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

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A Better Brain with FELDENKRAIS

In the days since the terrible violence in Tuscon, AZ, when a gunman took the lives of thirteen innocent people, including that of Federal Judge John Roll, and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others; the general public has received a steady media diet of stories about traumatic brain injuries and prospects for rehabilitation.  Thankfully, Rep. Giffords is doing remarkably well. We send our very best wishes to her, and to her family, during her convalescence and recovery.

As a result of this high-profile story, at both the national and local level, people are increasingly curious about the amazing capacity of the brain to regenerate itself, to find redundancies and “alternate routes” for parts that have  “gone off-line” due to stroke, or neurological process, or injury; and above all, that improvement is possible.  (For an excellent summary, see this recent PBS Report.)  At the core of the Feldenkrais Method is this very issue: how to create optimal conditions for any individual so that these changes in the brain — broadly called “learning,” can occur.

No doubt, Rep. Giffords will be getting state-of-the-art care at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Hospitals TIRR Center.  Their protocols are effective and tested, and I’ve heard that they are similar to those used in  our military hospitals to rehabilitate the traumatic brain injuries as have been suffered by our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They know what they are doing.

I always wonder how an already good experience can be made even better.  And so, it makes me wish that Rep. Giffords, and all of our wounded veterans, were able to have access to the learning and improvement that occurs with the Feldenkrais Method, in addition to the care they already receive.  The qualitative difference that our approach makes in easing pain, developing sensitivity and function, and improving balance and coordination, could be astonishing.

Our Method is already widely used in major hospitals in the US, most notably in the Kaiser Permanente system in California, and in the most progressive physical therapy settings.  Until a few years ago, the Memorial Hermann Wellness Center offered a weekly class in Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement, and a practitioner worked with their pain patients on a regular basis until her retirement.  This prior positive history with the method may justify re-opening the door.  I would love to see a group of patients receive the present TIRR approach in treatment, and another group receive the TIRR approach with the addition of regular Feldenkrais sessions.  My sense is that there would be a big difference in the group that also had Feldenkrais.  In addition to the patient benefits,  there is some preliminary evidence that people recover more quickly, which translates to lower costs.  Improved patient outcomes and a healthier bottom line are in the interest of any institution.

It’s all very interesting to ponder.  It also makes it important that people who have experienced the benefits of the Method — even if just for baby-boomer weekend-warrior pain — share their positive experiences instead of keeping them and us a secret.  We may not get to work with Rep. Giffords, but future cases — no, PEOPLE — will benefit down the line. We wish her the very best. And, Rep. Giffords:  I am at your service.

[Research studies about the Feldenkrais Method, including peer-reviewed articles, can be found at FeldSciNet.org.]

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Laughter

Laugh
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Of all the things I have to be grateful for, laughter is near the top of the list.

My parents were strange and flawed people, as are we all — but they knew how to laugh, and they taught me.  Happily, they taught me early the distinction between “laughing at” someone, and “laughing with,” and no fair switching one with the other.  They did try to see the lighter side of adversity, and they had a lot of it.  Thanks to them, I can almost always find something humorous in virtually any situation.  I don’t discount the seriousness of events.  I just find that solutions open up when lightness and humor are included in the consideration.

My mother and I could set each other off in fits of giggles.  One of my favorite memories of my Mom is her ability to become completely unglued about some simple, insignificant situation — and off she would go.   Her laugh was the template for what mine would become:  very unruly and unzipped, almost a cackle at times: yearning to be free and bust out in all its awkward inappropriateness, but balanced by the impulse to contain and restrain.  Such an internal battle of cross-motivation produced a hilarious and infectious laugh that one couldn’t help but catch.  She would get tickled, and start to laugh, then try not to laugh, only to have a rogue eruption of hilarity explode, uncontrolled and unexpected.  The sound of her laughter was so uniquely hilarious, and perhaps “tuned” to my funny bone, that I would start laughing at her laughing. Tears would begin to stream down both of our faces, as we laughed about — nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  My mother called these fits of giggles “The Simples.”

My daughter and I have continued the same tradition.  Propriety be damned — when we get tickled, we LAUGH.  I am frequently tickled by absurdity, and at the futility of sharing my paradigm within which I perceive something as funny. I will laugh because people are not laughing — so I am the ideal audience member for fledgling stand-up comics.  My daughter will avoid meeting my gaze, in a misguided yet hopeful attempt to maintain control — but resistance is for naught.  Her body begins to shake with my rhythm, our inflections match, leading to more reactive laughter, and faces are moist.  “Are you ‘Simple-ing?’ my son asks, provoking continued laughter.  Sides ache, noses must be blown, furious coughing and sputtering ensues, and we have another great memory of yet another occasion:  “What started her laughing?”  It hardly matters that nobody can quite remember.  But what we  remember is the laughter itself. This fact is precious to me.

I revel in the fact that my daughter and son both have a unique and wonderful sense of humor.  My partner jokes that it’s obvious which end of the gene pool shows up in my kids’ sense of humor. The three of us are quite different, yet we “get” each other. Time spent laughing with my kids is one of the great pleasures of life.

Humor is, indeed a sense:  you can feel it.  You learn it through successive approximations, overstepping at some times, not understanding in others.  The sense of humor is as real and as vital as the sense of balance, or security, or sight or taste or touch.  Your sense of humor is like love: it is impossible to “prove” that it exists, but anecdotal and empirical evidence abounds. . .

My mother used to say, during or after a fit of “The Simples:” “It’s better than cryin’.”  Indeed.  My son joins in with silent, manly, whole-body, incredulous laughter, and my son-in-law enjoys the opportunity to tease his wife, and marvel at her free-spirited mother.  The men in our family love to laugh:  clean, happy, pure, no-reason-at-all, delighted laughter. I believe this bodes well for the longevity and resilience of relationships.

My partner expresses his appreciation for the fact that even though I “cloud up and rain” when I am upset, the clouds clear as quickly as they arrived.  We laugh at our cats, at TV programs, at funny things that our fabulous friends post on their Facebook pages, and at life in general.  He delights in the percolating stages of the full-on “Simples.”  I love hearing him laugh, free, unconstrained, seeking to understand some justification for such hysterical, sustained mirth:  and, giving up and giving in, dissolving into the contagion of the hilarity.

One of my favorite radio programs on my beloved NPR station (Rock on, KUHF!)  is “Car Talk.”  I know nothin’ about cars. However,  it’s worth it to me to hear Tom and Ray, Click and Clack, Get “the Simples.”  I  feel my ribs relax, my belly soften, my breath deepen, as I laugh with them for no reason but the aural invitation.   I think the world aches to have a reason to laugh.  Having an example, and real people to laugh with, is a force for healing, and for the restoration of sanity in our crazy world.

Laughter, and food.  Sharing them assures the continuation of civilization as we know it. Laughter keeps me young.  Laughter keeps me curious and engaged with the world as it evolves, instead of clinging to some idea of “what used to be.”  My business partner, my friends, my colleagues, my adult children, my love, all share the ability to share a good laugh.

I fear that our contemporary culture mistakes genuine laughter for what is actually derision, or “schadenfreude:” enjoyment in the misfortunes of others. Our culture is cynical and snarky, humorless or “of ill-humor,” as our Victorian forebears might describe it.  Nothing good, nothing restorative comes of this inspiration. True merriment is its own catalyst, and a powerful force for good. Deep, gasping, tear-inducing, no-reason-at-all laughter requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to look silly, to have no justification at all for its existence.  For this reason, it is precious, and greatly to be sought.

What makes you laugh — really, purely, delightedly, LAUGH?  What is your equivalent of “The Simples?”

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More with the Blogging

The last three days have felt strangely empty after the end of the fabulous #reverb10 reflective blog-a-thon in December.  I blogged  absolutely every day for three weeks, then lightened up a bit, and finished the year off with a summary post. Even though I did not blog every day, I improved drastically over my previous frequency — once a week in good times, once a month during dry spells.

What kept me going, however, was a daily practice to write on 750words.com — and today was my 39th day straight!  I am racking up the badges and enjoying the process of dumping all the random floating thoughts jumbled in my brain out onto paper — or screen, actually — at the beginning of each day.  I’ve gotten more done in the past month than I would ever have expected!

I had been looking for another good source of writers prompts.  I looked at a few of the top listings on Google and was faintly dissatisfied, in that Goldilocks kind of way.  I also crowdsourced an answer, asking for suggestions from my Twitter and Facebook peeps.  Today, a friend came through:  thanks to #reverb10 pal Noël Rozny and her recommendation, I’ll be participating in The Daily Post via WordPress.

So, my intention is to keep on keeping on.  I intend to post something every day, or nearly every day, of 2011.  I know it won’t be easy, but I fully expect it will be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The Daily Post, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals: to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it, and encouraging others when I can.

What will I write about?  I have no freaking clue, seriously.  I just write about whatever is interesting to me at the time.  As a person who has always had a keen appreciation for the “next shiny thing,” my interests are wide-ranging: art, music, theater, and all the performing arts: culture at large; education; learning; food and cooking and eating; friends and their creative expressions; and of course, my beloved adoptive city, Houston, Texas, USA; and the work that keeps me curious, playful, and eager to get up each morning:  The Feldenkrais Method.  And that’s just the stuff I can predict!  As the page says, I am “open to possibilities.”  The most interesting content, for both of us, is that thich cannot be predicted at this time.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.  The gift of your time and attention are most appreciated.

cheers —
MaryBeth

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#reverb10 – Day 19 – Healing

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Prompt: Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011? (Prompt provided by Leoni Allan, as part of #reverb10.)

[Eyeroll.]

Puh-LEEZ.

There is no more dis-empowering worldview than the one in which you are encouraged to view yourself as broken, unworthy, needing healing, and as incapable of doing anything for yourself. This question  sets up a crazy-making and manipulative vortex that sucks in the impressionable.  What healed you this year? Translation:  of course you agree that you were hopelessly screwed up.  Please tell us how screwed up you were, so that we can feel better about ourselves. Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? Translation: please confirm that my experience is valid, because I don’t have a clue.  How would you like to be healed in 2011? Translation:  because of course you are still irreparably screwed up, and the need for healing is never-ending.  Please buy my book.

This question invites people to join the perpetual pity party.  I am broken.  I need to be healed.  I want to be healed.  I hope I can be healed.  Who will heal me? Oh, you need to be healed, too?  Let’s be friends. Above all, let’s work on ourselves without end.  It’s a golden excuse for why things aren’t working in our lives — plus, we get to look noble.

We glorify our faults, our weaknesses, our pain.  We justify and excuse it.  When it doesn’t go away, we have nothing but our self-loathing.  STOP IT NOW.

I know that sounds harsh.

Over the past 25 years, I have observed an alarming trend in public language and culture.  It bastardizes the ideas of healing and wholeness, and steals worthy impulses toward self-improvement to label them as “fixing our brokenness.” The loaded language of recovery and repentance, artificially sweetened by New Age airheads and religionists alike, has crept into daily discussion. People seem to rush to embrace and include the paradigm of addiction and dysfunction in their self-image.  To hear some tell it, we are all addicted to something.  We are all “damaged goods.” There is no aspect of our being that is not in need of therapy – and the advertising machine reinforces the belief.  The heartbreak of frizzy hair, the destructive potential of chapped lips, the intractability of breaking fingernails: you can purchase therapy in a bottle.   Everyone is “in treatment” for something.  Our world needs to be healed.  Our relationships need to be healed. Most of all, YOU need to be healed. Are you healed?

In no way am I disparaging those who suffer from chronic pain, from mental illness, from disease processes and neurological disorders, and from plain old-fashioned human cruelty.  My life has been changed for the better through the expertise of medical professionals, psychotherapists, counselors, and a tour through the recovery movement and various 12-step programs.  There ARE problems and diseases out there that require intervention, a pulling up on the reins to say, “Whoa!” before passing a point of no return.  There are conditions that WILL KILL YOU if you don’t get expert help.  Doesn’t expensive department-store shampoo labeled “Hair Therapy” diminish the legitimate suffering of people with REAL problems (and the training and expertise of those professionals who help them)?

To be sure, things get broken:  our bodies, our hearts, our relationships, our thinking processes.  Some people suffer horrifically at the hands of torturers, within the family circle, local social order, or  international sphere.  There is trauma and death and war.  We should have compassion for those who suffer, and help them and ourselves in any way we can.  Doesn’t our relentless focus on our incompleteness and brokenness just create more of what we don’t want?  It seems to me that we would be better served to be developing resiliency rather than dependency.

My work, as a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method, is often used to help people with serious difficulties.  I don’t define myself as “a healer.”  If others want to describe me as that, or if that was their experience, then that is fine.  I’ll encourage them to expand their vocabulary and take more credit for themselves.  I’m a teacher.  I teach people how to improve their ability to function.  Often, it starts with improving the way they move, so that they can have less pain, better coordination, or more refined skill.  Often these improvements generalize and are carried over into other aspects of their lives. Somehow, they become more capable of acting on their own behalf — of independence and self-determination.  When you can learn to improve some area of concern, all kinds of possibilities emerge.  The possibility of true wellness and wholeness — of living your life, doing what you want to do — is a more inspiring worldview to me than one that pre-supposes inadequacy and brokenness.  I don’t see how it is in service to anyone to keep them dependent and hopeless in an unending saga of so-called “healing.”

In relationships, the ability to say “I love you” and “I am sorry” are powerful actions that lead to better functioning.  The willingness to forgive and reconcile, or cut losses and start again, are also valuable actions that can create dynamic and positive change.  The ability to learn and change to improve is our birthright. Accept what can’t be changed, and take action for yourself to minimize the collateral damage.  Take action to change what you can.  It doesn’t have to be a long and protracted “healing” process, or a lightening bolt of transformation.  It is just living in a way that works.  The essence of all the world’s great religions and spiritual paths boils down to this.

At the moment, I believe our culture is stuck in defining and describing problems.  We understand more and more about the scope and size of our problems, and less and less about how to solve them.  Our focus on the problem makes us believe that the solution must be as big and all-encompassing as the problem seems to be.  As a result, people become less and less able, or willing, to take small steps to improve things on their own.  The solution is something that you don’t know yet.  You can learn it.  You may need help from someone else, but ultimately, you can find a solution.  There are some who are finding astonishing solutions to the world’s biggest challenges.  You can watch them speak on TED.com.  I think they are excellent inspiration for solution-seeking and innovation at every level.

Get on with it.  DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF.  Don’t keep defining yourself in terms of what is wrong, or what is not working.  Identify your strengths, even in the midst of trouble.  Ask for help if you need it — real help, in addition to support from friends and family. If someone won’t help you, keep looking. Find a doctor, find a group, find a friend. Draw strength from your faith.  As one pastor said, we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but we don’t have to pitch a tent there. What small action can you take to improve your situation?  Flee from the numbing psycho-faux-spiritual-babble that would keep you from expressing your fully-functioning personhood. THAT is healing.

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#reverb10 – Day 18 – Try

“Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Yoda in Star Wars utters a profound truth (which is why he is Yoda).  We’ve come to use the word “Try” to mean an attempt, or a mighty effort.  The subliminal connotation, however, is that that the attempt ended in failure.  “Well, at least she tried.”  Depending upon which side you’re on, this failure can be trumpeted and exploited.  If the attempt is successful, you’ve no longer tried. You have done it.

Even more insidious in the use of the word “Try” is a judgment of others.  “You never know until you try.”  “You’re not even trying!”  “She makes it look like she’s not even trying.”  Talk about the confusion of mixed messages?  How many of us get sucked into unwise actions because we were goaded to “try?”  And how many of us make our list of resolutions for each new year, filled with statements like “I’m going to try to lose weight.  I’m going to try to save money.  I’m going to try to find a better job.”  What does that even mean?  We set ourselves up for discouragement. We spend ourselves in useless exertion, and often end up with yet another invitation to feel bad about ourselves.

I’d like to reclaim this word, “try,” and shift to another legitimate meaning:  that is, “to sample.”  “Try the fudge, won’t you?”  You take a little nibble of a dish, you “try this on for size,” you easily and gently experiment with a new action.  If you like or don’t the result, at least you have broadened your perspective, and enlarged your “database” of personal experiences.  The act of sampling something carries no baggage of self-condemnation or self-congratulation.  It’s merely a way of establishing a personal preference, or refining an action so that it can be performed at a higher level — that is, so that it works better.  You can actually PLAN an experiment, consisting of real actions.  Then, you can evaluate the outcome at each phase, and correct course if needed, to get closer to the outcome you want.  There is no failure, only information.   Suddenly, you’re not trying.  You are doing.

So much of what we “try” to do is bound up in our habitual patterns of thought, emotions, actions, stories, and reactions.  As Moshe Feldenkrais said, when we “try” and our primary motivation is to achieve something, we are not free to be creative, innovative, or to find a new and unexpected approach.  We just always do what we’ve always done.  Small surprise that the results are disappointing. Our muscles contract in unproductive and parasitic action, resulting in strain and injury.  A big part of the Method which bears his name, and which I practice, is to free oneself of those actions which are superfluous.  Noticing what you do when you “try” develops your awareness.  You, and I, can learn to do things differently.

Through a long process of experimentation, I have learned that my plans proceed much more smoothly when I don’t announce them prematurely. Revealing too much too soon can kill a good idea, or can stunt one’s ability to take action.  So this year, I’m going to experiment with keeping my plans to myself until they are ready to launch.  I’m going to experiment with floridly hallucinating the results I intend.  I’m going to experiment with taking small steps every day. I’m going to experiment with seeing everything as a grand experiment, and with staying curious to see what emerges.

[Today’s prompt is provided by Kaileen Elise, one of the founders of #reverb10.
Prompt: Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

[Blogging each day this month in a creative production frenzy: I confess I have enjoyed the process.  The prompts from #reverb10 have been controversial, maddening, squirm inducing  — and very valuable and effective nudges toward expression.]


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#reverb10 – Day 17 – Lesson Learned

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Prompt: Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward? (Prompt submitted by Tara Weaver) [What is this?]

The best lesson I learned about myself, in terms of, the lesson in which I most  liked the outcome and am willing to embrace it as part of my self-image and self-definition from now on:  I am someone who can seriously get shit done.

As a solo entrepreneur in private practice for the past eight years, I am project oriented and enjoy the variety and opportunities that arise from working in this way.  I’ve learned that I can accomplish massive amounts of progress if I am working within my skill set, believe in the project, and am enjoying myself.  If I must over-reach, or do something that I’m not crazy about — the motivation, spark, and forward impetus are zippo, nada, kaput — gone gone.  And — I’ve learned that I like to collaborate with one or two people at most — or do the project myself.  No more committees, ever.  I’ve learned that they are a waste of my time. You don’t want me on a committee, because I’ll be unhappy, and you’ll never get the best I have to offer.  My soul longs to be free and express itself. This way of being is diametrically opposed to everything that the committee process stands for.  I learned that I have influence, and I learned that I enjoy “using my powers for good.”

The best lesson I learned about myself, in terms of, the lesson that is most valuable, significant, disarming, and requires continual re-examination and refinement, perhaps a life’s work:  the world that I see and experience is a reflection of my interior state.

If I fear lack; sources of income disappear.  If I feel secure, plenty more flows my way.  If I begrudge the faults of others, and their failure to live up to my expectations, the world becomes a lonely place.  If I appreciate the good qualities in everyone I meet, especially those closest to me, they blossom and reveal strengths that were previously unknown.

This is disturbing because the truth is uncompromising:  “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”  I don’t believe it is magical, just miraculous.  As Emerson counseled, I must “stand guard at the doorway of my mind.”  My attitude, my feelings, my vision of what is possible in a situation — CREATES my world.

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#reverb10 – Day 14 – Appreciate

Since beginning to blog every day this month, encouraged by this #reverb10 project, I’ve been on a writing tear — writing hundreds of words each day.   If it’s your first time to visit, #reverb10 presents a prompt each day to get the creative juices flowing.  Each prompt addresses an aspect of the overall theme, which is to look back and reflect on 2010, and to consciously create a dynamic 2011 for oneself as a result.  Here is today’s prompt:

Prompt: Appreciate. What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? (Prompt contributed by author Victoria Klein.)

Oh boy.  Here we go.

I appreciate the courage and vulnerability of the authors who have contributed prompts for #reverb10.  Invariably I see a number of responses from bloggers who hate the prompt for the day, think it is insipid, “new-agey,” or just plain stupid.  That’s gotta be tough.  I’ve had quibbles or frustrations with some of the prompts, too, and this is one of them!  However, I can take a deep breath, and appreciate it for what it is — simply a nudge to inspire or provoke the flow of ideas.

I recognize the value of asking for one thing, or otherwise limiting a conversation in hopes of focusing it.  This I appreciate.  Can you feel the “HOWEVER” coming?  Here it is. I believe that  the potential for appreciation is limitless. As the question is phrased, “THE ONE THING,” thoughts of scarcity are awakened in the subconscious mind and find their way, insidiously, into awareness.  YES — start by finding one thing to appreciate. You’ll find yourself happily expanding your list!

The potential for appreciation is limitless. “Potential” is a word that is in the same family as “potent,” or “potentate” — from Latin “potentiam” which means “POWER.”  Moshe Feldenkrais wrote a book entitled “The Potent Self,” which is about having the self-awareness to improve one’s ability to “get up and go” (literally, sexually, and any other metaphor you can apply) — to be powerful and self-actualized in your life.  Appreciation and its sibling, Acknowledgment, along with Gratitude, are powerful attitudes to practice.  Their practice is transformative.  They are inexhaustible resources.  A deeper and more interesting question might be, How can I tap into the limitless potential of gratitude and appreciation?

2010 was the year when I really “got” this.  I’ve always tried to be a thankful person, a polite person, saying “Thank You” to beings corporeal and divine when they did something nice.  But being appreciative is so much more than an expression of politeness, or not taking advantages for granted.  In 2010, I began a daily practice, morning and evening, of taking a few moments to list the things I appreciated — was grateful for — that day.  Sometimes, I wrote an actual list. Most of the time, however, it was a short and silent meditation of sorts.  I found that the more I did it, the more I had to appreciate.  Here’s something else interesting.  When I practiced gratitude, I began to receive many more expressions of appreciation as well.

People will often say, “Yeah, but.”  “My life is really shitty and hard right now.” They detail heartbreaking and stressful circumstances — job loss, illness, relationship or family troubles.  I feel for them, because I have been where they are.  I firmly believe that sometimes, you really have to look hard for something, anything to appreciate.  And yet, corny as it sounds, the willingness to look for something to appreciate opens the door for more positive experiences to occur. A cool breeze, a kind word, a cup of coffee, a blade of grass can all start the engines of appreciation.

I can give you a lot of examples of times when I have failed to find something to appreciate in a situation.  Here’s one: right now there is a small but exceedingly noisy construction project in progress right across our driveway, in the parking deck of a large commercial building.  The beeping of the equipment, whatever demolition they are doing, and the rumbling as gigantic metal dumpsters scrape as they are dragged down the driveway, are a colossal pain in the ass. The noise begins at 7 a.m. and lasts all day.  It is constant, nerve-wracking, and headache-inducing.  I can throw myself into a migraine with an hour of fretting about this.  Or, I can appreciate that people are working in this economy.  I can appreciate that in my bathroom, in the shower, I can’t hear them.  I can appreciate that I have an appointment in a little while and can leave. When I’ve been unable to shift my focus away from a difficult situation and toward appreciation, my life gets worse.  Everyone else seems cranky and impatient.  (Think there’s any projection going on here?)  Clients inexplicably cancel.  The cupboard is bare.  The flow of income slows to a trickle.  I’m not willing to say that gratitude is causal.   I think it’s a bit more complex than to say “Oh I need rent money — let’s write a gratitude list!” although I know that some people have done exactly that and have produced a seeming miracle.  It’s miraculous enough to me to notice a correlation, a synchronicity, between my felt state of gratitude and the world I experience. When I express my gratitude, life is better.  Money flows.  My clients are happy.  My friendships deepen.  Surprises abound — people, resources, ideas, previously unknown, suddenly present themselves.

Appreciation is not scarce, and you don’t have to save it up for a special occasion.  Appreciation is meant to be spent, squandered even.  You can go on a rampage of appreciation, and in 10 minutes change the outcome of your whole day.  Appreciation and gratitude are engines, energy sources to “get things moving” and to create a flow.  The more of it you express and acknowledge, the more of it you receive.

Here’s my short list of “gratitudes” for today —
My wonderful loving partner, my crazy cats, my magnificent adult children; that I live in a beautiful place, have clothes to wear, reliable transportation, fulfilling work, friends, activities, fun; good health, energy and vitality — the list can go on and on.  I’m even grateful for the challenges and the bumps in the road, because they teach me something valuable to know in the present and into the future.

So, “THE ONE THING” I appreciate most this year?  The question still feels a bit disingenuous to me.  What would be ideal?  EVERYTHING, EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.  I’m not expecting myself to practice this perfectly– and I’m grateful for that.  However, I’m willing to aim for that ideal, and stick around to see what happens.

Have it Your Way!

Here we are! Can you believe it? We’re halfway through December, and fully into the Holiday Season.

Whether shopping online or in a “real” store, we continually seek some degree of customization so that we can have *exactly* what we want.  We’re looking for an exact and appropriate size, color, and style for every gift item.  The potential for customization is virtually limitless, as you can choose or reject a large array of features for any product or service.  Miss Goldilocks would shake her blonde, curly head at all the choices available!

And yet, when it comes to our own posture, our own muscle tone, our own degree of strength or flexibility, we seem to think that “one size fits all.” Or, at least, that we should somehow be like someone else — pick a sports hero, supermodel, or Cirque du Soleil performer!  Not only is this unrealistic, this attitude can lead to actions that put us at risk for avoidable injuries.

However, the “fitness industry” persists in offering panaceas for what ails. The next time you get on an airplane, take a look in the SkyMall magazine to see a dazzling smorgasbord of gadgets and gizmos to fix this or that.  Insoles and special shoes to perfect your gait, posture, muscle tone, and pain.  The expensive and scientifically proven pillow that relieves neck pain.  The reinforced  bra for men or women, with extra strapping across the back to insure that, god forbid, you don’t slouch.  Unfortunately for these merchants, not all backs, feet, or necks are alike.  Fortunately for them, the vast majority of people do not realize it.

So — enter the Feldenkrais Method.  You could think of it as a customized approach to exercise, self-improvement, skill development, or optimal functioning. Your sore neck, back, shoulder, foot — are unique.  A standardized protocol can never expect to be as effective as one that is custom tailored to YOU.  Indeed, the newest advances in medicine trumpet the advent of “boutique treatments.”  This means that They finally realize that effective results for real people don’t occur when you’re aiming for the average.  The only way to really make a difference for people is to adapt and respond appropriately to each individual.

Sometimes an external intervention — a shoe, a pillow, a bed, an operation – are absolutely the right course of action, and can be of great benefit.  However, many solutions can arise when we access our own “database:”  our own internal unconscious wisdom that governs the regulation of our nervous systems. Painful muscular contractions, posture and balance difficulties, inadequate breathing, and a wide range of other difficulties can be resolved with an attentive and customized respect for you, your interests, and your abilities.

As Moshe Feldenkrais often asserted, “our capacity for improvement is virtually limitless.”  The Feldenkrais Method helps people to discover and expand their undeveloped capacities.  Your potential is limitless.

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#reverb10 – Day 12 – Body Integration

Vitruvian Man
Image via Wikipedia

[This post is part of the #reverb10 initiative.  If you are curious about #reverb10, visit their site and join in by writing or reading during this month.  Each daily prompt invites a reflection on the year past, and to create positive intentions for 2011.]

December 12 – Body Integration This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? (Author: Patrick Reynolds)

Love-making.  Sharing a hearty laugh with close friends, such that wine almost squirts out my nose and tears stream down my face.  Savoring the complexity of delicious flavors and textures in a dish I have prepared.

The sting and ache of bruised and jolted tissue after a car wreck.  Powerful and terrifying contractions as my system goes on “survival autopilot” to purge during a bout of food poisoning.   The depletion and downward spiral of a full-fledged common cold, with fever, cough,  congestion, and exhaustion.

These are examples of times in the past year when I have felt alive and fully present — and not always in a good way.  However, I can’t just let it go at that, because I have a quibble with the author of this prompt.

Because we have two separate words to enable us to talk about “Mind” and “Body,” we fall into the belief that they are two separate things — and they are not.  There is not a moment of my life, or yours, where body and mind are not operating inseparably, like two sides of the same coin.  I would argue that we couldn’t separate them if we tried  — except through language.  Language is very powerful.  Language reinforces the idea that Mind and Body are separate.  As a result, many of us EXPERIENCE them as being separate.  This is a fine distinction.

My work as a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method is to help people have the experience of aliveness, vitality, and presence, of a cohesive and complex self in all its wholeness, in a way that is increasingly available to them.  I help people to develop a felt sense of themselves in this way.  I use awareness of sensations, emotions, and thoughts in action and movement as the primary tool in this developmental process.  It’s an important process, because increased capacity for awareness and sensation can fine-tune your ability to function optimally in every aspect of your life.  As a result, they begin to have more and more “moments” of the felt sense of cohesive, whole, presence.

This cohesiveness and integration is present all the time, whether you are or not. Just taking time to be quiet and lower the stimulation level of everyday busy life, can open a space for awareness to emerge and for sensations to flower.  Not all sensations are pleasant, but they all contain valuable information — status updates, if you will — for how you are in this moment.

The world of sensation is not much valued in contemporary culture, except in the context of excess, dissipation, and self-destruction.  Appetites run amok. However, your sensations are an important data stream, and paying attention to them can yield a rich array of possibilities for conscious and mindful living.

[Read more posts by MaryBeth Smith]

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