The newest book by Norman Doidge, “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” has caused much excitement in Feldenkrais circles worldwide. I’m excited for the Feldenkrais Method to become more widely known because of the book’s popularity. However, I’m even more excited at the possibility that the idea of neuroplasticity – that the brain changes its structure in response to learning – will finally find acceptance among the general public, including those within the mainstream medical community.
I first heard about neuroplasticity in the year 2000, in my earliest Feldenkrais lessons. I’ve probably thought about neuroplasticity almost every day for the past fifteen years, as I became immersed in the Feldenkrais Method, and began to work with students and clients. With accumulating experience, I have come to understand that neuroplasticity is a sort of superpower that we all have. And, like all superpowers, it can be a double-edged sword.
Neuroplasticity operates whether you are aware of it or not. We humans are built to learn, almost “straight out of the chute.” Our unconscious actions – those that we call “habits” – are constantly causing neurons to be recruited, strengthening neural pathways to strengthen the habitual patterns. This formation of neural pathways is sometimes stated as,”Things that fire together, wire together.” However, this innate capacity can have devastating consequences for some musicians, for example, who spend thousands of hours practicing fine-motor dexterity and agility, only to develop a lack of control and precision, and potentially jeopardizing their careers.
So if you have this superpower, you might as well learn to use it, and use it well. You can’t just assume that it’s going to work FOR you. You have to practice, and pay attention. Think of Luke Skywalker in his first encounter with the light saber. Obi-Wan was undoubtedly a patient teacher (in a short but memorable scene) so that Luke could learn to use this tool with skill and precision to match his intentions.
The Feldenkrais Method and neuroplasticity as metaphorical light sabers? Your Feldenkrais teacher as your personal Obi-Wan? Am I shamelessly exploiting Star Wars for my own literary convenience and amusement? YOU BETCHA I AM.
In lightness and with gentle humor, we learn and grow. There’s more to be said about all of this, but for now, I must practice my light saber. . .
Honestly, I just wanted to use the words “Shark Week” and “Feldenkrais” in the same sentence. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, but I’m sure someone will let me know if it has. It’s just one more way that we’re pioneering on behalf of the Feldenkrais Method in Houston!
Shark Week is the longest-running cable TV programming event on record. The Discovery Channel originated Shark Week in July of 1988, offering blocks of shark-related programming and celebrity hosts. It has become a pop culture reference and has taken on a life of its own.
You may find it reassuring to hear that the Feldenkrais Center of Houston is a designated shark-free zone. While no place on earth is truly safe (Sharknado, anyone?), we have a perfect record, free of shark attacks. Sadly, we have also been a “Rob Lowe – free zone.” This was not intentional. However, since he is hosting the very shark-y event this year, we would consider inviting a shark to our office, if that’s what it takes to get Rob Lowe here. I love you, Rob. How about it? My Twitter handle is @divamover.
This week, as every week, the program at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston is about YOU. Everything we do – private lessons, group classes and workshops, and mp3 audio recordings – is meant to help you to improve your ability to function in everyday life. Whether that means a dancer can stay healthy and avoid injury, or a young mom can get her baby in and out of the car without hurting her back; a special-needs child discovering his potential, or a “Boomer” who wants to stay active and independent for as long as possible; you can dramatically improve your quality of life with the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. We have a lot of fun, for doing such potentially important stuff.
Book a private lesson, join a class, or continue your learning at home via mp3. We’re here for you, and for your learning – even when it’s not Shark Week.
True confession: I have loved Steve Martin since the first time I saw him, in the early 1970’s, on Saturday Night Live. That qualifies as “back in the day.”
Through the years, I have marveled at his talent, versatility, and creative output. He’s a magician,a comedian, an actor, a playwright, and author. He creates and finds expressive potential everywhere. He’s a major creative force in American culture today. So there.
Tonight, I’m enjoying watching his mastery of the banjo. He is Mister Cool. He is playing the HELL out of that thing, with such an economy of movement! There’s nothing wasted. It is simple, clean, and kind of minimalist. He makes it look effortless. He and the guys clearly have a ball making music.
That’s the true mark of mastery: the ability to do something difficult, and make it look easy. Paradoxically, you don’t get “there” without a lot of work. Malcolm Gladwell quotes the 10,000 hour rule. If you’re doing the math at home, that works out to four hours a day, every single day, for about seven years.
The part they don’t tell you is that those 10,000 hours are not hours of rote drudgery. Repetition alone is no guarantee of quality. The work is more like the fully-absorbed attention of a child at play. Even when there seems to be no improvement for long stretches of time, the person on the path to mastery persists in the playful process of getting better at it. You trust the process, keep showing up, and eventually you and your work are transformed.
I like to think that Steve Martin’s process has been “making the impossible, possible; the possible, easy; and the easy, elegant.” Those are the words of Moshe Feldenkrais, describing the Method that bears his name. Movement by movement, action by action, choice by choice, by baby steps, you get there.
A news report on the radio or TV catches your ear. An item shows up on Twitter, or in your Facebook feed. An article in a magazine jumps out at you.
“New research shows [Insert one of your favorite activities here] can lead to [your worst nightmare/direst consequence imaginable]. . .”
Coffee. Sugar. Alcohol. Mobile phone use. Sitting.
In the face of such frequent and contradictory reports, it is tempting to stick your head in the sand and just shrug your shoulders as you continue to do what you like. On the other hand, human nature can rear its dogmatic head, and you might be tempted to make a rule that supports your own behavior. [You know you’ve made a rule if you think your way is what is best for everyone. The rule also probably includes the word “always” or “never.”] Examples abound: from advocates of particular dietary practices, exercise disciplines, spiritual beliefs, political ideologies.
Is it just human nature? Is it an ego out-of-awareness that insists it is right, and everyone else is wrong? Modern media revels in the opportunity for “Point/Counterpoint” argument, trash-talking, and polarization. While it might make for “TV worth watching,” it seems that in most cases, you are better served by having a more nuanced viewpoint. Warning: you will get a lot of flack for answering “It depends.” You can’t just spout bumper-sticker aphorisms, and you have to stay actively engaged with your own thinking process, to develop a sense of fine-tuning in your beliefs and corresponding actions. Alas, it is inconvenient, and any opportunities of offering a 30-second sound bite can be kissed goodbye.
So now, a new book and accompanying article in the New York Times has come onto the radar. It is potentially as important as the early research on the effects of cigarette smoking. A lot of people will be upset. The subject? YOGA.
In the article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, renowned Yoga teacher Glenn Black takes a courageous (and some might say heretical) viewpoint about the yoga-is-for-everyone mindset. Quoting from the article:
Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.
Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. . . “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”
The entire article is worth a read. Black’s viewpoint, and that of a new book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and The Rewards, is a highly nuanced and sensible one. As a Feldenkrais teacher who works with a lot of yoga enthusiasts, I’m often asked “What do you think of yoga?” or “Is yoga GOOD?” I often wonder if their underlying question is, “Should I be doing yoga?” I’m delighted to say “It depends.” It’s not just the WHAT (Yoga). It’s also the HOW — how it is taught, how you approach it, how you monitor yourself. . .
Moshe Feldenkrais was famous for saying, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you can’t do what you want [to do].” Ah, there’s the rub. With yoga, it is important to know what you are doing. Many people begin a yoga class without having the slightest inkling what their physical limitations are, with the belief that yoga will “fix them.” The temptation to stretch just a little bit farther, or to conquer that challenging pose TODAY, is a siren song that can lead to serious injury. Of course, many people enjoy and benefit from their yoga practice. Surely, the difference lies in the experience and intentions of the individual in any given moment.
I’m not bashing yoga. You can get hurt doing ANYTHING — yoga, crossing the street, cooking, ballet, playing the violin. . . you can even put yourself in pain during a Feldenkrais class, if you aren’t paying careful attention to yourself! The bottom line is, people are not going to stop yoga (just as some people have not stopped smoking), no matter what “the evidence” might say. People will indeed continue yoga, as they will continue to study ballet, climb sheer rock faces, drive fast, eat sweet foods, clean their houses. Of course, the analogy breaks down a bit with the examples of smoking, driving, and shooting, as other people can potentially be harmed by your actions. But that’s another debate.
I hope the new book will say that yoga is an interesting and potentially satisfying pursuit. I hope it will say that there are substantial risks, and that prospective students need to begin with both eyes open and feet on the ground, before attempting that headstand. As with living in general, your presence and attention are required. You can’t expect to “phone it in,” and nobody is exempt from the laws of physics. I hope the book will say, “You have to pay attention.”
I’d love to see our culture and our education system support the idea that it is beneficial to learn to respect yourself, and the physical sensations your body send to tell you “THIS is enough.” If we can learn to appreciate the long-term process of learning and improvement over a lifetime, rather than the fastest result possible — well, we might just then be on to something.
What is the best meal or best food that you have eaten all year? Did you make it? Did you get it at a restaurant? Do your best to describe the food and the experience with us.
If I’ve already told you this, please forgive the re-telling of the story.
I still get excited thinking about the best meal of the year, which was our Thanksgiving dinner. It was a personal, all-time best in the “Holiday Meals” category. Even more importantly, the meal was shared with family and friends whom we cherish.
First, the food.
Everybody knows there is only one way to make a proper Thanksgiving dinner: and that is the way you had it when you were a kid. Marital discord arises when different traditions clash. That’s not how MY mom made it. . .
Thankfully, I’m over that — and so are my adult children. I’ve been delighted in the past 10 years to discover, despite a highly invested story put forth by my ex-mother-in-law that I was somehow incapable of cooking Thanksgiving dinner, or didn’t want to, or couldn’t be bothered; that I am a damn good cook and can crank out a Thanksgiving dinner with the best of them. New traditions have evolved since my divorce. The only thing my kids (now 28 and 23) insist upon are the bread stuffing they grew up with (my mom’s recipe, unwritten but passed down by oral tradition and eyeballing it), lots of wine, and at least one pumpkin pie. I think everything else is negotiable.
This year, I was open for something new. I consulted the ultimate food guru, Alton Brown. Every one of his recipes is reliable and totally delicious, so I decided to put our Thanksgiving fate in his hands. I purchased a minimally-processed turkey and chose to brine it. I had not had a proper roasting pan, so purchased one, with a rack, for the day. My parents had not used a rack — just put the bird right into the pan, breast up, and away we went. Let me tell you, I am now an enthusiastic convert to rack use — what a difference it made! In the spirit of adventure, I started preparations the afternoon before, and followed Alton Brown’s directions. After brineing the turkey overnight, then cooking it at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, and then down to 350 for the remainder of the time, our 15-pound turkey was done in 2.5 hours, tender and falling off the bone, with an actual flavor that I had not dreamed possible for turkey. And, if you look up “golden brown” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of our perfect turkey.
In another innovation for this year, I actually made gravy. You see, gravy has been a murky mystery, fraught with cross-motivations, since my youth. My Dad always made giblet gravy, and I thought it was the absolute grossest and most vile-tasting substance imaginable. I could never get on that gravy train. However, this year the pan drippings looked so fantastic that I just had to try — no giblets or neck, thank you very much. Voila! Fabulous, rich, dark, turkey gravy. Unbelievable.
The meal was rounded out on my part with mashed white and sweet potatoes, Alton Brown’s “from scratch” version of the ubiquitous green bean casserole, and an amazing cranberry chatni from one of my new #houstonbloggers friends. Friends and family brought wine, pies, traditional cranberry sauce (homemade), fabulous challah and a creamed spinach casserole that was to die for.
We feasted. We laughed. We took pictures of the turkey. And we were thankful. Best meal of the year, hands down.
[I’m blogging daily (ish) during December as part of #resound11. Join us here.]
Do you remember the theme from Sesame Street? “Sunny day, keepin’ the clouds away. . .” This vision of idyllic playtime has taken an ugly turn recently. Our current weather pattern illustrates the truth behind the saying, “too much of a good thing.”
Was it Mae West who said, “You can never be too thin, or too rich”? I guess it all depends on your perspective, and whether you are coming or going. Too thin — ask the parents of an anorexic child. Too rich? As Robin Williams famously said, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you make too much money.” We embrace the message of contemporary gurus who preach “life without limits.” And yet, without limits, life becomes very difficult.
Too many sunny days with no clouds, no rain in sight, and temperatures in a dangerous range is more than an inconvenience — it has turned deadly. Rain will be most welcome in these parts, when it does come, and it will. Most of us would probably embrace a real “gully-washer.” But one needs only remember the images of disastrous hurricanes and flooding to see the effects of “too much of a good thing,” from the opposite end of the spectrum.
It’s not so much that we must be careful what we wish for. In our own personal experience, we are not doomed to repeating the same actions, and hoping for different results. We can learn, adapt, and change our approach so that the good things don’t turn into bad things.
In my Feldenkrais practice, many people come in as a result of having done “too much of a good thing.” Their HABIT, when encountering a difficulty or discomfort, is to do even more of what it was that got them into trouble in the first place. At some point, they disconnect from their immediate experience (“That really hurts. Maybe I should stop?”) in service of an abstract idea (No! I won’t be a quitter. I can do a little bit more, and then I’ll have _____”). These admirable and good goals — “fitness,” “strength,” “flexibility,” “sexiness,” “success” — are not static and universal in their manifestiations. They are uniquely expressed in each individual. Moshe Feldenkrais described his work as helping people “to realize their vowed and unavowed dreams.” We are frequently unaware of our own dreams, substituting those of our culture, society, peer group, or family system instead — and further unaware that we have done so. Personal awareness is a cornerstone of the Feldenkrais Method.
Learning to do a little bit less is a first step away from a potentially destructive pattern. Choosing to do a bit less can help us find just the right amount of “doing.” Then, we can enjoy the good things that life has to offer.
This is a mini-rant — a “rant-ette” perhaps — that has potential to grow and expand. It has been waiting, dormant, for just the right moment to emerge. This rant was triggered this evening, while dining at a popular chain restaurant.
We had received a gift card at Christmas for this restaurant, so decided that tonight was a good night to cash it in. We received excellent service from a charming waiter. Our steaks were cooked to perfection: C. said it was the best steak he had had at a restaurant in recent memory. We will go back.
BUT. . .(you knew it was coming).
Perhaps it is generational. Perhaps it is our particular point in the history of human relationships. Here comes the rant:
IF you are in a service business, please do not use the phrase, “No problem.”
Whenever I am in a restaurant and make a request, and the server responds, “No problem,” I want to say, “Well, that’s a good thing, since you’re in a service business!”
Our waiter was prompt, personable, anticipatory, excellent. We left a tip of just over twenty percent — in cash. [Waitstaff often dread customers who pay with gift cards, because many do not tip.] I predict his income will increase, he will receive rave reviews, and maybe even a promotion if he will just eliminate his habitual usage of the phrase, “No problem.” We’d like Caesar salads. “No problem.” (How about, “Our Caesar salads are my favorite” ?) I’d like my steak medium rare, on the rare side. “No problem.” (How about, “Yes,” or “Medium rare, yes Ma’am.”) Yes, we will have another round. “No problem, those will be right out.” (“I’ll get those straight away” speaks of service.)
Here’s the deal. When you say, “No problem,” what you are actually saying is, “Your request does not inconvenience me.” Face it: for most people, sadly, having a job is inconvenient. A job interferes with your ability to do what you would rather be doing, like going fishing, watching Law and Order marathons, or playing Angry Birds until your eyes glaze over and your wife is passing you notes that say, “Take a shower.” Businesses exist to meet an identified need. Their employees are on the front lines to provide customer service, and to form lasting relationships (translation: customer loyalty and repeat business). If your job is to anticipate the needs of guests, or to fulfill requests, “No problem” is not the proper response.
This innocuous phrase has crept into all kinds of interactions. I was leaving a dinner party recently and thanked the host, as my mama taught me to do. The host’s reply: “Not a problem.” WTF? If it’s a problem, why are you entertaining tonight? When a parent thanks a teacher at the end of the quarterly conference, the teacher should not reply “No Problem.” When your flight arrives at the gate, and you are rushing to make your connection, and you take a moment to thank the flight attendant, the proper response is “You’re welcome,” or “Have a good trip:” NOT “No problem.”
You know what impresses me, and makes me want to come back to an establishment? “With pleasure.” “I am happy to. . .” “It is my pleasure.” “You are welcome.” This is not sucking up, or groveling. A service person retains their power and dignity by taking charge of the situation in this way. It is a human response that acknowledges give and take. I’ll grant you, The American Public, in the generic sense, is horrific, rude, antagonistic, demanding, and unappreciative. A person whose feathers are already ruffled will not be calmed with the assurance that her presence is not an inconvenience. Without customers — happy or not — a business cannot survive.
Service people are people. They have hard days. Most of them do a magnificent job, for long hours and inadequate wages. I stopped socializing with a co-worker many years ago because I was mortified at the rudeness and dismissive manner with which she addressed any restaurant employee whenever we went out to lunch. When I was in college, I did a summer stint as a cocktail waitress and learned how some people just have to make you feel small or cheap. Nobody deserves that. And so, excellent service people find ways to be a cut above, to give extraordinary customer service.
Let’s eliminate “No problem,” and bring back “Thank You, ” “You are welcome,” and “It is my pleasure.” Best yet is to give a spontaneous and in-the-moment response , person to person. Simple, clean. Perhaps the only time to reply, “No problem,” is if the prior question includes the phrases “I hate to ask you this, but. . .” or “Would it be a problem if. . . ” Then, perhaps, “Of course, that is no problem at all. We’ll be happy to accommodate you” would be appropriate.
Any automatic response, mindless and unthinking — and “Have a blessed day” can fall into this category as well — has a demeaning and depersonalizing effect. At this time in our culture, when people are so polarized along religious, political, socio-economic, racial, gender, regional, and technological lines — I would argue that making an extra effort in the name of civility, courtesy, and personal acknowledgment is not only a smart survival strategy. It just might make a difference in how we feel about the people with whom we come into contact.
This courtesy and respect for the humanity of others can also extend to our co-workers and within our own families. If reality shows have any merit at all (and I’m not sure they do), it is as a model of how NOT to relate to other people. What is it that causes us to stop appreciating each other?
“No problem” should not be an automatic response. The best way to add value to a customer’s (or ANYONE’S) experience with you is to make them feel valued. “You did not inconvenience me” does not build relationships, or loyalty, or natural warmth of human interaction. When someone says, “Thank you for. . .” the proper response is, “You are welcome.” Extraordinary value, attitude, relationship building: say “It is my pleasure.” Treat people like people, or better yet, like a “guest of honor.”
Courtesy and acknowledgment can change the world. Emphasize the problem, and you’ll get more problems. Say, “It is my pleasure,” and who knows what could happen?
One is a creepy memory. A memory of my mother, who died in 2002. We were sort of estranged, I guess you could say, but healed in the last days of her life so that everything was OK. But the creepy memory is that of being an adult, married, adult woman with children: and a hug from my mother that was so tight, so suffocating, that all I wanted was to escape.
My mother was a narcissist. I truly believe that at times, she saw me as version 2.0 of herself. Every rebellious and self-differentiating, spiteful molecule of my being mobilized whenever she said, “Oh, I know. . . I did that. . . I know what that’s like. . .” Her insecurity and desperate loneliness made normal connection impossible. I felt her glom onto me, and my life, sucking every shred of individuality from me. I suspected her alcoholism, her rationalizations, hiding her smoking and spending that drove her to ruin her finances and every support system available to her. Her belief was that life was hard, that she was alone — and that is what she created. Our reconciliation was a great blessing. I was there, holding her hand, when she died. My daughter was there, too, sitting across from us, watching the universal drama of the generations play out before her. And then, after the papers were signed, we went to lunch.
What woman doesn’t fear that she will turn into her mother? What woman doesn’t wish for a perfect, ideal, mother, and to be a perfect, ideal mother herself?
The other edge of the sword is my own relationship with my adult children. My son and my daughter, fortuitously and serendipitously both now live in my city — where neither of them grew up or have roots. I see them regularly, as, happily, our social, professional, and political circles intersect.
Whenever I think of either of them — which is several times each day — I am horrified and amazed and awestruck at the sheer emotional force that overtakes my body. I have to turn my head, close my eyes, and take a deep breath as tears overtake me. I can hardly breathe, my eyelids squish together, and I half-sob before the self-check: “get ahold of yourself, woman!” But I know that if one of them were within arm’s reach, I would hold and hug them as if to imprint their form upon the wet concrete of my soul.
Would that sensation suffocate them? Would my love for them be interpreted as a sad desperation — a holding or stifling of their becoming? Have I become my mother?
Awareness is my only salvation. A dogged determination NOT to repeat the past is the surest recipe for manifesting it. I hope I am more aware, more educated, more enlightened, less addicted, with less baggage, than my maternal example. I have parented very differently than she did. But that bond — that basic, human, maternal bond — how can you modulate that? How can you love someone that fiercely and not be a little crazy?
I hope that by giving my kids some advance notice of this recurring phenomenon, that they will be able to cut me some slack. I wish that my mother had had the resources, the technology, the confidence, to chronicle her amazing, bumpy, and adaptive life. All I have now are memories of her: some good and fun, some awkward, some filled with regret and pain. I have her photo albums to explore and wonder: who were these people? Is that her lover? Does she look happy, or what? My mother was, and is, an enigma.
I don’t want to be an enigma to my kids. I want to be a person — accomplished, flawed, joyful, encumbered, striving, contented. . . My generation didn’t really see their parents as three-dimensional, as having a life before and after child-bearing. I want my kids to feel the fierceness of my love, comfortable or not — so that they can share that and be that with their own children.
This deep ache feels primal. Every emotion, every physical sensation, every thought of past, present, future — all are carried in embodiment, muscle tone, facial expression, impulse — THIS quiet, intense, focused, poised, gasping, teary, almost exploding love — is this how it feels to be ALIVE?
I could eat sushi three meals a day. I’ve never tried it (three meals a day, for an extended time), but in my foodie fantasy land, that is God’s truth.
Sushi is my celebration and special occasion treat. For birthdays, holidays, beginnings and endings, anniversaries, landing a big client or contract, or focusing on new business at lunch — sushi is my first choice. Sushi is special. Even if I had it three meals a day, I think it would still be special. Maybe that’s what is missing in our fast-food, rush-rush, drive-through world: nothing special about meal time. Perhaps that is the challenge: how to make each meal, each moment, special. . .
In the sushi world, I’m not terribly adventurous. No spiny or slimy stuff for me. One seaweed sushi or ikura is plenty. No blowfish or other life-threatening choices: I have responsibilities and a full schedule tomorrow, thank you. But baby, bring on the yellowtail, the seabass, the fresh salmon. I’ll even go red snapper, fresh scallop, and tuna. Hand rolls, frankly, I can take or leave. Spare me anything cooked. No smoked salmon or weird shrimp. Gimme raw, raw, raw.
Anything with edamame is great. The agodashi tofu is to die for. Avocado — fugeddaboudit. Add a cold Kirin, or a hot sake, or a slushy cosmo, and I’m your’s.
My favorite sushi place in Houston is Myako, on Westheimer. Happy Hour sushi is a gift of the gods to be savored and enjoyed as often as possible.
I love the clean, fresh, energized sense of being alive that follows a meal of wonderful sushi. Breakfast, lunch, dinner — sushi would be divine.
Any meal, eaten with gratitude and appreciation, provides profound nourishment for body and soul, the deepest elements of our humanness. I thank the fish for their sacrifice. I am grateful for their naked beauty and succulence. I celebrate the skill of the chefs who prepare and present the feast. I thank my body for the energy that food provides, that I may serve my community with strength and skill — and with love. THAT is the secret ingredient in any food, any meal, any gathering, which nourishes, heals, and connects — LOVE. Let all your eating and sharing and providing be acknowledged with love and connection, and gratitude. It’s all we have, really.