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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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:
You’re invited to do something with your body, usually something a bit unusual.
You’re not shown how to do it, but reminded to take care of yourself while you do.
You try to do it, while having your attention brought to various parts of the process.
Somehow a miracle occurs, and like magic, you learn. And then your life gets easier.
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 ourselves, and 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?
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
I realized, oh! Not everyone knows what I mean when I say “workshop.”
So here’s what to expect!
Yes, we’ll do ATM lessons. We might do two. We might do parts of several. But we’ll certainly be getting down on the floor. Having three hours to play with means we can stop and start. Pause for discussion or demos. We can also do extended lessons which are too long to offer in an hour class.
Sometimes I’ll invite you to work with one or two other people to investigate something together, maybe in moving, maybe in discussion.
After our walking workshop.
We’ll do some talking about what we’re discovering. Each of us will make unique discoveries during each workshop, and over the series. We’ll probably find common threads. Naming and describing what we discover will help us decide whether our discoveries are useful—do we want to keep traveling in that direction?—or whether we’ve found something to change or improve.
As Moshe Feldenkrais wrote: “When you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.” Part of knowing involves naming, really bringing your attention to what’s going on.
If you like, you can take one or two of the ideas from each workshop and continue to play with them on your own, during the month. Over the six months, your toolbox will grow.
You may surprise yourself. I once taught a rolling lesson. During the lesson I said, “You’ll never do these movements in this way in real life. The point of this lesson is flexibility.” Then I found myself getting into my car after class, tapping into part of the lesson to pivot, fold, and twist, all at the same time. Spontaneously and effortlessly!
It’s just plain fun to do a workshop. But don’t take my word for it! Here’s what Linda had to say after her first workshop: “Thank you so much for a most stimulating, enlivening, enlightening and totally fun afternoon.”
The New York Times has just published an article about the Feldenkrais Method®. After two hours of lessons, columnist Jane E. Brody describes herself as “walking on air,” freed from her chronic pain.
She acknowledges up front a reluctance to investigate Feldenkrais: “I had long refrained from writing about this method of countering pain because I thought it was some sort of New Age gobbledygook with no scientific basis. Boy, was I wrong!”
Brody began to understand how the method is effective:
“The slow, gentle, repetitive movements I practiced in a Feldenkrais group class helped foster an awareness of how I use my body in relation to my environment, and awareness is the first step to changing one’s behavior.”
If you’ve personally experienced the benefits of Feldenkrais already, and have a friend or family member who you think would also benefit, an article like this could be a great help in convincing them. If someone like that comes to mind, please share this article with them.
Today one of my clients came up to standing after a Feldenkrais® lesson and said, “It feels like my left foot is in front of my right foot.” He looked down and saw that, in reality, his feet were in line with each other. This was a novel relationship for his feet: his pattern typically is to have his right foot a little forward. His perception was different than reality.
It takes time to become incorporate new patterns into your self-image.
When you find something new in a lesson like a different place for your foot to be in standing, you can play with that. Take one foot a bit forward, shift weight back and forth between the back and front foot. Take the other foot forward, again shift weight. With feet side by side again, observe your perception now of where they are with respect to each other. Feel it, look at them.
Can you make it a game?
Later in the day, check in again. Stand and observe. How are your feet now placed?
Waiting in line at the grocery store becomes an opportunity for self-investigation. Or pushing your shopping cart, you can observe how you transfer weight between your feet. Standing at the kitchen sink, you can check in to see how weight is distributed between your feet. Not changing or correcting anything right away, just observing. Then you can begin to look for what feels most efficient, testing theories about function we’ve begun investigating in class.
It’s particularly illuminating to discover where some familiar pattern of self-use expresses itself as discomfort.
Although I’ve been clarifying and improving my walk for the last three years, when I garden my old pattern re-emerges. After two hours of transplanting and weeding this spring I felt a familiar pain in my lumbar spine. I hadn’t yet brought new movement patterns I’d learned in the context of the walking into bending and bearing weight. Now I have a new goal for self-study: improving how I lift.
Moment by moment, we have the change to discover ourselves in movement. To perfect our self-images.
Learning More about Awareness Through Movement
If you’re curious about the theory behind ATM, read Moshe Feldenkrais‘ book Awareness Through Movement. He wrote it for the general public. The first part presents his ideas about functional movement and learning. The second leads you through 12 lessons, including one entitled “Perfecting the Self-Image.”
Another way to learn more about ATM, come to a class or workshop here in Dallas. Click here to find a class near you.
So, after six years of teaching, I follow my hunches when planning what to teach. I listen to my private clients, to students in my classes. I continue with my advanced study. Patterns emerge. Something comes into the foreground.
Now it’s hip joints which keep presenting themselves to me.
Connecting with Your Strength
My ongoing interest remains uncovering innate strength. And clarifying use of our hip joints is key. The pelvis is our power center. Those bones are the biggest we have. The lumber vertebrae are enormous, compared to our cervical vertebrae.
The head of the femur is spherical, almost. It has the potential to rotate in almost any direction. Yet most of us use only a fraction of the potential. Watch a dancer or gymnast to see the hip joint exploited to its fullest.
Most of us don’t have hypermobile joints like acrobats. Yet we can still find more range of motion than we’re currently taking advantage of. We can find, for example, the top of our hip joint, that place around which we can pivot freely and discover what Moshe Feldenkrais called good posture: the ability to move in any direction without preparation.
Why Study Anatomy?
I’ve been going back to the transcripts of the lessons Moshe Feldenkrais taught years ago in Jerusalem. We have roughly 600 of these lessons, from the time he spent teaching on Alexander Yanai Street. I’m finding gems in his comments to students. He says repeatedly that we don’t know where our hip joints are. We can’t accurately locate them on ourselves. We think our hip joints are located where our pants crease at the top of our legs. They aren’t. Because we move from a faulty understanding of our anatomy, we damage our hip joints and low back. Moshe said that 60 years ago, and it’s still true today.
The heads of the femurs point towards your sacrum. Your hip joints are located where they can direct ground forces up and into your spine on either side to help you stand erect and move your spine freely.
When you stand using your skeleton clearly, without unnecessary activity in your core, you’ll feel support flowing up from your heels to your hip joints, all the way to the crown of your head.
It’s literally a heady feeling.
So why do so many of us lack or forget that connection? Many reasons: injury, prolonged sitting, inactivity in general. I also think the English language doesn’t help.
Basic Pelvic Anatomy
We have one word, “pelvis,” for what are actually three bones: the sacrum in the middle and an ilium/ischium on either side. To add to the confusion, we don’t have one word for the hip bones on either side of the sacrum. Each is composed of three elements, the ilium, ischium, and pubis. These are separated in newborns and become fused by adulthood. The three elements form a deep socket called the acetabulum where they meet. The acetabulum articulates with the head of the femur. In front, the pubic bone on either side is connected by cartilage. So each of these three parts of your pelvis has the potential to move independently. To see that potential exploited to its fullest, watch a skillful belly dancer.
Why isn’t study of basic human anatomy required? How we’re put together is fascinating. When kids meet my skeleton Heinrich, they can’t stop touching him, moving his bones around, asking questions. It’s absurd and a profound disservice to allow children to reach adulthood in ignorance of how their physical selves function. (Of course, public school would probably find a way to make anatomy boring. But that’s another story.)
The point is, understanding and clarifying function of our hip joints is key to improving our movement and self-use. This spring, that will be the theme throughout my classes. I hope you’ll join me.
Going Deeper with Anatomy
If you’d like to study human anatomy on your own, there’s no better place to start than Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain. Her analysis focuses on function, not the study of anatomy for its own sake. She’s a dancer and physical therapist. The book is full of great illustrations. It’s organized so you can easily pick it up and simply read the section dealing with the pelvis. Or go cover to cover, if you like.