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.

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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

Too Much of A Good Thing

Weather clipIf you live in the Houston Metro area, you know that our region has experienced torrential rains and record-breaking flooding in recent days. If you live elsewhere, the chances are good that you caught a glimpse of Houston, or some other part of Texas, on the national (or international) news. The years 2010-2014 were marked by record-breaking drought conditions, so you’d think the rain would be welcome. But 35 TRILLION gallons within a month, across the state of Texas? Devastating. As those who practice the Feldenkrais Method know, it’s not just the “What.” It’s the “How,” and sometimes the “When.” Who among us deals gracefully with too much of a good thing?

In my office, I regularly see people who have gone overboard with something and have injured themselves. Some people take pride in “giving their all” working out, cycling, running, doing yoga or Pilates, managing a busy schedule for multiple family members, or other activities they truly enjoy. Others spend hours in high-stress jobs, rarely pausing or taking moments for self-awareness and care. They all have lost track of themselves and how much effort they routinely expend. Their ambition or pursuit of a goal or a “should” causes them to ignore the telltale signs of distress and impending injury. They become swamped, it’s hard to stay afloat, they are swimming upstream — you get the idea. The gentle approach of the Feldenkrais Method can help!

Do you”deluge yourself” with too much of too much – even if it’s a good thing? Let yourself “absorb” improvements gradually. Be patient with yourself, make time for rest and recovery. I know you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, you don’t understand my life!” Or perhaps, “Wow, I’d LOVE TO. How do I do that?” Well, it takes a little practice.

In the Feldenkrais Method, we teach people how to pay attention and learn what’s really important. We DO try to understand your life, and we can show you how to create the “life preservers” you need. I help people who want to learn how to recover, re-organize, or re-invent themselves to be better than ever. Come rain or come shine, hell or high water, you CAN live your best life.

Many thanks to all of our readers around the world who sent emails or notes of concern on Facebook during our weather woes! Happily, we sustained no damage, and are deeply grateful to see the return of the sun. 

Where it’s never rush hour

Image from my290.com
Image from my290.com

From my office window, I can see Houston traffic coursing along US 290. I’m close to one of the businest freeway interchanges in the USA, so the traffic can be roaring along at maniacal speeds, or creeping  at a near standstill. Then, I had an unusual thought.  Houston doesn’t just have heavy traffic at “rush hour.” We have rush hourS. And, at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston, it’s never rush hour.

We’re known for small, gentle, unhurried movements, “performed” with developing awareness. People frequently comment about how pleasant it is to take a rare respite from rushing and tearing about to do everything RIGHT NOW. There’s no pounding music, not much coversation, and no perspiration. People are surprised that so little can do so much, and can be so satisfying.

Moshe Feldenkrais would frequently tell people to see if they could move quickly, without hurrying. When I first heard this, I thought it was a paradox, a zen koan. Then I realized that it’s the spirit of hurrying – the urgency, the pressure, the preoccupation – that permeates almost every moment of modern life.  To move quickly, but in a spirit of calm, of competence, and of curiosity, is appealing and intensely practical. The Feldenkrais Method is about function. It is useful, applicable in everyday life, and reality-based. We get things done.

The power of the Feldenkrais Method comes with practicing on your own a litle bit every day. You learn to be with yourself, to observe without judgment, to think and feel and sense and move as a living being, full of potential. Who would want to rush that?

Many roads to the destination

It’s an exciting time for me, featuring a major lifestyle change: I moved my office out of my home, and now rent a space in a real office building. Today is the first day that I will see clients there. A big e-blast goes out to my clients and followers in about 90 minutes. The move will be disruptive, in that it requires a bit of a change from the familiar. The first change is that my commute will no longer be “just down the hall.”

Ah, yes, getting there. My office is located just off one of the busiest freeway interchanges in Houston. I really don’t like driving on the freeways, so to be functional I develop alternate routes almost everywhere I need to go. Perhaps it’s the Feldenkrais teacher in me that remembers that the “direct route” or solution to a problem is not always the best. Wonderful results are often obtained more quickly by using a seemingly indirect approach.

Google Maps is very clear on the direct route, but I delight in telling people my work-arounds to get to my office. In the last three days, I have explored the area, and now know how to get there via multiple alternatives. I will experience the drive on a weekday today for the first time, arriving at my office around 1:00 p.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. My clients have received a Google Doc link from me that details the best, lowest stress routes to take from various approaches. I expect to learn other shortcuts and hacks as I learn more about the new neighborhood and what’s where.  Yesterday, a pretty Sunday afternoon,  one of the major freeways by my office was completely shut down. One would have expected that some of that traffic would have taken one of MY alternate routes. Yet, I got to my office in about ten minutes. This bodes well.

Moshe Feldenkrais encouraged his students to develop at least three ways of doing anything. If you only have one way, you are stuck. If you have two options, you have a dilemma. But if you have three options, you are actively making a choice in that moment. Even if you choose the original way, you will do so not out of compulsion, but from a place of freedom and understanding.

How might you create more options for yourself?  Please leave a comment.

Habitual Holidays

The Westheimer
Image via fansshare.com

Ah, the holidays. No matter what you celebrate – or even if you don’t celebrate at all – this time of year affects everyone. My home in Houston is roughly two blocks from the city’s premier shopping area, the Galleria. Traffic is congested here year-round, but during the run-up to Christmas it is particularly chaotic.

The Feldenkrais Method helps us to learn resilience and adaptability to changing conditions and circumstances. Some of that is learned by simply observing one’s present state. What muscle groups are tensed? Has pain appeared anywhere?  Is there emotional upset or anxiety? Do I have a habitual or preferred way of doing a particular thing? In the case of holiday traffic, I notice every bit of “Bah, Humbug!” crankiness arising from deep within. My shoulders tense, my eyes squint, my jaw tightens. This translates into behaviors. For years, I have simply chosen not to go near the Galleria between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I take alternate routes around the area, skirting the traffic, and avoiding the difficulty.

Perhaps this is an extreme adaptation. I could observe traffic conditions, and notice when there is less traffic, perhaps around 10 a.m.  I could go to the Galleria then. I could actually walk over there and back. Avoidance is rarely a good tactic for dealing with life’s challenges. Just knowing that I have options for action helps me to lower my stress and improve my attitude, whether I go out into traffic or not.

Through the Feldenkrais Method, we also learn how to eliminate superfluous effort from movement. This “streamlining” leads to more efficiency, grace, power, enjoyment, and capability in movement. Pain often disappears completely, as I recognize how I obstruct myself, how I interfere with the realization of my intentions. This process of simplification carries over from movement into other aspects of life. What could be streamlined? What is essential, and what is unnecessary?

Here’s wishing you a holiday season that maximizes the essentials – goodwill, cheer, love, joy. And here’s to the knowledge that we can learn to let go of everything else.

Shark Week at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston

Your safety and survival is our top priority!

Photo: Creative Commons

Honestly, I just wanted to use the words “Shark Week” and “Feldenkrais” in the same sentence. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, but I’m sure someone will let me know if it has. It’s just one more way that we’re pioneering on behalf of the Feldenkrais Method in Houston!

Shark Week is the longest-running cable TV programming event on record. The Discovery Channel originated Shark Week in July of 1988, offering blocks of shark-related programming and celebrity hosts. It has become a pop culture reference and has taken on a life of its own.

You may find it reassuring to hear that the Feldenkrais Center of Houston is a designated shark-free zone. While no place on earth is truly safe (Sharknado, anyone?), we have a perfect record, free of shark attacks. Sadly, we have also been a “Rob Lowe – free zone.” This was not intentional. However, since he is hosting the very shark-y event this year, we would consider inviting a shark to our office, if that’s what it takes to get Rob Lowe here. I love you, Rob. How about it? My Twitter handle is @divamover.

This week, as every week, the program at the Feldenkrais Center of Houston is about YOU. Everything we do – private lessons, group classes and workshops, and mp3 audio recordings – is meant to help you to improve your ability to function in everyday life. Whether that means a dancer can stay healthy and avoid injury, or a young mom can get her baby in and out of the car without hurting her back; a special-needs child discovering his potential, or a “Boomer” who wants to stay active and independent for as long as possible; you can dramatically improve your quality of life with the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. We have a lot of fun, for doing such potentially important stuff.

Book a private lesson, join a class, or continue your learning at home via mp3. We’re here for you, and for your learning – even when it’s not Shark Week.

Finding a Voice

40+60 Feet, Euw.
Feet, Euw. (Photo credit: bark)

As a classically-trained singing teacher and vocal coach, it has been my privilege to teach aspiring performers at all levels.  From career-track professionals in opera and musical theater, to church choir singers, and those who only sing in the shower — I’ve developed a good reputation (over 25 years, at this point) in my field for developing singers with beautiful, expressive voices.  My point of view has always been a bit unusual, which is one of many reasons that I no longer teach at a university.  I always thought of developing the person first, believing that the voice inside would emerge.  I observed that employing the reverse order in that process produced undesirable results — unless you were in the business of growing an especially delicate strain of narcissist.  To me, voice is an almost sacred form of self-expression.  To help someone unleash that expression — or to find a self that has something to express — is interesting and wonderful.

And so, an unusual voice lesson last week sticks in my mind.  A new client, E., has sought several Feldenkrais sessions to help him to deal with his symptoms  resulting from Parkinson’s Disease.  He is tall, slender, and in his late 60’s. He says he was diagnosed shortly after he retired, three years ago. His left hand trembles almost continuously.  His walk is slightly stooped, with the characteristic Parkinsonian shuffle. His natural soft-spoken demeanor has been rendered wispy, weak, and almost inaudible. He complains of unstable balance, and fatigue when walking.  This was his third session.

Previously, he and I explored how he senses and uses his feet, and how his center of gravity can be used for power and propulsion.  We began this day with him lying on his back, with his right knee bent and right sole of his foot standing on the table.  His left leg was long.

First, I asked him to hum a sustained pitch in a comfortable range.  He made several attempts, each of them very soft, unsteady, and lasting less than two seconds.  I asked him to review an earlier movement — to push, gently, into his standing right foot, and to experience again how  the pressure from his foot can cause his pelvis to roll, as if beginning to roll onto his left side.  We began to explore how his inhalation and exhalation could coordinate with the movement.  He sampled inhaling while pressing with his foot, and then he tried exhaling with the pressure.  For now, we settled on the latter.

After doing a few of these gentle movements on both sides, it was time for a rest.  His breathing seemed less hurried, and his tremor had decreased noticeably.  I asked him, once again, to hum.  There was more sound, and he was able to sustain the hum steadily for a full three seconds.  As I  brought his attention to the vibrations he could feel by gently touching my figertips to his forehead, cheeks, and chest, his breathing deepened, and he was able to hum for over five seconds.

Next, I asked him to press the table with his foot and turn his pelvis as before.  This time, we added a hum as he rolled his pelvis.  His hum became stronger, and of longer duration, each time. And then, I asked him to open his mouth, and to make an “Ah” sound on the same pitch as before.

E. took a breath, pressed his foot on the table.  His pelvis began to roll, and I heard, “AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”  Again, on the next press, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

“That seems a lot stronger,” he said.

His wife’s eyes were the size of saucers.

His voice was just as strong while pushing with the other foot.  And then, I asked him to see what would happen if he bent both knees, stood both feet on the table, and pressed into both feet?  He saw how he could easily lift his pelvis away from the table.  Nobody would have guessed that this elderly man would be able to do a “Bridge.”  And then, as he pressed the table, slowly lifting his pelvis, we heard, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

We paused so he could rest.  I spoke to his wife.

“He’s going to be ‘talking back’ to you now.  I hope you’re okay with that!”

She smiled broadly.  “Oh yes!  That will be just fine!”

He stood up, and walked.  Standing tall, his gaze level with the horizon instead of down toward the floor.  I asked him to take a breath, and to feel the pressure of his feet on the floor as he stood — and then to speak. “Honey, I love you!” he boomed.  His wife beamed. His hand was quiet.

There is more that he can learn. Will we cure his Parkinson’s?  Probably not. (Although E. would fight me on that.  He is a man of faith, and believes that he will be completely cured.  Let it be so.)  Will his tremor disappear?  Now, THAT is quite possible.  Just as he discovered his voice, quite surprisingly, he will discover how to manage and keep a good quality of life where it most matters.  Like ‘talking back’ to his wife.

 

 

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