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
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.

That sweet, sweet feeling

cuppacoffeeFebruary. 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!

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.

 

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.

Good Posture Should FEEL Good!

Medieval statue, female in robes with braided hairI’ve never met anyone who had a positive association with the word “posture” when they were growing up. Oh, this is a hot topic for me, and for Feldenkrais teachers in general. On my blog, I have ranted addressed the issue in posts here and here. May I share my own troubled posture history with you?

My well-meaning parents were determined that I should have “good posture,” as all proper young ladies should; or perhaps they were determined that they should not have a slumping daughter. When I remember my young self, I remember seemingly constant reminders, correction, and plain old nagging. “Stand up STRAIGHT.” “You are SLOUCHING again!” I started biting my nails. Equally determined that I should have some self-confidence, I was enrolled in elocution and “comportment” lessons, which included – yes, you guessed it – walking with a book on top of my head. Ballet lessons followed shortly thereafter, because everyone knows ballerinas have excellent posture. I became more and more self-conscious, partly because even in the third grade, I was already the tallest girl in my class. When I fell on the playground and broke the knuckles on my right hand, I had to miss my ballet recital. While in 2016 we see videos of dancers in wheelchairs and the Invictus games, attitudes were different in the mid-1960s. Nine-year-old butterflies did not wear plaster casts on their diaphanous arms — or at least this butterfly was not allowed to. That’s show-biz! Secretly, I was relieved to escape my ballet teacher, who further reinforced my attitudes about posture: it was hard, it took constant attention, and mine was terrible. While I am grateful to my parents for giving me wonderful opportunities, and for preparing me (unintentionally but inevitably) for a career in the arts, I acquired a lot of baggage at the crossroads of society, self-acceptance, and posture.

While my story may not be typical, I have learned that it is not unusual. You can probably chime in right now with your own posture story. Many people internalize shame about their posture, originating in childhood. They carry old and negative judgments and a flawed self-image far into adulthood. Listen to your interior dialogue right now. Are you self-correcting, bringing attention to your posture, and finding yourself coming up lacking?

The Feldenkrais experience of posture is absolutely liberating. No rules to follow, no grid to line up with, and no stiff standing around trying to be “correct.” It was a revelation to me that I could learn to move in any direction and in multiple planes, all while breathing and enjoying my surroundings. Simultaneously, my range of motion, balance, and strength also improved. A new, deeper self-confidence emerged, a sense of really being comfortable in my own skin. I am often asked if it is hard to “remember to stand up straight.” The honest answer is, no!  I don’t have to remember anything! I’ve learned to feel what feels good, and what will allow me to move freely. I’m living proof that “posture” is a a felt skill that can be learned, and improved at any level.

If you’d like to experience easy, effortless posture, sign up NOW for this Saturday’s workshop, “The Posture Puzzle.” Register by Wednesday to qualify for the Early Bird price. Workshop details and registration via the Green Puzzle Piece.

Green Jigsaw Puzzle Piece

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.