[April 1, 2010] Feldenkrais practitioners worldwide reacted with excitement today at news of the discovery of lost lessons and notes by the founder of the Feldenkrais Method, Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984).
Workers discovered a box of manuscripts and reel-to-reel tapes in an upstairs broom closet at the Alexander Yanai studio in Tel Aviv, where Moshe Feldenkrais field-tested the majority of his group lessons, called Awareness Through Movement. Previously, 550 lessons in eleven volumes and over 4,000 pages were believed to comprise the complete opus known as the “Alexander Yanai lessons.” While practitioners and former protegees of Dr. Feldenkrais sort through the new material, unnamed sources report that several reams of documents will keep translators and transcribers busy for years. In addition to the new lessons, numerous personal notations in the margins, in Dr. Feldenkrais’s handwriting, provide scholars with insights that show the Feldenkrais Method in a new light.
The newest book by Norman Doidge, “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” has caused much excitement in Feldenkrais circles worldwide. I’m excited for the Feldenkrais Method to become more widely known because of the book’s popularity. However, I’m even more excited at the possibility that the idea of neuroplasticity – that the brain changes its structure in response to learning – will finally find acceptance among the general public, including those within the mainstream medical community.
I first heard about neuroplasticity in the year 2000, in my earliest Feldenkrais lessons. I’ve probably thought about neuroplasticity almost every day for the past fifteen years, as I became immersed in the Feldenkrais Method, and began to work with students and clients. With accumulating experience, I have come to understand that neuroplasticity is a sort of superpower that we all have. And, like all superpowers, it can be a double-edged sword.
Neuroplasticity operates whether you are aware of it or not. We humans are built to learn, almost “straight out of the chute.” Our unconscious actions – those that we call “habits” – are constantly causing neurons to be recruited, strengthening neural pathways to strengthen the habitual patterns. This formation of neural pathways is sometimes stated as,”Things that fire together, wire together.” However, this innate capacity can have devastating consequences for some musicians, for example, who spend thousands of hours practicing fine-motor dexterity and agility, only to develop a lack of control and precision, and potentially jeopardizing their careers.
So if you have this superpower, you might as well learn to use it, and use it well. You can’t just assume that it’s going to work FOR you. You have to practice, and pay attention. Think of Luke Skywalker in his first encounter with the light saber. Obi-Wan was undoubtedly a patient teacher (in a short but memorable scene) so that Luke could learn to use this tool with skill and precision to match his intentions.
The Feldenkrais Method and neuroplasticity as metaphorical light sabers? Your Feldenkrais teacher as your personal Obi-Wan? Am I shamelessly exploiting Star Wars for my own literary convenience and amusement? YOU BETCHA I AM.
In lightness and with gentle humor, we learn and grow. There’s more to be said about all of this, but for now, I must practice my light saber. . .
What happened to these people? In the top photo, they look distressed. In the bottom photo, a transformation has clearly occurred!
We had a bit of fun taking these snaps at Saturday’s workshop, “Ease for YOUR Neck & Shoulders.” The photos may have been a teeny bit staged, the people may have received a bit of direction. But despite the levity of the moment, everyone agreed that, indeed, they felt noticeably different — and better — after the gentle movement explorations provided in the workshop.
So, what happened? What did they do? How might YOU create the conditions for transformation?
In the Feldenkrais Method, we teach people how to pay attention. That’s it.
Good luck with that! See ya!
Obviously, it would be helpful to say a bit more about that. What happened was, the workshop participants arrived in a state of curiosity, with a willingness to experiment, hopeful that CHANGE WAS POSSIBLE. They understood that the change would come from them, from what they learned, and not from any outside source. They set aside some time to be quiet, and they enlisted the help of a “tour guide” — yours truly, an intrepid Feldenkrais teacher — to interpret the unfamiliar terrain and point out the interesting insider information. With just a little guidance and just enough time, they found new ways of moving comfortably, and they learned new ways to care for themselves.
What sets the Feldenkrais Method apart from other modes of exercise and self-improvement in our “Just Do It” culture, I think, is that opportunities for reflection are embedded in the process. Students are challenged to make distinctions: how did this movement feel before? How does it feel now? “Same? Or different?” is one of the most powerful reflective questions one can ask. In this climate of attention and inquiry, you can experiment your way to a better state. You can create your own well-being.
It takes a little practice and a little help, but you’ll get the hang of it fairly quickly. Change is not only possible, it is inevitable. We facilitate change for people in profound and quiet ways. What would you like to see in your own “Before and After” picture?
From my office window, I can see Houston traffic coursing along US 290. I’m close to one of the businest freeway interchanges in the USA, so the traffic can be roaring along at maniacal speeds, or creeping at a near standstill. Then, I had an unusual thought. Houston doesn’t just have heavy traffic at “rush hour.” We have rush hourS. And, at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston, it’s never rush hour.
We’re known for small, gentle, unhurried movements, “performed” with developing awareness. People frequently comment about how pleasant it is to take a rare respite from rushing and tearing about to do everything RIGHT NOW. There’s no pounding music, not much coversation, and no perspiration. People are surprised that so little can do so much, and can be so satisfying.
Moshe Feldenkrais would frequently tell people to see if they could move quickly, without hurrying. When I first heard this, I thought it was a paradox, a zen koan. Then I realized that it’s the spirit of hurrying – the urgency, the pressure, the preoccupation – that permeates almost every moment of modern life. To move quickly, but in a spirit of calm, of competence, and of curiosity, is appealing and intensely practical. The Feldenkrais Method is about function. It is useful, applicable in everyday life, and reality-based. We get things done.
The power of the Feldenkrais Method comes with practicing on your own a litle bit every day. You learn to be with yourself, to observe without judgment, to think and feel and sense and move as a living being, full of potential. Who would want to rush that?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.