Many roads to the destination

It’s an exciting time for me, featuring a major lifestyle change: I moved my office out of my home, and now rent a space in a real office building. Today is the first day that I will see clients there. A big e-blast goes out to my clients and followers in about 90 minutes. The move will be disruptive, in that it requires a bit of a change from the familiar. The first change is that my commute will no longer be “just down the hall.”

Ah, yes, getting there. My office is located just off one of the busiest freeway interchanges in Houston. I really don’t like driving on the freeways, so to be functional I develop alternate routes almost everywhere I need to go. Perhaps it’s the Feldenkrais teacher in me that remembers that the “direct route” or solution to a problem is not always the best. Wonderful results are often obtained more quickly by using a seemingly indirect approach.

Google Maps is very clear on the direct route, but I delight in telling people my work-arounds to get to my office. In the last three days, I have explored the area, and now know how to get there via multiple alternatives. I will experience the drive on a weekday today for the first time, arriving at my office around 1:00 p.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. My clients have received a Google Doc link from me that details the best, lowest stress routes to take from various approaches. I expect to learn other shortcuts and hacks as I learn more about the new neighborhood and what’s where.  Yesterday, a pretty Sunday afternoon,  one of the major freeways by my office was completely shut down. One would have expected that some of that traffic would have taken one of MY alternate routes. Yet, I got to my office in about ten minutes. This bodes well.

Moshe Feldenkrais encouraged his students to develop at least three ways of doing anything. If you only have one way, you are stuck. If you have two options, you have a dilemma. But if you have three options, you are actively making a choice in that moment. Even if you choose the original way, you will do so not out of compulsion, but from a place of freedom and understanding.

How might you create more options for yourself?  Please leave a comment.

What’s Next?

Public domain image.

Public domain image.

I was talking to a good friend last week about business development. He listened as I told him about my thoughts and plans for 2015 that were just beginning to take shape in the first few days of the year. I concluded by saying, “So I think that is my next step.” He replied: “No, it’s this step. It’s the step you are on right now.”

Have you recently said, “the next step,” or “take (fill-in-the-blank) to the next level?” My wise friend helped me to see that I was missing something in doing so. Perhaps next is simply now. “What’s next?” is an invitation to be present to what is happening now. What are you experiencing? Would you like more of the same, or not so much? What would need to change so that you could continue in a positive direction? In this way, progress is gradual, sustainable, and continuous.

Before you decide what to do next, it’s advisable to understand what you are doing now.  Moshe  Feldenkrais said, “I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m simply here to make sure that YOU know WHAT you are doing.” One step, then another, paying attention, adapting. That’s the Feldenkrais way.  That’s my plan. What’s yours?

 

Habitual Holidays

The Westheimer

Image via fansshare.com

Ah, the holidays. No matter what you celebrate – or even if you don’t celebrate at all – this time of year affects everyone. My home in Houston is roughly two blocks from the city’s premier shopping area, the Galleria. Traffic is congested here year-round, but during the run-up to Christmas it is particularly chaotic.

The Feldenkrais Method helps us to learn resilience and adaptability to changing conditions and circumstances. Some of that is learned by simply observing one’s present state. What muscle groups are tensed? Has pain appeared anywhere?  Is there emotional upset or anxiety? Do I have a habitual or preferred way of doing a particular thing? In the case of holiday traffic, I notice every bit of “Bah, Humbug!” crankiness arising from deep within. My shoulders tense, my eyes squint, my jaw tightens. This translates into behaviors. For years, I have simply chosen not to go near the Galleria between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I take alternate routes around the area, skirting the traffic, and avoiding the difficulty.

Perhaps this is an extreme adaptation. I could observe traffic conditions, and notice when there is less traffic, perhaps around 10 a.m.  I could go to the Galleria then. I could actually walk over there and back. Avoidance is rarely a good tactic for dealing with life’s challenges. Just knowing that I have options for action helps me to lower my stress and improve my attitude, whether I go out into traffic or not.

Through the Feldenkrais Method, we also learn how to eliminate superfluous effort from movement. This “streamlining” leads to more efficiency, grace, power, enjoyment, and capability in movement. Pain often disappears completely, as I recognize how I obstruct myself, how I interfere with the realization of my intentions. This process of simplification carries over from movement into other aspects of life. What could be streamlined? What is essential, and what is unnecessary?

Here’s wishing you a holiday season that maximizes the essentials – goodwill, cheer, love, joy. And here’s to the knowledge that we can learn to let go of everything else.

Quiet the Holiday Noise

Beautiful golden lights welcome the holiday season

Throughout the year, my students tell me how their Awareness Through Movement(R) class or private Functional Integration(R) lessons leave them feeling calmer and happier. They depart with a new spring in their step, a smile or look of pleasant thoughtfulness upon their faces. That catch in their back or crick in their neck is magically gone, and they are able to get on with whatever life holds for them.

Then the holiday season arrives. People get busy, schedules get crowded and oops! “No room in the inn” for Feldenkrais. However, I say unto ye at this crazy time of year, “Blessed are they who continue their Feldenkrais practice in December, for they shall be fleet of foot, comfortable of back, and cheerful of spirit.”

Popular media romanticizes the holidays to a level of perfection and bliss that leaves many people feeling that they have not measured up. I don’t know any adults who arrive at the holidays without observing losses as well as blessings. For many of us, the holiday season brings painful memories that are prolonged and made more difficult by the encroachment of Christmas decor displayed with the “back to school” specials. I speak with experience when I say that to try to mask these emotions with food, alcohol, and busy-ness does not turn out well. A much better practice is to step back (perhaps literally as well as metaphorically), slow down, and pay attention. A daily inclusion of the Feldenkrais Method helps you do all three.

Just speaking from my own experience, I find that the more electronic devices I’m plugged into, the more texts and emails I receive, the more outward “pulls” on my attention, then the more I need to balance that with some “inside time.” I won’t ever unplug completely, nor would I be very successful as a solitary hermit. However, my Feldenkrais practice, just me and the floor, keeps me grounded, aware of myself and what resources I have to give, and aware of others around me. This kind of awareness helps me to welcome the holiday season and embrace it all.

Perturb the Pattern

Are you a creature of habit?

Most of us are. We like to do certain things in a certain way. We agree that some habits are good, such as brushing your teeth twice a day, fastening your seat belt, and going to the gym. Other habits are considered bad, like smoking cigarettes, biting your nails, or constantly looking at your smartphone. The ability to form habits helps us to organize life and routine tasks so that we can turn our attention elsewhere.

And that, of course, is the down-side of habits: your attention is elsewhere. Habits can lead to mindless and repetitive behavior, whether or not the habit is a “good” one. For that reason, Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Do not make your habit a compulsion.”

Even good habits need to be dusted off and re-examined every so often. One interesting way to explore your habits is to simply notice moments during the day when you are doing something — anything. Which coffee cup do you select for your morning jolt? Which shoe do you put on first? How many squirts of soap for hand washing? You will be amazed at how many choices you make during the course of a day, without even thinking about it!

Then, change something. Anything. Pause a moment before putting on your shoes, and see if it feels strange to put the other one on first. Park your car in a different spot, sit in a different booth at the diner, shake things up a little. You might discover something new, if only that you are more versatile and resilient than you realized. Even if you return to your habitual way of doing things, the quality will be improved, you will understand more about yourself, and you will appreciate the strength of your habits.

Some people experience a bit of anxiety when they diverge from their patterns. I remember my first encounter with the idea of noticing, and then gently disrupting my personal patterns. I was on a college campus for a conference, and by the second day I had already established my walking route from my room to the conference center. I noticed that in the public restroom, I always chose the third stall on the left, if it was available. I started making different choices on those little, insignificant patterns. I felt exhilarated, as if the world had completely opened up with new possibilities. What ELSE was I doing without thinking, I wondered? What ELSE could I improve, even if I thought it was “engraved in stone?”

I ran into someone recently who said, “I guess I’ve just always done what I thought I was supposed to do.” Now, in vibrant mid-life, she is questioning and considering her habits, letting go of those which no longer serve their original purpose, and forming new ones that will potentially bring her joy and satisfaction. There is great value in perturbing habitual patterns – even good ones.

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Miracles and Oxymorons

Think of a food that you dislike. I mean, something that you would never dream of buying at the grocery store to prepare at home. Something that you would never order at a restaurant. Something you avoid like the plague.

Can you imagine completely changing your mind, so that this disgusting and distasteful glop becomes one of your favorite dishes?

Right. Neither could I. Until it happened to me recently.

Creative Commons Image via Wikipedia

In my case, the offending substance was okra. I have never been a fan, shall we say. The predominant texture of okra is slime, and I just could never get past it. So, no gumbo for me, thanks. No okra, no how.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I went out to lunch at one of Houston’s wonderful Indian restaurants in the Gandhi District. I ordered their version of a “combo plate,” and I settled back in anticipation of eating a variety of delicious and complex flavors that I just love.

One of the side dishes was clearly a very crispy vegetable. I couldn’t tell from the shape exactly what it was — perhaps a green bean? A taste revealed that perfect combination of crispy and spicy, with not a hint of heavy oiliness that so often accompanies fried food. “What is this dish?” I asked the waiter the next time he came to refill the water glasses.

“That is okra, Ma’am.”

NO WAY! I HATE OKRA! (This thought silently rolled through my head.) Well, it was so delicious that I savored every bite as I gobbled it down. The term “Delicious Okra” seemed to be the ultimate oxymoron – but there it was.

That evening, I was on the internet looking for “Indian spicy crispy okra recipe.” None of the recipes quite seemed like what I had eaten, although all were informative and kept me thinking about my new culinary discovery – OKRA.

This week, I made my own version of the dish, and it was fantastic. My recipe, such as it is, appears on MoveSleepEat.com.
I started with a bag of frozen okra, thawed it, dried it as much as possible, added dry spices and a bit of chickpea flour to further dry it. I dumped it all onto a baking sheet and stuck that in the oven to cook. My mixture was still pretty wet — that slime is almost invinceable — so it took about an hour for everything to get good and crisp. It was absolutely fantastic. Two of us ate the entire batch.

The Feldenkrais angle on this story is this: Sometimes, it’s not the “WHAT” that matters, it’s the “HOW.”  In my Awareness Through Movement classes, people constantly say, “I never thought I would be able to X (lift my head off the floor, move my shoulder like that, reach so easily, feel balanced, for example), but that felt so easy!” That is because we focus on HOW you are doing what you are doing, instead of “Just Do It” and focusing on the goal (the WHAT). Through the course of the lesson, each movement is deconstructed in an engaging way, prepared, and reassembled into a new-and-improved version of the movement. That’s why our students say that the Feldenkrais Method “makes the impossible, possible. . .”

Back to the okra. I learned that it is possible, and perhaps even usual, to prepare okra in such a way that it is completely unpalatable (to me). HOWEVER, I also learned that there is a way to prepare it so that I simply love it. Maybe even “serve it once a week” level of love it. It’s not the okra, it’s the style of preparation. It’s not the WHAT, it’s the HOW that makes the difference. It even turns out that okra’s inherent sliminess makes it very easy to bake until crispy, without adding extra oil to the recipe. The very characteristic that I thought was okra’s downfall, turned out to be an advantage. Huh.

A wise friend of mine says that a miracle is simply a change of perspective. By this definition, miracles happen all the time for people in Feldenkrais classes. Their perspective and outlook changes as they learn new “Hows” for the “Whats” of their daily lives. Perhaps the real miracle is that our minds can change at all, and that we can change them ourselves. Soon, these miracles and “Aha!” moments start showing up everywhere.

Even in the kitchen. Even with okra.

Shark Week at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston

Your safety and survival is our top priority!

Photo: Creative Commons

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.

How’s that office chair?

Creative Commons Image

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.