Comfortable, Beautiful Posture with the Feldenkrais Method(R)

Sunday afternoon at the NiaMoves Studio, it happened again.

“It” was the quiet, rapt attention of complete absorption in the present moment, shared simultaneously and individually by ten people.  The topic was posture — probably the one aspect of our beings for which we criticize and judge ourselves the most. “It” was a gentle, profound transformation, brought about by new ideas and new experiences. “It” is the reason why someone would keep coming back, again and again, after their first Feldenkrais class.

Watch the video:

It’s interesting to note that the Feldenkrais Method produces these changes without stretching, strengthening, or struggling.  Just easy, gentle movements, done with great awareness.  When you can sense yourself more fully, feel the force of gravity traveling through your bones, and easily expand your movement choices (nothing is forbidden, anything is permitted), it seems that natural, elegant, graceful carriage just EMERGES.  What a great feeling!

Here are the “take-aways” from the workshop:

Posture Myth #1:  Your spine should be straight.
How much back pain and awkwardness have resulted from this misconception?  Viewed from the side, your spine has curves that are “architecturally” necessary for proper cushioning against shocks, and for freedom of movement.  Our aesthetic of “good posture,” which we describe as “standing up straight,” is actually a spine that is long and vertical — but not straight.

Posture Myth #2:  You should have “good posture” all the time.
We looked at pictures of a professional golfer at various stages of his swing; of Lance Armstrong riding in the 2009 Tour de France; of a martial artist in “ready” position; and of an opera singer as Mimi in La Boheme, in the last scene, where she is lying in bed and dying of tuberculosis (as she floats a beautiful high B-flat!).  NONE of these pictures illustrated a traditional notion of “good posture.”  Clearly, there is a disconnect between our ideas about posture, and the realities of peak performance.  Moshe Feldenkrais actually coined a word, “acture,” (in contrast to “posture”) to reflect the active and dynamic attributes of graceful movement.

Posture Myth #3:  “Bad posture” must be corrected, or you risk long-term problems.
This is a tricky one.  I would argue that the correction and criticism about posture that many endure, unceasingly, from a young age, is anxiety producing, emotionally damaging, and does as much harm if not more so than a little slouching would ever cause.   Criticism from our parents, teachers, and other authority figures is soon incorporated so that the disapproval comes from within.  A person subject to constant criticism will not have the self-confidence and sturdy self-esteem that produces upright and strong posture.  Not gonna happen.

The Feldenkrais Method does not correct.  Rather, it provides a process of experimentation and exploration, guided by sensing, that allows one to self-regulate, adjust, and adapt to changing situational demands, and according to one’s internal, subjective experience of pleasure, comfort, and ease. There is no position that is judged to be bad, or good.  The problem is not in the position itself, but in the lack of variety in movements. It’s the getting stuck that causes the problems.  So many contraptions, braces, devices, and exercises reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of posture, movement, and dynamic living — and cause more problems than they solve.  No change in posture — or anything else — can happen without awareness and sensation of what you are doing.

How to have good posture?  Of course, I recommend you get yourself to a Feldenkrais class, and change your posture for GOOD.  In the meantime —

DO experience and sense yourself — DON’T judge
DO remain flexible — DON’T “fix” or become rigid
DO include your whole self in movement — DON’T have tunnel vision of just one body part
DO explore options — DON’T limit your choices
DO pursue sustainability — DON’T settle for a short-term solution

Good posture can be graceful, fluid, easy, sensual, and pleasurable.  Come and learn how!

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A New Discovery

[April 1, 2010] Feldenkrais practitioners worldwide reacted with excitement today at news of the discovery of lost lessons and notes by the founder of the Feldenkrais Method, Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984).

Workers discovered a box of manuscripts and reel-to-reel tapes in an upstairs broom closet at the Alexander Yanai studio in Tel Aviv, where Moshe Feldenkrais field-tested the majority of his group lessons, called Awareness Through Movement. Previously, 550 lessons in eleven volumes and over 4,000 pages were believed to comprise the complete opus known as the “Alexander Yanai lessons.”  While practitioners and former protegees of Dr. Feldenkrais sort through the new material, unnamed sources report that several reams of documents will keep translators and transcribers busy for years. In addition to the new lessons, numerous personal notations in the margins, in Dr. Feldenkrais’s handwriting,  provide scholars with insights that show the Feldenkrais Method in a new light.

Peeps at Alexander Yanai

“We suspected that Moshe had a wicked sweet tooth, but could never prove it,” said Elton Biskin, day janitor at the AY studio.  “There is page after page of poetry and drawings about Peeps, of all things.  Apparently, Peeps provided Moshe with a daily “power boost,” much like I have a Red Bull every day.”

Indeed, Peeps introduced their classic yellow marshmallow chick in 1953.  Biskin believes Moshe Feldenkrais was an early adopter and consumer of the sugary candy, and may have had friends smuggle them into Israel for him.

“The new lessons are astonishing,” Biskin said.  Soon, ATM classes around the world will be able to do new variations on the classic lessons, like “Peep Through the Gap,” “Distinctions in Peeps,” “Peeps and Eyes,” and the puzzling and oblique “Spine Like a Peep.”  Biskin continued, “It appears that Dr. Feldenkrais was working on a manuscript, which he never completed.  The working title was ‘The Potent Peep.'”

The new, Peep-centric lessons have raised fundamental questions about the origin of Feldenkrais’s thinking around the issues of evolution, anxiety, and sexuality.  Did Moshe Feldenkrais develop his work because of, or in spite of, repeated and long-term massive sugar jolts from Peeps?  The 2010 Conference of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America this summer will feature a morning track of Peep ATM’s in their “premiere,” open to the public.  Feldenkrais teachers are advised to acquire and stockpile Peeps during the after-Easter sales, to be able to adapt to the anticipated instructional trend.

Reported by MaryBeth Smith for April Fool’s Day!  Share and enjoy.

‘Tis the “Season”

Mint leaves.
Image via Wikipedia

Lovely new pots of herbs grace my back patio, and I’m enjoying the morning routine of surveying the landholdings and watering each one.  Parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano, mint, and cilantro are getting used to their new and comparatively spacious surroundings, adjusting to the daily rhythm of light and shade.  The plants are already contributing their dash of dazzling flavors in our favorite recipes.

The existence of mint on my patio inspires me to find recipes that need mint.  The possibility was not immediately available previously, but now it is, and it requires action.  I trimmed off the excess from a gift oregano plant so the smallish root could more easily support less foliage as it adjusts to its new pot.  The addition of ultra-fresh oregano in simple pasta with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes is beyond delicious.  Salads, sauces, and most of all, my imagination, begin to tingle with the new possibilities. I envision a bumper crop of basil, and the glorious prospect of fresh pesto with EVERYTHING. . .

Often, after an Awareness Through Movement lesson, people will walk around with a strange, yet pleasant, expression on their faces.  Some look as if they are listening intently to a quiet and distant voice.  Others have a curious look, as though they’ve just tasted a fascinating flavor that they can’t quite classify.  I’ve come to appreciate “that look” as the look of someone encountering the surprise of their own hidden potential.  Sometimes, the “flavor” is the presence of a new and fluid quality in walking or reaching.  For some, it is the absence of a long-present discomfort for the first time in recent or long memory.  You can see the confidence, the grace, the refreshed outlook as the impossible becomes possible; the possible becomes easy, and the easy becomes elegant, delightful, and fascinating.

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Just swim, Michael

This morning, out of the corner of my ear, I heard the CNN sports commentator saying, “Now the pressure is REALLY on. If Michael Phelps wins gold tonight, he’ll get a million dollars. . .”

I hope that Michael Phelps is not like the rest of us. OK, clearly, anyone with 11 career gold medals, eating 12,000 calories a day, is already not like the rest of us. I hope that Michael, at age 23, possesses the self-mastery most of us lack.

B.F. Skinner, the founder of the theories of Behavioral Psychology, has influenced our thinking today. Reward what you want. Win another gold medal, and you’ll get a million bucks. Punish what you don’t want. No gold, no cool million for you! All sorts of parenting techniques, classroom management plans, employee incentive programs, and foreign policy decisions are based on a Skinner model of stimulus and response. To reduce all human action to reward-seeking or punishment-avoidance is simplistic, manipulative, and dehumanizing.

I hope Michael Phelps swims because he loves to swim, and because he’s good at it, and because it’s fun. I like to think that he doesn’t care at all about the medals, but they are nice icing on the cake. They symbolize his achievement, they don’t cause it. Of course, the money would be great. But adding in the reward/punishment dimension is a sure way to sabotage brilliant performance.

Moshe Feldenkrais observed that when one is striving to meet an externally imposed goal, the spine shortens, muscles tense, and the body (and mind) actually works against itself. He called this “cross motivation,” and it occurs when one forsakes one’s internal truth to maintain external equilibrium. There are lots of examples of this: the child stops doing what she’s doing because of the fear of losing parental approval, love, protection. The employee cooks the books to keep his job. The candidate delivers the sound bite, and dies a little inside. Feldenkrais attributed most of our human mental and physical difficulties to the problem of cross motivation.

If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you can’t help but notice that he makes it look easy. He is clearly strong and powerful, but all of his strength and power are focused on moving him through the water with the greatest speed and efficiency. There’s no wasted effort, no struggle, no straining. He is free of cross-motivation! Would straining make him faster? Of course not. Unnecessary muscular effort would make him less buoyant, less mobile, less flexible. Will dangling a million dollars at the finish line make him swim faster? Probably just the opposite, unless Michael Phelps has some great inner resources to draw upon.

The young Mr. Phelps has already learned how to tune out a lot of the hype. He’ll need to rely on “the cultivation of detachment,” the ability to care without caring. Tonight, he needs to swim like it’s just another day at the pool. Of course we project our own hopes, dreams, and foibles onto Olympic heroes. Of course we live in a material world that can be difficult. But let’s not weigh him down with expectations and judgment. Leave him alone, and let the guy swim.

One of my great friends, an actor in Chicago for many years, had this advice about auditions: “You already don’t got the job.” His point is this: go ahead, audition, compete, give it your best shot. What have you got to lose? If you don’t get hired, then nothing changes. You can’t lose something that you don’t have! I hope Michael Phelps has someone keeping him steady and light-hearted. You already don’t got the million bucks. This is one of the best ideas I know of for staying in the present moment. Whatever you wish to accomplish, go for it. The worst that can happen is that nothing will change.

I’ll be cheering today, and I’ll be thriled to watch him. If I could give Michael Phelps some advice, I’d give him a maternal hug and say, “Just swim, Michael.” It’s a reminder of something he already knows and practices. We can learn from him.