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.



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.

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.