Move Your Shoulders Like Wheels

What’s Happening in May & June

The next Feldenkrais® series are just around the corner, and they’ll be shorter than usual: four and five weeks.

At the end of June, I’m going to the annual Feldenkrais conference for five days. Count on my coming back with a bunch of new ideas we’ll play with in class, as I’ll be training with my mentor Jeff Haller, as well as several other deeply experienced teachers. The theme this year is “Discover Ease: Finding What Already Exists.”

Interested? The conference has workshops open to the public. These include:

  • Your Vagal Nerve System, Why the Feldenkrais Method Is So Important, with Elinor Silverstein
  • Two Masters and One Nerd, with Moti Nativ, Jeff Haller, and Roger Russell
  • Jump Forever Rhymes with Young Forever, with Moti Nativ

Human skeleton dancing DAB, perform dabbing move gesture, posing on white background.The conference is in Boulder, CO, which has been on my bucket list for years, so I’m taking some additional time to explore and perhaps do a short retreat in July. Classes will likely begin again the second or third week of July.

The focus in my May and June classes will be shoulders, arms, and hands. Most of us have injured our shoulders, or dealt with Carpel Tunnel or another repetitive-motion issue. We all benefit from understanding more clearly how to mobilize this area. (How often do you find your shoulders up by your ears?)

More about Your Shoulder Girdle

“Nearly every bone in the trunk, from occiput to pelvis, furnishes surfaces for the attachments of muscles which are also attached to some portion of the shoulder apparatus. . .”—Mabel Elsworth Todd, The Thinking Body: A Study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man.

Classic Awareness Through Movement lesson.Todd points out that our shoulder and arm muscles have a wheel-like distribution. She writes, “The muscle power must be applied so as to operate through as many arcs as the range and direction of movements require. This is accomplished by a wheel-like design whereby muscles attached through great distances over many surfaces of the skeletal framework converge about the shoulder joint. . . . It is this wheel-like arrangement of lines of muscle force through all planes which gives such enormous power to the arms and hands, not alone in doing heavy work. . . but also in the control of delicately centered movements of the hands and fingers.” (Ibid)

We’ll be rolling those wheels in June: register here.

Sunday Classes

Russ Mitchell, fresh from the latest segment of his Feldenkrais training, will teach five classic lessons on Sundays. You can bet I’ll be there! Register for his series here.

Saturday Classes

Do Saturday mornings work best for you? Consider coming to Patterns Lab, 11:30 am-1:30 pm. Prerequiste: at least one series of classes or package of private lessons with me, or previous experience with the Feldenkrais Method®. Please email me if you’re interested in joining.

Does Feldenkrais Help Grief?

I was asked a few days ago, “Is Feldenkrais helping you grieve?”

Hugh in his octopus hat at White Rock Lake

My husband Hugh Resnick at White Rock Lake. He’s been described as “wonderfully weird.”

It’s not a trivial question.

My first answer was, “I don’t know.” Sometimes it’s difficult for me to tease out what is Feldenkrais® and what is meditation and what is coming from other influences in my life. I’ve practiced both Feldenkrais and meditation since 1996, and it’s no accident. They complement/blend/inform each other.

After a few hours of reflection, my second answer emerged: yes. I’m relying on both Feldenkrais and meditation to find the ground repeatedly, wherever it is. If I start to feel anxious (which seems to go hand in hand with sadness in my case), I can at least find my breath. I’m especially drawing on those skills in driving, where, for whatever reason, it’s hardest for me to not interfere with my breath. The approach I’m taking: when I notice I’m breathing shallowly, I invite myself to simply notice. I don’t immediately try to change the pattern. Then I notice where my left foot is (thank you, Russ!), and usually, it’s in my habitual, not so useful position, where my support isn’t so clear. And I pay especial attention to my hands, arms, and shoulders. Quite often these days, I notice an extra-heaviness in my hands, a kind of collapse in my shoulders. So today I played with making my hands even heavier (which I really didn’t want to do) for several minutes, and then lighter. I reminded myself I have choices.

Angela and Hugh at White Rock Lake

Me and Hugh. Feeling so lucky & grateful!

So there’s my invitation to practice: grief isn’t a choice. I miss my husband, and I will go on missing him. But how I support myself in grieving is a choice. I can collapse, and I have. I can also feel it without collapse, and continue to do what needs to get done. (Even in typing this, I’ve played with heavy hands on the keyboard, and lightening them up. I can tell you which way my breath is easier.)

My third answer: yes! Teaching Feldenkrais is an enormous help right now. Every time I teach class or give a private lesson, I’m more energized at the end. Teaching connects me with the part of me which is strong, intelligent, and playful. I’m grateful beyond words to all of you who come to class and learn with me. Thank you!

_____________

Celebrating Hugh Resnick

Would you like to come to Hugh’s memorial? I’d love to have you. I’ve been inspired and delighted by the stories his family and friends have been sharing, reminded again of what a “wonderfully weird,” generous, intelligent, and just flat-out good man I was married to. They’ve been inspired as they shared, and I think you will be, too. Please join us if you can, Saturday, April 27, 4 pm, at the Center for Spiritual Living Dallas. RSVP here, just so we have enough refreshments.

What’s a Workshop?

Somebody asked me, will there be Awareness Through Movement® in Uncover Your Innate Strength? (That’s the series of six workshops coming in 2019.)

I realized, oh! Not everyone knows what I mean when I say “workshop.”

So here’s what to expect!

Lessons

Yes, we’ll do ATM lessons. We might do two. We might do parts of several. But we’ll certainly be getting down on the floor. Having three hours to play with means we can stop and start. Pause for discussion or demos. We can also do extended lessons which are too long to offer in an hour class.

Partner work

Sometimes I’ll invite you to work with one or two other people to investigate something together, maybe in moving, maybe in discussion.

Discussion

Walking workshop participants grouped around a human skeleton

After our walking workshop.

We’ll do some talking about what we’re discovering. Each of us will make unique discoveries during each workshop, and over the series. We’ll probably find common threads. Naming and describing what we discover will help us decide whether our discoveries are useful—do we want to keep traveling in that direction?—or whether we’ve found something to change or improve.

As Moshe Feldenkrais wrote: “When you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.” Part of knowing involves naming, really bringing your attention to what’s going on.

Homework

If you like, you can take one or two of the ideas from each workshop and continue to play with them on your own, during the month. Over the six months, your toolbox will grow.

You may surprise yourself. I once taught a rolling lesson. During the lesson I said, “You’ll never do these movements in this way in real life. The point of this lesson is flexibility.” Then I found myself getting into my car after class, tapping into part of the lesson to pivot, fold, and twist, all at the same time. Spontaneously and effortlessly!

Fun

It’s just plain fun to do a workshop. But don’t take my word for it! Here’s what Linda had to say after her first workshop: “Thank you so much for a most stimulating, enlivening, enlightening and totally fun afternoon.

More questions? Send me an email!

Improving How You Sit

The media is continuing to focus on improving sitting: NPR just published another story on the subject. Given how much back pain we Americans are living with, it’s great to see the buzz growing.

Take Control of Your Environment

image of a cashew: how do you sit?Once you realize most of the furniture we humans have designed to sit on has nothing to do with promoting good function, you can begin to customize your sitting solutions. For example:

  • Sit on a jacket
  • Carry a wedge-shaped cushion
  • Use a short stool for your feet

Forget about ever using the back of the chair: designers created the shape of the back of most chairs without reference to the human spine and pelvis. Typically, chairs (plus car and airplane seats) invite users to collapse into the cashew shape I’ve referred to before. Recipe not only for back and neck pain, but also digestive problems!

When you’re improvising your solution, remember your goal is to create clear support for your sit bones and have your feet completely in contact with the floor. Your shoulders will be slightly forward of your sit bones. This position is new to many of us, so it won’t feel “natural” at first.Photo of the front cover of CROOKED

Limit the amount of time you spend sitting, when you can. Take frequent breaks. As a designer of ergonomic furniture said in Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery, when asked what the best position for sitting is: “The next one.”

Active Sitting

In an environment you control, try varying your relationship to your computer: stand, sit on the floor, or in a QOR360 chair designed to promote active sitting (that’s the next-gen ergonomic chair I use and endorse wholeheartedly).

Children, Bare Feet & Movement

Barefoot Is Better for Developing Motor Skills

Close-up of a barefoot baby girl's foot.

A baby’s foot.

A recent study showed that children who tend to go barefoot have better motor skills than those who habitually wear shoes. The barefoot kids had better balance, among other advantages. When you consider how many shoes restrict the foot‘s ability to move, the results make sense.

Also, I wonder, do barefoot children just tend to move more in general?

Read the entire article here on Neuroscience News.

What’s the Best Kind of Shoe?

Barefoot toddler on tiptoe with magnets in front of refrigerator.

A toddler’s feet.

Clients often ask me, “What kind of shoe should I wear?” My answer, “The one with as little support as is comfortable for you.”If you’re currently using arch support or orthotics, don’t suddenly stop using them.

Could you practice walking at home, five minutes at a time, barefoot? Or in flat shoes with no built-in arch? Or can you practice walking with your orthotics, without collapsing your feet into them, but using them as a point of reference to organize your feet around?

And yes, we can practice using our feet and entire skeletons so that your arches awaken. I was diagnosed with flat feet as a child. I can now distinguish support in my two longitudinal arches and the one transverse arch; of course, that’s clearer with one foot than the other.

Standing Lesson

One simple movement to play with: stand with your feet slightly further apart than usual, barefoot if possible. Shift yourself a little left and right. Imagine that your whole skeleton is like a pendulum above your feet, so you lead with the crown of your head.

Feel how you’re using your feet. Do they collapse as you shift weight? That is, does the contact of the standing surfaces of your feet with the ground change as you shift from side to side?

Imagine now that, as you shift your skeleton left, it’s your right foot that sends you. As if you’re distancing the crown of your head from your right foot. Let your left foot send you right.

Do this a few times. Stop and observe yourself. How did your awareness of your feet change?

Bending Over: How Are You Doing It?

National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a story on the “lost art” of bending over. Spoiler: it’s only been lost in the West; other cultures still practice it.

Bending over illustrated.

Photo: Jean Couch.

If you’ve had private lessons with me, you’ve worked on this in nearly every lesson: re-discovering how to bend over, how to come from sitting to standing. Essential!

“. . . when you hip hinge, your spine stays in a neutral position. The bending occurs at the hip joint — which is the king of motion.” — NPR

Please note: this requires time and practice to re-discover as an adult. Please go slowly. Begin by thinking, “I’m taking my sit bones back. And my spine is like a pendulum. My head’s at one end, my pelvis at the other.”

Which Letter of the Alphabet is Your Spine Making?

L - Red handwritten letterYou can use the alphabet to help discover your pattern. Are you making a C-shape (rounding) as you bend over?

Or are you maintaining an L-shape with your spine and hips?

As You Practice Bending

If you’re practicing bending over, it’s key to understand, to feel, where your hip joints are located (about 15 centimeters above the crease at the top of your pant leg). Also essential: to realize that your pelvic girdle has three moving parts.

Surfer riding a wave.To see this principle in action, watch elite athletes. Speed skaters, surfers, weightlifters. No way you can lift 100 pounds or more overhead without damaging yourself, unless you take full advantage of your pelvic opportunity.

Practice every time you need to bend over. You’ll be so glad!

If you have back or hip pain, the more you understand and can bend over in this way, at your hip joints, the less pain you’ll have. And if you don’t have pain, you’ll lessen the chance of creating it.

Find the full NPR story  on bending here.

Let me know if you’d like to book a consultation to talk about how we can work together to help you practice this “lost” art.

Back Pain Solutions in CROOKED

Front cover of CROOKED, book on back pain solutionsIf you have back pain or know someone who does, please read Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry & Getting On the Road to Recovery. Crooked was painstakingly researched by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, an investigative reporter who sought relief for her own back pain.

The first part of the book focuses on what doesn’t work. Heartbreaking. Luckily, you can skip like I did to the second part, which focuses on solutions, including the Feldenkrais Method®.

Jakobson Ramin writes: “Well before you finish reading Crooked, you’ll understand that the pain in your back (or your hip or your leg) also exists in a political, psychological and economic context that greatly influences how you’ll be treated – and if you’ll recover. You’ll know which approaches are likely to reliably bring you some relief, and exactly what’s involved in each.”

What’s effective for relieving back pain

One thing all the effective modalities, including Feldenkrais, share: the client must actively engage in shifting the patterns which cause pain. None of these modalities are quick fixes: they require ongoing practice leading to self-empowerment and transformation.

The force of habit

ATM student explores how her spine moves.

ATM® student explores how her spine moves. Photo: Henry Biber.

We create chronic pain through habits of self-use. Because they’re habits, they’re hard for us to identify ourselves: we often need help from an expert. Even once we identify movement patterns which are harming us, they’re difficult to correct. Moshe Feldenkrais writes, in Awareness Through Movement: “For both the fault and the way in which it appears in action must be corrected. We need a great deal of persistence and enough knowledge to enable us to move according to what we know rather than according to habit. . . . Some conscious mental effort must be made until the adjusted position ceases to feel abnormal and becomes the new habit.” (p. 60)

Resources for back pain solutions

Angela Alston, GCFP, works with a student.

A Feldenkrais lesson with Angela Alston, GCFP. Photo: Henry Biber.

Jakobson Ramin has provided an invaluable resource: online sources for back pain solutions. She adds this note: “Unlike most back pain websites, there are no advertising dollars at play here: No resource paid to appear on these pages, and none ever will.

If you live near Dallas and would like to investigate how the Feldenkrais Method can help you relieve your back pain, please contact me, Angela Alston, GCFP.

 

Trying Feldenkrais for Chronic Pain

The New York Times has just published an article about the Feldenkrais Method®. After two hours of lessons, columnist Jane E. Brody describes herself as “walking on air,” freed from her chronic pain.

She acknowledges up front a reluctance to investigate Feldenkrais: “I had long refrained from writing about this method of countering pain because I thought it was some sort of New Age gobbledygook with no scientific basis. Boy, was I wrong!”

A row of people in Sphinx pose.

© International Feldenkrais® Federation Archive, Robert Golden

Brody began to understand how the method is effective:
“The slow, gentle, repetitive movements I practiced in a Feldenkrais group class helped foster an awareness of how I use my body in relation to my environment, and awareness is the first step to changing one’s behavior.”

Read the whole article here.

If you’ve personally experienced the benefits of Feldenkrais already, and have a friend or family member who you think would also benefit, an article like this could be a great help in convincing them. If someone like that comes to mind, please share this article with them.

Learning How to Learn

We humans are born poised for learning. But we don’t necessarily know how to learn what doesn’t come easily to us.

Blue exam book cover. Tests are useful to the learning process, it turns out.For years after I finished college, I had a recurrent nightmare. I was sitting down to take a final exam, and I realized I hadn’t even opened the textbook. As you might guess, I’d had a rocky time in college. It was a liberal arts school where the ideal was to be studying all the time. Our workload reflected that. I literally got every grade you can get, from A+ to F.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing hasn’t: I’m still curious about myself and the world around me. I love learning. So when I stumbled across a reference to “learning how to learn,” I immediately clicked on the link.

It lead me to a New York Times article about an online course taught by Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski. Oakley had failed science and math in high school. She decided in her twenties to get an engineering degree and taught herself how to learn the material which didn’t come easily to her. Now she’s an engineering professor.

When I read that, I signed up for the course immediately. Hey, it’s free! (Unless you’d like a certificate: then it’s $49.) And the info’s invaluable.

The material, backed by research in neuroscience—with plenty of supplemental material if you want to dig deeper—complements what I’ve learned, from a different perspective, as a Feldenkrais teacher.

tomato kitchen timer

A Pomodoro kitchen timer. “Pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian.

Just a few of the concepts from the course:

  • Emphasize the process not the product
  • Practice the Pomodoro technique: studying in 25-minute periods
  • Give yourself rewards
  • Alternate between focused and diffused attention
  • Spread your learning out over time; don’t try to pack it all into one or two days
  • Get a good night’s sleep before exams

I wish this course had been offered before I went to college. I’m certainly glad I’ve taken it now.

Going deeper with learning

Are you ready to learn how to learn? Register for the course here, on Coursera. Apparently it’s their most popular course, by far. I’m not surprised.

Would you like to discover more about how the Feldenkrais Method® supports learning? Here are core principles suggested by Norman Doidge, MD.

Perception Vs. Reality: Practicing New Patterns of Self-Use

What Is Real?

Perception and Reality words on a stack of balls with an arrow sticking into RealityToday one of my clients came up to standing after a Feldenkrais® lesson and said, “It feels like my left foot is in front of my right foot.” He looked down and saw that, in reality, his feet were in line with each other. This was a novel relationship for his feet: his pattern typically is to have his right foot a little forward. His perception was different than reality.

It takes time to become incorporate new patterns into your self-image.

When you find something new in a lesson like a different place for your foot to be in standing, you can play with that. Take one foot a bit forward, shift weight back and forth between the back and front foot. Take the other foot forward, again shift weight. With feet side by side again, observe your perception now of where they are with respect to each other. Feel it, look at them.

Can you make it a game?

Later in the day, check in again. Stand and observe. How are your feet now placed?

Use Your Life as a Lab to Refine Perception

You can incorporate Awareness Through Movement® practice into your daily life with this kind of attention.

Waiting in line at the grocery store becomes an opportunity for self-investigation. Or pushing your shopping cart, you can observe how you transfer weight between your feet. Standing at the kitchen sink, you can check in to see how weight is distributed between your feet. Not changing or correcting anything right away, just observing. Then you can begin to look for what feels most efficient, testing theories about function we’ve begun investigating in class.

Reality Check

A woman lifts dirt with a garden fork.

© International Feldenkrais® Federation Archive, Robert Golden.

It’s particularly illuminating to discover where some familiar pattern of self-use expresses itself as discomfort.

Although I’ve been clarifying and improving my walk for the last three years, when I garden my old pattern re-emerges. After two hours of transplanting and weeding this spring I felt a familiar pain in my lumbar spine. I hadn’t yet brought new movement patterns I’d learned in the context of the walking into bending and bearing weight. Now I have a new goal for self-study: improving how I lift.

Moment by moment, we have the change to discover ourselves in movement. To perfect our self-images.

Learning More about Awareness Through Movement

If you’re curious about the theory behind ATM, read Moshe Feldenkrais‘ book Awareness Through Movement. He wrote it for the general public. The first part presents his ideas about functional movement and learning. The second leads you through 12 lessons, including one entitled “Perfecting the Self-Image.”

Another way to learn more about ATM, come to a class or workshop here in Dallas. Click here to find a class near you.