Category Archives: Somatic education

How Do You Define Strength?

Often we think of strength from the physical perspective. When I searched for stock photos showing “strength,” what came up were dozens of images of bulging muscles and effort.

We can certainly appreciate the skill required to evoke strength at an extraordinary level. Witness the remarkable weight-lifting of Taner Sagir.

Of course we all want physical strength. We want to be strong enough to lift our children easily, lift groceries, practice yoga, or garden. Some of us want to be strong enough to practice an instrument for three hours and then play a concert. Or to run a marathon.

Woman saws a tree branch

© International Feldenkrais® Federation Archive, R. Golden.

That was the kind of strength I was expecting to investigate during four days of advanced training last month at IOPS Academy (Ideal Organization & Profound Strength). But in his first talk our instructor, Dr. Jeff Haller, spoke of emotional strength.

Jeff described a client who’d experienced abuse as a child and has been living with its emotional weight for much of their life. That client is discovering a different way to inhabit their body, from the ground up, with clear contact of their feet, open chest, and unrestricted breath. The client can now feel the difference between this new pattern and the former. He’s gaining the tools to choose consciously between living in the past, with all its weight, and in the present with its relative ease, based on being aware of these patterns.

Group investigations that week allowed us to experience how we physically express fear. As they progressed, we were guided toward finding different responses—becoming pro-active, rather than reactive, assertive rather than cowering, calm rather than wary. In other words, Jeff invited us to discover emotional strength in ourselves, and observe its physical manifestations.

Above all, he invited us to be kind to ourselves.

I realized that I’ve held back from articulating publicly that there’s an emotional component to the Feldenkrais Method®. When a new client comes to talk about relieving physical pain, I’ve thought—oh, they’re not expecting to talk about the emotional side. So I’ve left it unstated. But when you discover limiting patterns of movement, you’ll inevitably discover related patterns of thinking and feeling.

In Body and Mature Behavior, Moshe Feldenkrais writes: “Every emotion. . . is associated and linked in the cortex with some muscular configuration and attitude.”

As you learn new choices, you learn new ways of thinking and feeling. Instead of being at the mercy of your past, you can choose what to keep and what to discard. You might literally feel more buoyant.

Strength is an evolving idea for me. A goal to move towards, sometimes approaching via the physical realm, sometimes the mental: two possible approaches to the same goal. I think human strength is synonymous with maturity. As we move through our lives, at each moment we have the choice between falling into old patterns or choosing the new. We can choose to relish our ability to thrive in uncertainty. As we uncover our inner strength, we can trust that we have the resources to respond without hesitation. We can aspire to anti-fragility.

Learning More about the Pioneer of Feldenkrais

To learn more about the pioneer of the Feldenkrais Method®, Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., there’s no better source than the recently published first volume of his biography, Moshe Feldenkrais: A Life in Movement.Cover of the biography of Moshe Feldenkrais, pioneer of the Feldenkrais Method

At 566 pages (including footnotes), the book is a remarkable achievement. Author Mark Reese worked closely with Dr. Feldenkrais, and was himself a teacher of the method, as well as a scholar.

Describing Moshe Feldenkrais, Norman Doidge, M.D., writer of two bestsellers on neuroplasticity writes in the book’s preface: “Genius of the magnitude possessed by Moshe Feldenkrais, defies categorization. . . [it’s] a fastidiously researched, exciting, profoundly insightful story, that gets deep inside the mind of the swashbuckling, theatrical, brilliant integrator, as he lived through many of the greatest intellectual, political, and scientific events of the the 20th century. . . who in his struggle to overcome his own major injury, pioneered a unique way of teaching people to learn how to learn, and to change their brains, by increasing awareness of whatever they did. . .”

May 6 is Moshe’s birthday. I never met him in person, but am forever grateful to have discovered his work. Here he is teaching a public workshop, speaking about good posture and Campbell’s soup. Happy birthday, Moshe!

Moshe Feldenkrais: South Bend, Indiana Feldenkrais Method Workshop

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Why Is Easy Movement Hard?

Feldenkrais® practitioner Michael Cann wrote an excellent blog in response to a student’s frustration after a workshop. Other participants had found the movements easy and enjoyable. The man wondered what was wrong with him.Black line art illustration of an angry person.

Michael’s response is that the way we teach Feldenkrais can be misleading, because we emphasize making small, gentle movements. Only doing what’s easy. Resting frequently.

He writes: “With all this talk about ease, effortlessness, and pleasure, you’d think every experience would be enjoyable. . . But here’s the uncomfortable truth: it won’t be. There have been times when I have hated Feldenkrais. And there may be times when you will too. . . . easy movement can be way harder — and way more rewarding — than you have imagined.”

Read the rest of his blog here on his website Movement Is My Teacher.

Core Principles of Feldenkrais: Norman Doidge’s Perspective

Adapted from The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, MD, 2015, pages 168-176.

How the Feldenkrais Method facilitates neuroplastic healingThe cover of The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, MD

1. The mind programs the functioning of the brain.

We are born prepared to learn. We can adapt our brains and movement to particular surroundings. Even when we damage our brains, usually plenty of brain remains to take on damaged functions.

2. A brain cannot think with motor function.

Just thinking of a movement triggers that movement, changes tone in that part of our body. Using our brains triggers four components: motor movement, thought, sensation, and feeling.

3. Awareness of moving is the key to improving movement.

Doidge writes: “It may seem ‘magical’ to think that movement problems. . . can be radically changed simply by becoming more aware of the movement, but it seems magical only because science formerly thought of the body as a machine with parts, in which sensory functions are radically separated from motor functions.”

4. Differentiation—making the smallest possible sensory distinction between one movement and another—builds brain maps.

5. Differentiation is easiest to make when the stimulus is smallest.

The less effort we use, the more we can notice. If you’re lifting a piano, you won’t notice if a fly lands on it; if you’re lifting a feather, you will.

6. Slowness of movement is the key to awareness, and awareness is the key to learning.

If you leap too quickly, you can’t look before you leap.

7. Reduce effort whenever possible.

If you are straining, you aren’t learning: if strain, no gain. No pain is gain.

8. Errors are essential, and there is no right way to move, only better ways.

If you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn. No one speaks her native language perfectly from day one.

9. Random movements provide variation that leads to developmental breakthroughs.

Sometimes it’s useful to wander!

10. Even the smallest movement in one part of the body involves the entire body.

When you’ve got a ball of yarn, whichever part of the yarn you take hold of, the whole ball comes along eventually.

11. Many movement problems, and the pain that goes with them, are caused by learned habit, not by abnormal structure.

Often there’s nothing to “fix.” Improvement can come from changing your movement patterns.

About Norman Doidge, MD

Norman Doidge, M.D., is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet. He is on faculty at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry, and Research Faculty at  Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, in New York. He is the author of two New York Times bestselling books on neuroplasticity. Learn more about Dr. Doidge on his website.

2013 Feldenkrais Conference: Just a glimpse

I just spent five days soaking up new knowledge and sharing insights with dozens of other Feldenkrais® teachers, at the 2013 Feldenkrais Conference for teachers of the method.

Barbara Abramson explores working with Stacy Barrows on SmartRoller.

Barbara Abramson explores working with Stacy Barrows on a SmartRoller®. Barrows, both a physical therapist and a Feldenkrais practitioner, designed the SmartRoller.

Below is just a snippet of a workshop I took with master trainer Jeff Haller. Titled “Ground, Grounding, Grounded,” the workshop focused on stability and mobility. Dr. Haller is particularly interested in both how we begin movement and how, even as we move, we can stay free and available to change at any moment. Fascinating: I’ve come away with lots of ideas to explore, in both private lessons and group classes. (Yes, that is me demonstrating on the table!)

This is the first time I’ve attended our annual conference: I look forward to more.

How Movement Begins: Jeff Haller Workshop

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Read about Feldenkrais: Going deeper with the method

Some of you expressed interest in learning more about the theory behind the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education®. I’d recommend two books by Moshe Feldenkrais:Case-of-Nora-cvr

  • Awareness Through Movement: Health Exercise for Personal Growth. The first part describes the theoretical foundation of his work. The second is 12 Awareness Through Movement lessons to explore yourself.
  • Feldenkrais’ only extended case study, Body Awareness as Healing Therapy: The Case of Nora. Beautifully and simply written, the book describes Feldenkrais’ successful work with a woman recovering from a severe stroke. What emerges is his systematic, scientific approach. “Structure and function are tied so intimately that one cannot easily separate them nor deal with one without involving the other (p. 9). What also emerge are his compassion, patience, and respect for human dignity.