grey steel grill

Are you on LOCKDOWN?

Got stiff legs that feel like they’re in prison, no matter how much you stretch?

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A dramatic re-enactment of what my legs felt like — and what they did to my self-esteem as a martial artist.

That was me in high school. I was a Navy Brat and moved a lot, and when we lived in Rhode Island I worked out a lot at night just because winters were so cold and rainy that it was hard to do any socializing.

I got better at pushups.
I got better at sit-ups.
I never got better at the splits.

Not only didn’t I do the splits, but no matter how much I stretched my legs, I never made any progress getting them “loose” at all.  I tried yoga stretches that worked like a charm for my back (I could nap in the Plough, for example), but no horse stance or hurdler’s stretch, or anything else seemed to loosen up the bricks I had for legs. I felt like a total failure, and figured that being flexible just wasn’t for me.

Fast forward thirty years.  Now I’m pushing fifty years old, with a hilarious laundry list of “well-earned” training injuries …. and can kick chest-high with no warm-up or preparation at all.  And I never stretch.

Wait… how’s THAT work?!

It may be that you’re “on lockdown” because your intentions and your nervous system aren’t on speaking terms.  You’re off-balance without realizing it, and your nervous system doesn’t trust you not to fall down.

So your nervous system has Job One, and that’s “don’t let doofus fall down and crack his melon.”  Because that’s literally fatal and as bipeds, that’s our number one problem we have to solve in order to function in the world.  Ever seen a baby instinctively throw its arms out when it doesn’t feel properly held?  That’s “fall anxiety,” and your nervous system has it in spades as soon as you’re off-balance.

Don’t take my word for it. You can test this in the comfort of your own home – just stand up and gently sway backwards and forwards at the ankles.  The moment you sway forwards enough to go off-balance, your toes are going to engage.  They have to, or else you’d fall down.  Same thing going backwards — sway back far enough, and the muscles along the back of your legs and maybe up into your back are going to lock up.  They have to, because you’ve got a twelve-pound coconut up top that has to be protected.

If you stretch and stretch and stretch but never seem to get anywhere, it can be really demoralizing, especially if you’re in dance or martial arts, or any other game or sport where being graceful is a big deal.

But you’re probably not “stiff.”  You’re probably just off-balance without realizing it, and a Feldenkrais Method instructor can help you with that.

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Effortless (ly Powerful)

We don’t always want to be relaxed.

In fact, MOST of the time, we don’t want to be relaxed. Because “relaxed” doesn’t get things done. What we usually mean when we say “relaxed,” is Not Straining.  We only strain when we try to do something that we don’t know how to do easily, and so we substitute “efforting” and will-power in place of ease and power.

Here’s a real-life example.

I know a gent I used to work with who was a true master of the heavy garden shears. You know, those big over-sized scissors-from-hell that you use to lop tree branches off with?

He can lop branches for hours. But he’s no muscle-bound hulk.  Holding the nozzle to a power-washer? Oh, no, buddy.  Holding the nozzle to a power-washer? That’s exhausting!

Doesn’t seem to add up, does it? On the one hand, hard manual labor. On the other, literally no harder than watering your lawn.

That’s because it’s not really about relaxation. It’s about how well-organized you are to perform a specific task.  I mean, let’s be real — nobody chops through two-inch thick branches while relaxed.  As anybody who’s gardened can tell you, that’s work.  But my friend can do it with no perception of strain or effort. He’s effortlessly powerful with heavy garden shears.

You can have relatively high levels of muscle tone for a long time, so long as your body isn’t fighting mixed signals. That’s why you see people who do heavy manual labor (warehouse workers, furniture movers, construction workers), who then go and work out or play sports in the evening, because they have plenty of energy and feel lazy if they don’t.

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They’re well-organized for their daily tasks. And that means they bring more of themselves home to their friends and family at night,  not because they haven’t worked…. but because they haven’t STRAINED.

If you want to feel relaxed, yet be powerful enough that you totally own all the things you need to do in your day… you need to learn to take the strain out.  And I’ll be happy to help you learn how.

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Making U-Turns

When you’re stiff, sometimes stretching is the solution.  But it’s not always the solution.

In many cases, stiffness is a case of “muscle’s busy doing one thing, can’t do both at once.”  This is very common, especially because a lot of the time we fall into a habit that uses more muscular effort than we really need.  We have muscles theoretically “making coffee” that don’t need to be making coffee.

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So when you’re turning your neck to make sure traffic’s clear and that annoying space between the shoulder blades isn’t helping,  And when your brain turns to That Annoying Space (TAS), and says “hey, cooperate, why are you so STIFF!” all the space can say is “hey, sorry, I can’t loosen up, I’m still making coffee.”  But it’s 4pm and you don’t need to make coffee. What you need to do is to make a U-turn without courting fiery vehicular death.

One of the big advantages of the Feldenkrais Method is that by helping you to recognize how you’re organizing your body, we can help the nervous system to talk to the involved muscles and bones so they go “oh… done with making coffee, now we’re on U-turns? Okay, U-turns it is.”

It’s not an instant process. But the end result is that you stay loose without having to go through a daily stretching routine, and as your ability to self-organize improves, the improvements not only become permanent, but become steps to even better organization in the future, while keeping the old patterns “filed away” for times when you might need to fall back on them.