A photo of James Nestor with an illustration of the effects of breathing through your mouth on your facial structure.

Breathe through Your Nose (yes, when you’re sleeping too!)

Sometimes I learn something life-changing that I must share. This is one of those times.

As a Feldenkrais® teacher, I’ve studied and taught numerous ways of breathing. And breath has been a focus of several meditation practices I follow. I felt like an expert.

A series of ten therapeutic cathartic breathwork sessions showed me more. Breathing in a specific rhythm and manner led me into an altered state of consciousness where deep emotional healing was facilitated.

Then last fall my sister Gwen came to visit. A friend had recommended that she read Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. That friend was reading the book for the third time. I got Breath from the library, and Gwen and I tag-teamed reading it over the holidays.

My first take-away: breathe through your nose.

Whatever you’re doing, breathe through your nose.

Reading? Yes.

Walking? Yes.

Running? Yes.

Sleeping? Yes!

Halfway through the book I was already breathing through my nose while awake.

Nose breathing & sleeping

But what do you do while you’re sleeping? Tape your mouth.

That’s right.

Gwen immediately ordered “Hostage” brand tape and started sleeping with it. She reported that she forgot she was wearing it in the morning.

I did a little research, and it turns out all you need is a little piece of micropore tape holding your lips together. You don’t even need to cover your whole mouth. See this video the breath guy—investigative reporter James Nestor— recorded. Short, simple explanation. And it works.

I’ve been sleeping with my mouth taped for about a month. What I’m noticing so far:

  • No more snoring
  • No more tooth grinding (bruxism)—my mouth guard is going into deep storage
  • No more drooling while sleeping
  • Waking up with a moist mouth, as opposed to a dry one, which I’m guessing is a boost for tooth health (did you know saliva cleans your teeth?)
  • A better bite, which it turns out relaxes my jaw muscles
  • Reduced TMJ pain (it’s almost gone)

Did you know sleep apnea is growing by epidemic proportions? Folks are actually getting their jaws surgically altered sometimes to solve the problem, which can lead to permanent loss of sensation in your face. Sleeping with your mouth taped might be a solution. Seems worth trying; it’s way cheaper than surgery, at the very least.

Chewing?

Another practice to consider: increase the amount of time you spend chewing. When you chew, you can literally grow more space in your jaw, at any age. Which is great for your teeth, for talking, singing. Also for looking younger.

The breakfast cereal I invented takes prolonged chewing. And it’s delicious. One half steel-cut oats, one half chia seeds. Soak overnight. Add the spices you enjoy, salt. Cook around 25 minutes. Currently I’m eating a huge bowl every morning topped with cranberry and apple compote, flax seed meal, yogurt, and maple syrup or honey. Unbelievably tasty and wonderful texture. I wake up craving it. Let me know if you’d like a more detailed recipe.

James Nestor recommends a particular gum, which I’ve not tried yet.

What does it take to change?

Actually, I think a client of mine mentioned the book in 2020 when it was published. I was too distracted at the time to pay attention. I’m grateful Gwen mentioned it now, when I was ready to listen and take action.

Most folks seem interested when I tell them about the book. A few have said they’ve read it. But only one so far has decided to try breathing through their nose, other than my sister. Yet it’s virtually free, easy to try, and potentially has enormous health benefits for our internal organs, immune system, facial bone structure, and more.

I’m trying to understand what keeps the people I’m telling about it from trying breathing through their noses exclusively.

Maybe they’ve not reached threshold energy yet. That place where you say: Enough! The place James Nestor reached, where he said, There’s gotta be a better way. And went and did the research. And then shared it with us.

There are some complex techniques Nestor offers, in the second part of the book. But you can get started right now, before you read it.

Breathe through your nose.

Let me know how it goes.

Working with Internal Organs: No Guts, No Glory

I was lucky enough to do a day-long workshop with Elinor Silverstein at the 2018 Feldenkrais® conference. The subject was working with internal organs: “No Guts, No Glory.”

Feldenkrais training focuses on skeletal movement, so the idea of relating directly to our viscera intrigued me.

During the demo, Elinor’s fingers danced lightly across her client’s abdomen as she described the path. Then she led us through self-examination, recommending we use the pressure of “half a grape.”

Throughout, Elinor was bubbling over with infectious delight.

3D rendering of a male skeleton torso

3D rendering of a male skeleton torso

Elinor pointed out the open space in the middle of the skeletal model, where our internal organs nestle. It’s between our diaphragmatic arch and the pelvic bowl, and it’s huge! What an opportunity. And we lose that opportunity if we don’t help our clients and ourselves become aware of what’s going on there: digestion, elimination, acid reflux.

I’m not going to lie—feeling your way into the right amount of pressure takes practice. I did get nauseated during the first part of the session. But by the end of the afternoon, I was starting to get a handle on the Goldilocks pressure, just enough to connect and listen through my fingertips, and for my internal organs and tissues to listen to my fingertips. Closing the loop.

Fight or Flight

Vagus nerve vector illustration. Labeled anatomical structure scheme and location diagram of human body longest nerve. Infographic with isolated ganglion, branches and plexus. Inner biological ANS.So many of us live with the fight or flight switch constantly On. In other words, we live with lax vagal nerves. Our digestion suffers, and more.

Every Feldenkrais lesson offers the opportunity to tonify your vagus nerve. Notice during the next lesson you take how your breathing slows and deepens, how your circulation improves, how the floor beneath you seems to soften. All that is you shifting into para-sympathetic mode, rest and digest. Doesn’t it feel refreshing? That’s why you often finish a lesson feeling lighter, more cheerful, rested.

Falling into Winter

The fall caught me off guard. How about you?

The first time I really became aware of the seasonal shift was a few days ago when I noticed an familiar bird singing: a chickadee. I realized that I’d actually not heard a chickadee since I moved to Malden. Sketch of a black capped chickadeeSo I unfurled my Merlin Bird ID app, wondering who else was in town, and discovered that many of the birds I was listening to were quite different than the ones I’d heard last spring. House sparrows were still there, and Northern Cardinals and American Robins (English ones are different, y’all!) but now joined to the chorus were Blue Jays, Tufted Titmouse, Chipping Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatch. Gone were Catbirds and Baltimore Orioles.

My neighbor and I chatted yesterday, as I went by on my morning walk with Boodie. He asked if I still walked three times a day in the middle of winter. I told him, yes, that’s why I had winter clothes, and we shared a laugh. But it made me think: how often do we give up moving because of bad weather? Stop going outside, and stay in controlled environments? Daily movement, whether you call it “exercise” or walking your dog or gardening, is essential for our health, in all senses. Winter, when flu begins to circulate, is exactly when we need to take even better care of our health, and yet that’s when many of us move less.

Movement is necessary, yet not sufficient. My neighbor walks regularly on the high school track. He’s rarely challenged by uneven pavement.

Yesterday on my walk, I tripped on the pavement and fell. No big deal: I fell well, got up and kept walking.

None of us can live forever in controlled environments. Electricity can fail. Shoelaces come untied and we trip over those. A tornado touches down (yes, even in Massachusetts). Pandemics arise.

Are you prepared for changing seasons? The changing seasons of your life, as well as of the earth?

How are you cultivating resiliency, and, better, anti-fragility? So that, whatever happens, you’re able not only to take care of yourself, but also others around you?


Today I’m sipping the first ginger tea of the season. Like to join me? Here’s my recipe, in another of my autumnal musings. (Scroll down to the bottom of the blog, and, if you like, send Finn Finn fond thoughts as you go.)

When Practice Pans Out

So this year I’ve already fallen twice. Which has actually delighted me.

What I learned, again, is that I can trust myself. That the years of work, time, and attention I’ve devoted to practicing and teaching the Feldenkrais Method® have given me skills I can draw on instantly.

The first time I fell, I slipped on the ice and fell backward. I caught myself on my hands. My hat flew one way, the dog poo bag another. A little boy walking to school asked if I was alright, and brought me the poo bag, holding it with two fingers. The position I landed in was actually a transition position from a specific Feldenkrais lesson which I’ve re-visited multiple times, because at first I couldn’t use it to get up, and I wanted to learn it.

Illustration of a human figure in multiple positions: standing, lying, walking, dancing, anything you can imagine. When practice pans out.Last Friday, Boodie (my dog) and I were walking really fast and my left foot hit a heave in the sidewalk. I fell forward, again onto my hands and knees. Just skinned my knee and bruised my toe.

I know you’ve heard me say this, if you’ve come to class with me, but it bears repeating: all our lessons on the floor are so we can bring what we learn into the rest of our life. So we can be more aware, resilient, calm. Enjoyable as it is, Feldenkrais matters because practicing it makes us more equal to the demands of our lives.

Have you found that to be true for yourself?

Self-Love

The theme which emerged for March classes is self-love. Not an easy subject for many of us to look at, certainly not for me. Which is exactly why I chose it.

Sometimes I become aware of to the language I use to correct myself. I wonder why I’m so much harsher to myself than I would ever be to anyone else.

Inner Voices

Witch hazel

Witch hazel blooms in March. One of the first trees to flower in the spring in Portland, ME.

My business coach Allison Rapp says, those voices we hear inside when we slow down and become quiet enough to listen are parts of ourselves we created as protection, often a long time ago. We actually created them out with love. We took care of ourselves, got ourselves through difficult situations. We got ourselves this far.

Now we may not need those voices. In fact, they may be holding us back; however, we’re mostly not aware of them. If we do take the time to listen and begin to  hear those voices, instead of trying to silence or argue with them, we can thank them for protecting us. And, when we’re ready, let them know they’re no longer needed.

It’s exactly what we discover when we work with ourselves during a Feldenkrais® lesson. Old patterns which were useful at one time which are no longer necessary. That stiffness, for example, in the ankle you sprained as a child. You tonified the muscles around the injury to protect it. And you’ve kept that tonification for years afterwards, not even aware of that unnecessary, parasitic effort.

Sometimes those inner voices speak up during a lesson. Have you had that experience? Heard yourself thinking something like—

  • “Everyone else can do it.”
  • “I’ll never be flexible enough to do it.”
  • “I’m too old to do that.”

When you notice that voice, how do you respond? Do you push through resistance? Find yourself holding your breath or clenching your jaw? Or could you be curious about what you encounter? Like:” oh, wow! When I roll toward my left side, it’s so easy, I’m already rolling before I know it. When I try to roll right, I feel stiff. Even my ribs seem to have a different shape. Cool. Could I use that shape to find a different way to roll right? Because it’s probably good for something, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.

I have begun taking the time to look for and listen to my inner voices. And to talk with them. First as an occasional exercise, approached as a skeptic: fake it til you make it, basically. I’d imagine what I might hear if a inner voice were to speak to me. Because I trust my coach: her advice in other arenas has proved excellent.

Recently, I took a plant medicine journey in which I spoke with at least three different parts of myself. For hours. They spontaneously manifested during the journey. The only conscious intention on my part. Each voice came from a particular part of my body. Had different tones. One was situated in my abdomen, at the hara area. She was wise and kind. She took care of the others. One voice was about four years old. She felt herself sitting on the floor. She was making herself small, was afraid to breath. She wanted to be unseen. She was located behind my sternum. She was clearly associated with the anxiety pattern I’ve long been aware of, a holding in my sternum and front ribs. Another voice was my “uber” mind. She would say things like, “Don’t waste this.” Or, “You’re wasting this experience.”

The voice I continually returned to was the kind, wise one. She felt like she was holding the others, supporting them, letting them feel safe to express their fear and know that they were seen, listened to, and loved.

I’m wondering, what would that my harsh inner voice need to hear or know to feel she could be gentler, less critical?

What comes up for you when you contemplate “self-love?”

Cultivate Equanimity for January 2022

Would you like to cultivate equanimity?

That’s the theme which I’ve chosen for class in January 2022.

Photo of a pond near Boston in winter. Just to gaze at open water seems to cultivate equanimity.Actually, the theme chose me. It simply presented itself last week. It feels right for so many reasons.

The world continues to feel chaotic for most of us. Erratic weather. The spread of COVID, with new variants, and our continual need to adjust—my heart goes out to school teachers, parents, and children. And to those staffing our hospitals. The folks who keep our buses and trains running. And the other essential workers—our grocery staff, garbage collectors, and here in the Northeast, the folks who plow our roads.

I’m thinking of those of us who work from home and our isolation. We can keep healthy physically, but we’re stressed mentally. Humans are inherently social creatures. As my husband used to say, we’re pack animals.

Cultivate Equanimity

What can equanimity offer? The possibility to recover your balance. Find your footing again when you’re knocked off balance. Metaphorically speaking, and literally. Slip and recover. Renew your trust in yourself. Refresh your ability to pivot, change course. Another way to visualize equanimity: it’s that calm place at the center of the storm. It’s your heart beat. It’s your breath. It’s the ground supporting your feet.

Or as Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the Feldenkrais Method, writes:

“So, to balance the cortex means to reduce all points of excitation to normal activity. In this pursuit, you will find that there is no point of excitation possible without an inhibition. In reducing the excitation, you also relieve the inhibition. When you level the cortex, you bring it to that state which some people call nirvana and we call eutony. Suddenly your brain becomes quiet and you see things that you never saw before. The possibility of making new combinations, which were inhibited before, is restored. The great value of this technique is that by reducing tension in a particular group of muscles, it provides a methodical study of the entire self-image, and through study, improvement….The correction of these flaws is neither conceived nor experienced as the treatment of a disease but as a general resumption of growth and development on all levels.”
― Moshé Feldenkrais, Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais

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If you’re like to nurture your own equanimity in class with me, join us Thursdays at 12:30 pm ET/11:30 am CT/9:30 am PT. Remember to register here: it’s a new link for 2022.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!

Dark Days & Ginger Tea

I woke up to the dark this morning. My first Nor’easter’s blowing in, bringing rain and wind. It’s loosening leaves still left on the trees.

On our walk this morning, Finn and I met another dog swathed in a billowing brand-new, yellow rain slicker, still with its store tag on. His human wore a matching slicker.

I’m finding myself strategizing about the best times to walk with him. Listening to the weather report—when will rain be lightest? Preparing the pile of old towels for drying him—it takes a lot to dry a Tibetan Terrier!—and wiping his feet. It’s our wet weather system.

Still life with fall flowers and fresh gingerAnd I’ve returned to a trusted fall practice: keeping a pot of ginger tea simmering on the stove. Taking advantage of the farmers market, I’m using just-harvested ginger,  with beautifully translucent pink and white skin. The smell, the feel of the warm mug in my hand, the spicy taste are enormously comforting.

How do you prepare for dark times? What familiar rituals do you practice to lighten your day? I’d love to know.

BTW, If you’d like to make fresh ginger tea yourself, it’s simple. Fill a big pot with water. Set to simmer. Chop and add several ginger bulbs. Taste after an hour or so. You can add more or less ginger, depending on your taste. If you like, add fresh lemon juice and honey to your cup. Research suggests ginger stimulates your immune system, as well as your senses. Enjoy!

What Triggers Anxiety

A despairing human figure sits surrounded by question marks.We’re living in extraordinarily unsettled times, no matter where we are. It seems there’s little that we can control right now, except the way that we choose to respond to this chaotic world. Yet it can feel as if we don’t have choices, as if circumstances trap us. Moshe Feldenkrais suggested that believing we have no choice creates anxiety.

Feldenkrais also lived in unsettled times. He lived through pogroms in the Ukraine. He fled the Nazi invasion of France. The method he developed is his response: to cultivate self-knowledge through movement.

In the Elusive Obvious, Feldenkrais writes:
“When choice is reduced to only one movement or act without any alternatives, anxiety may be so great that we cannot even do the only possible movement. . . Anxiety can be a positive, useful phenomenon. It assures our safety from risking what we feel would endanger our very existence. Anxiety appears when deep in ourselves we know that we have no other choice—no alternative way of acting [emphasis mine]. . . . Without learning to know ourselves as intimately as we possibly can, we limit our choice. Life is not very sweet without freedom of choice.”

I teach and practice the Feldenkrais Method® for many reasons, not least of which is, to help us discover and expand our range of choices, both physical and mental. So that we aren’t forced to dwell in the shape of anxiety. So that no matter what comes, we have ourselves to rely on.

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As a specific antidote to anxiety, here’s a breathing lesson to play with.

What Happens When Your Habits Stop Serving You?

We’re all in uncharted territory. Our daily habits are useless. What do we do? Maybe the first step is to become calm.

Front cover of Atomic Habits bookI’m reading Atomic Habits right now.

It’s an odd book to be reading at this particular time, from one point of view. The coronavirus has forced most of us out of our daily routines. Habits have dropped by the wayside. We’re working from home—if we’re lucky enough to have jobs. Or maybe supplies considered essential to doing our jobs safely aren’t available, and we have to jury-rig alternatives.

On the other hand, it’s actually the perfect time to be reading this book. Because we have the opportunity, maybe now or in the coming weeks or months, after this pandemic, to consider our old habits, decide which we value and which we want to change, and cultivate new habits. There’s absolutely no way we can go about business as usual.

The chapter I read this week is “The Secret to Self-Control.” James Clear, the book’s author, describes research done with American soldiers who became addicted to heroin during the Vietnam War. When they went back home, only 12 percent became re-addicted after three years. The re-addiction rate for heroin addicts living in the USA is 90 percent when they get home after rehab.

Researchers found that “addictions could spontaneously dissolve if there was a radical change in the environment” (p. 92).

We have a remarkable opportunity right now to observe our habits in their absence, both personally and globally. We are experiencing a radical change in our environment. Willy nilly. The ground has dropped out from under us.

A face mask in a clear box.I realize reflection isn’t possible for many of us right now. I just listened to a story on This American Life about a family of three in a New York apartment, 500 feet in size. Both parents sick with COVID-19. The mother locked in the bedroom to protect their two year-old. The father doing his best to care for his child during what they’re calling “Inside Time.” They don’t have the luxury to reflect right now. Nor do our first responders. Nor do the migrant workers in India who have nowhere to shelter and no way to practice social distancing.

But it’s clear to me that most of us will realize when we’re past this crisis, that we can’t go back to business as usual. We have a chance to craft a new Normal. We can choose new habits on a personal, country-wide, and international level. If we want.

Or we can try to go back to whatever Normal was before this pandemic. And wait for the rug to be pulled out from under us again. Because this isn’t the first pandemic we’ve faced; it won’t be the last.

To put it in the most mundane terms, how many times do you need to stub your toe on a chair before you decide to move the chair to a different place? How many times do you need to dislocate your shoulder before you decide maybe there’s a way you could move without dislocating your shoulder?

How do you create the conditions in which habit changing is possible?

A quality we’ll need to cultivate, both now, if we can, and later, is the quality of calm. That place in yourself you can trust without question. Buddhists call it bodhichitta or buddha nature. It’s the gap between your in-breath and your out-breath. It’s the space of potential, before you act or react. You touch it during contemplative prayer or meditation, or in a Feldenkrais® lesson. Essentially, it’s compassion.

Does this sound like a quality you’d like to cultivate?

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A girl walks quietly on a crowded streetGoing Deeper

If you’re interested cultivating calm, come to Finding Calm, the free online intensive Russ Mitchell and I are offering April 24-26. Come  Friday, Saturday or Sunday, or to all three sessions.

Let’s cultivate calm together.

Move Small So You Can Move Big

Are you in training for something? Maybe getting ready for a dream vacation or a competitive run?

Or maybe you’ve noticed that you’ve started to limit what you do: you’re not walking as far, or you’re carrying less weight. And you’d like to turn that trajectory around.

Russ Mitchell wrote an excellent blog about training smart and limiting injury with the Feldenkrais Method® which you’ll want to read. His explanation of the function of our different kinds of muscles makes it simple to understand: keep reading for an excerpt from his blog.

Postural Vs. Phasic Muscles

“You have two basic types of muscles: postural muscles and phasic muscles. If you cook a turkey, the postural muscles are the “dark meat,” and the phasic muscles the “white meat.” (Look at where that meat sits on a turkey… it becomes pretty obvious why each is where they are pretty quickly!)

The postural, aka “slow twitch” muscles are weaker — dramatically weaker — than the “fast twitch” phasic muscles. But “fast twitch” doesn’t mean “faster to execute.” The “Twitch” in these fibers’ names is in regard to how quickly they exhaust. “Slow twitch” fibers are called that because they may not be strong, but they’re long-lasting, and they come into action before the phasic muscles do. . . .

Easy example: postural muscles work all the time to counter-act gravity, mostly without any conscious awareness on your part. But ever accidentally exhausted the muscles in your jaw? Wasn’t that fun?

If you can't do it slow you can't do it fast.So why does this matter, and where does the Feldenkrais Method come in? Well, put simply, for you to avoid injuring your joints with explosive movements, you need to be able to get yourself into an alignment where you can muster your awesome athletic and artistic forces properly. The slow-twitch fibers are actually the first to be recruited once you have an idea of the movement you intend to do, in order to get your skeleton into position to “do the thing” properly so that you can jump, throw, swing, twist, dive, etcetera, easily, fluidly, and without strain.

Otherwise, even if you’re not in a squat rack, performing these activities with bad alignment tears up your body just as surely as would trying to perform a heavy squat or deadlift while standing knock-kneed. Anthony Bourdain, before he passed, used to lament the long-term damage he’d done to his hand just using a whisk. And any string musician can tell you what “bad form” will do to your wrists and elbows.”

Read the rest of Russ’ blog here.

Moving Forward

Does this inspire you to learn more about practicing small to move big? Join us for an upcoming class or workshop! Get more info here.