Who are you, gentle reader, Curious One? Where do you live, how did you find your way here, how do we connect through this intimate/isolating medium?
The question is also reflective, a writer’s prompt from the Continue reading
Who are you, gentle reader, Curious One? Where do you live, how did you find your way here, how do we connect through this intimate/isolating medium?
The question is also reflective, a writer’s prompt from the Continue reading
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued an advisory for travelers to Carnival and Mardi Gras abroad, so that revelers can have a good time and stay safe and healthy, too. It’s good advice for any time, actually.
The CDC identifies five major health risks associated with Mardi Gras festivities:
I got to thinking about how the Feldenkrais Method could be useful for Carnival survival — whether you’re dancing the night away in Rio, letting the good times roll in New Orleans, or elbowing your way toward a second (or third) helping at the local church pancake feed. Here are 4 ways to outsmart the worst Mardi Gras health hazards.
1. Awareness. In the Feldenkrais Method, “awareness” is not an abstract or “woo-woo” ideal. It is practical, and always in service to improved functioning. Learn to pay attention: to yourself, to where you are, what is around you, how you plan to get out of there if you need to. To pay attention means that you are gathering information, and “intelligence” in several senses of the word. Better information in the moment means you can make better decisions.
2. Sensory sensitivity: This is an aspect of awareness, but distinct enough to elaborate upon further. We learn, and are encouraged, to ignore our own sensations of pain, and fatigue. We are also taught to ignore or distrust our sensations of pleasure. In short, we numb our unpleasant and vulnerable sensations so that our internal “calibration system” gets all out of whack. As Brene Brown says, the evidence for this numbing is that we are the most in- debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. We don’t just overdo it at Mardi Gras. We overdo it every day.
The Feldenkrais Method allows you to re-calibrate your internal system so that you can trust your sensations. You are less apt to overdo it (with eating, sex, or drinking at Mardi Gras; or exercise, arguing, computer time, spending) when you can feel when “enough is enough.” You will notice that the buffet food seems “iffy,” and you won’t eat it. You will sit down for awhile if your back hurts. Moderation is only possible if you can feel the difference between “enough” and “too much.”
3. Reversibility. In short, don’t do anything past the point of no return. Be able to engage, and disengage, with any movement, situation, or behavior, with ease. See #1, #2.
4. Recovery. Moshe Feldenkrais said that in the wild, the animal who survives is not the one who never gets injured, but rather it is the one who knows how to recover. The crazy, spontaneous, unpredictability of life is what makes it worth living, with good stories to tell about it in the bargain as well. We find our limits by exceeding them. If you overdo it, don’t keep overdoing it. Learn, rest, and recover.
Armed with awareness, sensory sensitivity, reversibility, and recovery, you can survive just about anything. Even Mardi Gras.
As a classically-trained singing teacher and vocal coach, it has been my privilege to teach aspiring performers at all levels. From career-track professionals in opera and musical theater, to church choir singers, and those who only sing in the shower — I’ve developed a good reputation (over 25 years, at this point) in my field for developing singers with beautiful, expressive voices. My point of view has always been a bit unusual, which is one of many reasons that I no longer teach at a university. I always thought of developing the person first, believing that the voice inside would emerge. I observed that employing the reverse order in that process produced undesirable results — unless you were in the business of growing an especially delicate strain of narcissist. To me, voice is an almost sacred form of self-expression. To help someone unleash that expression — or to find a self that has something to express — is interesting and wonderful.
And so, an unusual voice lesson last week sticks in my mind. A new client, E., has sought several Feldenkrais sessions to help him to deal with his symptoms resulting from Parkinson’s Disease. He is tall, slender, and in his late 60’s. He says he was diagnosed shortly after he retired, three years ago. His left hand trembles almost continuously. His walk is slightly stooped, with the characteristic Parkinsonian shuffle. His natural soft-spoken demeanor has been rendered wispy, weak, and almost inaudible. He complains of unstable balance, and fatigue when walking. This was his third session.
Previously, he and I explored how he senses and uses his feet, and how his center of gravity can be used for power and propulsion. We began this day with him lying on his back, with his right knee bent and right sole of his foot standing on the table. His left leg was long.
First, I asked him to hum a sustained pitch in a comfortable range. He made several attempts, each of them very soft, unsteady, and lasting less than two seconds. I asked him to review an earlier movement — to push, gently, into his standing right foot, and to experience again how the pressure from his foot can cause his pelvis to roll, as if beginning to roll onto his left side. We began to explore how his inhalation and exhalation could coordinate with the movement. He sampled inhaling while pressing with his foot, and then he tried exhaling with the pressure. For now, we settled on the latter.
After doing a few of these gentle movements on both sides, it was time for a rest. His breathing seemed less hurried, and his tremor had decreased noticeably. I asked him, once again, to hum. There was more sound, and he was able to sustain the hum steadily for a full three seconds. As I brought his attention to the vibrations he could feel by gently touching my figertips to his forehead, cheeks, and chest, his breathing deepened, and he was able to hum for over five seconds.
Next, I asked him to press the table with his foot and turn his pelvis as before. This time, we added a hum as he rolled his pelvis. His hum became stronger, and of longer duration, each time. And then, I asked him to open his mouth, and to make an “Ah” sound on the same pitch as before.
E. took a breath, pressed his foot on the table. His pelvis began to roll, and I heard, “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Again, on the next press, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
“That seems a lot stronger,” he said.
His wife’s eyes were the size of saucers.
His voice was just as strong while pushing with the other foot. And then, I asked him to see what would happen if he bent both knees, stood both feet on the table, and pressed into both feet? He saw how he could easily lift his pelvis away from the table. Nobody would have guessed that this elderly man would be able to do a “Bridge.” And then, as he pressed the table, slowly lifting his pelvis, we heard, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
We paused so he could rest. I spoke to his wife.
“He’s going to be ‘talking back’ to you now. I hope you’re okay with that!”
She smiled broadly. “Oh yes! That will be just fine!”
He stood up, and walked. Standing tall, his gaze level with the horizon instead of down toward the floor. I asked him to take a breath, and to feel the pressure of his feet on the floor as he stood — and then to speak. “Honey, I love you!” he boomed. His wife beamed. His hand was quiet.
There is more that he can learn. Will we cure his Parkinson’s? Probably not. (Although E. would fight me on that. He is a man of faith, and believes that he will be completely cured. Let it be so.) Will his tremor disappear? Now, THAT is quite possible. Just as he discovered his voice, quite surprisingly, he will discover how to manage and keep a good quality of life where it most matters. Like ‘talking back’ to his wife.
Falling in love is wonderful! Yet, accidental falls are a leading cause of injury and emergency room visits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that, on an annual basis, falls affect 1 in 3 older adults.
Follow these 5 tips to “fall-proof” your life, at any age:
Distraction and boredom are the leading causes of accidents behind the wheel and at work. Both pull you out of the present moment. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, yoga, and Feldenkrais, can develop your capacity for awareness to “be here, now.” When you improve your overall awareness and ability to pay attention, you will increase your personal safety.
“Hurry” creates carelessness, distraction, error — and greater risk of injury. You can learn to move quickly without hurrying! When you stand up, take just a few moments to “get organized” before you go lurching off immediately and risk a fall. In less than 10 seconds, you can feel and re-position your feet so that you can walk without turning your knee or ankle. Feeling the surface of each foot on the floor (whether barefooted or not) can help you feel more stable and secure in movement.
The value of exercise to maintain overall health is well known. And yet, coordination seems undervalued in many exercise programs. The appearance of proper form may not tell the whole story. If you are holding your breath during an action, or if you feel unpleasant twinges with the exertion, then those are clues (learned through sensing) that your coordination could be improved. In fact, well-coordinated movement feels like it flows easily, and there is no feeling of strain (as distinct from the work required). Classes or lessons in the Feldenkrais Method can help you to fine-tune your everyday movements for better coordination. This fine-tuning process will also positively affect your balance, posture, and gait – all elements of organized movement. Improved coordination can help keep you safe.
In your home environment, make sure that floors and walkways are clean and cleared. Rugs should be securely fastened to the floor to avoid slippage. If you need a rail in the tub, install one. Wear shoes with skid-proof soles. If you must use a ladder or step-stool, be sure that it is properly braced, and see if you can get a friend to spot you. Line yourself up (and your center of gravity) directly with what you are reaching for. Re-position the ladder, rather than leaning.
Sometimes, YOU must do the adapting. Get your eyes checked and corrected if necessary, and turn on an extra light if you need to. Alcohol, sugar, and some food allergies can cause impairments that affect your balance, awareness, and attention, so “know thyself” and take appropriate action.
For high-performance martial artists, falling is an every-moment possibility. They don’t try to avoid falling. Instead, they learn to fall WELL, and they practice it until they have mastered it.
The usual reaction to the feeling of falling is to powerfully contract the extensor muscles (also known as the “anti-gravity” muscles) of your back and neck, and to “brace” the fall with a rigid and outstretched limb. The resulting stiffness practically guarantees that you will, indeed, fall – and that you’ll be hurt. Regular lessons with a Feldenkrais teacher can safely and gently teach you how to feel softness in your body, how to fold and roll with minimum impact – and get up again!
Mindful movement can help you to move safely and comfortably at any age. Let us show you how!
Perhaps you’ve had this experience:
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.
Hang around on this planet long enough, and Life will eventually deal you some pain and unpleasantness. My feeling is, we get plenty of it without asking, just by showing up. We certainly don’t need to go looking for it, or inviting it in the door. If you’re a hard-core WHATEVER, my ideas here might offend you. The pursuit of extreme endurance and physical punishment is your choice — have a good time. However, it is a dangerous and completely inappropriate lifestyle for people who have real pain.
For people with chronic or persistent pain (including emotional pain), it’s reality and it’s non-stop. There is no glory in hurting, and pain adversely affects your life. You MUST liberate yourself from our senseless “No Pain, No Gain” culture that drives you to ignore your common sense, your physical sensations, and your own well-being in pursuit of a bogus promise that pain will make you better. Even if you simply have occasional aches and pains, here are seven techniques that can help you find your way out of pain — naturally.
Disclaimer. This ain’t magic. As my colleague Irene Gutteridge says, “Slow and steady wins the race. Quick fixes are man-made. Not Nature-made. Real change requires time. Not impatience.” Engage with the process, give it some time, keep an eye out for changes — and you can get out of pain.
1. Whatever you’re doing — stop.
You don’t have to stop it forever, just stop for right now. Just for a few minutes, for Pete’s sake. Stop. Really.
It’s like the old joke:
“Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
“Stop doing that.”
Stop for a moment, and feel all the muscles that have snuck up on you to wind themselves into a frenzy of tension. Take a break to REST — 10 minutes, a few hours, a day — and you’ll be stronger and more comfortable when you continue.
2. Slow down.
Perhaps you can’t stop what you are doing immediately. Take a few moments to notice the rhythm of what you are doing. See what happens if you slow down. Does the movement feel more difficult, or more easy, at the slower pace? If you slow down, you can actually feel what you are doing. You might notice that you are working harder than you need to for the task. Slow down and see if you can streamline the movement with a minimum of muscular effort. You may need a few tries to “dial it down.” Taking time to slow down can make your movements more pleasurable.
3. Keep breathing.
Chances are, you’ll find you’ve been holding your breath, or just barely breathing. Notice what you are doing, before you try to change it. Pay attention to your breathing as you continue. Experiment with what works for you: does it seem to make sense, or feel better, if you inhale during the action? How does it feel to exhale during the action? You may find a way to synchronize your breathing with what you are doing so that you are immediately more comfortable. Your muscles and your brain need oxygen, in steady supply, and on a regular basis, to function well. Notice when you hold your breath, and see if you can resume your breathing, lightly and easily.
4. Think before you act.
Take a moment to consider: is this action safe? Is there an easier way? Like it or not, we are all subject to the laws of physics. Gravity can work for you, or against you. If you are lifting something (even a purse, briefcase, or diaper bag), face the object and line yourself up with it before you lift it. That means no picking up something heavy while reaching behind yourself. I see lots of people with very sore shoulders who have hurriedly tried to yank their purse out of the the back seat — an unwise action, resulting in completely preventable pain. Think, move smart, and keep yourself out of pain.
5. Respect your limits.
If you are in pain, you will not solve your pain problem by ignoring it and pushing through. I know IT SUCKS to not be able to do what you want, exactly as you want. Tough. This is reality. When you feel yourself getting tired, or knocking at the door of pain, BACK OFF. Work for shorter periods of time, and take frequent breaks so that you can rest. It’s the RESTING that helps you recover — NOT some ego-driven idea of “refusing to acknowledge defeat.”
Frequently, people with persistent pain will have a day when the terrible dull ache lifts. It’s as if the sun comes out. They actually feel GOOD. And on that day, the person will try to do everything that has been delayed, piling up, postponed. They go non-stop for several hours, shopping, gardening, doing housework, cleaning the garage, socializing. And the next day, they are worse off than before. This discouraging cycle can be stopped if you pay attention to your limits and stay within them.
6. Change your position frequently.
Human beings are not meant to be still or stuck in one position — no matter how “correct” you believe it to be. For example: Your concept of good posture, handed down from parents, teachers, or your drill sergeant, might be too rigid and too generic to work for the long haul for you. Fidget in your seat, get up and walk around, slowly and gently move your shoulders, arms and legs. Extreme stretching, or quick movements to crack yourself, will not produce the long-term solution you seek. Keep moving, just a little, to keep comfortable.
7. Learn how to move, your way, from a Feldenkrais teacher.
You can make significant progress to improve your situation by exploring these experiments on your own. However, if you need a little guidance, you can see a Feldenkrais teacher to help you learn more ways to move and live without pain. As you learn new ways of moving — or reconnect with the effortlessness you felt when you were younger — you can learn your way to a more comfortable existence.
[The preceding post is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment where advised. If your pain does not subside within a reasonable time, consult your healthcare provider.]
What are 12 things your life doesn’t need in 2012? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 12 things change your life? (Props to original Author: Sam Davidson). If you did Reverb10, how are you making out on your 11 Things from last year? (reverb11)
Take today to talk about 12 things you would like to accomplish in 2012. . . (#resound11)
Last year, I listed 11 things I could do without in 2011. They were:
How am I doing? I’ve found they are all of the works-in-progress variety, and I believe each category has inspired major improvements in the past year. I am more mindful and consciously choosing LESS in the sugar (including alcohol), clutter, paper, time wasters, discouragement, fear, bullshit, and unnecessary emails categories. Numbers 6 and 9 are constant battlegrounds, but I am aware sooner when I start getting myself all wound up about something. I feel healthier and happier overall. This is still a good list for the coming year.
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.]
What do you wish you had done more of in 2011?
In 2011, I did not travel as much as I have in recent years. Even though I had good reasons for staying home, I found that I really missed it.
I financed two eye surgeries this year, so that is where my funds were allocated. I skipped the annual conference by my professional association partly for that reason, but mostly because the program just didn’t excite me. Then, the music festival I had taught at the previous two summers suspended their operations for this year, so that removed another opportunity.
Staying home was the right thing to do. It was wise and prudent. I also found that I have come to rely on spending a couple of weeks away from home. The travel recharges my internal emotional and creative “batteries.” In 2012, I am planning several trips for continuing education, as well as an occasional weekend getaway. I am also open to the possibility of accepting some out-of-town gigs and expanding my horizons in that way. I look forward to new found “get up and go” potential in the new year!
[I am blogging daily (ish) during December as part of #reverb11 and #resound11. Join us here.]
What is your trademark phrase, or a quote or saying that you repeat often?
My normal schedule throughout the year is to teach four or five Awareness Through Movement classes each week. I enjoy it because the vocabulary is rich and varied, and I tell my students that “in this class, you’ll always be doing something a little strange. . .” However, if you were to make a “word cloud” out of one of my lessons, I think the biggest one would surely be
Not a catch phrase, really — more of an invitation. Each part of a lesson is like a tiny experiment, or like inventing a recipe. You add an ingredient, and then “taste it” to see if it what you intended, or if you like it, or if it is interesting. And then you continue, based on that new information. In Awareness Through Movement, you are asked to experiment with very gentle, yet non-habitual movements — and then afterwards, to pause and “taste the recipe:” NOTICE how you feel now. Notice what is different. Notice what you sense. Notice what you notice. It’s a very subtle and gentle practice of paying attention, learning to pay attention both specifically and more broadly.
This process is remarkable, and enjoyable. Through the lessons, people feel less stressed, or move with less pain, or gain better posture (among a slew of other physical benefits). But more deeply and more importantly, I think, is that they learn how to surprise themselves once again. They learn how to appreciate and enjoy small things. They become more patient and compassionate and sensitive, with themselves and others. They discover new capacities and enlarge their thinking to include new ideas and possibilities. And it all starts with “NOTICE.”
What do you notice? Please leave a comment.
[I am posting daily (ish) during December as part of #reverb11 and #resound11. Join us here.]