What Triggers Anxiety

A despairing human figure sits surrounded by question marks.We’re living in extraordinarily unsettled times, no matter where we are. It seems there’s little that we can control right now, except the way that we choose to respond to this chaotic world. Yet it can feel as if we don’t have choices, as if circumstances trap us. Moshe Feldenkrais suggested that believing we have no choice creates anxiety.

Feldenkrais also lived in unsettled times. He lived through pogroms in the Ukraine. He fled the Nazi invasion of France. The method he developed is his response: to cultivate self-knowledge through movement.

In the Elusive Obvious, Feldenkrais writes:
“When choice is reduced to only one movement or act without any alternatives, anxiety may be so great that we cannot even do the only possible movement. . . Anxiety can be a positive, useful phenomenon. It assures our safety from risking what we feel would endanger our very existence. Anxiety appears when deep in ourselves we know that we have no other choice—no alternative way of acting [emphasis mine]. . . . Without learning to know ourselves as intimately as we possibly can, we limit our choice. Life is not very sweet without freedom of choice.”

I teach and practice the Feldenkrais Method® for many reasons, not least of which is, to help us discover and expand our range of choices, both physical and mental. So that we aren’t forced to dwell in the shape of anxiety. So that no matter what comes, we have ourselves to rely on.

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As a specific antidote to anxiety, here’s a lesson for you: Focus on Your Tanden, available to download or play for the next few weeks.

What Happens When Your Habits Stop Serving You?

We’re all in uncharted territory. Our daily habits are useless. What do we do? Maybe the first step is to become calm.

Front cover of Atomic Habits bookI’m reading Atomic Habits right now.

It’s an odd book to be reading at this particular time, from one point of view. The coronavirus has forced most of us out of our daily routines. Habits have dropped by the wayside. We’re working from home—if we’re lucky enough to have jobs. Or maybe supplies considered essential to doing our jobs safely aren’t available, and we have to jury-rig alternatives.

On the other hand, it’s actually the perfect time to be reading this book. Because we have the opportunity, maybe now or in the coming weeks or months, after this pandemic, to consider our old habits, decide which we value and which we want to change, and cultivate new habits. There’s absolutely no way we can go about business as usual.

The chapter I read this week is “The Secret to Self-Control.” James Clear, the book’s author, describes research done with American soldiers who became addicted to heroin during the Vietnam War. When they went back home, only 12 percent became re-addicted after three years. The re-addiction rate for heroin addicts living in the USA is 90 percent when they get home after rehab.

Researchers found that “addictions could spontaneously dissolve if there was a radical change in the environment” (p. 92).

We have a remarkable opportunity right now to observe our habits in their absence, both personally and globally. We are experiencing a radical change in our environment. Willy nilly. The ground has dropped out from under us.

A face mask in a clear box.I realize reflection isn’t possible for many of us right now. I just listened to a story on This American Life about a family of three in a New York apartment, 500 feet in size. Both parents sick with COVID-19. The mother locked in the bedroom to protect their two year-old. The father doing his best to care for his child during what they’re calling “Inside Time.” They don’t have the luxury to reflect right now. Nor do our first responders. Nor do the migrant workers in India who have nowhere to shelter and no way to practice social distancing.

But it’s clear to me that most of us will realize when we’re past this crisis, that we can’t go back to business as usual. We have a chance to craft a new Normal. We can choose new habits on a personal, country-wide, and international level. If we want.

Or we can try to go back to whatever Normal was before this pandemic. And wait for the rug to be pulled out from under us again. Because this isn’t the first pandemic we’ve faced; it won’t be the last.

To put it in the most mundane terms, how many times do you need to stub your toe on a chair before you decide to move the chair to a different place? How many times do you need to dislocate your shoulder before you decide maybe there’s a way you could move without dislocating your shoulder?

How do you create the conditions in which habit changing is possible?

A quality we’ll need to cultivate, both now, if we can, and later, is the quality of calm. That place in yourself you can trust without question. Buddhists call it bodhichitta or buddha nature. It’s the gap between your in-breath and your out-breath. It’s the space of potential, before you act or react. You touch it during contemplative prayer or meditation, or in a Feldenkrais® lesson. Essentially, it’s compassion.

Does this sound like a quality you’d like to cultivate?

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A girl walks quietly on a crowded streetGoing Deeper

If you’re interested cultivating calm, come to Finding Calm, the free online intensive Russ Mitchell and I are offering April 24-26. Come  Friday, Saturday or Sunday, or to all three sessions.

Let’s cultivate calm together.

Move Small So You Can Move Big

Are you in training for something? Maybe getting ready for a dream vacation or a competitive run?

Or maybe you’ve noticed that you’ve started to limit what you do: you’re not walking as far, or you’re carrying less weight. And you’d like to turn that trajectory around.

Russ Mitchell wrote an excellent blog about training smart and limiting injury with the Feldenkrais Method® which you’ll want to read. His explanation of the function of our different kinds of muscles makes it simple to understand: keep reading for an excerpt from his blog.

Postural Vs. Phasic Muscles

“You have two basic types of muscles: postural muscles and phasic muscles. If you cook a turkey, the postural muscles are the “dark meat,” and the phasic muscles the “white meat.” (Look at where that meat sits on a turkey… it becomes pretty obvious why each is where they are pretty quickly!)

The postural, aka “slow twitch” muscles are weaker — dramatically weaker — than the “fast twitch” phasic muscles. But “fast twitch” doesn’t mean “faster to execute.” The “Twitch” in these fibers’ names is in regard to how quickly they exhaust. “Slow twitch” fibers are called that because they may not be strong, but they’re long-lasting, and they come into action before the phasic muscles do. . . .

Easy example: postural muscles work all the time to counter-act gravity, mostly without any conscious awareness on your part. But ever accidentally exhausted the muscles in your jaw? Wasn’t that fun?

If you can't do it slow you can't do it fast.So why does this matter, and where does the Feldenkrais Method come in? Well, put simply, for you to avoid injuring your joints with explosive movements, you need to be able to get yourself into an alignment where you can muster your awesome athletic and artistic forces properly. The slow-twitch fibers are actually the first to be recruited once you have an idea of the movement you intend to do, in order to get your skeleton into position to “do the thing” properly so that you can jump, throw, swing, twist, dive, etcetera, easily, fluidly, and without strain.

Otherwise, even if you’re not in a squat rack, performing these activities with bad alignment tears up your body just as surely as would trying to perform a heavy squat or deadlift while standing knock-kneed. Anthony Bourdain, before he passed, used to lament the long-term damage he’d done to his hand just using a whisk. And any string musician can tell you what “bad form” will do to your wrists and elbows.”

Read the rest of Russ’ blog here.

Moving Forward

Does this inspire you to learn more about practicing small to move big? Join us for an upcoming class or workshop! Get more info here.

Connecting with the Vagal Nerve System: Enliven Digestion & So Much More

Ready to learn simple, potent techniques to help improve function of the vagus nerve system? Join us for this two-day workshop with instructor Elinor Silverstein, GCFP.

Vagus nerve vector illustration. Labeled anatomical structure scheme and location diagram of human body longest nerve. Infographic with isolated ganglion, branches and plexus. Inner biological ANS.This long-branching nerve system begins in the base of the brain. It travels all the way down to the bottom of your belly, touching and communicating with almost every organ on its way down.

Proper vagus nerve functioning is strongly implicated in physical wellness, emotional well-being, rest, and sleep. It’s essential for regulating your digestion and immune system, as well as controlling blood pressure and heart health functioning.

Did we talk about memory, short and long term? Yes, it is part of this, too.

WHEN: Saturday, January 25, 2020: 10 am-5 pm
Sunday, January 26: 10 am-4 pm

COST: Regular $275 (thru Jan. 5); Late $295 (after Jan. 5).
Register here on Brown Paper Tickets. Or send a check made out to “Dallas Feldenkrais” to: 3515 Cedar Springs Rd., Dallas TX 75219.

Email angela at dallasfeldenkrais dot com to request group rates for your staff.

WHO WILL BENEFIT?

This workshop is for:

  • Functional medicine and integrative medicine professionals
  • Feldenkrais practitioners
  • Osteopaths
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Massage therapists
  • Yoga therapists
  • Other somatic practitioners, including those who offer Structural Integration, Bowen technique, Body-Mind centering
  • Other interested health professionals who’d like to enrich their practice with these simple, potent techniques

WHAT TO EXPECT

You’ll engage in Feldenkrais Method® movement lessons and simple hands-on techniques. And you’ll learn the science behind it to teach you what you can do for yourself and to help your clients promote and sustain wellness.

Snacks included. Catered lunch optional.

ABOUT YOUR INSTRUCTOR

Head shot of Elinor Silverstein

Elinor Silverstein, GCFP

Elinor Silverstein, an internationally recognized Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner , holds degrees in Biology and Zoology. In addition, she integrates the sciences of nutrition and movement biology into her teaching of the Gut-Brain Connection and Vagus Nerve System Health. Elinor has over 35 years of experience using the Feldenkrais Method® to assist people with their healing process as they deal with serious nervous system disorders—both diagnosed and undiagnosed. She teaches her Gut-Brain, and Vagus Nerve connection programs to medical professionals, Feldenkrais practitioners, and the general public throughout the world, while maintaining a private practice in Orange County, California.

Presented by Dallas Feldenkrais/ Dallas Movement Lab in partnership with Westside Wellness Dallas and SimplyAware.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is…

“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Said a different Famous President than the one in the title line.  Well, I’m not a Famous Cold War President. (Don’t get me wrong — I could get at least ten votes in a Presidential Campaign….)

In Awareness Through Movement®, we might say that we do these strange movements not because they’re hard, but precisely because they’re strange to us. I love Awareness Through Movement and honestly believe that it can be pursued as a form of “enlightenment practice.” (Wait, Russ is using the foofy words — is he feeling well?) I don’t think that’s for all the myriad benefits that one can gain using the Feldenkrais Method®, but because of the nature of the Method itself.

In class, we have something like the following:

  1. You’re invited to do something with  your body, usually something a bit unusual.
  2. You’re not shown how to do it, but reminded to take care of yourself while you do.
  3. You try to do it, while having your attention brought to various parts of the process.
  4. Somehow a miracle occurs, and like magic, you learn. And then your life gets easier.
A group of students in an Awareness Through Movement class

A class led by Russ Mitchell (not pictured) learns about themselves in the upright position.

Most of the time when people refer to group classes, they focus on Step Four, Where Students Become Awesome(tm). But what if we took it right off the top, instead?

How many times have you been confronted with some action or activity and had a reaction that can be summarized as “Oh, I can’t do that?” Our habits of mind fall into a rut, and anything outside of that becomes threatening to our self-image. I’m no stranger to that. Pushing 50, I’m keenly aware that I don’t relate to technology the same way that my child does.

What would your life be like, on the other hand, if, when presented with some new and unexpected or novel activity (whether that’s calculus, painting, surfing, home repair…insert list here), we were able to try doing new things in a state of complete emotional ease, without hint of strain or anxiety? What if we could entertain new ideas (or old ones!) without being imprisoned by the ideas, skills, and habits that we currently say our “ours,” but which can be our prison just as easily as they can be our capacity?

I am not after flexible bodies; I am after flexible minds. — Moshe Feldenkrais

To begin with, the Internet would be a much more pleasant place.

In Awareness Through Movement classes, we are, literally, learning how to pay attention to ourselves, and thus take better care of ourselves in order that we can happily outgrow ourselvesand become the kinds of people who can embrace every opportunity we desire, rather than recoiling in inner turmoil at the (very real) terror of living better lives in a better world, because the price tag of learning how to do that is more than we know how to pay.

In Awareness Through Movement, we aren’t just getting more relaxed or limber. We’re not even just “learning how to learn.” We’re learning how to learn easily, so that when we’re confronted by the ever-changing, ever-accelerating world, the price of curiosity is something we can pay out of our emotional pocket-change. Opportunities and responsibilities move to feeling more like “fun and adventure,” and less like “stresses, strains, and burdens.”

Who would you like to be, if this were you?  Who could you become?

Would you like to find out?

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If your answer is “Yes, join us for classes. Choose yours here.

More about Back Pain: Crooked Author Interviewed

If you’re an adult, you likely have had back pain or you know someone who does. It’s a sad fact of contemporary life.

Students in a ballet class. Dancers may think back pain's inevitable, even when they're young. It's not!Even folks you’d think would be pain-free, like elite dancers and athletes, may be moving through it. Someone told me a couple of years ago that half the first-year students at one of the best US dance programs come to campus with back pain. And these students are professional caliber. Heartbreaking! And unnecessary.

We can talk for quite a while—and if you’ve been in one of my classes, you know I do!—about why back pain is endemic in our society.

Front cover of CROOKED: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry & Getting on the Road to RecoveryIn 2017, investigative reporter Cathryn Jacobson Ramin published a groundbreaking book on the “back pain industry”—a disgusting phrase if ever I heard one. Her own pain led her to look for help. She found a whole lot of stuff which doesn’t help, and can harm. And she found some modalities which do help: the Feldenkrais Method® is one. (If you’ve not read Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery, do! Aside from the great info, it’s a good read.)

It turns out that Cathryn has practiced Feldenkrais continuously since publishing Crooked. She was interviewed recently for the Feldenkrais website. She said: “I’ve sent countless people to Feldenkrais. I mean it is my ‘go-to,’ absolutely… it is a matter of gaining confidence that you can move and you will not die. And that is what Feldenkrais does: to actually tell your brain that you are in no imminent danger and things will improve.” Read the full interview here.

If you know someone living with back pain, share the interview with them. Or visit the Crooked website, which is chock-a-block with resources to help change their trajectory.

The takeaway: we don’t have to live in misery. We don’t have to suck it up, or push through, or grit our teeth. If we choose, we can move away from pain.

Lose Your Balance & Find It Again

What do you think of when you hear the word “balance?”

Do you immediately think— “I wish mine was better.”

Join the club!

It’s hard to stand on two legs. It takes us about a year to learn it, to build the muscles necessary.

Winged Victory of Samothrace: the wide base ensure it won't lose balance.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

“. . . The human body is badly suited for standing. Statues of human figures have to be strongly connected to a heavy base to prevent them from toppling over at the slightest disturbance.”Moshe Feldenkrais, Body & Mature Behavior

Humans start with a disadvantage: we stand on two feet. We’re top heavy: our trunk and head are on top, and our base is tiny. In Body & Mature Behavior, Feldenkrais writes: “A Martian visitor would not hesitate to conclude that the human body is the closest to an ideal frame designed for movement and the least suited for standing motionless.”

Finding Balance

Little boy rides a bike. Lose balance and find it again.We humans are always seeking to be in balance. Whether in standing, so we don’t fall over. Or in dealing with a psychological challenge. What’s interesting: balance is inherently unstable. When we seem to be in balance we’re actually constantly moving, making tiny adjustments in response to our changing environment. We’re afraid to lose balance, yet we’re continually losing and finding it again. Just watch a baby learning to stand up! The only way to develop the ability to stand is to fall repeatedly.

Maybe losing our balance as grown-ups could be no big deal, too.

What are tools you can use to clarify your balance?

  • The ground
  • Your breath
  • Your skeleton
  • Your muscle system
  • Your awareness

Ready to Lose Balance?

Lose balance & find it again walking a slack line

The only way to walk a slack line: lose balance & find it again!

Join us for the next series! Find details here.

Learning vs. Doing

“… learning is very different from doing.”Moshe Feldenkrais, The Elusive Obvious

Angela smiling in Boulder with mountains in background.

Insane view of the Flatirons from this parking lot! Yes, this is after my spill.

I’m just back from Boulder. What a beautiful place!

I hiked, walked, and took an electric bike tour. The bike ride gave me a fabulous opportunity to do what I’d been learning with Feldenkrais®. Coming around a curve, I saw gravel on the path. No time to go around, knew I’d skid. Fell beautifully! I caught myself on four points: both hands and both knees. Yes, my left knee was skinned. But I broke my fall and my forehead hit only lightly. You bet I was wearing a helmet! (Note to self: when the guide offers to take your back pack, accept!)

How is learning different from doing?

How could I fall so well? I’ve spent hours learning. Going slowly. Pausing frequently. Allowing a gesture to unfold piece by piece. Failing repeatedly, in as many ways as I could think of. That’s what a Feldenkrais lesson is. So when the rubber met the road (or not, in this case), I was ready. I could shift from learning to doing without hesitation. “In life an act must be accomplished at the right speed, at the right moment, and with the right vigor.” (Moshe Feldenkrais, The Elusive Obvious)

I was able to enjoy the heck out of the Feldenkrais conference in spite of my spill.

A child holds her foot, lying on floor. Children naturally alternate between learning, doing, and resting.

Ready to discover how Feldenkrais can help you meet whatever life brings? Join us for weekly classes!

“For successful learning we must proceed at our own rate. Babies repeat each novel action clumsily at their own rate until they have enough of it. This occurs when the intention and its performance are executed so that they are just one act which feels like an intention only.” —The Elusive Obvious

Feldenkrais Classics

5 Lessons to put Awareness into Your Movement

Students doing a classic Feldenkrais lesson, lying on the floorReady to bring more of you home at the end of a busy day? Come to this series!

Moshe Feldenkrais created these lessons with beginners in mind. They’re the perfect introduction to making better use of yourself.

Experienced with Feldenkrais? Great! Use these lessons to go deeper.

Five Sundays, May 26-June 23. Taught by Russ Mitchell, MA.

$85 Early Bird (by May 12); $95 General.

Schedule Appointment

Move Your Shoulders Like Wheels

What’s Happening in May & June

The next Feldenkrais® series are just around the corner, and they’ll be shorter than usual: four and five weeks.

At the end of June, I’m going to the annual Feldenkrais conference for five days. Count on my coming back with a bunch of new ideas we’ll play with in class, as I’ll be training with my mentor Jeff Haller, as well as several other deeply experienced teachers. The theme this year is “Discover Ease: Finding What Already Exists.”

Interested? The conference has workshops open to the public. These include:

  • Your Vagal Nerve System, Why the Feldenkrais Method Is So Important, with Elinor Silverstein
  • Two Masters and One Nerd, with Moti Nativ, Jeff Haller, and Roger Russell
  • Jump Forever Rhymes with Young Forever, with Moti Nativ

Human skeleton dancing DAB, perform dabbing move gesture, posing on white background.The conference is in Boulder, CO, which has been on my bucket list for years, so I’m taking some additional time to explore and perhaps do a short retreat in July. Classes will likely begin again the second or third week of July.

The focus in my May and June classes will be shoulders, arms, and hands. Most of us have injured our shoulders, or dealt with Carpel Tunnel or another repetitive-motion issue. We all benefit from understanding more clearly how to mobilize this area. (How often do you find your shoulders up by your ears?)

More about Your Shoulder Girdle

“Nearly every bone in the trunk, from occiput to pelvis, furnishes surfaces for the attachments of muscles which are also attached to some portion of the shoulder apparatus. . .”—Mabel Elsworth Todd, The Thinking Body: A Study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man.

Classic Awareness Through Movement lesson.Todd points out that our shoulder and arm muscles have a wheel-like distribution. She writes, “The muscle power must be applied so as to operate through as many arcs as the range and direction of movements require. This is accomplished by a wheel-like design whereby muscles attached through great distances over many surfaces of the skeletal framework converge about the shoulder joint. . . . It is this wheel-like arrangement of lines of muscle force through all planes which gives such enormous power to the arms and hands, not alone in doing heavy work. . . but also in the control of delicately centered movements of the hands and fingers.” (Ibid)

We’ll be rolling those wheels in June: register here.

Sunday Classes

Russ Mitchell, fresh from the latest segment of his Feldenkrais training, will teach five classic lessons on Sundays. You can bet I’ll be there! Register for his series here.

Saturday Classes

Do Saturday mornings work best for you? Consider coming to Patterns Lab, 11:30 am-1:30 pm. Prerequiste: at least one series of classes or package of private lessons with me, or previous experience with the Feldenkrais Method®. Please email me if you’re interested in joining.