The Next Big Trend

Rendering of human brain.
Image via Wikipedia

A new trand is emerging.  Not surprisingly, the Feldenkrais Method is on the leading edge:  by about 50 years!

According to a recent article in Psychiatric News, “Brain Training May Be Next Fitness Craze.”   Sounds great, right?  Read the article here, and then come back to join us.

It’s confusing.  Especially when you read other data, like the study that says “brain games” don’t work. Who is right?

Physical exercise, especially moderate aerobics, has been shown to have a high positive correlation with keeping your marbles.  So do activities that provide you with an experience of “flow:”  those absorbing, engaging moments and hours spent in discovery, action, novelty, and mastery.  Musicians with their instruments, stamp collectors and model makers, writers, athletes, gardeners  — this “flow state” can be experienced by anyone, from any walk of life. Feldenkrais classes and lessons create this experience of “flow,” or “being in the zone,” through gentle movement and attention.  And that is the secret ingredient.

Rather than looking for a remedy or a treatment as your first response, look first to what you enjoy, and what you do well.  There’s no sense in taking a sudoku puzzle like a pill, if you don’t enjoy it.  Even Moshe Feldenkrais said, “These movements are nothing.”  It’s not the WHAT, it’s the HOW.  It’s your own attention that creates the change and makes the improvement.  It’s your attention and consciousness that stimulates your brain’s own neuroplasticity, adaptability, and capacity to learn.  Attention is what indicates that you are here, now.  Isn’t that the primary criteria for mental competence?  It’s a good place to start, anyway.

So — play video games if you enjoy them.  Do puzzles, learn languages if they make you happy and open up your life.  By all means, exercise, move, enjoy your body and all that it can do. Be a life-long learner.  BUT:  Don’t do these things out of fear, or out for some misplaced faith in the latest expert or gadget.

I don’t have data to back this up  — however, my sense is that boredom is the first step on the slippery slope of mental decline.  I frequently see updates on my Facebook wall or Twitter feed from some  acquaintance  who says, “I am so bored,” or a variation on that.  There is a spoken or unspoken demand and expectation that someone else supply a solution, an activity, a rescue for the intractable and unacceptable  state of boredom.

The statement, “I’m bored” brings out the worst in me.  Ooooh!  It is a hot button, pet peeve — wow.  I become my most brittle and judgmental self.  “Are you completely incapable of finding even one idea for how to entertain yourself?”  I want to scold.  “Do you know how to read?  Do you know how to walk? Cook?  Clean your house? Go to a movie?  Is there anything you could do on your own to solve your problem in this moment without whining about it?”  Thankfully, I reserve that speech for private rants, take a deep breath, and further develop my theory:  Frequent feelings of boredom indicate a lack of engagement with whatever is happening in the present moment.  As far as I can tell, the present moment is all we have for sure.

The Feldenkrais Method teaches you how to pay attention. NOW.  It uses movement, touch, and a lot of humor to achieve this.  It reduces the noise and distraction that overwhelm and cause you to “tune out” and disconnect  in self-defense.  It teaches you to be curious, to explore, to enjoy, to invent.  It shows you that you are capable in ways that were not immediately obvious to you.   THAT is “brain training” that actually works.

^^^^^^^

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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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Eye of the Beholder

I don’t write about politics, so don’t worry. I won’t be expressing a political viewpoint or preference here, so it’s safe to read on without fear of being offended or angered by what you read. I won’t be writing about the debates, nor the candidates, nor even the issues. I’d like to write about perception.

Perception is completely individual. It has to do with sense and sensation, with attention and preference, and with our desire for order or our tolerance for different levels of chaos. Art, including photography and film making, has always experimented with the play of images and sounds to create particular perceptual effects. Increasingly, news outlets actively present images and information intended to shape our perceptions. A popular saying posits, “Perception is reality.” But sometime, our perceptions can be demonstrably false.

(Please open this blog in another window, and click on the picture to view the animation.) Here’s something fun to show you how perception can change. If your eyes follow the movement of the rotating pink dot, the dots remain one color, pink.

However, if you stare at the black “+” sign in the middle, the moving dot turns to green. Keep looking at the “+” sign. The pink dots gradually disappear, and you’ll just see one green dot. Isn’t the brain interesting? There is no green dot, and the pink ones don’t disappear–all you have to do is blink, and they’ll be back. This example illustrates how perception shifts. We don’t always see what we think we see. (More fun optical illusions at http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/illusion/illusions.htm)

Do you remember the time before cable TV and the internet reigned supreme? There were basically four television stations: ABC, CBS, NBC, and later, PBS. Everyone watched the same programs and talked about them. In conversations, people would express different opinions about what they had seen, and you could learn a lot about the world from listening to different viewpoints. Can you imagine only four choices on television? Cable TV and the internet have given us virtually infinite choices in what to watch and what to read. It’s possible to select your favorites, so that you get more and more of what you like, and what you agree with.

Unfortunately, what was intended to provide breadth, depth, and variety in information has actually limited us, our intelligence, and our decision-making. It’s possible to choose news and entertainment preferences so that you never hear an opinion that conflicts with yours. You might never see or hear anything that challenges you to move beyond what you already know or believe to be true. There’s a never-ending supply of brain-candy, causing the intellect to shut down so that curiosity dies, and you lose the ability to process anything that doesn’t give you that feel-good jolt of total agreement. Never mind out-and-out conflict: just a differing viewpoint can come as a shock, or even a threat. You can find lots of ranting cable TV personalities and internet bloggers all along the ideological spectrum who parley honest differences of opinion and approach into self-aggrandizing, superiority-inflated name-calling and vitriolic judgment of those with whom they disagree. What up wid dat?

One of the most valuable things I have learned from my study and practice of the Feldenkrais Method is the ability to develop multiple approaches and perspectives to the problems I face in daily life. Each lesson begins with a scan of the body, which serves not so much as a “reality check,” but as a status report on what is being perceived in the moment. In an atmosphere of non-judgment and safety, I can explore gentle movements that are familiar to me. I can begin with what is familiar and make minor adjustments, additions, deletions, expansions, and something that looks new begins to emerge. The novel and unfamiliar inspires my curiosity to explore further, and to choose whether to incorporate some of it because it’s immediately useful, or come back and explore more for another time.

If a movement is uncomfortable, I can usually do it if I am more gentle, if I go more slowly, or if I just do a small version. I emerge from an “all or nothing” mentality and can actually implement actions that lead me in the direction I want to go. I can even do the same movement in a different position or orientation: we can often do some of the very same movements in different planes or positions. The same movement can activate different neural pathways, different sensation and perception. My original perceptions often change, and I am able to function at a higher level as a direct result of considering and experiencing different ways of doing the same thing. This approach to movement can translate into all areas of life that involve action, thought, and emotion, in addition to sensation.

Moshe Feldenkrais often said that high-functioning individuals have at least three different ways of doing anything. Only having one way means you repeat the same actions again and again, with no alternative. This is compulsive behavior. When you have two choices, you are equally limited, but in a mechanistic way. You’re either doing “it,” or you’re not doing “it,” and you are reduced to a binary system. As soon as a third option is available, you are more able to exercise your human potential to create and choose. Being able to choose between multiple options leads to higher quality decision-making and actions that result from them. You may still return to your original choice as the best option, but you will do so consciously and humanly instead of reactively, compulsively, or mechanically.

This election season has caused me to be more questioning of what I see, and hear, and read. How much of your decision-making is based on preference and habit? How much does perception cause you to react, rather than reflect? Perception is not Reality: but it is A reality. To perceive more, with awareness, can lead to a richer and more accurate reality for you and for those around you. Perception is in the eye, the brain, and the intentions of the beholder.