Mindful movement for life

What exactly happens in class? It’s not yoga, not Feldenkrais, not Pilates.

Not yoga, not Feldenkrais, not Pilates: The class is a blend of Osnat Ezrachi’s experience and her unique intuition and talents (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Not yoga, not Feldenkrais, not Pilates: The class is a blend of Osnat Ezrachi’s experience and her unique intuition and talents
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Behind an unmarked door in a hidden corner of the Talpiot industrial zone, something akin to magic happens a dozen times a week. Women and men of all ages bend, stretch, roll wooden rollers under their feet, walk on lines the length of the bare, beautiful studio and move their bodies in hundreds of other ways.
The magic? In the words of students who attend the movement classes taught by Jerusalem native Osnat Ezrachi (who says this is not magic, at all): “I no longer have back trouble.”
“I threw out my arch supports.”
“My migraines went away.”
“If there is anything in life that protects me, it is these lessons.”
Over decades of teaching, the unassuming Ezrachi has developed her method of helping people to feel good in their bodies. This year marks the 30th birthday of her classes.
Part of the “magic” of the classes is Ezrachi herself.
“She sees every muscle in every body,” says Miriam Navot, a social work researcher and long-time student who immigrated here from Livingston, New Jersey in 1971. Navot came to Ezrachi’s classes because of the debilitating neck pain she suffered from a herniated disc years ago.
“Osnat helped me restore myself and get over the pain. I keep going because the classes keep me healthy and pain free.”
In a recent exercise in one of her 17 weekly classes (including two dance/improvisation classes), people are standing at the bar, lifting one leg. “Your pelvic floor should be lifting,” Ezrachi said. “Ruthie, it’s not happening with you yet. Nor you, Bella.”
How can she see into her students’ bodies to notice whether an internal muscle is lifting or not? This seeming X-ray vision is part of her magic.
AS A little girl in Jerusalem in the 1960s, Ezrachi (then Osnat Eilat) fell in love with her ballet teacher, the renowned Elsa Dublon (1906-1998). One of Israel’s dance pioneers, Dublon – who choreographed the popular folk dance “Mayim, Mayim” – had performed on stages in Europe and the US and immigrated from Germany in 1936. Her deep knowledge of the body came from her studies as well as from a personal injury: during a performance in Germany in 1932, she was injured in an antisemitic incident and was told she would never walk again. After a year in the hospital, Dublon studied physiotherapy, rehabilitated herself, and returned to performing.
Ezrachi encountered many other influences that affected her work – including Feldenkrais, homeopathy and osteopathy – but Dublon’s lessons and her love of dance constitute the spring from which her work originates, she says.
Ezrachi earned a BS in physics and math at the Hebrew University and was teaching high school physics at Michlelet ORT and studying for an MA in the history, philosophy and sociology of science when she fell into teaching movement. Word spread and before she knew it, she was teaching more and more classes.
WHAT EXACTLY happens in class? It’s not yoga, not Feldenkrais, not Pilates. It’s a blend of Ezrachi’s experience and her unique intuition and talents. I think of it as physical therapy in motion, but Ezrachi disagrees.
“The lessons are at a time in the day when a person is with her body in a mindful way,” she explains. “Yes, it can help the body physically, but it goes beyond that to questions like, How do we meet ourselves when things get difficult? When there is pain? How does one cope with things as one learns?” We see people walking around the studio while making circles with their arms. We see people lying on mats, raising their legs, turning in a spinal twist, leaning sideways from a sitting position and making circles with one hip – and hundreds of other positions and movements.
“My starting point is that the well-being of the body is dependent on the flow of movement,” says Ezrachi. “In class, we strengthen the muscles but also lengthen and relax them, along with the ligaments and tendons. We teach the body how to move with less effort, to be strong, flexible, relaxed. We focus on the spine because of its importance to the entire body, making sure it is flexible and that there is movement between the vertebrae.
“I see movement in the wider context of the whole body and all its systems, including the internal organs.
A muscle needs movement in order to live, but for optimal health, there also needs to be movement in the circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems, for example.
The various liquids in our bodies also need to flow.
“In the spinal twist, for example, there is a rotary motion of the vertebra, which prevents calcification and increases the flow of movement in the nerves and the cerebral spinal fluid,” says Ezrachi. “It enables us to lengthen, open and deepen the movement in the spine, which is critical to the rest of the body. The spine is connected to the farthest reaches of the body, so we have to cultivate its free movement.”
Along with the movement, there is another level to the classes.
“I believe that the well-being of the body, which is the goal of the classes, doesn’t stand alone,” says Ezrachi.
“I see the whole person. I know people take from these lessons something beyond physical well-being and the maintenance of the body – a touching of the core of themselves, an inner quiet...
“I try to create the possibility that as a result of the movement, a person will experience himself, be present with himself. It’s very different from doing things automatically.
It’s awareness, it’s paying attention when you feel something. People today call it mindfulness.”
Ezrachi says that in the lessons, people learn things about themselves beyond what their bodies can do.
“If we do an exercise in which we emphasize heaviness in one leg and lightness in the other, I ask myself, ‘How can I hold in myself two contradictory qualities simultaneously?’ You can observe yourself in class, and then observe yourself in another situation. How can I simultaneously feel loving and critical of my spouse? How do I keep to a work deadline and pay attention to my child?” Ezrachi expects her students to take what they learn in class and apply it to life, “so the body can choose and invent ways to do a required action with the least effort,” she says. “That the body, in other words, will think.” Indeed, Thinking Body is what she calls her work.
Her caring and sensitivity are apparent in her emails and phone calls to her students. She gets deep satisfaction from teaching, she says, but admits that sometimes she feels “distressed from what is going on with people” (i.e. various aches and pains).
It’s a Tuesday after the 7 a.m. class. People are leaving, others are coming in for the 8 a.m. class. Hanna Shvili, 79, sits on the bench in the entry hall and slowly puts on her shoes.
“It’s time to awaken from the dream,” she says, reluctance in her voice. “She is simply a magician. There is no one like her.”
For more information, contact Osnat Ezrachi at osnatezrachi@gmail.com