We humans are experts at learning. We don’t need to show babies how to learn. As soon as they’re born, they begin.
Movement is key to learning. The Feldenkrais Method® works by inviting us to attend to small differences between movements and assess which are preferable: which use less energy, are more direct, and feel better. At any age we can notice these differences, learn, and improve.
Neuroplasticity: More than Just a Buzz Word
Literally our brain grows new neural connections: dubbed neuroplasticity, this ability of our brain to change has become a buzz word. Buzzy or not, it’s still true we can learn and improve. It’s pretty darn cool.
Feldenkrais teacher Rich Goldsand just produced a nice video demonstrating with several clients how the method helps them. Watch it below.
Practicing Feldenkrais is about cultivating curiosity about your physical (and mental) self. Here’s a great example from Seth Dellinger. He’s a Feldenkrais teacher who continues to expand his horizons, looking for opportunities to play beyond the studio.
Playful practice: John Cedric Tarr with friend.
John Cedric Tarr guided Seth recently in a parkour exploration. Parkour is a training discipline using movement that developed from military obstacle course training.
One rule: you start with something simple—ridiculous—and gradually increase the level of difficulty. You play at the boundaries, just like you do in an Awareness Through Movement lesson.
Seth writes: “The main thing isn’t being a daredevil, but yes, you must face your fears. So, start small, where everything is entirely safe! Jumping from one ledge to another is no different than jumping from one line on the sidewalk to another. So start practicing your precision jumps where the height of the jump doesn’t pose any danger. And start with short jumps . . . there’s no hurry!”
Another practical tip from Seth: “One of the key ingredients to turning the environment into my playground is making decisions.
I look around for something to do.
I decide: I will jump over that bench.
I decide how I will jump over that bench: I will put my hands right THERE in order to support myself and swing my legs over.”
I’m hoping John and Seth will both come teach at Dallas Movement Lab this year.
My mentor Jeff Haller, PhD, first pointed me in this direction. It’s the central theme of his advanced training program. He said, “if I train myself in any exercise system, and I’m sloppy in the way I provide support for myself, all I will do is train muscles based on supporting myself the way I am accustomed to.”
In other words, if I don’t improve my relationship to the ground, I’ll strengthen habits of self-use which don’t serve me and might actually harm me—which is how I sprained my ankle playing squash. (By the way, I then got up and finished the game: don’t do that!)
Recently I’ve begun reading an excellent book which delves into the question from a slightly different angle: how do we define fitness? Author Edward Yu answers the question in depth. He looks at how the West has defined health, fitness, beauty, and the human body over a period of centuries, to see how we’ve arrived at the point where for many these are synonymous. As a martial artist, runner, and Feldenkrais practitioner, he asks, what are we fit for?
He writes: “If I am considered fit enough to be on a magazine cover, does that also make me fit for the rest of life, which occurs outside of the confines of 8 1/2 x 11 inches? Should Albert Einstein, who probably never performed a single push-up, be deemed unfit?”
How we came to equate our physical selves with machines (thank you, Descartes!) is key to Edward’s analysis of the contemporary conflation of fit/health/beauty.
Read the prologue to his book, The Mass Psychology of Fittism: Fitness, Evolution, and the First Two Laws of Thermodynamics, here.
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.
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.
You probably first researched the Feldenkrais Method® because you wanted to change. Maybe you wanted one of your knees to be more reliable in walking. Or to diminish back pain so you could run with pleasure.
You might have an explanation about why the problem exists. Like your age. Or because you have a particular skeletal pattern like scoliosis. Or because your gym teacher said you weren’t athletic.
Feldenkrais practitioner John Tarr wrote an excellent blog, “Growth Mindset and Movement,” about the importance of believing you can change. Which means letting go of those explanations, your familiar stories, and creating space for something different with a growth mindset. He writes, “. . the march of time and fate do bring about irreversible changes, but often we are not fully using the potential we still have.” We can investigate this potential by cultivating curiosity, enjoying investigation and discovery the way we did as children.
“When I practice getting up and down off the floor, I’m building resilience in my musculoskeletal system. Being able to get up and down off the floor is an essential movement skill. It is not only one of the first things we learn as infants; it is one of the last things we want to lose as we age. In fact, the ability to get up and down from the floor is associated with greater longevity. People who do this regularly are counteracting the long-term effects of gravity and maintaining their proprioceptive abilities that are part of maintaining upright balance and navigating the world with less risk of falling.”
Proprioception is how we sense where we are in space, and the speed and intensity with which we’re moving.
One of you recently shared interesting research into what happens physically when we attend to ourselves during meditation and mindfulness practices such as Awareness Through Movement®.
Being able to attend to, and learn from, how we move and other physiological states has critical survival value. Scientists have labelled this interoception, “the process of receiving, accessing and appraising internal bodily signals.”
Particularly important: there’s a link between well being and interoception. When we attend to ourselves in the specific ways invited by practices like Feldenkrais®, there’s potential for improving physical and psychological health.
Most of us discover the Feldenkrais Method when something goes wrong. For me, it was neck spasms. For many, it’s back pain which resists massage, chiropractic, and other well-known treatments.
Why investigate the method if you feel fine?
Because most of us learn just enough about movement to get by. We function fine. Some of us learn far more—elite athletes, performing artists, surgeons, for example. But there’s so much more we can refine. So much to discover about how movement can be not just okay, but delightful—light, graceful, and effortless. Many more movement choices we can uncover and expand into.
MaryBeth Smith, GCFP
Feldenkrais teacher and vocal coach MaryBeth Smith underscored the value of an expanded movement vocabulary in a recent blog:
“It’s good to have alternatives if one way of doing something stops working! Think of Major League Baseball switch pitcher Pat Venditte, who can throw a baseball right or left-handed with equal skill and power. When he experienced an injury to one shoulder a few years ago, he simply threw with the other arm. He continued to play that season, instead of going on the injured list.”
If you’re in my classes, you’ve heard me talk about how we humans are designed to move, not sit for hours on end.
Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and inventor of the treadmill desk, is credited with coining the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” Just Google the phrase and you’ll find a slew of recent articles invoking it. This Huffington Post blog sums up Dr. Levine’s findings nicely.
Check out the cool TED animation below making the same point. Murat Dalkilinç gives the lesson: the animation’s by Oxbow Creative.
What the video doesn’t mention: most chairs are designed to tilt us behind our sit bones. Check your own: is it pulling you back into a slump? Or encouraging you to sit erect? Is your pelvis free to tilt in any direction?
What can you do, if you have a desk job? One simple solution: set an alarm for every 30 min. or so. When it rings, stand up for a moment. Shift your weight from side to side, back to front. Compare how you feel when you come back to sitting: perhaps more alert?
Here’s an informative blog I discovered about the value of freeing your pelvis. It’s especially important to address pelvic health when you consider how much we sit in contemporary life. A sedentary lifestyle is antithetical to a freely moving pelvis.
Lise Wood of WHF
On the fundamental properties of good movement, Lise Wood of the Women’s Health Foundation writes: “If the body forms angles to the main line of action, some of the force generated by the pelvis will become absorbed in the tissues and fail to be transmitted toward the goal of the movement. The tissues that absorb this force may be the muscles, ligaments, tendons or the joint itself.”
In other words, when movement travels optimally through our skeletons, it follows the lines of our bones. The pelvic muscles—the biggest of the body—can do their job efficiently. If force is absorbed in the tissues, over time this can lead to inflammation and joint instability. This applies to both women and men.