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.
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.
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.
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?”
That’s the theme which I’ve chosen for class in January 2022.
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.
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
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!
The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is…
“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Said a different Famous President than the one in the title line. Well, I’m not a Famous Cold War President. (Don’t get me wrong — I could get at least ten votes in a Presidential Campaign….)
In Awareness Through Movement®, we might say that we do these strange movements not because they’re hard, but precisely because they’re strange to us. I love Awareness Through Movement and honestly believe that it can be pursued as a form of “enlightenment practice.” (Wait, Russ is using the foofy words — is he feeling well?) I don’t think that’s for all the myriad benefits that one can gain using the Feldenkrais Method®, but because of the nature of the Method itself.
In class, we have something like the following:
You’re invited to do something with your body, usually something a bit unusual.
You’re not shown how to do it, but reminded to take care of yourself while you do.
You try to do it, while having your attention brought to various parts of the process.
Somehow a miracle occurs, and like magic, you learn. And then your life gets easier.
A class led by Russ Mitchell (not pictured) learns about themselves in the upright position.
Most of the time when people refer to group classes, they focus on Step Four, Where Students Become Awesome(tm). But what if we took it right off the top, instead?
How many times have you been confronted with some action or activity and had a reaction that can be summarized as “Oh, I can’t do that?” Our habits of mind fall into a rut, and anything outside of that becomes threatening to our self-image. I’m no stranger to that. Pushing 50, I’m keenly aware that I don’t relate to technology the same way that my child does.
What would your life be like, on the other hand, if, when presented with some new and unexpected or novel activity (whether that’s calculus, painting, surfing, home repair…insert list here), we were able to try doing new things in a state of complete emotional ease, without hint of strain or anxiety? What if we could entertain new ideas (or old ones!) without being imprisoned by the ideas, skills, and habits that we currently say our “ours,” but which can be our prison just as easily as they can be our capacity?
I am not after flexible bodies; I am after flexible minds. — Moshe Feldenkrais
To begin with, the Internet would be a much more pleasant place.
In Awareness Through Movement classes, we are, literally, learning how to pay attention to ourselves, and thus take better care of ourselves in order that we can happily outgrow ourselves, and become the kinds of people who can embrace every opportunity we desire, rather than recoiling in inner turmoil at the (very real) terror of living better lives in a better world, because the price tag of learning how to do that is more than we know how to pay.
In Awareness Through Movement, we aren’t just getting more relaxed or limber. We’re not even just “learning how to learn.” We’re learning how to learn easily, so that when we’re confronted by the ever-changing, ever-accelerating world, the price of curiosity is something we can pay out of our emotional pocket-change. Opportunities and responsibilities move to feeling more like “fun and adventure,” and less like “stresses, strains, and burdens.”
Who would you like to be, if this were you? Who could you become?
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
I was asked a few days ago, “Is Feldenkrais helping you grieve?”
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.
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.
Today 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?
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.
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.
So, after six years of teaching, I follow my hunches when planning what to teach. I listen to my private clients, to students in my classes. I continue with my advanced study. Patterns emerge. Something comes into the foreground.
Now it’s hip joints which keep presenting themselves to me.
Connecting with Your Strength
My ongoing interest remains uncovering innate strength. And clarifying use of our hip joints is key. The pelvis is our power center. Those bones are the biggest we have. The lumber vertebrae are enormous, compared to our cervical vertebrae.
The head of the femur is spherical, almost. It has the potential to rotate in almost any direction. Yet most of us use only a fraction of the potential. Watch a dancer or gymnast to see the hip joint exploited to its fullest.
Most of us don’t have hypermobile joints like acrobats. Yet we can still find more range of motion than we’re currently taking advantage of. We can find, for example, the top of our hip joint, that place around which we can pivot freely and discover what Moshe Feldenkrais called good posture: the ability to move in any direction without preparation.
Why Study Anatomy?
I’ve been going back to the transcripts of the lessons Moshe Feldenkrais taught years ago in Jerusalem. We have roughly 600 of these lessons, from the time he spent teaching on Alexander Yanai Street. I’m finding gems in his comments to students. He says repeatedly that we don’t know where our hip joints are. We can’t accurately locate them on ourselves. We think our hip joints are located where our pants crease at the top of our legs. They aren’t. Because we move from a faulty understanding of our anatomy, we damage our hip joints and low back. Moshe said that 60 years ago, and it’s still true today.
The heads of the femurs point towards your sacrum. Your hip joints are located where they can direct ground forces up and into your spine on either side to help you stand erect and move your spine freely.
When you stand using your skeleton clearly, without unnecessary activity in your core, you’ll feel support flowing up from your heels to your hip joints, all the way to the crown of your head.
It’s literally a heady feeling.
So why do so many of us lack or forget that connection? Many reasons: injury, prolonged sitting, inactivity in general. I also think the English language doesn’t help.
Basic Pelvic Anatomy
We have one word, “pelvis,” for what are actually three bones: the sacrum in the middle and an ilium/ischium on either side. To add to the confusion, we don’t have one word for the hip bones on either side of the sacrum. Each is composed of three elements, the ilium, ischium, and pubis. These are separated in newborns and become fused by adulthood. The three elements form a deep socket called the acetabulum where they meet. The acetabulum articulates with the head of the femur. In front, the pubic bone on either side is connected by cartilage. So each of these three parts of your pelvis has the potential to move independently. To see that potential exploited to its fullest, watch a skillful belly dancer.
Why isn’t study of basic human anatomy required? How we’re put together is fascinating. When kids meet my skeleton Heinrich, they can’t stop touching him, moving his bones around, asking questions. It’s absurd and a profound disservice to allow children to reach adulthood in ignorance of how their physical selves function. (Of course, public school would probably find a way to make anatomy boring. But that’s another story.)
The point is, understanding and clarifying function of our hip joints is key to improving our movement and self-use. This spring, that will be the theme throughout my classes. I hope you’ll join me.
Going Deeper with Anatomy
If you’d like to study human anatomy on your own, there’s no better place to start than Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain. Her analysis focuses on function, not the study of anatomy for its own sake. She’s a dancer and physical therapist. The book is full of great illustrations. It’s organized so you can easily pick it up and simply read the section dealing with the pelvis. Or go cover to cover, if you like.
Learning demands that we make mistakes repeatedly. It’s impossible to improve without error. It sometimes seems counter-intuitive, but to approach perfection, we must embrace imperfection. How many times does a baby fall before her first step?
But it’s SO hard to allow ourselves fail. Many of us are perfectionists, or were raised by them. We’ve been punished for failing. Or we punish ourselves. Negative self-talk can be a constant companion.
Show & Tell
Feldenkrais and violin teacher Lisa Burrell recently wrote a moving reflection on the value of modeling imperfection. She shares an anecdote about one of her students struggling with demanding parents and teachers.
Lisa’s own mistake in playing a passage became a pivotal moment in a lesson. “I was kind of dumbstruck that the simple act of admitting my mistake would be so powerful in this relationship.” The student’s demeanor changed markedly.
Lisa writes: “In this world of increasing competition and emphasis on getting the right answer, we need more than ever to be guides to what real learning is, not just in our language, but by sharing our own ongoing processes and revealing our own powerful vulnerability.”
Feldenkrais® practitioner Michael Cann wrote an excellent blog in response to a student’s frustration after a workshop. Other participants had found the movements easy and enjoyable. The man wondered what was wrong with him.
Michael’s response is that the way we teach Feldenkrais can be misleading, because we emphasize making small, gentle movements. Only doing what’s easy. Resting frequently.
He writes: “With all this talk about ease, effortlessness, and pleasure, you’d think every experience would be enjoyable. . . But here’s the uncomfortable truth: it won’t be. There have been times when I have hated Feldenkrais. And there may be times when you will too. . . . easy movement can be way harder — and way more rewarding — than you have imagined.”