Can Older Adults Benefit from the Feldenkrais Method?

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

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

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

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!

Why learn to move better?

cartwheelIt’s human nature to adapt to whatever is “good enough.” People will seek help with movement if there is a problem. Pain, excessive exertion, perceived weakness, or lack of coordination in the aftermath of an injury or in the midst of some other difficulty frequently drive people to try the Feldenkrais Method. But why bother to improve if there’s no problem?

1) Feldenkrais lessons are useful because they expand your “movement vocabulary.” Another way to think of it is to expand your “database” of available movements for any activity. Why is this important? Because it’s good to have alternatives if one way of doing something stops working! Think of the Major League Baseball switch pitcher Pat Venditte, who can throw a baseball right or left-handed with equal skill and power. When he experienced an injury to one shoulder a few years ago, he simply threw with the other arm. He continued to play that season, instead of going on the injured list. With more movement options, you can stay active and avoid being on the sidelines for the pastimes you enjoy.
2) Feldenkrais lessons can help you learn to prevent injuries. As you become more attuned to yourself, to where your body is in space, and to the nice sensations of efficient movement, your brain gets a higher quality of “real-time reporting” from your body. If you are creating shearing forces through a joint, or straining in a muscle group, or simply experiencing fatigue and inattention, you will feel it sooner and be able to adjust your position, effort, or trajectory, thereby averting disaster.
3) Feldenkrais lessons improve all of your senses, including your sense of balance (literally and metaphorically) and your sense of humor. As you bring your attention to the simple and basic sensations of movement, your appreciation of life and your capacity for enjoyment will soar! Results may vary: unpredictable outcomes can surprise and delight!
4) Feldenkrais lessons can restore your faith in yourself, and in your capacity to learn, adapt, and change. Whatever your situation, there are aspects that are still under your control, where you have agency and ability to affect the quality of the present moment. As you catch glimpses of your potential and your capacity, your ability to improve is ongoing and virtually unlimited.

If you enjoy learning new things, and if you want to enjoy all your experiences to the fullest, then the Feldenkrais Method has much to offer you. Call us to find out how to get started.

How’s that office chair?

Creative Commons Image

SO — how IS your office chair? Individuals and companies spend countless hours researching the best ergonomic chairs and desks to enhance “worker productivity.” It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on a highly rated set-up, and still find that you are uncomfortable. I’ll tell you what I tell my clients.

I find it interesting to dig a little bit to find out exactly what is meant by “worker productivity.” It is amazing how many people translate this to mean “able to sit in one position all day and work relentlessly with no price to pay.” However, more and more have heard the idea that sitting is the new smoking. How do you balance the need to get stuff done, with the need to maintain one’s health? Clearly, we need to think outside the chair.

Standing desks are trendy and cool, and can be a great solution. However, standing can be as problematic as sitting if you have a temperamental low back, or sore feet, knees, or legs. Walking meetings can yield the same dilemma. SO let’s question the basic assumption that people are supposed to be able to sustain ANY position — be it sitting, standing, or lying down — for up to eight hours at a time, and be OK. Humans are meant to MOVE. Expecting anyone to behave like a machine is obviously dehumanizing. It also disconnects the human from their ability to be effective. We are meant to adapt, continuously, to our environment. This adaptability keeps us moving, thinking, feeling, and sensing. Perhaps that can be a new definition of productivity?

The problem is in getting stuck in one position. This is true physically, as well as mentally. Get up and move. Change your position as frequently as you need to, at least once an hour. This can mean to stand up, walk to the restroom, stand while you are on the phone, you get the idea. When people are physically stuck in one position for long periods of time, they lose the ability to imagine how they might do something different. You can revive this specific use of your imagination in  Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® classes.Even if it feels silly, just change something, anything, for a few minutes, before returning to your original position.

People also ask me about bedding, pillows, their shoes, even their cars, as if there is one and only one best purchase or best position for everyone, in any given situation. I’ll say it again: Humans are meant to move. If you become uncomfortable while asleep, roll over. Wiggle in your car, stop more frequently on longer trips and get out, walk around. Your comfort and health are individual. Others can make suggestions and recommendations, but ultimately you must find what is right for you.

When I visit people’s homes and offices for ergonomic consultations, they feel relieved that I am not trying to sell them a bunch of new furniture, gadgets, or doodads.Rather, I spend time with each individual, watching how they move, what their tasks are, and then make a plan that includes efficiency of action as well as comfort and sustainability. Sometimes, they do need to make adjustments with desktop heights or chair alignment. Most often, they can learn how to move, to vary their positions, and to create health for themselves. If only this could be a trend! Thankfully, more and more employers recognize that true productivity is not simply a matter of getting work done, but also of living well and feeling well to work another day.

Taste the Recipe!

A cook sautees onions and peppers.
A cook sautees onions and peppers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up believing, “If you can read, you can cook.” That belief kept me going as a young bride and eager home hostess.

A sad period of my life spanned a a decade, when finicky children, a grueling work schedule, critical in-laws, and my own stretch of problematic digestive issues had sufficient cumulative influence to make me abandon cooking altogether. Although I had  previously enjoyed cooking for dinner parties at home, one particularly traumatic Thanksgiving was the last straw. I gave up on cooking.  I probably went for five, maybe seven years without cooking much at all. And, when I did cook something, it didn’t taste very good.

I came to realize two things about cooking.
1. The desire to cook is directly proportional to the appreciation of those for whom you are cooking. That includes cooking just for yourself.
2. Don’t serve it if you haven’t tasted it!

In the past five years or so, I have become an enthusiastic cook once again. I have an appreciative partner who gobbles up whatever I prepare, expressing admiration and delight at every opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to cook for someone like that?

During The Decade of Not Cooking, I was already worried about my weight, and had heard from my mother and numerous popular magazine articles that “tasting while cooking” packs on the pounds. I stopped tasting as I cooked, and so my results were — erratic. With a ruined dinner, a substitute run-out for fast food, or a quickie pasta dish would rescue the day. I am happy to say that I have changed my ways. Now I know that tasting during the preparation process is ESSENTIAL. I frequently experiment with new recipes and unfamiliar ingredients.  When I have a small taste after I have added a few items, I can adjust the flavors with much more precision. Add a few more, taste again. I take a little more time during preparation, believing that the frequent taste tests are the way to add LOVE to the dish. Et voilà!  No more kitchen disasters! (Not counting the life-threatening  “Manhattan steaks” affair, flambé with bourbon. Let’s just say the experience brought us all closer.)

My Awareness Through Movement® students know I love to cook, for they frequently hear me say, “Pause. Taste the recipe!” Each movement exploration is full of interesting and unfamiliar variations. If you hurry through the lesson, adding movement after movement with no pauses for reflection and sensing, you have created the recipe for discomfort and confusion.  Rather, after adding each new movement “ingredient,” students are encouraged to pause and discern. Add a little more next time if you like it, or use a little less when you continue.  The student’s own learning through the lesson is tailored to his own abilities and “taste.” The new deliciousness in movement  almost always leads people to want a second helping of the Feldenkraisian feast.

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Lion or Lamb?

March came in to Houston like a lamb a couple of weeks ago. At the same time, elsewhere around the country, devastating and deadly storms showed the “lion” side of the proverb, and the weather. How’s it going for you? Lamb, or lion?

Moshe Feldenkrais acknowledged the widest possible range of human aspirations, motivations, and behavior. Sometimes acting with the gentleness of a lamb is completely appropriate, as is acting with ferocity and power like a lion on occasion. It’s also within our human capacity to behave like a dog, a pussycat, a fox, a snake, or an ass! If you want to take effective action in the world, you need at least three distinct choices. Only one choice — you have an ultimatum to deal with. Two choices, you have a dilemma. With three or more choices, the world opens up, your perspective changes, there is space to take a breath. With the opportunity of choice, you are fully human. Thinking, reflection, discernment are required. The ability to make finer and finer distinctions allows you to “fine-tune” your responses and your experience. You are in a creative space. And then, you MOVE.

Our classes are safe, experimental settings in which to fine-tune your action in the world — whether that is extreme sports, playing the violin, gardening, or sitting at a computer. Better moving means better living. Better is, well, better.

See you on the floor. . .

5 tips to fall-proof your life #Feldenkrais

Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932), via Wikipedia

Falling in love is wonderful! Yet, accidental falls are a leading cause of injury and emergency room visits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that, on an annual basis, falls affect 1 in 3 older adults.

Follow these 5 tips to “fall-proof” your life, at any age:

1. Improve your awareness.

Distraction and boredom are the leading causes of accidents behind the wheel and at work. Both pull you out of the present moment. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, yoga, and Feldenkrais, can develop your capacity for awareness to “be here, now.” When you improve your overall awareness and ability to pay attention, you will increase your personal safety.

2. Take your time.

“Hurry” creates carelessness, distraction, error — and greater risk of injury.  You can learn to move quickly without hurrying! When you stand up, take just a few moments to “get organized” before you go lurching off immediately and risk a fall. In less than 10 seconds, you can feel and re-position your feet so that you can walk without turning your knee or ankle. Feeling the surface of each foot on the floor (whether barefooted or not) can help you feel more stable and secure in movement.

3. Develop coordination, along with strength and flexibility.

The value of exercise to maintain overall health is well known. And yet, coordination seems undervalued in many exercise programs. The appearance of proper form may not tell the whole story. If you are holding your breath during an action, or if you feel unpleasant twinges with the exertion, then those are clues (learned through sensing) that your coordination could be improved. In fact, well-coordinated movement feels like it flows easily, and there is no feeling of strain (as distinct from the work required). Classes or lessons in the Feldenkrais Method can help you to fine-tune your everyday movements for better coordination. This fine-tuning process will also positively affect your balance, posture, and gait – all elements of organized movement. Improved coordination can help keep you safe.

4. Adapt to prevent falls.

In your home environment, make sure that floors and walkways are clean and cleared. Rugs should be securely fastened to the floor to avoid slippage. If you need a rail in the tub, install one. Wear shoes with skid-proof soles. If you must use a ladder or step-stool, be sure that it is properly braced, and see if you can get a friend to spot you. Line yourself up (and your center of gravity) directly with what you are reaching for. Re-position the ladder, rather than leaning.

Sometimes, YOU must do the adapting. Get your eyes checked and corrected if necessary, and turn on an extra light if you need to. Alcohol, sugar, and some food allergies can cause impairments that affect your balance, awareness, and attention, so “know thyself” and take appropriate action.

5. Learn to fall.

For high-performance martial artists, falling is an every-moment possibility. They don’t try to avoid falling. Instead, they learn to fall WELL, and they practice it until they have mastered it.

The usual reaction to the feeling of falling is to powerfully contract the extensor muscles (also known as the “anti-gravity” muscles) of your back and neck, and to “brace” the fall with a rigid and outstretched limb. The resulting stiffness practically guarantees that you will, indeed, fall – and that you’ll be hurt. Regular lessons with a Feldenkrais teacher can safely and gently teach you how to feel softness in your body, how to fold and roll with minimum impact – and get up again!

Mindful movement can help you to move safely and comfortably at any age.  Let us show you how!

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What are we doing here?

ImageIt’s January 1, 2012 — a time when people are reflecting, resolving, reacting, re-treading, rebooting . . .

And so, I thought it might be a good time to clarify for myself, and for you, Dear Reader, what I intend to be doing here.

You’ll notice the tag line at the top of the website, underneath the title “The Feldenkrais® Center of Houston.”  It says, “Open to Possibilities. . .”

You might or might not know what Feldenkrais is, and “Open to Possibilities. . .” might or might not make you curious about what’s going on here.  So here’s my attempt at a short summary.

My audience is people who are “stuck.”  Dissatisfied in some way, wanting more for their lives.  Some of them are in physical or emotional pain, or both.  Some are on a frustrating plateau of achievement in their jobs or hobbies. In either a literal or metaphorical sense, they can’t move. They are people with a fundamental awareness that they might be able to discover and learn something new that will help.  If you’re stuck, you need new possibilities.

SomaQuest helps people to discover or create new possibilities in their lives, their thoughts, their emotions, and in their actions. The posts on this blog reflect on daily life, and on using a specific set of tools, known as The Feldenkrais Method®, to live a happier, better, more highly functional LIFE.

The major tools used by the Feldenkrais Method are 1. your brain, and 2. your body. Get the two working together, and you have 3. movement, and the “special sauce” is 4. awareness.  With these four tools, you can drastically reduce or eliminate your experience of pain; improve your posture, balance, and coordination; clarify your thinking to lead to effective and intelligent actions; enjoy a sense of child-like wonder and exploration in all that you do.  Whatever it is that you enjoy, that gives your life meaning — these tools can make it, and you, better.

I write a lot about how the Feldenkrais Method can help people.  I also write about food, cooking, culture, travel, people-watching, technology and gadgets, the arts, self-expression, relationships, and random streams of consciousness. Everything is fair game for reflection, and for exploring new possibilities.