Spring is Springing

Spring in Texas means our state flower, the bluebonnet, is in riotous display along roadways and gorgeous meadow vistas. Other views seem Seurat-inspired, pointillistic multi-colored delights as far as the eye can see. I’m heading out into the countryside this weekend to feast my eyes and as many other senses as I can crowd in.

Spring in Houston also means pollen, in abundance, also known as “The Pollening.” My car, daily, is covered in a thick and foreboding film of noxious yellow oak pollen. The beautiful but supremely irritating substance forms drifts on my patio, and I dare not sweep it away, it must be washed out. The maintenance people at my apartment complex cheerfully re-distribute it into the air with their leaf blowers, increasing the opportunity to inhale it and experience wheezing, sneezing, and other respiratory congestive distress by those affected.

In the past few days, international media has covered our most recent toxic chemical spill, which will have long-range environmental impact, and which is a harbinger of future events. All of the chemical storage tanks in that area are of the same “vintage,” with the same past-due expiration and replacement dates, and the same vulnerabilities. Awareness and intelligent action are urgently needed. How’s that for “passive voice in writing?”

It’s easy after a few Feldenkrais lessons or classes to think that the work is about relaxation, stress-management, and generally doing as little as possible to get a desired result. These elements are out of a much larger context, and but the “tip of the iceberg.” The “great thaw” of springtime and rebirth is the realization that Feldenkrais is about effective action in the world. Sometimes, that action requires great clarity of intention, great strength, and complete follow-through for maximum power.

There is NOTHING passive about the Feldenkrais Method®. It is watchful, aware, efficient, and ultimately, decisive and effective. It develops resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges. We all need to learn what the Feldenkrais Method teaches, seemingly now more than ever.

More than one way – You’ve got options!

Latte with heart design in foam, white cup and saucer. Image by Ev on unsplash.comYesterday, I met a new friend at a coffee shop that is off of my beaten path. In searching online for an interesting location for our meeting, I found a convenient place for both of us that was quite close to both my home and my office — simply on a different route than I usually take.

My senses were keen. Even though I knew generally where I was headed, I had to pay attention so I didn’t go speeding past the address and have to go around the long block. I felt happy to find parking close to the door. The place was charming, the staff friendly, the coffee bracing, and the conversation lively and warm. In the quiet curiosity of different and new, I remembered that the human brain thrives on novelty. I enjoy the experience when all circuits are firing.

As we were leaving, we didn’t know whether we were supposed to just leave our cups on the table, or tidy up after ourselves. So I took them up to the counter, and said, “Do you folks want us to bring up our coffee cups?” They smiled. “YES, thank you!” One then said, “It’s OK if you leave them on the table, but we like you better when you bring them up.”

It was a very Feldenkrais-y. Moment.

I thought about how we all have our habitual ways of doing pretty much everything. Which sock we put on first. Which hand we use to brush our teeth. The way we squint at the computer screen, or turn our head to back the car out of the parking spot. Your habitual way might work just fine. And, chances are, there’s at least one other way to do it so that your body will “like you better.” In every Feldenkrais lesson, you can discover new ways of moving (and thinking and feeling and sensing) that you would never have thought of, because they are not on your well-beaten neural pathways. I frequently tell my students that I am merely a tour guide. As such, sometimes a Feldenkrais teacher will take you “out of your way” or on a seemingly indirect “movement route” to find something delightful and surprising. Life seems more in focus, more juicy and joyful, when new possibilities are on the menu. Thanks, Pura Coffee. We’ll be back for more “new.”
(Image of latte by Ev on unsplash.com)

21st Century Problems – Neck Pain and the Feldenkrais® Solution

Photo by Mingjun Liu on UnsplashIs your neck sore and painful to move from time to time?

Welcome to the 21st century!

It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Most of us sit too much for work, we binge on Netflix too many weekends, and we are glued to our smartphones. If we exercise, many of  us do so mindlessly and extremely. In urban areas (for example, cough cough, Houston!) we have the added stresses of standstill traffic, prolonged construction closures, and hostile, reckless drivers to add to the mix. While humans have always experienced neck pain throughout history, our modern lifestyles seem to create “the perfect storm” for most of us to end up with neck pain at some point. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that 30 to 50% of the population will experience neck pain within any given 12-month period.

We’re stuck! And we remain stuck because most exercises and stretches recommended for neck pain are ineffective at best, and do additional harm at worst. Perhaps it’s time to try a different approach?

In the Feldenkrais Method(R), we approach pain with curiosity, first and foremost. In creating the change we would like to see (pain >>> no pain), we move slowly and gently, almost sneaking up on ourselves to disarm the overactive muscular contractions. We make a small movement first, noticing where the movement is possible and comfortable. And then, we explore a little variation. Through this exploratory process, things often change for the better, all on their own, and without violence. We can then begin to create new possibilities, and new ways to move with your whole self, that save wear and tear on that neck of yours. You might still have re-occurrences of neck pain in the future, but they will be short-lived, because you have learned a process for finding relief in any moment.

Try a few F*R*E*E mini-lessons while sitting at your computer (or phone!) today.  Resist the urge to binge-wiggle – perhaps do one during your next 5-minute break, and another one later. Be on the lookout for improvement, however subtle. You’ll be free of your pain-in-the-neck in no time!

Can Older Adults Benefit from the Feldenkrais Method?

Having reached the age where there’s a Beatles song about my very next birthday, my research and interest in the “older adult” has become obsessive more focused and curious. Options for physical activity, as presented in popular media, seem oddly polarized between extreme, “drag-this-truck-tire-across-the-gym” workouts and Netflix binge-watching. For those of us seeking an effective, yet sustainable way of keeping fit and active, the way out of that dilemma seems murky and lacking viable choices. I was encouraged, yea even thrilled to read some recent research from Columbia University that showed replacing 30 minutes of daily sitting, with ANY form of activity, of ANY intensity, cut the risk of early death by as much as 35 percent! That’s a significant benefit for you if you are considering possible advantages of attending a Feldenkrais class on a regular basis!

YouTube video screen with Becky Behling and MaryBeth SmithMy colleague and long-time friend Becky Behling reminded me of a key advantage of the Feldenkrais Method over other, more conventionally adopted “interventions” available to older people: your own movement knowledge from the Method is always available to you, in any moment, to find a way to move and feel better. You can hear my whole conversation with Becky in this short video. Be sure to watch to the end, as Becky shares a simple and gentle movement that will improve your posture and upright alignment instantly.

With 2019 well underway and the Groundhog staring at us, we hope to help you to have the best new year ever. I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired to get moving….

Are you #naturallyclumsy?

Does this sound familiar? “I’m such a klutz!” “I can’t believe I broke my toe on the ottoman AGAIN.” “Wonder where that weird bruise came from? Oh well, you know me…”

Before Feldenkrais (“B.F.”), I had surely earned a spot in the Clumsiness Hall of Fame. I dislocated my knee during dance auditions for a high school musical, then sprained it again during a “simple” turn-with-torque during college. I consistently fell off of my high heels while walking, putting any date’s hand/arm/shoulder at risk. Breaker of toes, runner-into-of-door-frames, tripper-over-of-seemingly-magnetized-objects — that was me. Thankfully, I never sustained serious injuries, but my constant little bumbles and fumbles, while sometimes providing comedy gold, were also inconvenient and embarrassing. All made the more ironic since I was born on a Tuesday, and my mother routinely quoted the nursery rhyme to me, “Tuesday’s child is full of grace…” Not me!

Last week I saw a Facebook post by a dear former student who seems to be following in my footsteps, and not in a good way. She is a busy elementary school music teacher, and she expressed concern that this school year she seemed to be injuring herself regularly. She added the hashtag, #naturallyclumsy. Of course I had to chime in with my experience! While the Feldenkrais Method has not made me immune from the laws of physics, I no longer think of myself as hopelessly uncoordinated.

One of the first tangible benefits I noticed, after beginning regular Feldenkrais lessons now some 18 years ago, was an almost immediate improvement in my coordination. I seemed to know where my body was in space for the first time. I was more aware of my environment, as well, so uneven pavements, narrow door frames, or the random Lego block on the floor no longer posed a threat. I’ve seen similar improvement in countless clients through the years as well.

Take a few moments to watch our newest YouTube video, in which you can improve your body awareness and overall coordination in just minutes a day. Click here to view, “Are you #naturallyclumsy?” 

My neck hurts! What kind of pillow should I use?

Sleeping womanThis is undoubtedly one of the most frequently asked questions I am asked by clients. I get the feeling they are surprised when I don’t have a favorite brand or store to send them to. Rather, I point them toward their own linen closet to fashion their own fully customized pillow!

You can watch our latest YouTube video here for the “how-to” instructions. Please let us know in the comments there if you try out our suggestions. Especially if you have some questions, or have some super-effective “hacks” that have worked for you, please do share with our growing community!

If you buy a pillow from a store, it will be standardized to a certain extent. In effect, it is “one size fits all – or many.” That’s the only way they can offer a product for sale and make money! But each neck is one-of-a-kind. YOU are one-of-a-kind, and what works for your spouse may not fit you at all. The Feldenkrais Method(R) offers virtually limitless variations of experience to fit you, your learning style, your nervous system, and your dreams and goals to move into your best future.

Join us in Houston for a group class or private lesson soon. Until then, happy YouTube-ing and sweet dreams!
To find a Feldenkrais teacher near you, search at Feldenkrais.com.

How is the Feldenkrais Method(R) like an Art Museum?

The subject line for this post may not be the most burning question you’ve ever entertained. You know that my mind can make strange associations sometimes, and this past weekend I attended an event that got my synapses firing! Here’s the short video about my mini-epiphany from the Menil Collection. (It’s a little under 5 minutes long.)
The Best of Feldenkrais with MaryBeth Smith, GCFP photo array
In fact, this is probably a good time to announce our new YouTube channel. TA-DAH! We have a new YouTube Channel! If you’re so inclined, give the video a “thumbs up” to show you liked it. Click “Subscribe” and click the little bell to get notifications about future videos. All of those tiny actions are important for the algorithm pixies, who ultimately make it easier for others to find videos about the Feldenkrais Method – including our videos. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why don’t more people know about the Feldenkrais Method?” you can help to increase those numbers with just a few clicks! Our channel is just a few days old, so our subscriber stats and views are still in the single digits. If you’ve ever wanted to get in on the “ground floor” of something, here you go, welcome aboard, and thanks.

As a student of the Feldenkrais Method, you know that tiny actions and small but noticeable differences add up to something big! Words can sometimes be elusive when your friends want you to explain this strange thing you do. Perhaps our videos will get your synapses firing as well. We hope our new content will be helpful and inspiring to you in your personal practice of the Method, as well as in feeling confident to share your experiences with others.

Our videos will fall into three main categories:

  • short demonstrations of mini-movements to help ease discomfort and/or improve function
  • conversations with other Feldenkrais teachers about how they help clients with specific movement issues
  • testimonials from happy students

And, we reserve the right to take flights of inspiration and whimsy when the spirit moves. I hope you’ll stick around for the fun!

Oops! Did you forget something?

feldenkrais-logoThis summer, I re-read the movement classic, “Somatics,” by Thomas Hanna. The following two paragraphs from the introduction had me cheering with clarity about the “WHY?” of somatic education generally, and the Feldenkrais Method(R) specifically.

“The fact is that, during the course of our lives, our sensory-motor systems continually respond to daily stresses and traumas with specific muscular reflexes. These reflexes, repeatedly triggered, create habitual muscular contractions, which we cannot – voluntarily — relax. These muscular contractions have become so deeply involuntary and unconscious that, eventually, we no longer remember how to move about freely. The result is stiffness, soreness, and a restricted range of movement.

“This habituated state of forgetfulness is called sensory-motor amnesia (SMA). It is a memory loss of how certain muscle groups feel and how to control them. And, because this occurs within the central nervous system, we are not aware of it, yet it affects us to our very core. Our image of who we are, what we can experience, and what we can do is profoundly diminished by sensory-motor amnesia. And it is primarily this event, and its secondary effects, that we falsely think of as ‘growing older.'”

While “forgetting” might be inevitable with age, decline is not. I frequently bring students’ attention to parts of themselves that seem to have “gone off the radar.” In a confusing moment, the student is not certain of what they are feeling, or sometimes even how to go about “contacting” the part of themselves that they are being asked to move. Other times, I speak of “re-establishing diplomatic relations” with parts of ourselves that we have not moved, freely or at all, in a very long time. Both expressions refer to the same phenomenon of sensory-motor amnesia of which Hanna speaks.


MaryBeth D. Smith, GCFP

The Feldenkrais Method can help you to re-member and remember yourself, so that your actions in the world can be more effective. You are the teacher, learner, textbook, and laboratory! The syllabus is life, and the course materials are gentle body movement, curiosity, and ample good humor in the process of discovery. What better time to begin than now?

Contact us about classes, lessons, and workshops in Houston, TX.
Elsewhere, find a teacher near you at Feldenkrais.com

Wouldn’t it be great if. . .?

ATM class
image by Angela Alston, Dallas Movement Lab.

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.

My colleague, Rich Goldsand, appears in a new video that was recently featured on Buzzfeed. His care and skill with students is evident, and the video gives a nice glimpse of what happens in a FELDENKRAIS session.

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.

Walking and Talking: How Feldenkrais Helps When the Unexpected Happens

slippery-98821_640Walking the talk. Practicing what you preach. I had a chance to do just that over the weekend. I am here to tell you that the Feldenkrais Method makes a difference when the unexpected happens.

Last Friday morning, I was tending to my grandson. I accidentally slipped on a wet floor and fell into the splits – sort of. Having taught many people how to “fall well,” I had no choice but to surrender to gravity. But friction was my enemy! My right heel slid, my left foot stuck – and my left knee twisted sickeningly. Although it was painful, I was quickly reassured to discover that nothing appeared to be broken or torn. I could straighten and bend my knee in most trajectories without any pain. I had to crawl to get my phone to call my son-in-law for help. I figured out how to stand up, and discovered that walking was very difficult and painful. Eventually I got myself up onto the couch, elevated my leg with a large pillow, and waited. Thankfully, my 3-year-old companion was content to play quietly and help as best he could!

While I waited, and almost every waking moment since, I have been “doing Feldenkrais.” I made gentle, easy dragging movements with my heel along the floor, supported by a scarf-sling, so that I could find speeds and pathways for movement that were painless. I explored soft bending of my ankle, while feeling the effects in my knee. I experimented with weight-bearing on my left foot, while sitting: outer edge, inner edge, ball, heel. I thought little circles of pressure around the perimeter of my foot. I luxuriated in slow frog-leg moves, and pushing through the foot to roll my pelvis. With each experiment, my awareness and my confidence grew.

I’m writing this on the following Tuesday morning. I was able to keep an out-of-town work commitment on Saturday, rested on Sunday, and rescheduled yesterday’s appointments so that I could continue to rest. Today, I still have a few twinges, BUT I am walking and planning to fulfill my entire schedule for the week. In just a few more days, I expect my slight limp will no longer be necessary. I am so grateful for this work, and for the resilience and resourcefulness that emerges over time – especially in emergencies!

Life can be unpredictable, and accidents do happen. The Feldenkrais Method did not make me immune or impervious to injury. Instead, the Method has helped to accelerate my recovery, and return me to functioning in my daily life. I know it can do the same for you!

Find out how the Feldenkrais Method can help you. Call us today.
Not in Houston? Find a practitioner near you.