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.

Your Personal Superpower

Moshe Feldenkrais (Credit: © International Feldenkrais Federation Archive/Photo montage by Salon.com)
Moshe Feldenkrais (Credit: © International Feldenkrais Federation Archive/Photo montage by Salon.com)

The newest book by Norman Doidge, “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” has caused much excitement in Feldenkrais circles worldwide.  I’m excited for the Feldenkrais Method to become more widely known because of the book’s popularity. However, I’m even more excited at the possibility that the idea of neuroplasticity – that the brain changes its structure in response to learning – will finally find acceptance among the general public, including those within the mainstream medical community.

I first heard about neuroplasticity in the year 2000, in my earliest Feldenkrais lessons.  I’ve probably thought about neuroplasticity almost every day for the past fifteen years, as I became immersed in the Feldenkrais Method, and began to work with students and clients. With accumulating experience, I have come to understand that neuroplasticity is a sort of superpower that we all have. And, like all superpowers, it can be a double-edged sword.

Neuroplasticity operates whether you are aware of it or not. We humans are built to learn, almost “straight out of the chute.” Our unconscious actions – those that we call “habits” – are constantly causing neurons to be recruited, strengthening neural pathways to strengthen the habitual patterns. This formation of neural pathways is sometimes stated as,”Things that fire together, wire together.” However, this innate capacity can have devastating consequences for some musicians, for example, who spend thousands of hours practicing fine-motor dexterity and agility, only to develop a lack of control and precision, and potentially jeopardizing their careers.

So if you have this superpower, you might as well learn to use it, and use it well. You can’t just assume that it’s going to work FOR you. You have to practice, and pay attention. Think of Luke Skywalker in his first encounter with the light saber. Obi-Wan was undoubtedly a patient teacher (in a short but memorable scene) so that Luke could learn to use this tool with skill and precision to match his intentions.

The Feldenkrais Method and neuroplasticity as metaphorical light sabers? Your Feldenkrais teacher as your personal Obi-Wan? Am I shamelessly exploiting Star Wars for my own literary convenience and amusement? YOU BETCHA I AM.

In lightness and with gentle humor, we learn and grow. There’s more to be said about all of this, but for now, I must practice my light saber. . .

The Whole Enchilada

Enchiladas 2

I am five days post-op from cataract surgery on my right eye. The procedure was a complete success,  no complications, and steadily improving vision.  I have not written anything for the blog for a few days because it’s still fatiguing to look at the computer screen.  However, it’s time to empty out some of what has been bouncing around in my brain for the past few days.

Because I am a Feldenkrais teacher, all kinds of things were and are interesting as I recover. It’s like a laboratory experiment! A qualitative experiment, to be sure. I’m getting lots of anecdotal data as I reflect upon the entire process to this point. In the Feldenkrais Method, a big part of our learning process is devoted to learning how to pay attention — REALLY pay attention. We learn how to notice, how to drink in information through our senses. We learn to become exquisitely sensitive — and, I believe the process has also made me exquisitely appreciative of all the amazing detail there is in the natural world, in individual human beings, in technology — the whole enchilada of life experience. An increased appreciation for enchiladas themselves may or may not be a side-effect of doing this work over time.

Personal awareness is our stock-in-trade. The hallmark of awareness is the frequency of dawning moments where you say to yourself, “How did I not notice that before?” I’ve learned that awareness isn’t something that you have, or you don’t. I think everyone has “it.” The differences arise from how much an individual is willing, or able, to allow that awareness to grow, develop, and include more about oneself and one’s surroundings.

Back to this eye thing. BEFORE:  vision through my right eye was completely clouded, like looking through a think haze. I could tell that I was relying more and more on my left eye, which has always been identified as my dominant eye. Gradually it also seemed that the prescription lens for my left eye was just slightly “off,” and so somehow I was making adjustments for that, as well.  I called it “living life in soft focus,” a lovely, impressionistic outlook.  It was also exhausting and frustrating.

AFTER: the vision through my right eye is now bright — WOW is it ever bright — and clear. Clear as in not cloudy, and also clear as in distinct. Objects have edges on them, and I can perceive where one thing ends, and another begins.  I ask myself — is this how other people see? And, if you can see this way, how is it possible to still NOT SEE so much that is around us?

Perhaps it’s never possible to see everything, just as it is not possible to be aware of everything. Perhaps our brains and nervous systems would be completely overwhelemd with all the data, and all the resulting choices. Our natural and habitual filters may calibrate just the amount that we can process at any moment. My sense is that I am doing a lot of processing right now.

I believe that I can actually FEEL my brain re-wiring itself to adapt to my newly acquired superpower. At least, that’s what I imagine is happening, based on my geeky appetite and enthusiasm for all things about the brain and neuroscience, especially neuroplasticity. Our brain is capable of re-forming, re-shaping, and making new structures in response to new information, building new pathways for that  information to travel, and for skills and capacities to emerge and improve.  Simply, this is called LEARNING, and it happens throughout one’s lifetime. And so, I feel a “bump in the road,” so to speak, as I realize that my brain now receives higher quality information from the surgical eye, rather than from my “dominant” eye. I notice when I read something, like a book or a computer screen, that I am looking through my left eye and not including my right. And all of this will continue to change.

I also notice that, for the past few days, I can’t concentrate very long — my “cognitive stamina” is depleted temporarily. I’m usually capable of laser-like focus of attention when I am absorbed in something, and I lack that absorbency right now. The tiredness, the fatigue, even the emotions arising, I recognize as signs that my brain is working really hard to sort out what is valuable and meaningful in the new flood of information.

This weekend, I pondered that perhaps the caution against driving for a few days has very little to do with impaired visual acuity. Instead, I recognized that I was seeing more clearly and accurately than I had in several months — and that I was in no shape to drive because of my distractability and lack of attention. I had always assumed it was because you couldn’t see enough. It didn’t occur to me that it could be because you’re seeing too much at the moment.

I’ll be playing with these metaphors and with my continuing real-life adaptations to my new super-power.  The implications are intoxicating — probably another reason to have a designated driver for awhile yet.  In the meantime, I’m craving enchiladas!

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