Not One, Not Two: The Mother-Infant Dyad

An intimate look at entering the sanctity of the mother-infant dyad as a Feldenkrais Practitioner.

Long before I became a Feldenkrais Practitioner, my personal koan was “Not one, not two.” Over the years this statement has meant many things to me intellectually. But experientially it has softened the divide, opened my heart, and it is always present in my work with others— uttered as a silent prayer as we move through our session together.

Koan: In Zen Buddhism, a koan is a succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline

Not One reminds me that each of us is unique in our perceptions, our experience, in the way we move through and with the world. Not Two embraces this uniqueness with the thread of unity that is an essential part of nature and of life.

Nowhere is this koan more present and more beautiful than in the relationship of a mother and her infant. I imagine this is one of the reasons that I am so passionate about working with infants and their families.

Not long ago, I was blessed to have a dear friend walk through my door holding her son in her loving arms. Certainly, I knew a bit about their story, maybe more so than I know about the typical mother & infant I see for the first time. But still, I needed to hear what she had noticed, what she felt, and what she was interested in that day. What did she see in her child? What were her fears & concerns? How did she move with her story? How did he? How did they interact as two, and as one?

So I listened.

I let her tell me about her experience with the heart surgeons here and in Boston. How she was told that the next surgery would take place once her son’s oxygen levels were too low and that she would know because he would turn blue and sustain it. She told me about their weekly visits with the Physical Therapists to try and improve his head control…and how he cried every time.

I could see.

Her shoulders raised and her rib cage tightened as she told her story. But then, in the pauses, everything would soften as her gaze moved gently towards her son. As she looked at Joey it was as if time would slow down just for the two of them— and now for me as well.

And Joey?

His gaze with his mother never broke. It was as if he knew the power of his soulful eyes. He knew one look would melt the heart and remind the spirit of that sacred thread of unity and love.

He wasn’t moving much, not much at all. But he was present and alert. And that presence, that alertness, that ability to connect can make all the difference in learning and in life.

I  Observed

I watched, without gawking, as she took time to nourish her child. I paid attention to how she presented the breast and how he received it. How she sweetly held him in one arm and her breast in the other, giving him the opportunity to eat with ease.

When they finished, we moved on.

As she laid him down on the Feldenkrais table, she never broke her gaze. Once he was down she introduced me and moved to the side while maintaining that sacred connection. He followed her with his eyes, even turned his head, but never broke that thread.

Their connection was strong.

I moved into the space directly in front of him as he continued to look over to the right at his mother. I let my hand rest on his chest as I whispered his name. I could feel the rise and fall of his breath and the pulsing of his heart. I could feel how quiet he was. Eventually, he turned his eyes to meet mine, I could feel the subtle movements around his heart through his sternum and ribs. Now it was our time to commune.

I continued to talk with Joey with my hand on his chest. Telling him how we had met before when he was still in his mother’s womb. Letting him know I had been waiting months to see him and that I had heard so much about him. As I spoke I started to paint his body with my touch, gently squeezing his hand with mine as we both felt through to the table below. We explored up his arm, to his shoulder, his chest, each foot and each leg, his pelvis. I felt him as he felt the warmth my hands, the softness of my flesh, the gentle pressure given in each squeeze, and the feeling of the table (the earth) beneath him. This was our first approximation in clarifying his ‘body-map’.

I then brought my hands to his head. Now, this I knew was the one thing I would teach his mother today. This one thing could help to comfort and calm both him and her. This one thing could help to prepare him for nursing—of which will play a crucial role in helping to develop the strength and coordination of head control. Finally, this one thing can help him to feel more of himself while still honoring that sacred thread bound within their soulful gaze.

So what was this one thing?

Something almost every mother does, but now done with intention—loving and gentle stroking of his head.

“First,” I said as I ran my hand from his brow to his hairline and on over the top of his head. “You can feel the peach fuzz of hair under your fingers and your palm. See if you can sense where the hair meets the scalp.”

As I spoke to Joey’s mother I never broke my gaze. That face-to-face connection is such an important exchange for any child, but for Joey it is vital.

“After you explore this several times,” I continued, “then shift your intention to feel the skull beneath the flesh. It is not a big change in pressure, but more a change in intention in what you are sensing.”

I knew Rebecca would have the sensitivity and the curiosity to discern the differences. She had experienced how much information can be felt in the gentle, slow movements of an Awareness Through Movement class and that would be a powerful asset here. Plus she was a strong, kind, and spiritual woman, and a loving mother.

“Then, you can gently stroke from the corner of his mouth, over his cheek, across the muscles of his jaw, and on over his ear.  Finish with a gentle massage of the ear, including gentle contact with the flesh behind the ear.

Try this on yourself a few times. Just on one side and see what you feel.”

She explored this gentle touch with herself first. Nurturing and loving herself. Feeling and being felt by her own hands. Then she moved into the space in front of Joey and I moved out of the way. There they began to explore these movements together. Each of them, feeling and being felt all at once.

Why did I choose this one thing?

First and foremost, these basic strokes give permission for the mother to be a mother. They are ‘something’ that she and her family can do with confidence and something they can do that makes a difference. These strokes of love remind her that she already has a wealth of wisdom living within her.

What function does this serve?

My intention was to stimulate two specific facial nerves, cranial nerves V and VII. There are close functional and anatomical relationships between these two nerves in both their sensory and motor divisions. I am not going to go into great detail here on everything that these nerves do. But if you want to read more you do so by going here and here. (1,2,3,4)

Some of the neurological functions I was interested in:

  • Organize the muscles of the face, eyes, and mouth
  • Invoke the sublingual & submandibular glands and the sensory taste fibers in the tongue
  • Influence the vagus nerve & other aspects of the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Impact the stapedius muscle in middle ear and potential influence on the vestibular system
  • Inform & activate muscle the jaw and neck
  • Potentially effect on cervical nerves

Cranial Nerve V

Cranial Nerve VII As you can see in the images above, there is a lot of overlap in these two nerves throughout the face. I think that it is important to note that for infants these nerves are even more superficial around the jaw than for adults.

I also try to think in terms of how close things are related in the sensory-somatic cortex and where we might be headed in future sessions.

For Joey, I had three things to consider.

  1. How can we keep his system more or less calm? For this, I considered how to gently influence the vagus nerve.
  2. How could we start to hint at some of the sensory and motor actions for feeding and latching that we will be exploring in the next sessions? Clearly, the impact on organizing the face, mouth and salivary glands is important here.
  3. How does all of this relate to the sensory-somatic cortex? For this last one, I thought you might enjoy the image of the homunculus. (see below)

Want to help?

There are a few ways that you can support Baby Joey and his family.

  1. The first is to Pay It Forward here at Conscious Movements. All funds collected through the Pay It Forward program go to supporting this family and families like this for as long as they need and want to work with Conscious Movements. To find out more about the Pay It Forward program {click here}.
  2. You can also support this family directly by contributing to a fund for Joey’s medical expenses. To find out more visit:
  3. Support the documentary of Rebecca & Joey’s journey through pregnancy and birth. You can learn more about this by visiting:

Into Loving Hands Film Trailer

Into Loving Hands (Trailer – Long Version) from Victoria Kereszi on Vimeo.


(1) Alpen A Patel, MD, FACS. Facial Nerve Anatomy. Medscape.

(2) Ted L Tewfik, MD. Trigeminal Nerve Anatomy. Medscape.

(3) Gold, Svea (2005). If Kids Just Came with Instruction Sheets, Third Addition. Oregon, Eugene: Fern Ridge Press.

(4) Gold, Svea (2012). Autism Neurological Research & Neuro-developmental Therapy (DVD). Oregon, Eugene: Fern Ridge Press.


Image of homunculus was cited as being “licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License here. The images of Cranial Nerves V & VII were not sited nor had a copyright associated with them. If these are your images please contact me directly so that I can add the appropriate citation.

  • Thanks so much for such a wonderful dance between science, maternal love, Feldenkrais and the challenge of Joey’s situation.

    • Cynthia,

      I have to admit that this might be one of my favorite dances. When science and love move with the Feldenkrais Method…it’s magical!

  • lavinia says:

    It’s such an important and vital reminder that simply touching with attention, curiosity and love can stimulate the nervous system. Thank you.

  • Carole Edie Smith says:

    Hi Buffy,
    Thank you for this exquisite piece. I could feel you talking, not just hearing but feel you talking. I will be forwarding this to my pregnant Granddaughter Jamie.

    Love, Carole

  • Allyson says:

    Felt your connection with mom and Joey – so lovely. Thank you. I have a 14 yr. daughter with Down Syndrome.


    • Allyson,

      Thank you for your kind words. Sometimes it is challenging to capture experience in words.


  • […] As she looked upon Joey it was as if time would slow down just for the two of them— and now for me as well. His gaze with his mother never broke. It was as if he knew the power of his soulful eyes. He knew one look would melt the heart and remind the spirit of that sacred thread of unity and love. -Buffy Owens, “Not One, Not Two: The Mother-Infant Dyad“ […]

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