Whenever I’m at meet-and-greet events and the inevitable question comes up, “What do you do?” I initially answer with, “I help people to learn how their body and brain can communicate better.” Invariably, the person smiles, almost laughs, their eyes widen, and they say, “Well, I could sure use that!” That WOULD be great, wouldn’t it?
A longer conversation can happen later. We talk about how there is no separation between your mind and your body, except in language. Body and mind are not even just two sides of the same coin: they are united as a complex network, where constant communication takes place. In the FELDENKRAIS METHOD, we try to improve the quality of that communication. Why is quality important?
It’s easiest to see different qualities of mind-body communication through the lens and experience of movement. For example, most people would agree that you use your hand differently if you are stroking under a kitten’s chin, than if you are pounding a nail into the wall with a hammer. More choices, more available qualities of movement, make us more fully human, more practically functional, and more highly skilled at whatever we are doing.
That is why intention and attention are so important. Instead of simply stretching our muscles, the FELDENKRAIS METHOD seeks also to “stretch” the mind to consider and incorporate useful new possibilities, strategies, and connections. With intention and attention, your brain can form the neural structures that make future improvement possible.
There’s bound to be something that you would like to improve this summer. The rewiring is enjoyable and comfortable, yet provides just the right amount of challenge. If you would like BETTER this summer, come and join us!
Not in Houston? Find FELDENKRAIS practitioners and classes near you via feldenkrais.com.
February. The shortest month is more than halfway through. When I was a child, I remember February as a blessedly short passage through the dark doldrums of a seemingly unending Midwestern winter. February “sagged and dragged.” We buckled down on our homework, caught up on our reading, and stayed inside to clean out closets and drawers. In more modern times, our culture disdains any “down time.” In the post-modern February, we are inundated with cuteness. From the adorable and furry rodentian weather-watcher, to the flying weaponized baby, February now pulls its weight on the calendar with two credible reasons to party down. The movie “Groundhog Day” inspires weekend watch parties, and Valentine’s Day is filled with dinner dates and chocolate. I admit it, I indulged! And yesterday, I contemplated where we get our sweetness in life.
Last week, I traveled to Fort Worth to share the Feldenkrais Method with undergraduate and graduate students in a conservatory-style music department. Outstanding singers, pianists, and instrumentalists experienced the ease of movement and release of unnecessary muscular effort that many observe after a Feldenkrais session. Their music-making became more expressive, more beautiful, more accurate, and more sustainable. They were fascinated by the idea that the Feldenkrais Method has nothing to do with music; just as it has nothing to do with back pain relief, or sports, or individuals with special-needs. I explained that the Method is about LIVING. Living life with a sense of freedom and agency, the ability to create positive change in one’s own habits, the discovery of new possibilities for enjoyment and expression – THAT is (part of) what the Feldenkrais Method is “for,” or “about.” As a teacher, it is sweet indeed to witness the changes that occur in my students’ quality of life: whether that means playing better, walking without pain or restriction, finding more energy for daily living, or simply FEELING more capable in something that is important to them. A ripple-effect then travels throughout, potentially improving relationships, surroundings, and communities. Life itself can indeed be sweet.
The Feldenkrais Method is not all sweetness and fun (although it has a lot of both!). Like life, sometimes it also includes challenge, confusion, and frustration. Our little movement laboratory allows us to experiment with low-level difficulties, like internal puzzles. As we successfully surmount these mini-obstacles through creative and gentle means, over time we develop the skill and perseverance to stick with solution-seeking when faced with bigger challenges.
If these ideas resonate with you, if they strike a chord of recognition within, if they pique your curiosity – then it might be time to return to a Feldenkrais lesson, class, or workshop in the near future – or to try one for the first time! We look forward to seeing you at any of our upcoming opportunities. Here’s to more sweets for the sweet!
The 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 that“Feldenkrais” 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.
The year is new, still shiny, no dents in it, fresh off the showroom floor, with that New Year smell. I was chatting with a friend yesterday around the idea of resolutions and planning the year, figuring out how each of us would move forward on projects and intentions. My friend briefly shared the situation of one of his clients who had recently experienced a series of setbacks in her business. She was going to have to start over, he said. But, having created a successful business before, she knew the process and could rebuild using the same steps.
I know the feeling and the experience of starting over. When one endures losses and leaves an old way of life behind, the prospect of “starting over” is daunting. As I reflected more, it came to me that I sense a subtle difference between two ideas that seem the same on the surface. My visceral response is qualitatively different when I think, “Start over,” compared to when I think, “Begin again.” Do those feel different to you?
When I think, “Start over,” I think of poor Sisyphus pushing the gigantic boulder up the hill – only to slide back to the very bottom again and again. Indeed, “Backsliding” has some judgment loaded into it. Stop! Everything you just did was wrong. Irredemable. Trash it. You’ll have to start over. I hear the voice of my old piano teacher, or some other authority figure who knew the standard and determined that I had not met it.
But “Begin again” feels better somehow. Whatever I did before, even if it didn’t work, contains nuggets of information and learning that I can build upon, fine-tune, and improve. “Begin again” doesn’t stipulate WHAT I am to begin – it could be something entirely different, just begin. “Start over” makes it likely that I will make the same mistakes, because I am doing the same thing, again. Begin something, anything. Don’t stop beginning. When I begin again, I do it at my own pace and in my own way, not compelled by some outer influence.
The Feldenkrais Method has within it the notion of being a beginner every time one comes to practice. In the Method, one is a beginner every day, because there is always something new to learn, always a new circumstance to adapt to, always a different constraint or “wrinkle” in the system that wasn’t there before. Even the expert or master teacher is a beginner, having become expert at beginning. We work according to an iterative process: begin a movement. Begin it again, and add to it. Begin again, and vary it in some way. Through the process of many beginnings, improvements emerge and grow. In the Feldenkrais Method, there’s no need to reach the pinnacle of achievement or the height of one’s potential on the first attempt. We’re in it for the duration. Successive approximations, baby steps, will get us there.
One comes to understand the Zen idea of “the beginner’s mind.” In one way, a beginner is a novice, an innocent, someone with humility because they have no expertise or prior knowledge in the domain they are studying. This freedom from preconceptions enables one to see things with fresh eyes. The beginner comes with an “empty cup,” an open mind, ready to learn. My understanding of the beginner’s mind has evolved to include another aspiration: a beginner is one who begins, who makes beginnings like a potter makes pots, or a watchmaker makes watches. A beginner is someone who is willing to move out of physical, emotional, or ideological stasis and begin on some path, even if it’s not perfect. You can always adjust course as you go. How does one think before beginning? The mind of one who begins things is creative and courageous. In the face of seeming failure, of discouragement, or confusion, one can always make a new beginning.
This past weekend, I spent a glorious rainy three days in Austin with other Feldenkrais teachers from around the country. We had gathered for the opportunity to step out of our habitual teacher roles and once again to assume the role of student. The Feldenkrais Method® is about life-long learning, so we take our own personal and professional development very seriously. It is always a joy to lie on the floor as a class member, and enter the intriguing kinesthetic puzzle of Awareness Through Movement®.
The workshop had an advertised topic which was of interest to me, and the teachers were friends whom I don’t often get to see. I was “all in” for a great experience, and that experience was that I learned things I didn’t know were important for me to know. The element of surprise made the weekend learning exciting and profound. If you are coming for classes, lessons, or workshops in the near future, you’ll be the direct beneficiary.
It was after class that I had an opportunity to reflect upon what I was learning. It was fun and specific in the moment, but later I could appreciate the deeper levels, the broader applications, the wider implications for other aspects of my life. I thought about my students, what they say they want to learn, and what else they might learn. Are the deeper, unadvertised lessons a side-effect of the Method, or are they the true essence?
Moshe Feldenkrais sometimes spoke of assisting people “to live their vowed and unavowed dreams.” I think of a person who came to me for voice lessons because her dream was to learn to sing. What she learned along the way was how to find her voice, how to speak up for herself, and how to express her true self. That is an unavowed dream. When I work with someone, I think of the possible unavowed dream: to walk tall, to be resilient, to feel comfortable in one’s own skin, to feel a sense of power and agency in one’s life, to feel free.
I grew up believing, “If you can read, you can cook.” That belief kept me going as a young bride and eager home hostess.
A sad period of my life spanned a a decade, when finicky children, a grueling work schedule, critical in-laws, and my own stretch of problematic digestive issues had sufficient cumulative influence to make me abandon cooking altogether. Although I had previously enjoyed cooking for dinner parties at home, one particularly traumatic Thanksgiving was the last straw. I gave up on cooking. I probably went for five, maybe seven years without cooking much at all. And, when I did cook something, it didn’t taste very good.
I came to realize two things about cooking.
1. The desire to cook is directly proportional to the appreciation of those for whom you are cooking. That includes cooking just for yourself.
2. Don’t serve it if you haven’t tasted it!
In the past five years or so, I have become an enthusiastic cook once again. I have an appreciative partner who gobbles up whatever I prepare, expressing admiration and delight at every opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to cook for someone like that?
During The Decade of Not Cooking, I was already worried about my weight, and had heard from my mother and numerous popular magazine articles that “tasting while cooking” packs on the pounds. I stopped tasting as I cooked, and so my results were — erratic. With a ruined dinner, a substitute run-out for fast food, or a quickie pasta dish would rescue the day. I am happy to say that I have changed my ways. Now I know that tasting during the preparation process is ESSENTIAL. I frequently experiment with new recipes and unfamiliar ingredients. When I have a small taste after I have added a few items, I can adjust the flavors with much more precision. Add a few more, taste again. I take a little more time during preparation, believing that the frequent taste tests are the way to add LOVE to the dish. Et voilà! No more kitchen disasters! (Not counting the life-threatening “Manhattan steaks” affair, flambé with bourbon. Let’s just say the experience brought us all closer.)
My Awareness Through Movement® students know I love to cook, for they frequently hear me say, “Pause. Taste the recipe!” Each movement exploration is full of interesting and unfamiliar variations. If you hurry through the lesson, adding movement after movement with no pauses for reflection and sensing, you have created the recipe for discomfort and confusion. Rather, after adding each new movement “ingredient,” students are encouraged to pause and discern. Add a little more next time if you like it, or use a little less when you continue. The student’s own learning through the lesson is tailored to his own abilities and “taste.” The new deliciousness in movement almost always leads people to want a second helping of the Feldenkraisian feast.
[Today’s writing prompt was provided by my friend, Twitter buddy, and fellow #reverb11 #resound11 enthusiast, Head Pickle.]
What’s your take on being a Work in Progress?
I believe that to view oneself and one’s life as a Work in Progress is the most profoundly hopeful, creative, joyful, realistic, and compassionate view possible. I can’t remember when I truly embraced this attitude, but I’ll bet it came along as I got deeper and more committed in my practice and study of the Feldenkrais Method.
You see, this Method is about learning: learning how to figure things out for oneself, learning to be curious and to look for new possibilities. The Method does not demand that anything be done “perfectly,” especially not the first time you attempt it. The Feldenkrais Method has some wisdom in it, helping people to discover that in the fruitless pursuit of perfection, you NEVER get there — the goalposts always move. And so, our purpose is improvement. “The potential for improvement is infinite,” as Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais said.
Feldenkrais also said, “Everything that is learned, we learn by successive approximations.” Successive approximation means that you give something a go, and then see how it went. On the next go, you do it a little differently, learning from the first go to see if it will be better. On the next go, if it was better, you tweak what you are doing again to keep improving. If it wasn’t better, you change course and try another approach. And, you keep going. This process is experimental and exploratory. It is basically the Scientific Method, applied to life. You have an idea what the result *might* be, but you don’t know until you try. The goal is not perfection (perfection of what?), but understanding, knowledge, getting just a bit closer to the idea you have. This way of learning is engaging, motivating, and enjoyable.
Think about a baby learning to walk. She rises to her feet with delight, and wobbles for a moment, a look of glee on her face. Then she sits back down. After a few dozen or hundred re-enactments of this, learning and refining each time, she is able to lift one foot off the floor (requiring a complex sensory operation of transferring all her weight to the other foot), takes a step — and falls down. Repeat another few hundred times, and eventually, she walks. No baby ever gives up on learning how to walk!
It is easy to forget that we all went through this process; and that there was about a year of process leading up to the moment of standing, that included lifting your head, rolling over, sitting up, coming onto one knee, crawling. . . And no parent stands before their about-to-toddle child and says, “You could do better! Is that the best you can do? What’s wrong with you? You’re embarrassing me, walking that way!” Parents don’t sign their kids up for “remedial walking lessons.” No. We find the baby’s exploratory process utterly fascinating, charming, amazing. We honor the process, confident that she will figure it out eventually.
Why don’t we honor our selves in the same way?
As we grow into adulthood and become more integrated into family and society, we become enmeshed in the expectations of others. It seems like as soon as a kid can walk, we stop valuing the learning process, and they become fair game for criticism. Many people’s first feelings of shame and inadequacy date back to early childhood, when they felt that they had fallen short of some expectation by a parent or other teacher.
Dr. Brené Brown writes and speaks about perfection and shame for a living. To paraphrase one small bit of her shared wisdom: she says it is tempting to hold your child in your arms and be completely consumed with the perfection of this little one, and to see your job as a parent to protect them and keep them perfect. Brené says, that’s not your job at all. Realize that this child is hard-wired for struggle, destined to find their own way. Your job as a parent is to love them all the way, as they work through it.
Each child is a work in progress, and come to think of it, so is each adult. To be willing to learn and fail occasionally (“there is no failure, only information”), knowing that it WILL BE BETTER next time, makes us resilient and hopeful for the future. The Feldenkrais Method has helped me to embrace and embody this resilience, and to share it with others.
This “Work in Progress” thing goes both ways. I don’t get a “PASS” on the perfection requirement while I hold you to it. This part is harder. However, approaching life as a series of learnings, and that everything is learned by successive approximations, makes for a much happier and higher-functioning existence.
Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound … we know you’ve got one. What’s your 2011 superpower?
For those of you going what the what … stop. Think about it for a moment: what have you learned that you can do better than anyone you know this year? What can you do that no one else can?
I have a specialized ability that is the envy of many. My dear partner C. says it is my superpower, and he should know.
My superpower is. . .
In a dangerously sleep-deprived society, those of us who can get a good night’s sleep are at a decided advantage. We are safer overall, our immune systems function optimally, we process stress better and think more clearly than those who can’t get to sleep at night.
As for my own sleep habits: I start “circling the drain” by about 9:30 or 10 p.m. most nights. If I can be in bed by 10, I might read until 11 or so. Then, lights out and I am asleep within one minute on most nights. I rarely set an alarm unless I have an appointment before 8:30 a.m., as I wake up on my own by 7 a.m.
I wake up slightly when I roll over, or when a cat comes to visit — but am able to get right back to dreamland. Sometimes I wake up for a trip to the bathroom, if I am drinking enough water as I should. However, I think mothers learn during their pregnancies to somnambulate as needed. This sleepwalking skill persists even after the children are grown and gone, if it is cultivated and maintained. If my sleep is interrupted, I can be awake enough without being totally awake.
This is my biological clock, my biorhythm, and my preference. I love to wake up early in the morning, feeling rested and ready for the day. On the weekends, if conditions are right (low light, cool temperatures, snuggly sheets) I can sleep for 10 or 12 hours. I don’t make a practice of it — I just trust my body to know what it needs.
The flip side of this regular, sleep-satisfied rhythm is what I call my “benign manic states,” and they occur three or four times a year. If I am working on an idea or project and find a flow, I can work, play, and stay up for an all-nighter with energy that a seasoned college student would be proud to match. I prop myself up the next day with a little coffee and a lot of protein, and go to bed early for the next couple of nights. It is always well worth the temporary sacrifice. I am thankful that I can choose to do this when I want, and that my life’s demands do not require that I live like this as the norm.
Most Feldenkrais teachers can help you to discover the ability to go to sleep, or to get back to sleep if you should awaken. There is also some very useful work called the Sounder Sleep System that is safe, effective, drug-free, and enjoyable. This is a superpower that can be learned — and practice makes perfect!
I have a bit more work to do tonight, but I’m right on schedule to get to bed by 10. To all a good night!
Problems sleeping? Leave a comment. Other superpowers? Let’s hear ’em!
[I’m posting daily (ish) during December as part of #resound11 and #reverb11. Join us here.]
I am five days post-op from cataract surgery on my right eye. The procedure was a complete success, no complications, and steadily improving vision. I have not written anything for the blog for a few days because it’s still fatiguing to look at the computer screen. However, it’s time to empty out some of what has been bouncing around in my brain for the past few days.
Because I am a Feldenkrais teacher, all kinds of things were and are interesting as I recover. It’s like a laboratory experiment! A qualitative experiment, to be sure. I’m getting lots of anecdotal data as I reflect upon the entire process to this point. In the Feldenkrais Method, a big part of our learning process is devoted to learning how to pay attention — REALLY pay attention. We learn how to notice, how to drink in information through our senses. We learn to become exquisitely sensitive — and, I believe the process has also made me exquisitely appreciative of all the amazing detail there is in the natural world, in individual human beings, in technology — the whole enchilada of life experience. An increased appreciation for enchiladas themselves may or may not be a side-effect of doing this work over time.
Personal awareness is our stock-in-trade. The hallmark of awareness is the frequency of dawning moments where you say to yourself, “How did I not notice that before?” I’ve learned that awareness isn’t something that you have, or you don’t. I think everyone has “it.” The differences arise from how much an individual is willing, or able, to allow that awareness to grow, develop, and include more about oneself and one’s surroundings.
Back to this eye thing. BEFORE: vision through my right eye was completely clouded, like looking through a think haze. I could tell that I was relying more and more on my left eye, which has always been identified as my dominant eye. Gradually it also seemed that the prescription lens for my left eye was just slightly “off,” and so somehow I was making adjustments for that, as well. I called it “living life in soft focus,” a lovely, impressionistic outlook. It was also exhausting and frustrating.
AFTER: the vision through my right eye is now bright — WOW is it ever bright — and clear. Clear as in not cloudy, and also clear as in distinct. Objects have edges on them, and I can perceive where one thing ends, and another begins. I ask myself — is this how other people see? And, if you can see this way, how is it possible to still NOT SEE so much that is around us?
Perhaps it’s never possible to see everything, just as it is not possible to be aware of everything. Perhaps our brains and nervous systems would be completely overwhelemd with all the data, and all the resulting choices. Our natural and habitual filters may calibrate just the amount that we can process at any moment. My sense is that I am doing a lot of processing right now.
I believe that I can actually FEEL my brain re-wiring itself to adapt to my newly acquired superpower. At least, that’s what I imagine is happening, based on my geeky appetite and enthusiasm for all things about the brain and neuroscience, especially neuroplasticity. Our brain is capable of re-forming, re-shaping, and making new structures in response to new information, building new pathways for that information to travel, and for skills and capacities to emerge and improve. Simply, this is called LEARNING, and it happens throughout one’s lifetime. And so, I feel a “bump in the road,” so to speak, as I realize that my brain now receives higher quality information from the surgical eye, rather than from my “dominant” eye. I notice when I read something, like a book or a computer screen, that I am looking through my left eye and not including my right. And all of this will continue to change.
I also notice that, for the past few days, I can’t concentrate very long — my “cognitive stamina” is depleted temporarily. I’m usually capable of laser-like focus of attention when I am absorbed in something, and I lack that absorbency right now. The tiredness, the fatigue, even the emotions arising, I recognize as signs that my brain is working really hard to sort out what is valuable and meaningful in the new flood of information.
This weekend, I pondered that perhaps the caution against driving for a few days has very little to do with impaired visual acuity. Instead, I recognized that I was seeing more clearly and accurately than I had in several months — and that I was in no shape to drive because of my distractability and lack of attention. I had always assumed it was because you couldn’t see enough. It didn’t occur to me that it could be because you’re seeing too much at the moment.
I’ll be playing with these metaphors and with my continuing real-life adaptations to my new super-power. The implications are intoxicating — probably another reason to have a designated driver for awhile yet. In the meantime, I’m craving enchiladas!