was the how, not the what.
We have talked about various things, from Israel through Japan. What about the U.S.A.? I believe you’ve had some acquaintance with the psychotherapist and hypnotist, Milton Erickson. Were you impressed by Erickson? Has it made a difference to you?
Segal: Yes, I was impressed. However, I don’t think I know enough about what Erickson and his students do to say I was affected in any way. In some ways, what Erickson does explains much of the mystery of Moshe’s intuitive understanding of the psychology of the person. It has nothing to do with the hands. When I would ask Moshe to explain how Erickson knew certain things, Moshe would say that it was because of his “experience in life.” Although both of them had a lot of experience, it was the way they looked at life and their understanding or inner wisdom.
Somatics: Some people say it is intuitive; others say that it is psychic. There are all sorts of names for it. Moshe would never use “psychic” or “intuitive.” Do you agree that he’d say it is experience?
Segal: Yes, Moshe was so down-to-earth. He was centered in everything he did, and he was always balanced. That was Moshe: never a flag flying in the wind, but always closely tied to the earth! So how could he talk about the psychic? His center of gravity was close to the ground, and his work and teaching were down-to-earth and logical. He didn’t use words without meaning—real meaning. That, too, was his greatness
Thank you to Eleanor Criswell, Thomas Hanna’s widow, to Don Hanlon Johnson, editor of Bone, Breath and Gesture, a wonderful anthology which includes this interview and to North Atlantic Books for their permission to post. There is a new German edition in the works of Bone, Breath and Gesture: Practices of Embodiment.
“Interview with Mia Segal” by Thomas Hanna originally printed in Somatics Autumn/Winter 1985-1986, anthologized in Bone, Breath, and Gesture: Practices of Embodiment, edited by Don Hanlon Johnson, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 1995 by Don Hanlon Johnson. Reprinted by permission.
Mia Segal and Leora Gaster founded MBS Academy to continue to build on the core insights of the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. The courses at MBS Academy are designed to empower each student to learn to draw on their own resources and emerge as capable, confident, effective practitioners who can bring this work to as large an audience as possible including babies, school children, adults, professionals and seniors.