I hear you, I hear you. You are saying, “If letter gestures are natural movements, then why don’t I get it?!” Let me explain…
As I was talking with some of the older kids at our co-op, a lot of them were able to guess what some of the letter gestures were. I was amazed by this. When I asked how they were able to guess that, they answered that when they said [this] sound it made them think of [this] motion. The gestures really are natural movements and once you understand them, you are really able to see that. Rudolph Steiner explained it like this: When we talk, we move our hands. When we are trying to explain or describe something, we use motions with our hands and bodies. This is eurythmy babble. When a baby is learning to speak, it babbles on and on. Sometimes we are able to understand what the baby needs because either the babble is becoming slightly clearer or because of body language and other motions. But as they learn the language, their speech becomes clearer and the sounds from their mouth start to be orderly and make sense. That is the same with Eurythmy gestures. We babble with our movements when we talk or explain something. But as you come to learn more and understand the gestures better, those motions become more orderly and you begin to speak with movements in a clearer manner. This is why Steiner called it “visible speech.”
The gestures are the phonetic sounds of a letter. And while this statement is true, it is not 100% accurate. The letter gestures were created based on the phonetic sounds, but are actually fashioned after the movement our air makes when leaving our mouth, while saying the phonetic sound of the letter. Phew!! That was a mouthful! So for example, say the sound for the letter F. “f-f-f-f-f” The air moves forcefully, straight out the front of your mouth. The gesture for letter F is made by bringing your hands back at shoulder level, elbows back, and forcefully, but controlled, pushing your hands straight out in front of you. This is the same way the air moved out of your mouth. And as we do the motion, we might say the sound of the letter, not the name of the letter, hence the reason we say it is based on the phonetic sound.
After learning all this you might still be saying “But some of these gestures still seem a little awkward and not so natural.” This is because of our limited movements. As the times go by, we have more and more machines doing work for us. Our muscles, once upon a time, used to get a good, full workout when we had to work for everything we had, literally. We now have machines that till the land, harvest crops, chop trees, rotate mulch, sew, stir and whisk… all of these things that we once had to rely on our own bodies to do! And although these machines are time savers and allow us to mass-produce, our muscles are becoming atrophied. Some muscles are not in use so they sleep. So the motions that we do make with our hands and bodies are very limited. Now if we were still doing all these jobs, we would find that we had awake and alert muscles, ready to move! And then these gestures would indeed come naturally. They would not be so awkward to move.
So now that you know all this about the air in relation to the gestures, don’t they make a lot more sense? Aren’t they perfectly natural?! Now we just need to wake up those sleeping muscles, and we can do so through Eurythmy. As we practice the gestures, movements, forms, and copper rod exercises, we will find that those sleepy muscles are becoming alive again. Our overall health will improve (because there is also a spiritual and mental awakening side which we will discuss as another time). Eurythmy is VERY therapeutic! And the letter gestures ARE natural movements.