How’s that office chair?

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SO — how IS your office chair? Individuals and companies spend countless hours researching the best ergonomic chairs and desks to enhance “worker productivity.” It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on a highly rated set-up, and still find that you are uncomfortable. I’ll tell you what I tell my clients.

I find it interesting to dig a little bit to find out exactly what is meant by “worker productivity.” It is amazing how many people translate this to mean “able to sit in one position all day and work relentlessly with no price to pay.” However, more and more have heard the idea that sitting is the new smoking. How do you balance the need to get stuff done, with the need to maintain one’s health? Clearly, we need to think outside the chair.

Standing desks are trendy and cool, and can be a great solution. However, standing can be as problematic as sitting if you have a temperamental low back, or sore feet, knees, or legs. Walking meetings can yield the same dilemma. SO let’s question the basic assumption that people are supposed to be able to sustain ANY position — be it sitting, standing, or lying down — for up to eight hours at a time, and be OK. Humans are meant to MOVE. Expecting anyone to behave like a machine is obviously dehumanizing. It also disconnects the human from their ability to be effective. We are meant to adapt, continuously, to our environment. This adaptability keeps us moving, thinking, feeling, and sensing. Perhaps that can be a new definition of productivity?

The problem is in getting stuck in one position. This is true physically, as well as mentally. Get up and move. Change your position as frequently as you need to, at least once an hour. This can mean to stand up, walk to the restroom, stand while you are on the phone, you get the idea. When people are physically stuck in one position for long periods of time, they lose the ability to imagine how they might do something different. You can revive this specific use of your imagination in  Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® classes.Even if it feels silly, just change something, anything, for a few minutes, before returning to your original position.

People also ask me about bedding, pillows, their shoes, even their cars, as if there is one and only one best purchase or best position for everyone, in any given situation. I’ll say it again: Humans are meant to move. If you become uncomfortable while asleep, roll over. Wiggle in your car, stop more frequently on longer trips and get out, walk around. Your comfort and health are individual. Others can make suggestions and recommendations, but ultimately you must find what is right for you.

When I visit people’s homes and offices for ergonomic consultations, they feel relieved that I am not trying to sell them a bunch of new furniture, gadgets, or doodads.Rather, I spend time with each individual, watching how they move, what their tasks are, and then make a plan that includes efficiency of action as well as comfort and sustainability. Sometimes, they do need to make adjustments with desktop heights or chair alignment. Most often, they can learn how to move, to vary their positions, and to create health for themselves. If only this could be a trend! Thankfully, more and more employers recognize that true productivity is not simply a matter of getting work done, but also of living well and feeling well to work another day.

What are you learning this summer?

from MoveSleepEat.comWhat are you learning this summer?

It is great to take courses and classes to build a skill, learna language, or gain a new professional certification. As adults, we tend to forget that learning is not confined to classrooms and pre-packaged subject areas. Learning – organic, experiential learning – happens in virtually every moment!

Some of the most powerful and influential learning happens when we revisit something that we already know well. In fact, those “second nature” habits can become less useful and efficient over time. Learning something old in a new way can be a revelation.

Our daily movements and actions, our sleep patterns, and the choices about the foods we eat are all deeply ingrained. Although not “hard wired,” they are well-learned. The basics of life – how you Move, Sleep, or Eat – can be improved to an astonishing degree. Whether you want less pain, better coordination, a good night’s sleep, or to reach your optimal weight for healthy and longevity, learning old things with new information can lead to new results, and full, dynamic living.

The Ultimate Feldenkrais Playlist

A weekend’s relaxation and rambling thoughts produced a welcome playful mood. I give you — The Ultimate Feldenkrais Playlist!

Not really, of course. In the Feldenkrais Method, nothing is ever finished, and everything is an iterative process, “successive approximations.”

What’s on your playlist? Please leave a comment.

Feldenkrais and Ironing, Really

മലയാളം: Charcoal Iron Box for ironing the clothes

മലയാളം: Charcoal Iron Box for ironing the clothes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New Year has started off busily, with several new and interesting clients and students coming for lessons and classes. I’d like to describe a recent lesson so that you, the reader, can better understand what happens in a Feldenkrais lesson.

A professional woman called from her office at a major oil company to make an appointment. She said that she had pain in her right hand, which had persisted and increased for more than a year. She explained that the fleshy part of her thumb, and also her middle finger were constantly numb and painful. She had been referred by a co-worker who is also a client, and she was eager to get some help.

She arrived at my studio, and after exchanging some pleasantries, I spent a few minutes to see what might be going on in her hand. What does she spend her time doing? I knew she worked in an office, with long hours at a computer. However, she didn’t think that her computer use was to blame. She said that often her hands are already hurting when she gets to the office. The computer probably doesn’t help, but might not be the cause.

I started to work, with gentle listening touch at her neck, shoulders, and low back, and asked an occasional question. I then moved on to her right hand and showed her the amazing dance of her radius and ulna, as they criss-crossed to turn her hand toward her and away. She was fascinated with the soft and tiny movements, her hand and entire forearm feeling lighter and less painful as we went along. She suddenly said, “You know when it really flares up? When I’m ironing.”

She is a woman who actually enjoys ironing — and I get it. There can be something very meditative (under the right circumstances) and calming about the repetitive task. She also spoke of the satisfaction of seeing immediate results from one’s work. Since her job is with numbers on long-term projects, she finds ironing to be relaxing, enjoyable, and therapeutic.  We agreed that washing dishes can also be meditative and satisfying, especially if there is a kitchen window over the sink, for gazing and getting lost in thoughts. I drew her out a bit more about the ironing and household tasks, and when she talked again about ironing, I knew that we were at the heart of the matter. She was in too much pain to iron. I asked her to excuse me for a moment.

I went back to the bedroom, dug my iron out of the closet, and returned to the studio. Her eyes widened. I put up a small tray table, and set the iron upon it, while she sat across from it.

“This won’t be exactly like ironing, because I am not going to put up an ironing board in here,” I said, watching her as she smiled and then giggled. Then, I asked her to simply reach for the iron, but not to actually touch it. She made this movement several times. “My whole neck tightens up when I do that! Why?” she said with surprise.

“Good noticing,” I said. “I’m not sure why, and it doesn’t really matter. Make the movement a few more times, without any hurry at all. What do you notice about your breathing?”

“I’m holding my breath! Why am I doing that?”

This time I understood her question was rhetorical. “Good,” I said. “See if you can also breathe while you reach for the iron — but don’t touch it yet.”

She practiced the movement a few more times, and clearly felt when she held her breath, when she started it again. She quickly was able to keep her breathing even and continuous as she reached for the iron. She remarked that her neck was no longer working as hard. We paused for a moment.

“Now, please reach for the iron, and get ahold of the handle, as if you were going to pick it up — but don’t. Just hold the handle, and then return your hand to your lap.”

As she reached for the iron this time, we both observed that her hand was stiff. Over several more movements, we also observed that her fingers were straight and widely spaced. Her thumb and forefinger jutted out from the rest of her hand, and her  wrist had a slight bend or kink in it and she reached and gripped. Again, she noticed that she was holding her breath. She also noticed that the reaching movement was much quicker, and hard to slow down. Gradually, we worked with allowing her wrist and hand to be in line with her forearm, which required another  slight adjustment in her shoulder. This was much more comfortable. We continued to work with touching and holding the handle more and more softly, breathing.

The last stage of the process was to actually pick up the iron. I asked her to explore how tight her grip really needed to be. On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate the strength of your grip? “About an eight,” she said.

“See how it is at a nine,” I suggested.

“That feels like the way I usually hold my iron,” she volunteered.

So, we explored her grip. Could she grip at a level eight again? How about a four? How about a two?  Now lift the iron. What is the least amount of force and strength you can get away with, and still hold and pick up the iron? She was engaged and fascinated. And then, she began to talk.

“You know, I was taught to iron when I was a little girl, and I used the same iron that my mother and grandmother used,” she said. “And I was taught that you had to press down as hard as you could, as you moved the iron across the fabric. That iron was heavy!”

“It sounds like an iron that was really made of iron.”

She nodded.”Yes, it was. It was heavy, and made of iron, and you heated it in the wood stove.”

She realized that, although now she had a fully modern and relatively lightweight iron, she was still using the same technique she learned as a small child, with a big, heavy tool that took every bit of her strength. She was excited, she said, to go home and practice with her iron, standing at the ironing board, finding an easier way. She was eager to update and upgrade her modus operandi.

As she left, she said that the pain in her hand and fingers was greatly reduced. It may take a bit more time, but I am certain that she will learn to use her hands, and her whole self, in easier and more efficient ways.

My task in each lesson is to find out what the client wants to be able to do, and then to explore ways that they could do it a little easier. It could be an iron, a golf club, a piano keyboard, a computer mouse, or simply walking to the mailbox. The possibilities for improvement are endless!

Happy New Year. Now What?

party hats mosaic

party hats mosaic (Photo credit: Škrabalica)

The bottles of bubbly are in the recycling, confetti, streamers, and paper tiaras are crammed into over-stuffed trash bags along with the efforts of the end-of-the-year cleanup. You may have even bought a few more vegetables in your first trip to the market, stepped on the scale, or visited the gym. Happy New Year, indeed. Now what?

I invite you to depart from conventional thinking about New Year and the whole “New You” mentality. After trying it out for — oh, let’s say 40 years — (I think that is giving it more than a fair shot, by the way) my observations of self and others reveal that this approach doesn’t work. The whole mentality around “New You” strikes me now as being completely counter-productive. It does not value the wisdom, learning, and value that have accrued over one’s lifetime to this point. If the “Old You” is banished, the “New You” is left without experiences and reference points for future growth. The New You is doomed to repeat all the mistakes of the past. No wonder most people’s resolutions don’t last through the end of the month.

Another flaw is that the New Year’s conversation is almost exclusively focused on perceived personal failure. I’m not thin enough, fit enough, organized enough, financially secure enough, smart enough, you fill in your own blank. The message is, NOT ENOUGH! Is it any wonder that most resolutions fail because people want more of something they are not getting?

Don’t get me wrong. I make my living in the self-improvement biz. The Feldenkrais Method values and promotes continuous self-improvement. However, this self-improvement is not narcissistic, nor is it driven by feelings of shame or unworthiness. We start in the present moment, and we just notice and acknowledge what is here, now. Self-improvement in the Method is based on getting something in life to work a little bit better. Our jargon for it is “improvement of function.” Something that wasn’t working, now works better. Something that was working well enough, is now even better. My own take on self-improvement is that, if I want to make the world a better place (and I do), I should start with myself.

Suddenly, the Feldenkrais Method takes on increased usefulness. While improving the obvious things that people always want for themselves — posture, balance, skill, calm — one learns a process, a method, for improving oneself with increasing relevance and scope. Coordination, intelligence, teamwork, relationships, community, creative thinking, all can flourish in the environment of improved awareness. The Method teaches a way of taking actions that move us consistently toward something that is better. Even just a bit better can be a lot better, both in the moment and in the long run.

So, I encourage you to abandon your resolutions early this year! Rather than re-inventing the self improvement wheel to make yourself into something you wish you were, I encourage you to acknowledge something in yourself, or in your life, that is already going pretty well. Focus on THAT something that actually works. Figure out HOW it works, and do more of that. If you are doing more of what works, you will automatically be doing less of what doesn’t work so well. Voila! You are on a path of improvement.

For example: in the last few months, I have stumbled into better eating habits and exercise opportunities that seem to be working well. No resolution for me! I’m going to build on my recent successes and stick with the program, easing confidently into the New Year on a path that appears to be leading in a good direction. I will keep tweaking and adapting the plan so that it serves me better and better throughout the year, and throughout my life.

To me, this is the essence of the Feldenkrais Method: identify what works, stay engaged with it, enjoy yourself, play to discover the improvements that emerge. Movement is our laboratory in which abstract concepts become concrete. If this makes sense to you, then I invite you to join us for classes whenever you can. We are about the business of exploring how to get life to work just a little bit better.

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Becoming an Expert

Awareness Through Movement by Moshe FeldenkraisI’m told that the title of Moshe Feldenkrais’s book, Awareness Through Movement, is translated from the Hebrew, “Learning by Doing.” Learning and Doing go hand-in-hand. Another word for that which is learned by doing is “Experience.” Perhaps an “Expert” is someone who has had a lot of experience, or experiences, of this kind of learning.

Recently, I have acquired a new area of expertise. Learning by Doing, I have become an expert on professional and personal burnout. I know several excellent and effective ways to accelerate burnout, and I also have explored (and continue to explore) ways of coming back. The chronicles are recorded on a new blog, BurnoutBio.

As a fringe benefit of my journey to the brink and back, I have come to appreciate the value of the Feldenkrais Method as a tool for self-care. I recently realized that I fell in love with this work after emerging from an earlier difficulty. The Method was a way of rediscovering myself, finding new appreciation for my capacities, my resilience, my WHOLE SELF. It was a journey of self-exploration, with the entire teacher training rich with daily revelations. Somehow, some time during the past eight years, I had stopped doing Feldenkrais for myself. To clarify, I was a practitioner and teacher of the Feldenkrais Method for the benefit of OTHERS, no longer focused on receiving benefits myself. I was practicing a lot, “doing a lot of Feldenkrais:” teaching four to five classes a week, seeing a full client load, giving special interest workshops to groups. I was preparing lessons well in advance each week by studying and feeling the movements in my own body, but it wasn’t FOR me — it was for that week’s students.

Of course, I got some benefit. It’s impossible not to. However, with my newly earned expertise in the phenomenon of burnout, I have a new attitude. I will return to practicing the Method for my own benefit — the way it helps me to move, think, sense, and feel in every aspect of my life. I will return to the practice of developing myself through the Method. I will allow it to fill me. And then, I will share the “overflow.”  My joking term for this new stance is that I am becoming a “Power User” of the Feldenkrais Method!

If you’ve been toying with the idea of booking some sessions or coming back to class, NOW seems like perfect timing. It’s not that “the old energy is back.” I think, and feel, and sense, that this is new energy, earned as a dividend on maturity and experience.

Taste the Recipe!

A cook sautees onions and peppers.

A cook sautees onions and peppers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up believing, “If you can read, you can cook.” That belief kept me going as a young bride and eager home hostess.

A sad period of my life spanned a a decade, when finicky children, a grueling work schedule, critical in-laws, and my own stretch of problematic digestive issues had sufficient cumulative influence to make me abandon cooking altogether. Although I had  previously enjoyed cooking for dinner parties at home, one particularly traumatic Thanksgiving was the last straw. I gave up on cooking.  I probably went for five, maybe seven years without cooking much at all. And, when I did cook something, it didn’t taste very good.

I came to realize two things about cooking.
1. The desire to cook is directly proportional to the appreciation of those for whom you are cooking. That includes cooking just for yourself.
2. Don’t serve it if you haven’t tasted it!

In the past five years or so, I have become an enthusiastic cook once again. I have an appreciative partner who gobbles up whatever I prepare, expressing admiration and delight at every opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to cook for someone like that?

During The Decade of Not Cooking, I was already worried about my weight, and had heard from my mother and numerous popular magazine articles that “tasting while cooking” packs on the pounds. I stopped tasting as I cooked, and so my results were — erratic. With a ruined dinner, a substitute run-out for fast food, or a quickie pasta dish would rescue the day. I am happy to say that I have changed my ways. Now I know that tasting during the preparation process is ESSENTIAL. I frequently experiment with new recipes and unfamiliar ingredients.  When I have a small taste after I have added a few items, I can adjust the flavors with much more precision. Add a few more, taste again. I take a little more time during preparation, believing that the frequent taste tests are the way to add LOVE to the dish. Et voilà!  No more kitchen disasters! (Not counting the life-threatening  “Manhattan steaks” affair, flambé with bourbon. Let’s just say the experience brought us all closer.)

My Awareness Through Movement® students know I love to cook, for they frequently hear me say, “Pause. Taste the recipe!” Each movement exploration is full of interesting and unfamiliar variations. If you hurry through the lesson, adding movement after movement with no pauses for reflection and sensing, you have created the recipe for discomfort and confusion.  Rather, after adding each new movement “ingredient,” students are encouraged to pause and discern. Add a little more next time if you like it, or use a little less when you continue.  The student’s own learning through the lesson is tailored to his own abilities and “taste.” The new deliciousness in movement  almost always leads people to want a second helping of the Feldenkraisian feast.

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A Return, and Inklings

Creative Commons Licensed Image by Lou Angeli Digital on Flickr. Via fotopedia.com

If you have been following this blog for awhile, or subscribing to my newsletter from the Feldenkrais Center of Houston, you may have noticed that I have been — missing.  MIA.  Absente. No esta aqui. After months not writing anything at all, I finally have something to write about here on SomaQuest.  SomaQuest is about the felt experience of being alive, which should offer a pretty wide range of topics.  I realized recently that I have not felt very alive myself.

I started to know that something was not quite right several months ago — perhaps as much as a year — when I became aware that I didn’t like how I looked in photos. I had been a tall and willowy teenager, but I realized it would be a real stretch for anyone currently in my life to imagine that someone had ever described me as a “beanpole.” Yet, there I was, in videos and in still shots, looking — fat. Looking back and doing the math, indeed I have probably gained 3-4 pounds a year for the past 10 years, so it is easy to see how I could be 40 pounds heavier now than I was 10 years ago, when I moved to Houston. Yikes. The pictures from my birthday this year, celebrated in May at the Houston Feldenkrais Training, took me aback. I had been trying to “eat healthy,” making sure to get lots of protein and healthy fats, choosing whole-grain versions of my favorite starchy carbs. How could I have gotten so heavy?

One day in early June, I was between clients and flipped on the TV. There was Dr. Oz, talking about three medical tests that can save your life. They were: blood pressure, blood sugar, and — dun dun DUN. . . waist measurement. I measured my waist and, to my horror, found that the number was +10 over the MAXIMUM healthy measurement, for a person of my height. I was completely shocked, and I was now paying attention.

On another day, Dr. Oz’s guest was Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of the 2002 book “Eat to Live.” He proposed a 90-10 plan: that people re-organize their eating so that 90% of all calories come from high-nutrient-density foods, like leafy green vegetables, raw and cooked non-starchy vegetables, beans, and fresh fruit. The quantities he was proposing seemed unrealistic, but I kept listening. He talked about eating for maximum health, and not just for weight loss or outward appearances. I thought, “That actually makes more sense than what I have been doing until now.”

I purchased Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live, for my Kindle reader, and I dove right in.  I began losing weight at a steady pace, between half a pound and a pound per day.  At the end of the first week, I had lost the first five pounds.

When I had lost about 20 pounds, my energy began to return. It was easy to keep eating to live, because I never felt any deprivation. After another month or so, I thought I might enjoy ZUMBA to begin exercising again, and found that there was a class at a dance studio nearby. I am on a program to return to an optimally healthy weight, which will involve losing a total of 65 pounds.  So far, I have lost 25 pounds.

Feeling healthier,  I felt more like myself, whatever that was. Perhaps it is better to say that I sensed that I was perceiving myself with greater accuracy.  This was good news/bad news. I began to perceive an undercurrent of emotional unrest. I was feeling troubled by several professional relationships, discouraged as I looked at my time commitments until the end of the year, and drained by the simplest task, like deleting old emails.  I had also been involved, intensively for about a month, in caring for a friend who was dying of cancer. For the first time in a long time, I felt depleted, overwhelmed, and even incompetent.

Thus began another journey of awareness, one that is specific enough that it warrants another blog. It can be found at BurnoutBio.com, and chronicles my latest experiment and exploratory process of coming back from what I was able to identify as “Burnout.” I hope you will join me there.

Leaving Home #Scintilla Day 4

“If you never go anywhere, you never go anywhere.”

I was the kid who couldn’t wait to leave home.  Any excuse!  Preparation for vacations, trips to camp, performances out of town, continuing training, business meetings — always very exciting.  I fully embraced the fact that I was going to arrive somewhere, and didn’t really dwell on the other side of the coin, which was that I had left someplace behind.

I was eager to head off to college, to move to a new state after I married, and then to make a home in Texas.  I’ve left places when it was my choice, and I’ve left places when it wasn’t my choice.  When it was my choice, it was better.

Some leavings were full of drama.  Leaving a person, a situation, a lifestyle.  A job, a relationship, an identity.  Those instances probably make for juicier stories.  But those are in the past, and I am content to leave them there.  They taught me all they had to teach, and I learned.  Sometimes, it is time for things to end.  The show has closed. Next!

Nowadays, I love to be at home with sweetheart, cats, my lovely office, our artwork, and the life that is here for us together.  I leave home almost every day, going to activities that I love, for work and play.  These leavings and homecomings form a delightful and nurturing rhythm for my life now.

A Song Remembered #Scintilla Day 3

English: Line art drawing of the A note Españo...

Image via Wikipedia

Music accesses a deep part of the brain.  Music, along with fragrance, has the power to transport, through memory, to another time and space.  One whiff, two chords, are enough to start the time machine and elicit a flood of feeling, sensations, and thoughts.

I’m classically trained as a singer and pianist.  I spent several years as a radio announcer at classical music stations, and grew up in a household where music of all genres played constantly.  To say that I have a “soundtrack” for my life is an understatement.  And yet — do you ever really notice the wallpaper?  Sometimes I think that since music was always “on,” I don’t have those auditory snapshot moments where an event, a person, a circumstance, is crystallized somewhere in the recesses, folds, and wetware of my cranium.  Or perhaps I have too many, and so I take them for granted.  It is hard for me to know.

Choral music, art songs, arias, jazz, show tunes.  Pop music, much like furniture or appliances, is present but largely ignored.  I do remember some epic concerts back in the day:  Stevie Wonder, Joanie Mitchell, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkle. Strange that I remember what happened on stage, and I remember isolated events and people.  But there is nothing like the archetypal love story or movie scene that some people can describe, recalled by a song. Not for me.  Not at all.

I can hear the introduction to any chorus or aria from Handel’s Messiah and launch into a long riff of scripture quoting and singing.  Messiah in toto is not so suited for solo singing, turns out.  Same with Bach’s B-Minor Mass, the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, Brahms, Faure, Verdi Requiems — any of the major choral works or anthems, they are “in there.”  I need only hear a snippet to remember a performance, a service, a festival, a rehearsal, singing the soprano solos, or conducting.  I remember who sat next to me on the risers.  Where is he now?  I hear a few bars of Thelonious Monk and remember a curious and awkward date with a young man who was passionate about jazz, and about being at the hot spot with a pretty girl on his arm — and little else.  I remember Chicago’s “As Time Goes By,” dancing at a high school Homecoming with my borderline-abusive boyfriend.  I hear a song from “Fiddler on the Roof,” and remember a crazy night with about eight high-school friends, crammed into a red Corvair at the drive-in, singing along at the tops of our lungs through the whole movie. . .

One of my beginning voice students was singing Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” at her last lesson.  I was suddenly plunged into a stream of memory, of the first date with my ex-husband, now, oh, 35 years ago?  My little emotional canoe was heading toward the rapids, and somehow I managed to jump out and just remember the concert and the music, without drowning in the memory of all the bad and good of those years.

Does music bring me joy?  Undoubtedly.  But it also brings memories; and, I am not surprised to realize, many are rooted in sadness, sorrow.  I let the tears flow, I feel myself breathe, I keep choking out the melody, dropping out when my sobs prevent the high notes.

This post is inspired by a prompt from the Scintilla Project.