Olympic Feldenkrais?

olympic-ringsWhether you are a rabid sports enthusiast or strictly a fair-weather fan, all agree that there is something extraordinary and engrossing about the Olympics. The combination of youth, beauty, perseverance, and the pursuit of one’s personal best, all wrapped in a tricky balance of national pride with admiration for the whole human family – makes for captivating viewing and a positive focus of attention for a couple of weeks.

We have watched thrilling achievements by Houston-area athletes Simone Biles and Simone Manuel. Rumors abound (satirical ones, of course) that Michael Phelps and Katie Ladecky are actually the spawn of dolphins. MIchelle Carter in shot put, Ibtihaj Muhammad in fencing, and Anthony Irvin in swimming, have captured the attention and wonder of the world. Additionally, the rugby team from Fiji, Jamaican dominance in track, and countless other inspirations expand our goodwill and admiration beyond our national borders and sensibilities. The Olympics provide an opportunity to indulge the noble human impulse to be genuinely happy for others when they do well.

Yet, it’s not all pretty. The latest is that US Swimmer Ryan Lochte and friends were robbed at gunpoint while returning to the Olympic Village from a party. [See update below.] Several athletes have been seriously injured. The political and economic woes of the host country are well-documented. Doping scandals dog the usual suspects. Snarky internet memes cast the public’s fickle interest in “niche-y” individual sports and scratch the itch of cynicism. Sexist and ageist comments and interviews by the NBC team have added a time-warp quality to the proceedings. Zika Zika Zika. And, in spite of those obstacles, athletes make the journey for the Gold, and seem to understand that their experience is extraordinary by any measure.

Whenever Feldenkrais people get together, eventually there will be a joke about the Feldenkrais Olympics. It’s a comical oxymoron. The notions of competition, team unity, and speed-strength-power are outside of the intentions on the mat. A gold medal in team tumbleweed rolls? HI. LAR. I. OUS. The most “in” of in-jokes! And yet, there is more than a slender thread of connection. Most forget, or are unaware, that Moshe Feldenkrais wrote a book on “Practical Unarmed Combat.” He was a street fighter who caught the eye and the respect of JIgaro Kano, the founder of modern judo. He earned a black belt and remains a respected figure in the martial arts. As one practices the Method, one learns that it is about much more than lying on the floor and relaxing.

Our amazing Olympians all possess an unusual degree of physical self-awareness. Their intentions manifest in action. They know what they are doing. They focus their attention on the present moment, while simultaneously playing the long game through years of training and aspiration. These aspects of the “inner game” are available to anyone who wants to improve in any aspect of life. You can develop them quite effectively in Feldenkrais classes.

I’m inspired by the older athletes, who have persisted and endured, one for a record seven Olympic games. What’s her secret of sustainability and peak performance, I wonder? I’ve heard many “comeback” stories from athletes who overcame diseases, injuries, and even childbirth to reclaim their elite Olympic status, and then excel again. How do you find that internal combustion engine that keeps the fires of ambition burning? As I hear 35-year-old athletes field interview questions about “retirement” (and don’t know whether to laugh or cry), I see an opportunity for a massive reality check. It’s not just about ageing. The question is: is there life after a personal best? And if so, who gets to define that? How can we develop the resilience to survive success?

I love watching these elegant movers who make everything look so damned easy. The most successful ones seem to pursue progress, rather than perfection. They are engaged in a process, expressed by Feldenkrais the elite athlete: “To make the impossible, possible; the possible, easy; and the easy, elegant.” Anyone who follows that process will improve. The process translates from pool or mat or field to living a full life, well. Go for it!

UPDATE 8/18/2016: The Police Say Ryan Lochte Lied About Gunpoint Assault (New York Times). Most disappointing, to say the least.

A short read, and then to work.

This is for you. Yes, YOU.

I love you.

Even if we don’t know each other well, I love the idea of you. I love your “YOU-ness,” “U”-ness, uniqueness, and all that you have to offer to the world. I just wanted to say that first.

The killings in Orlando early Sunday morning have knocked the wind out of me. As an ally of the LGBTQ community, and as a conscious human being, I grieve for the senseless waste of life, vitality, intelligence, skill, creativity joy, love, and potential.

Many of my friends and clients are struggling right now. When under acute stress and distress, the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze/faint state) takes over. The powerful neurotransmitter acetylcholine runs the show, overtaking the brain. In response, the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine flood the body. Effects range from anxiety and panic attacks to shortness of breath, hypervigilance, muscular tension, pain, insomnia, depression, digestive distress, and emotional dysregulation or “roller coaster” feelings. In other words, they are experiencing trauma. In times of national tragedy, we are all affected to some extent. None are more severely affected than those who feel targeted, hunted, hated, erased, eliminated, and realistically in mortal danger.

There will be a continuing debate about possible courses of action and responses to the massacre. One overlooked reality is that trauma has physiological effects, and it changes the brain. Your brain. Think about that.

No matter how close you are to recent events or those most affected by them, now is a time for self-care and recovery. There is nothing more healing than LOVE. We observe that in Feldenkrais lessons and classes, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, which allows the process of recovery to begin. Heart rate and blood pressure normalize, body temperature drops, metabolism temporarily slows to allow the human system to restore itself. Feel-good neurotransmitters, seratonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, move life in a positive direction again, and enable trust and human connection. Physical improvement and a sense of emotional well-being return. Recovery takes time. We must create conditions where this overall healing can occur. Recovery, restoration, and improvement are possible. That’s the great hope that the Feldenkrais Method can offer to EVERYONE.

As a Feldenkrais teacher, I’m in the human potential business. My practice is driven by love. We can’t afford to waste the vast potential of human resources – not yours, not mine, not anyone’s. People are hurting. All I have to offer is a practice of self awareness for intelligent action in the world. That’s it! If you think that commodity is valuable and in short supply, come to a class. We all have work to do.

The Night #Feldenkrais Broke the Internet

SpellingBee3The title might be an overstatement, but I feel justified because Moshe Feldenkrais himself used hyperbole and humor on a regular basis to command attention and facilitate learning. If you’re still with me, you just might be one of the people who emailed, Facebooked, or Tweeted your delight thatFeldenkrais” was the winning word for one young champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee last night. Hearty congratulations to Jairam Jagadeesh Hathwar (who correctly spelled “Feldenkrais,”) co-winner with Nihar Saireddy Janga (he correctly spelled “Gesellschaft”).

My friend Sarah Shah pinged me immediately, but I did not see it until after one of my New York colleagues posted it – and I thought it was a joke or meme that someone had cleverly created. By this morning, my email inbox was full of messages from people asking whether I had heard. In our little Feldyverse, this is EPIC. Your heart can justifiably swell with pride because you have not only heard of Feldenkrais, you have experienced it!

In moments of public recognition (even if among the arcane intersection of Feldenkrais peeps and spelling geeks), it is wise to keep perspective and humility. Will this be our big breakthrough moment, propelling us into the mainstream? Or will it be a “15 minutes of fame” footnote? It all depends on how individuals respond.

The practice of the Feldenkrais Method can prepare you for your own moments in the spotlight. You learn about your habitual actions and reactions, within yourself and in the world. With many options for “your next step” available to you, you can make a good choice. We learn from those choices, and refine our actions going forward to create a better experience, a better life, a better world.


Check out our upcoming summer classes at the Jung Center of Houston.

New workshops for insomnia, life transitions, posture, and more.

Did You Feel the Shift In The Force?

bluebellreBy the time you read this, millions of Texans will be happy. Completely, blissfully happy. It has been a cranky and upsetting summer, but not because of the myriad social, cultural, and economic flashpoints that rear their ugly heads all too often in the Lone Star State. For the past six (almost seven!) months, Texans have been forced to live in a world without Blue Bell ice cream. Troubling lysteria contamination resulted in three deaths and numerous illnesses around the country, so the main processing plant up the road in Brenham, as well as one in Oklahoma, was closed down in early April. Great was the distress, since Blue Bell is considered to be a major Summer Food Group in Texas. And, since summer goes on almost all year – well, you get the idea. But on Monday, August 31, 2015, the supply of frosty goodness finally will be restored. Texans will heave a collective and heartfelt sigh of relief as our National Ice Cream is slurped, licked, and lapped with a celebratory abandon worthy of the end of such a drought. THAT is the shift in The Force you felt.

Since I don’t do well these days when I eat dairy products, I don’t have a horse in this race. Or a cow. However, I still feel the pride and loyalty that all Texans feel toward Blue Bell. It looks like the brand is set for a big recovery. People love their Blue Bell, and don’t even suggest that they eat another brand. THERE IS NO OTHER BRAND OF ICE CREAM. Love for Blue Bell unites Texans across all demographic categories. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

I’ve used this dead-serious/humorous example as an illustration of the fact that we humans like life the way we like it. We don’t like change, we don’t like to change, and we don’t like it when our routines are disrupted. It is difficult to change our preferences and habits, and we experience loss when our choices seem to disappear. Physical pain and injury, or a decline in one’s ability to function, are examples of serious circumstances that affect basic quality of life.

The Feldenkrais Method helps people to improve their quality of life. We help people with movement difficulties who want to LEARN how to recover, re-group, or even re-invent themselves to be better than ever. The practice of the Method grows the skills of resilience, focus, creativity, and adaptation across multiple domains in life. Best of all, it can elevate your mood without increasing your waistline!

So a new day dawns over Texas. While peace, harmony, and caloric levels will peak throughout the land as the first delicious scoops are served, perhaps your difficulties are not so easily dispatched. It might be time for you to try the Feldenkrais Method.

Find a practitioner near you at feldenkrais.com.
In Houston, TX, Schedule a F*R*E*E* consultation to find out if the Feldenkrais Method can help you.

Your Personal Superpower

Moshe Feldenkrais (Credit: © International Feldenkrais Federation Archive/Photo montage by Salon.com)
Moshe Feldenkrais (Credit: © International Feldenkrais Federation Archive/Photo montage by Salon.com)

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. . .

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.

Steve Martin, I Love You

Image via PBS.org

It’s Saturday night, and we’re watching Austin City Limits.  It’s a bluegrass show tonight, featuring Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

True confession:  I have loved Steve Martin since the first time I saw him, in the early 1970’s, on Saturday Night Live.  That qualifies as “back in the day.”

Through the years, I have marveled at his talent, versatility, and creative output. He’s a magician,a comedian, an actor, a playwright, and author. He creates and finds expressive potential everywhere. He’s a major creative force in American culture today. So there.

Tonight, I’m enjoying watching his mastery of the banjo. He is Mister Cool.  He is playing the HELL out of that thing, with such an economy of movement!  There’s nothing wasted. It is simple, clean, and kind of minimalist. He makes it look effortless. He and the guys clearly have a ball making music.

That’s the true mark of mastery:  the ability to do something difficult, and make it look easy. Paradoxically, you don’t get “there” without a lot of work. Malcolm Gladwell quotes the 10,000 hour rule. If you’re doing the math at home, that works out to four hours a day, every single day, for about seven years.

The part they don’t tell you is that those 10,000 hours are not hours of rote drudgery. Repetition alone is no guarantee of quality. The work is more like the fully-absorbed attention of a child at play. Even when there seems to be no improvement for  long  stretches of time, the person on the path to mastery persists in the playful process of getting better at it. You trust the process, keep showing up, and eventually you and your work are transformed.

I like to think that Steve Martin’s process has been “making the impossible, possible; the possible, easy; and the easy, elegant.” Those are the words of Moshe Feldenkrais, describing the Method that bears his name. Movement by movement, action by action, choice by choice, by baby steps, you get there.

 

 

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Not Just WHAT: Also HOW

Perhaps you’ve had this experience:

Yoga Class at a Gym Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs
Image via Wikipedia

A news report on the radio or TV catches your ear.  An item shows up on Twitter, or in your Facebook feed.  An article in a magazine jumps out at you.

“New research shows [Insert one of your favorite activities here] can lead to [your worst nightmare/direst consequence imaginable]. . .”

Coffee.  Sugar.  Alcohol.  Mobile phone use.  Sitting.

In the face of such frequent and contradictory reports, it is tempting to stick your head in the sand and just shrug your shoulders as you continue to do what you like.  On the other hand, human nature can rear its dogmatic head, and you might be tempted to make a rule that supports your own behavior.  [You know you’ve made a rule if you think your way is what is best for everyone. The rule also probably includes the word “always” or “never.”]  Examples abound:  from advocates of particular dietary practices, exercise disciplines, spiritual beliefs, political ideologies.

Is it just human nature?  Is it an ego out-of-awareness that insists it is right, and everyone else is wrong?  Modern media revels in the opportunity for “Point/Counterpoint” argument, trash-talking, and polarization.  While it might make for “TV worth watching,”  it seems that in most cases, you are better served by having a more nuanced viewpoint.  Warning:  you will get a lot of flack for answering “It depends.”  You can’t just spout bumper-sticker aphorisms, and you have to stay actively engaged with your own thinking process, to develop a sense of fine-tuning in your beliefs and corresponding actions.  Alas, it is inconvenient, and any opportunities of offering a 30-second sound bite can be kissed goodbye.

So now, a new book and accompanying article in the New York Times has come onto the radar. It is potentially as important as the early research on the effects of cigarette smoking.  A lot of people will be upset.  The subject?  YOGA.

In the article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, renowned Yoga teacher Glenn Black takes a courageous (and some might say heretical) viewpoint about the yoga-is-for-everyone mindset.  Quoting from the article:

Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.

Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. . . “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”

The entire article is worth a read.  Black’s viewpoint, and that of a new book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and The Rewards, is a highly nuanced and sensible one.  As a Feldenkrais teacher who works with a lot of yoga enthusiasts, I’m often asked “What do you think of yoga?” or “Is yoga GOOD?”  I often wonder if their underlying question is, “Should I be doing yoga?”  I’m delighted to say “It depends.”  It’s not just the WHAT (Yoga).  It’s also the HOW — how it is taught, how you approach it, how you monitor yourself. . .

Moshe Feldenkrais was famous for saying, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you can’t do what you want [to do].”  Ah, there’s the rub. With yoga, it is important to know what you are doing.  Many people begin a yoga class without having the slightest inkling what their physical limitations are, with the belief that yoga will “fix them.”  The temptation to stretch just a little bit farther, or to conquer that challenging pose TODAY, is a siren song that can lead to serious injury. Of course, many people enjoy and benefit from their yoga practice. Surely, the difference lies in the experience and intentions of the individual in any given moment.

I’m not bashing yoga. You can get hurt doing ANYTHING — yoga, crossing the street, cooking, ballet, playing the violin. . . you can even put yourself in pain during a Feldenkrais class, if you aren’t paying careful attention to yourself!  The bottom line is, people are not going to stop yoga (just as some people have not stopped smoking), no matter what “the evidence” might say.  People will indeed continue yoga, as they will continue to study ballet, climb sheer rock faces, drive fast, eat sweet foods, clean their houses.  Of course, the analogy breaks down a bit with the examples of smoking, driving, and shooting, as other people can potentially be harmed by your actions.  But that’s another debate.

I hope the new book will say that yoga is an interesting and potentially satisfying pursuit. I hope it will say that there are substantial risks, and that prospective students need to begin with both eyes open and feet on the ground, before attempting that headstand. As with living in general, your presence and attention are required.  You can’t expect to “phone it in,” and nobody is exempt from the laws of physics.  I hope the book will say, “You have to pay attention.”

I’d love to see our culture and our education system support the idea that it is beneficial to learn to respect yourself, and the physical sensations your body send to tell you “THIS is enough.” If we can learn to appreciate the long-term process of learning and improvement over a lifetime, rather than the fastest result possible — well, we might just then be on to something.

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Best Meal – #resound11

What is the best meal or best food that you have eaten all year? Did you make it? Did you get it at a restaurant? Do your best to describe the food and the experience with us.

If I’ve already told you this, please forgive the re-telling of the story.

I still get excited thinking about the best meal of the year, which was our Thanksgiving dinner.  It was a personal, all-time best in the “Holiday Meals” category.  Even more importantly, the meal was shared with family and friends whom we cherish.

First, the food.

Thanksgiving DinnerEverybody knows there is only one way to make a proper Thanksgiving dinner:  and that is the way you had it when you were a kid.  Marital discord arises when different traditions clash. That’s not how MY mom made it. . .

Thankfully, I’m over that — and so are my adult children.  I’ve been delighted in the past 10 years to discover, despite a highly invested story put forth by my ex-mother-in-law that I was somehow incapable of cooking Thanksgiving dinner, or didn’t want to, or couldn’t be bothered; that I am a damn good cook and can crank out a Thanksgiving dinner with the best of them.  New traditions have evolved since my divorce.  The only thing my kids (now 28 and 23) insist upon are the bread stuffing they grew up with (my mom’s recipe, unwritten but passed down by oral tradition and eyeballing it), lots of wine, and at least one pumpkin pie.  I think everything else is negotiable.

This year, I was open for something new.  I consulted the ultimate food guru, Alton Brown.  Every one of his recipes is reliable and totally delicious, so I decided to put our Thanksgiving fate in his hands.  I purchased a minimally-processed turkey and chose to brine it.  I had not had a proper roasting pan, so purchased one, with a rack, for the day.  My parents had not used a rack — just put the bird right into the pan, breast up, and away we went.  Let me tell you, I am now an enthusiastic convert to rack use — what a difference it made! In the spirit of adventure, I started preparations the afternoon before, and followed Alton Brown’s directions.  After brineing the turkey overnight, then cooking it at 500 degrees for 30 minutes, and then down to 350 for the remainder of the time, our 15-pound turkey was done in 2.5 hours, tender and falling off the bone, with an actual flavor that I had not dreamed possible for turkey.  And, if you look up “golden brown” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of our perfect turkey.

In another innovation for this year, I actually made gravy.  You see, gravy has been a murky mystery, fraught with cross-motivations, since my youth.  My Dad always made giblet gravy, and I thought it was the absolute grossest and most vile-tasting substance imaginable.  I could never get on that gravy train.  However, this year the pan drippings looked so fantastic that I just had to try — no giblets or neck, thank you very much.  Voila!  Fabulous, rich, dark, turkey gravy.  Unbelievable.

The meal was rounded out on my part with mashed white and sweet potatoes, Alton Brown’s “from scratch” version of the ubiquitous green bean casserole, and an amazing cranberry chatni from one of my new #houstonbloggers friends.  Friends and family brought wine, pies, traditional cranberry sauce (homemade), fabulous challah and a creamed spinach casserole that was to die for.

We feasted.  We laughed.  We took pictures of the turkey.  And we were thankful.  Best meal of the year, hands down.

[I’m blogging daily (ish) during December as part of #resound11.  Join us here.]

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