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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner
GA 300

Forty-Eighth Meeting

1 March 1923, Stuttgart

At the beginning, Graf Bothmer gave a lecture about teaching gymnastics with approximately the following content:

Exercises: Conscious penetration of the body with the child’s forces of life. The close connection to eurythmy. Eurythmy enlivens, gymnastics carries those forces into the outermost limbs through the will. Eurythmy is not done as consciously. There are movements that can give the impression of death or make things alive. The relationship of gymnastics to experiencing growth and to opening of the body. The gymnastics teacher works like a sculptor with the child. Guidelines about how to act in the class. Children doing gymnastics feel their way into the room. Children should have a strong inner contact with the dimensions of the room. Squatting to the Earth or springing away from it. Experiencing inhaling and exhaling. “I tell the children to straighten up your head, straighten your back, straighten your shoulders because children have a tendency to let them hang. But, I am not certain if I should say such things.” In gymnastics, we are particularly concerned with will.

Exercises using equipment: Modern equipment is mostly dead. Usually, it is quite abstract, for example, the parallel bars. Fortunately, we do not have a climbing pole. They are completely dead in comparison with the rope. Today, gymnastics on equipment is quite simply routine. With such dead things, the children are not there with their whole being. In order to encompass their whole body, you can combine two devices, for example, the horizontal bar and the horse. If you combine two movements at the same time or one directly after the other, gymnastics is much more lively, particularly outdoors. The most beautiful thing is jumping over a ditch and over a hedge. Our children do not have much opportunity to exercise in that way.

Games and sports: Dr. Steiner has said that too many games make children too soft. We don’t have time for that. Sports such as swimming, shot-put, throwing the discus or javelin should be emphasized over other, more external, sports. Emphasize the beauty of the movement and not simply breaking a record.

Should boys and girls participate together or exercise in the same room, but separately? Girls hold the boys up. Should we group the children according to their temperaments? That would be the ideal.

Dr. Steiner: Perhaps I can say something more general about gymnastics later. When we have time before the beginning of the new school year, I can discuss gymnastic exercises in relationship to the child’s age and how to make them whole. That is what we will do. Today, I would like to speak about what you just presented. Please consider what I do not speak about as meaning I agree with what you said. I will not emphasize anything I agree with.

Concerning the relationship of gymnastics to eurythmy, there can actually not be any conflict between gymnastics and eurythmy. In general, we can generally see gymnastics exercises and how they are presented as a continuation of eurythmy exercises. Suppose we take a particular movement of the arm in eurythmy and a corresponding movement in gymnastics. In eurythmy we need to take care that the form of the movement itself lies nearer the center of the body than it would in gymnastics. Thus, there can actually be no conflict.

You can best understand that when you realize that in eurythmy you are primarily concerned with that part of the human organism that is directly connected with the inner breathing process. Thus, what an arm or leg, a finger or toe does in eurythmy is directly connected with what plays out as the inner breathing process, that process of the transition from air to blood. On the other hand, what happens in gymnastics is primarily connected with the human organic process basic to the transition from blood to muscle. That is primarily physiological and sheds complete light upon what we develop. As soon as we understand that instinctively or intuitively, we will see that every movement in gymnastics is connected with strengthening the muscles, with their growth, and with making them elastic by forcing blood into the muscles. The more you understand that, the more you will be able to develop free exercises.

We can say the same thing from a different perspective. Eurythmy is primarily a pliable forming of the organism. Or, I could also say that eurythmy exists in the sculpting of the organism. Gymnastics lives in the statics and the dynamics of the organism. Of course, you, Graf Bothmer, felt that when you mentioned that the children feel the room during gymnastics. You can best understand that through the picture of how an arm or leg moves in space, or their relationships to weight.

That we do not have any conflict with eurythmy, we can see if we take character into account. We do that much too little in pedagogical eurythmy because it is not so important in artistic presentations, but it is much more important in pedagogy. If you have seen the eurythmy figures, you will have noticed that we differentiate between movement, feeling, and character. In movement and feeling, which you have taken into account almost exclusively, things are going well. However, character has not permeated eurythmic movements to any great extent. That is natural because it has no great importance in artistic eurythmy that is viewed by others.

In contrast, the character of a movement should be a significant part in pedagogical eurythmy. A person doing the eurythmy should feel how a movement or position flows back into their own feeling. For example, such a person should feel the pressure of one limb upon another in a eurythmy movement and how that pressure flows back into the center of the body. For that reason, I colored the eurythmy figures so that it would be clear. You will find three colors in all the eurythmy figures. One is for the movement, the second, which is like a veil over the first, is for feeling, and the third is for character. For a person doing eurythmy, it indicates the specific part of the body where the muscles should be tensed, and the feeling that muscle tension should produce. That is part of the life of eurythmy within the form of the body.

The students have asked if we could present the figures during the pedagogical week at Easter, so I will bring them here. We should have such a series here. The Waldorf teachers should study those figures because they are also important for a more psychological physiology. The Waldorf teachers should study them to gain greater understanding of the human organism. At the same time, they can form the basis of a more general feeling for art, for a greater understanding of the inner aspects of the human organism.

We can, therefore, say that the gymnastics teacher should have an idea of the spiritual relationship of statics and dynamics in the human organism. The gymnastics teacher should have a clear picture of what it means to raise a leg or to drop an arm in relationship to gravity. On the other hand, the eurythmy teacher should have a strong feeling for what will develop the limbs sculpturally. It is incorrect to say that the gymnastics teacher is like a sculptor. That would be true for the eurythmy teacher. The work of gymnastics teachers is to picture an ideal human being in terms of lines, forms, and movements to which they must develop these lazy, sloppy people they have before them. You were certainly correct when you mentioned how children should carry themselves. Whereas the eurythmy teacher should work so that the muscles feel themselves, feel how they gain strength through the character of the movement, the gymnastics teacher should feel how people can properly perceive the heaviness or lightness of a limb. The child should learn, not through reason, but instinctively, how to perceive the lifting of an arm or leg in relationship to gravity. Children should, for example, develop a feeling for how their foot becomes heavy when they stand on one leg and lift the other.

The task of the gymnastics teacher is, therefore, to place the dynamic ideal human being he or she carries in his or her soul into another person. Of course, the artistic must also play a role, since we can realize human statics or dynamics only through artistic feeling. Whereas, artistic feeling plays a major role in eurythmic sculpturing, it must precede the forms the gymnastics teacher creates statically and dynamically.

Concerning the question of breathing, it is significant that eurythmy lies closer to the breath, whereas gymnastics lies closer to the blood process. Aside from the fact that the tempo of breathing increases during the course of the exercises, something that is a physiological process, it is important that we should develop gymnastic technique in such a way that it does not affect the breathing process. We could call a gymnastics exercise incorrect if, while maintaining the proper physical position, the exercise negatively affects the breathing process. We should exclude those gymnastic exercises that disturb the breathing process, even though the body is properly held. Now that I have seen everything you are doing, it seems to me that all the breathing exercises in modern gymnastic methods are directed toward maintaining proper posture, and that breathing is treated as a reaction. I have noticed that all the things presented are directed primarily toward creating proper posture, at least to the extent it is expressed through the breathing process. That is something Swedish gymnastics for the most part takes into account. That is what I want to say about that.

In gymnastics, it is important that we take the will into account. The teacher must, therefore, whether instinctively or intuitively, live directly into the connection between movements of the body and expressions of the will. The teacher must have a feeling for what the connection between movement and will is. In eurythmy, there is also a development of will, but one that uses a more indirect path through inner feeling and occurs at a level where will is expressed through feeling. That is what I just referred to as character, and it is the experience of feeling in an act of will. The gymnastics teacher works directly with the act of will, but the eurythmy teacher works with experiencing the feeling in an act of will. You can see how there is everywhere a very strict separation and we need to take that into account when developing a curriculum. Perhaps we cannot immediately do that, but we should certainly see it as our ideal. Then, from these two things we will clearly see why it is much easier for girls in eurythmy and for boys in gymnastics. Things are more clearly differentiated with boys. For that reason, we will, in fact, have to allow the boys and girls to do their gymnastics in the same room, but in different groups. The girls can form a group for themselves and do those exercises that create a relationship between them. If we do such exercises that are modified for boys and girls, they will enjoy them more.

I think we will see that when we discuss the curriculum in detail. That is also true of the differences in age.

Concerning exercises with equipment, I would like to remark that we could modify the form of the equipment and make it more appropriate. In that way, at least to an extent, we can make the most common pieces of equipment not quite so bad, so we can do something with them. Although I do not want to be fanatical about this, I would also like to see that we have no climbing poles, but I don’t want to complain about them too much.

Those people who have observed what boys in the villages do when a tree is brought from the woods and placed atop a pole on a church holiday will know how valuable such climbing poles can be. Up there, a few branches remain with a small kerchief, a piece of candy, or maybe a small bottle of wine, and the boys have to climb their way up to that little tree attached to the top of the pole from which the bark has been removed. The victor is the boy who brings it down. That very strongly connects the activity of the will to the nature of the body. We do this same thing artificially with a climbing pole. It is certainly better when the children have to learn how to climb a rope. The pole has a rather limited significance in gymnastics, I would say, but I do not want to completely remove it. With the parallel and high bars, with the horse and so forth, if they are properly used, you can certainly gain something from them.

I also agree you should do the exercises, at least to an extent, by combining the different pieces of equipment, because that emphasizes what equipment exercises should achieve, namely, more presence of mind. That has a secondary effect of also strengthening the muscles. The children thus develop proper strength and elasticity.

I also agree that the high bar should be more prominent, and that it will gain that through a kind of observation, not an observation with the eyes, but through bodily feelings. One useful exercise would be to have the children swing so they must then catch the bar. They would need to hold themselves in the air. That is only an example to give the direction I am thinking of. It could be done with the hands or also with the entire arms, but the movement really becomes significant only if it is done with the arms. You could, however, allow the children to begin with their hands.

The High Bar

These things that allow the children to feel the device with their entire body can also give them a greater sympathy for the equipment. That is particularly true with the high bar when the children learn to work on it with their legs. You could combine exercises with the high bar by first having them do what I mentioned above and then having them “walk” the bar with their legs dangling.

All that simply gives the spirit of the direction. I don’t think I need to speak about dead equipment and simple routine. That is the way things were, but things do not need to be routine when we emphasize this way of experiencing the equipment. The children can use their legs in wonderful ways on the bars.

I completely agree with what you said about games and sports. Our gymnastics should lead to what you described.

We want to discuss the gymnastics curriculum at the next opportunity. Then, we will also consider the temperaments at various ages.

The school doctor: Some of the anemic older girls often become tired easily.

Dr. Steiner: This is where the pathology and therapy of gymnastics begins. What you have termed “gymnastics pain” arises because the process between the blood and the muscles in such children leads to the crystallization of uric acid. What is important is that we combat this nearly inorganic metabolic process through diet. That is, of course, a task only when we see that gymnastics tires the children beyond a certain degree. At that point, we need to try therapy. Through gymnastics we can most easily see whether a child is healthy or not. If you wanted to determine whether someone will have gout in three years, you could have that person do some physical exercise, and if he or she shows some kind of gout-like feelings, that person will most certainly have gout within three years. Today, when children are so malnourished, many of them will have such symptoms because the process between the blood and muscles no longer functions properly.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to do something. Mrs. R. gave me a donation. I have discussed the matter with her, and these million Marks should be used to start a fund so that something can be done about the children’s nutrition. I would like to see these million Marks she gave used to improve the children’s health. We should create such a fund, and this could be its foundation.

A teacher asks about how to occupy the children during breaks and on field trips.

Dr. Steiner: The question of children’s play is certainly appropriate. We should not overdo play since it could soften the children. It is valid to object if there is insufficient time for play, but we could also make a valid objection now. Nevertheless, I would say that it is not sufficient to speak just about play. When the children need a break, what is important is to allow them to sit. First, they need to sit and eat. They need to be able to occupy themselves with that, but quite consciously and with real appetite. When they have fully satisfied their hunger, you can allow them to play, as you have done. If you lead this activity, you must try to see to it that they eat as slowly as possible, so that they use the time available for eating to savor every bite.

Games where the children just crawl around are not very good. Children’s play should require their attention, and their games should offer them some enjoyment. What you have described gives them some enjoyment because of their anticipation. Amusement is necessary in games. You also need to be sure the children drink, so they have fluid throughout their bodies before you continue the field trips. There is no harm in allowing them to drink when they sit down during a break. During the break, they should begin with eating, and drink at the end. The time in between should be amusing, so that their souls are occupied with anticipation, with solving a problem, with excitement or disappointment. That is how we should include the element of entertainment. What you are doing now is simply boring. Sports are not particularly exciting, they are actually boring. In games, we need to avoid being like the English. Our games should not be influenced by the West. They should be healthy, entertaining games.

I certainly do not want to imply that the old games are very good simply because they come from older times. They need to be replaced. Blind Man’s Bluff or such things are the right thing. Or, A-Tisket, A-Tasket. In other words, games that do not require a lot of effort, but that are amusing. When the children are resting, they should first have something good to eat. I would also have them stretch, or perhaps sing. After they have played for a while, they could sing, have something to drink, and end the break.

A teacher asks about marching and singing.

Dr. Steiner: These military or war-like games can be done in a healthy way if they are done artistically. What was done where I grew up was pure nonsense. Someone composed some sentences, and then two from the group of children shouted out one sentence. The others standing further away could no longer understand what was said. We need to drop things like that. On the other hand, if we connect something genuinely rhythmic with walking as a group or with marching, that is quite proper. When art plays a part, you can allow people to do something as a group, allow them to think together, or something of that sort. It is important that there is no fooling around. Playing Cowboys and Indians and so forth is healthy if it is done with spirit. We can differentiate among all those things, between play at the right time and sport. Healthy play occupies you with something you enjoy because of the movement in healthy thinking and feeling. Sports are so bad because you simply move without any thinking, and thus become lazy in your thinking. People want to do things so they do not have to be mobile in their thought and feeling. It would be good if we could remove from our bodies those things that exist in the English-speaking world due to their belief in sports.

A question is asked about cooking outdoors.

Dr. Steiner: That is good to do since it extends mealtime, that is, it extends the time used for eating. There is nothing better. When you take the children outside, you should extend their mealtime during rest period as far as possible. It is best if you make them as uncomfortable as possible, so that they have to make some effort.

A teacher: Should we have swimming in school?

Dr. Steiner: That would hurt nothing and could be quite good. However, I think that for technical as well as scheduling reasons, it would not be possible. We need to do what is possible under present circumstances.

The gymnastics teacher: Could we arrange to have showers?

Dr. Steiner: That would be good. The only problem then is that when it becomes known that a child is lacking in that area, then people think that the child has to be bathed. If we had showers, we would have to avoid that kind of negative thought, but that is, of course, often difficult to do. If we had a boarding school, we could do all sorts of such valuable things. I have, however, found no way of avoiding such negative thoughts. We should see to it, however, that the children come to school properly dressed and washed. There would be no negative opinions if we required children to come to school clean and well-kept. In such cases, there is sometimes something pathological present. There are people who cannot avoid looking dirty and smelling bad even when they are washed. I would agree to having showers, but we would have to find some way to connect it with a moral perspective.

A teacher: Should I take up Virgil in Latin? Perhaps the Fourth Song of the Aeneid.

Dr. Steiner: That would be very good if you could connect it with other things. Very good indeed.