Before and After

Workshop at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston on 02/21/2014.
Workshop at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston on 02/21/2015.

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?


Catch phrase – #resound11

What is your trademark phrase, or a quote or saying that you repeat often?


My normal schedule throughout the year is to teach four or five Awareness Through Movement classes each week.  I enjoy it because the vocabulary is rich and varied, and I tell my students that “in this class, you’ll always be doing something a little strange. . .”  However, if you were to make a “word cloud” out of one of my lessons, I think the biggest one would surely be


Not a catch phrase, really — more of an invitation.  Each part of a lesson is like a tiny experiment, or like inventing a recipe.  You add an ingredient, and then “taste it” to see if it what you intended, or if you like it, or if it is interesting.  And then you continue, based on that new information.  In Awareness Through Movement, you are asked to experiment with very gentle, yet non-habitual movements — and then afterwards, to pause and “taste the recipe:”  NOTICE how you feel now.  Notice what is different.  Notice what you sense. Notice what you notice. It’s a very subtle and gentle practice of paying attention, learning to pay attention both specifically and more broadly.

This process is remarkable, and enjoyable.  Through the lessons, people feel less stressed, or move with less pain, or gain better posture (among a slew of other physical benefits).  But more deeply and more importantly, I think, is that they learn how to surprise themselves once again. They learn how to appreciate and enjoy small things.  They become more patient and compassionate and sensitive, with themselves and others.  They discover new capacities and enlarge their thinking to include new ideas and possibilities.  And it all starts with “NOTICE.”

What do you notice?  Please leave a comment.

[I am posting daily (ish) during December as part of #reverb11 and #resound11.  Join us here.]

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Obsessed with @CorpzFlowrLois

Amorphophallus titanum
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, I am.

Houston’s techno-bio–geeko-twitterati — myself among them — has been glued to their computer screens even more than usual, held in thrall by Lois, the exotic and endangered tropical plant. Lois is a rare and large “Corpse Flower,” so named because of the stench of decomposing flesh that issues from the blossom. Lois is potted in the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.  Her claim to fame is that there are so few of her species, and they bloom so seldom — only 28 times since 1939, reportedly– that Lois’s imminent flowering is an event.

What is so interesting about a big, stinky plant?  Lois is captivating.  Disturbing.  Every “Attack of the Pod People” and “Aliens” fantasy or joke you can think of, all rolled into one.  She is gradually turning a deep shade of bruise-tone purple, and the stink factor is apparently a big draw.  To add to the fun, Lois has her own Twitter account — the microblogging service that gives real-time updates on everything from terrorist attacks around the world to the status of your friend’s hangover.  Lois has a personality.  Apparently she is PMS-ing, and she’s got a dirty mouth.  She is also camera-shy and reluctant to go ahead and bloom with all eyes watching.  She has informed us that plants don’t really like to be talked to, thank you — and that they, or she, at least, really needs someone to bring her an espresso first thing in the morning.

The museum’s web cam has gotten so many hits that many people have been unable to load the images.  The museum stayed open until midnight last night to accommodate the curious who anticipated a late-Sunday-evening unfurling, and now they will stay open around the clock — that’s right, 24/7 — this is a museum, mind you — until Lois does her thing.

I’m several days into what has become known as “Funkwatch,” and my attention is bordering on the obsessive.  I still see clients and take care of business, but at every break I am checking the twitter feed and reading more about Lois and her kind.  This event is taking up ALL of my “spare attention:”  that is, any extra bandwidth that is not devoted to the bare minimum of daily survival. I’ll be heading back to the museum this evening for another look at Lois — after all, I’ve been talking to her all day!

Lois is providing a lot of humor, entertainment, and education in return for my attention.  That rapt attention, the ability to engage with something for a long period of time, the playfulness all create the conditions for learning, and for change and growth.  I’m not just talking about Lois putting on another four inches of height each day.  I’m talking about how learning, at its best, brings out the best in us.  Sometimes the growth process, or the blossoming, doesn’t happen on schedule, or in some other way you expected.  That can stink.  But it’s worth hanging in there.

IN a too-good-to-be-true twist, Houston’s own Miller Outdoor Theater, right down the street from HMNS, is now performing — wait for it — Little Shop of Horrors.  Gotta love how things work out.

Maybe I’ll see you at the HMNS tonight!  May we all blossom and grow, like Lois.

Follow @hmns and @CorpzFlowrLois on Twitter.

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The Next Big Trend

Rendering of human brain.
Image via Wikipedia

A new trand is emerging.  Not surprisingly, the Feldenkrais Method is on the leading edge:  by about 50 years!

According to a recent article in Psychiatric News, “Brain Training May Be Next Fitness Craze.”   Sounds great, right?  Read the article here, and then come back to join us.

It’s confusing.  Especially when you read other data, like the study that says “brain games” don’t work. Who is right?

Physical exercise, especially moderate aerobics, has been shown to have a high positive correlation with keeping your marbles.  So do activities that provide you with an experience of “flow:”  those absorbing, engaging moments and hours spent in discovery, action, novelty, and mastery.  Musicians with their instruments, stamp collectors and model makers, writers, athletes, gardeners  — this “flow state” can be experienced by anyone, from any walk of life. Feldenkrais classes and lessons create this experience of “flow,” or “being in the zone,” through gentle movement and attention.  And that is the secret ingredient.

Rather than looking for a remedy or a treatment as your first response, look first to what you enjoy, and what you do well.  There’s no sense in taking a sudoku puzzle like a pill, if you don’t enjoy it.  Even Moshe Feldenkrais said, “These movements are nothing.”  It’s not the WHAT, it’s the HOW.  It’s your own attention that creates the change and makes the improvement.  It’s your attention and consciousness that stimulates your brain’s own neuroplasticity, adaptability, and capacity to learn.  Attention is what indicates that you are here, now.  Isn’t that the primary criteria for mental competence?  It’s a good place to start, anyway.

So — play video games if you enjoy them.  Do puzzles, learn languages if they make you happy and open up your life.  By all means, exercise, move, enjoy your body and all that it can do. Be a life-long learner.  BUT:  Don’t do these things out of fear, or out for some misplaced faith in the latest expert or gadget.

I don’t have data to back this up  — however, my sense is that boredom is the first step on the slippery slope of mental decline.  I frequently see updates on my Facebook wall or Twitter feed from some  acquaintance  who says, “I am so bored,” or a variation on that.  There is a spoken or unspoken demand and expectation that someone else supply a solution, an activity, a rescue for the intractable and unacceptable  state of boredom.

The statement, “I’m bored” brings out the worst in me.  Ooooh!  It is a hot button, pet peeve — wow.  I become my most brittle and judgmental self.  “Are you completely incapable of finding even one idea for how to entertain yourself?”  I want to scold.  “Do you know how to read?  Do you know how to walk? Cook?  Clean your house? Go to a movie?  Is there anything you could do on your own to solve your problem in this moment without whining about it?”  Thankfully, I reserve that speech for private rants, take a deep breath, and further develop my theory:  Frequent feelings of boredom indicate a lack of engagement with whatever is happening in the present moment.  As far as I can tell, the present moment is all we have for sure.

The Feldenkrais Method teaches you how to pay attention. NOW.  It uses movement, touch, and a lot of humor to achieve this.  It reduces the noise and distraction that overwhelm and cause you to “tune out” and disconnect  in self-defense.  It teaches you to be curious, to explore, to enjoy, to invent.  It shows you that you are capable in ways that were not immediately obvious to you.   THAT is “brain training” that actually works.


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‘Tis the “Season”

Mint leaves.
Image via Wikipedia

Lovely new pots of herbs grace my back patio, and I’m enjoying the morning routine of surveying the landholdings and watering each one.  Parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano, mint, and cilantro are getting used to their new and comparatively spacious surroundings, adjusting to the daily rhythm of light and shade.  The plants are already contributing their dash of dazzling flavors in our favorite recipes.

The existence of mint on my patio inspires me to find recipes that need mint.  The possibility was not immediately available previously, but now it is, and it requires action.  I trimmed off the excess from a gift oregano plant so the smallish root could more easily support less foliage as it adjusts to its new pot.  The addition of ultra-fresh oregano in simple pasta with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes is beyond delicious.  Salads, sauces, and most of all, my imagination, begin to tingle with the new possibilities. I envision a bumper crop of basil, and the glorious prospect of fresh pesto with EVERYTHING. . .

Often, after an Awareness Through Movement lesson, people will walk around with a strange, yet pleasant, expression on their faces.  Some look as if they are listening intently to a quiet and distant voice.  Others have a curious look, as though they’ve just tasted a fascinating flavor that they can’t quite classify.  I’ve come to appreciate “that look” as the look of someone encountering the surprise of their own hidden potential.  Sometimes, the “flavor” is the presence of a new and fluid quality in walking or reaching.  For some, it is the absence of a long-present discomfort for the first time in recent or long memory.  You can see the confidence, the grace, the refreshed outlook as the impossible becomes possible; the possible becomes easy, and the easy becomes elegant, delightful, and fascinating.

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When Everything Is New

2001-2002 Mitsubishi Montero photographed in USA.
Image via Wikipedia

It has been a week of many changes.

My first blog, in 2005, was called “Embracing Change.”  The past week has been so full, I wonder if my arms can encircle all of it!

Three weeks after a wreck which totaled my car (but thankfully resulted in no serious injuries), I purchased a new vehicle.  My Mitsubishi Montero captures the essence of what I wanted — to have good visibility, safety, reasonable fuel economy, plenty of cargo space, lower mileage, and a little something unexpected.  The unexpected is that I came in “on time and under budget,” with four-wheel drive and a sun roof!  The Feldenkrais bumper sticker (purple and white, “movement is life”) looks good, and “Mitsi” already knows the way home.  A new car marks the beginning of a new era.

Some of my most powerful and transformational dreams have featured transportation.  As I type, it seems obvious:  the prefix “trans,” meaning “across,” coupled with “Formation;”  that which is the essence of a building character; and “Portation,”  the way one carries oneself from Point A to Point B.  Dreams of travel on a train, chugging down the track with countless faceless others, brought to awareness my desire to be an individual and go my own way.  Dreams of cars, or an “auto-mobile” or “Self- mover,” always focused my attention on where I was going in life, and how I was going about getting there.  When dreams and reality converge, new possibilities emerge.

Our cats have been different this week.  Perhaps it has been the unpredictable weather and big temperature swings:  the cats have wanted full-body contact and companionship.  Most cats are “cool,” aloof, and disinterested.  Not ours! Serving cheerfully as our courteous and professional staff, they thrive on attention, just as humans do.  Companion animals are so delightful, and time spent with them can lower your blood pressure and stress levels.  There’s a special sweetness and resonance to inter-species bonding.  Bean and Yoda’s behaviors are an endless source of amusement and novelty, not to mention sheer silliness.  Silliness is the great equalizer, and adjuster of perspective.  It’s hard to be self-absorbed, serious, and self important when a pet is trying to sit on your head.  Deal with it.  It will make you a better person.

Spring comes to Houston.  New ideas and new energy abound.  From community initiatives like the “#SLGT Support Local, Grow Together” movement, to the SXSW conference in Austin, to the new Feldenkrais training which will begin here in May, there is much that is new.  New ideas come from imagination.  Your imagination is your greatest asset.  It’s working all the time, so put it to use!  Focus your energies and attention on imagining what you want, rather than what you don’t want.  YOU control your imagination, so it can function as a compass to point you in the direction of accomplishment and achievement.

Unfortunately, many people don’t define themselves as “imaginative.”  What they don’t know is that imagination always has roots in reality.  Feldenkrais lessons help you to develop this resource by re-connecting you to your innate abilities to move, sense, think, and feel.  You’ll be surprised at how much feels brand new.  Seems appropriate for Spring, doesn’t it?

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The Jetsons

I grew up with Judy Jetson.

If you are too young to know about “The Jetsons”, get thee to YouTube, Google, or Wikipedia to fill in this important gap in your cultural and historical knowledge. (Pictured above, left to right: Astro, the dog [“Rastro!”], daughter Judy, meet George Jetson, Jane, his wife; his boy, Elroy. . . dee dee deep da deep dah dee dah. . .)

Strange that after spending a couple of weeks pondering the Houston fossil display of 3.2 million-year-old Lucy and our human prehistory, that I should leap to my childhood memories from 1960’s TV Land and everyone’s favorite family of the future, the Jetsons. I guess I’m pondering A Big Question: What makes us human?

Perhaps because the 60’s were so tumultuous, the Jetsons were a comfort. The moral of the story seemed to be, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In spite of space travel, civil rights, and urban blight; or video phones, robots, and flying cars; teenagers would still be teenagers, dogs would still tear up the house, and your boss would still be a jerk. “The future is safe. No matter how much change occurs, we will still be —

George Jetson’s car flew him safely to work at Spacely Sprockets as he read the newspaper. (Kind of funny to think of it now. Even Hanna and Barbera had not imagined email, Blackberry, or NYT Online.) Jane sat in front of a mirror that applied her makeup and fixed her hair. She could whip up a scrumptious steak dinner instantly from a pill (just add water), and clean up afterwards in a snap. Take that, June Cleaver! Jane also had Rosie the Robot as housekeeper, nanny, and confidante. The most memorable episodes always involved the hilarious malfunctioning of some piece of technology — Rosie on the fritz, conveyor walkways standing still, cars careening between planets — forcing the Jetsons to solve the problem on their own, “the old fashioned way,” as it were. As it ARE. Was “The Jetsons” actually an archetypal hero’s epic journey, in which human qualities withstand bombardment by technology, and triumph? Hmmmm. . .

When my clients in the Feldenkrais Method ask me, “Will I be able to (fill in the blank: walk better, stand taller, sing, golf, move without pain, etc.) without thinking about it?” I understand what they mean. We idealize a George Jetson life, where the mundane and the unpleasant are dealt with remotely, or on auto-pilot. When we deal with problems, we want things fixed. We seek out experts, substances, or programs of various types to fix us. However, to experience the potential for pleasure in life (which lies at the heart of the Method), you have to be involved and engaged. You have to be paying attention. Ultimately, it’s your ability to learn that lets you ride the wave of change.

I used to envy Jane Jetson, but now I enjoy preparing meals for friends and loved ones. The shopping, the chopping, the stirring, the tending, all connect me with my senses and my experience of aliveness. Our technology — from ancient implements of chipped stone, to the iPhone, to bionic limbs and organs and beyond, even to flying cars? — can help us feel more alive, or more disconnected from ourselves and our own capacities to create, to survive, and to thrive. The choice is ours.

When do you feel most alive?

(This piece was originally published in the Feldenkrais Center of Houston newsletter 04/21/2008)