Form Grants (pain-free!) Function

Just spent a good chunk of the morning with a professional artist, and I have to say, I want to (kindly, gently, figuratively) punch “well known local art-education school” right in the nose.

That’s because the artist is in constant pain trying to work, and the reason this person is in constant pain is because the training institution didn’t check the students for proper form and body usage. Being an artist while rotating your wrist by generating your power to do so right at the wrist joint, rather than by turning from the elbow (to rotate the bones in your forearm and let your little joints and muscles rest/relax) is a really bad idea.

Ask a typist: “good form or you break.”
Ask a laborer: “good form or you break.”
Ask a musician: “good form or you break.”
Ask a (pro) cook: “good form or you break.”
Ask a weightlifter: “good form or you break (fast).”

It’s the same thing for art. It’s the same thing for everything. The better you use yourself, no matter how “obviously physical” the task, the less likely you are to find yourself in pain and struggling to do what it is that you love to do.

If you love doing something, it’s worth doing it well (and not being in pain). If pain is stopping you from doing what you love, let alone endangering your career, reach out. To me, or to somebody else, so we can help you get back to “doing the thing” with less strain and more joy.

Building Blocks

Helped a gent improve his judo roll/somersault this morning by helping him feel how on one side he’s able to flex forwards while rotating his shoulders, and on his other side he had no idea how to do that. Visible improvement in a guy’s forward roll in five painless minutes flat. I’ll link it up from Youtube once I have it online.

If you’re an athlete or musician or dancer, THIS IS IMPORTANT:
“Techniques” are not fundamentals. Flexion, extension, rotation, translation throughout your joints as a cooperative human whole — THIS is fundamentals. The better you can coordinate yourself, the better your techniques will get… even if you’re barely practicing them.

Moving forwards, post-Covid

So Covid-19 did a wrecking-ball job on a lot of local studios. We’ve lost four different locations over the past year. Currently I’m working from a home studio and at the facility where I teach fencing (Warlord Combat Academy).

So if you’d like to book an in-person lesson currently, as of February/March 2022, the options are:
1. Come to my place (if you’re a lady and have concerns, my wife works from home and we can schedule a day when it’s certain she won’t have had to commute into the office), because it’s comfortable and quiet and convenient from most of the Metroplex.
2. Meet at Warlord Combat Academy (off Grauwyler/Loop 12 in Irving), because you may or may not be a fencer, but think “swords are neat,” and like that environment. (I’ve had a possibly surprising number of “the last human beings you would ever guess” really enjoy getting lessons there.
3. I’ll come to you. I have to charge for my gas and drive time, but unlike most of my peers, I am completely willing to make house and/or office calls.

Thanks. It’s been a crazy couple of years, and it looks like we’ll be going through another year or two of everything being just a little hibbledy before it all calms down.

Awareness Through Movement starts February in Irving!

Thanks to a partnership with Elite Dance Company of Texas, I am proud to announce that we once again have live, in-person Awareness Through Movement classes in North Texas!

And the space is gorgeous.

This was not easy. Most establishments had to close during the Covid-19 pandemic, because they were too small to allow the social distancing required, too hard to clean between classes, or both — at a time when a lot of people who were at higher risk needed to shelter-in-place and minimize public contact. Most Feldenkrais Practitioners retreated online in order to survive.

Do I teach online? Yes! Every Sunday at 8pm, and if you’d like to wind down your weekend and clear out all the dross and stress while setting yourself up for a great work-week, I’d love to see you in that class.

But I have no plans to shift to a mostly-online teaching experience, and have been actively looking for a venue that was set up in such a way that in-person classes could be a thing. There’s little substitute for getting to smile at somebody across the room while practicing (or for everybody to do so when somebody snickers at my “Dad Jokes” during class). Safe Social Contact is a mandatory requirement for sane human beings.

And the space is gorgeous. It’s large, sunny-but-not-too-sunny, well-mirrored, and boasts a raised floor designed for dancers, so a single yoga mat or moving blanket is more than enough padding for most participants. The location is great, too, just off HWY 114 and O’Connor Rd. in Irving, and thus easily reached from almost anywhere in the Metroplex — click here for directions.

The one trick is that you park in the UPPER lot, which has lots of space.

Elite Dance was also founded during the pandemic, and thus has Covid-19 safety literally built into the business from the ground up. (But for now, please bring your own blanket or yoga mat, just to be sure)

Classes are every Sunday at 2pm: you can sign up for classes on Elite Dance’s website registration page. Please be sure to scroll down and select “Awareness Through Movement.”

It’s been a long year, and I cannot wait to help everybody move better, feel better, and think more clearly. See you there!

In Person Awareness Through Movement coming Soon!

Covid19 has upended so MANY things, and Irving Feldenkrais is no stranger to that. Most Awareness through Movement instructors have shifted to purely online classes, and that’s been a good thing, particularly as venue after venue closes. We’ve lost two of our venues as well — there was just no way to run classes in relatively small spaces with the social distancing people need to stay safe. Unfortunately, the price of that is that people who aren’t living with families or loved ones have wound up denied much of their sense of community and the intimacy people need to be healthy (regardless of type: a lover’s caress, a kid’s snuggle, a hug, sitting with somebody over tea, it all falls into what so many people call “connection.” And sadly, online connection is a real but sadly ersatz flavor of it.)

Binge-watching The Mandalorian has its limits, too.

Fortunately, if you miss Awareness Through Movement in-person, we’ve found a solution — a large, beautiful dance studio created during the Covid19 crisis and built from the ground-up with enough space and ventilation to hold classes in while maintaining the distancing everyone needs to stay safe. The location is great, too — right in Irving, near Las Colinas, and with excellent freeway access.

So if Awareness Through Movement is something you’re happier doing in-person, where you can hear somebody else giggling, complaining, or busting out with a snarky comment about yours-truly-the-instructor’s horrible Dad Jokes… options are coming. More news soon.

Regaining Capacity

So on a personal note, I did a headstand this Friday, for the first time in a decade.  It was easy and effortless, and I could have stayed up in the air for a while.  

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

On Wednesday it was an utter impossibility.

With my laundry list of injuries, I had grown flexed through the spine, and had forgotten how to go into extension through a significant part of my back.  I knew intellectually how to do it — and quietly railed against the loss of capacity, since I used to have complete individuation of my entire spine and could wiggle around any vertebrae you put a finger on.  Those of you who’ve had me teach fencing who have heard me say that I’m a pale shadow of my former self….I’m not blowing smoke. There’s a lot that I used to be able to do that’s still “nope (not yet).”  Fortunately, there’s also a lot of stuff I couldn’t do that I’ve learned since then, too!

But intellectualizing my way back to extension so that I could balance my body over my head without a resounding THUMP …. didn’t work.  Just having an abstract intellectual idea of “Thoracic 4 does this” doesn’t give you a felt sense of what the vertebrae should be doing in order to choose where the feet should go to maintain your balance.  That goes double if you don’t have a felt sense of what said vertebrae can be doing.  That meant that I had to do the work to (re)gain it.

Unfortunately, for those of us who have been injured and want to claw back your fundamental capacity, just putting the blocks together intellectually isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to have to work from the patterns that you have now.  That means a lot less abstraction from what it felt like to be an athlete or “mover” twenty years ago, and a lot more “what does this feel like, now?”

It’s just going to take some careful paying-attention, diligence, and willingness to slow down and stop to take care of yourself along the way rather than “forcing it” through willpower.. The good news, however, is that we’re lifelong learners.  You can get that function back, and keep it well into old age.

Photo by Juliano Ferreira from Pexels

If you’re where I was and want it back — you can get it back. If you know somebody else in that position… please let me know. Helping other people rediscover the joy of “I can do the thing!” is a huge part of why I run this practice, rather than something else valid and entertaining like a fusion Hungaro-Texan taco truck. 🙂

How to get past trauma

(without having to re-live it!)

There was a nice little article in Psychology Today last week titled “Why you can’t think your way out of trauma.” It’s a pretty nice little background piece describing how Somatic Psychology is slowly gaining a foothold over a purely cognitive-based approach.

Moshe approves.

After seventy years, the field is finally catching up to Moshe Feldenkrais’ seminal work, “The Body And Mature Behavior.” Feldenkrais wrote The Body and Mature Behavior in 1949 as an explicit rebuttal to Freud’s thesis that catharsis is necessary to recover from emotional trauma, and that rebuttal has stood the test of time. That’s part of why the federal NAICS (job description) code for the Feldenkrais Method is 62133, “mental health practitioners other than physicians.”

Wait. What?
The Feldenkrais Method is classed as a Mental Health Discipline?

How does that work?

Awareness Through Movement students improve their physical and emotional well-being when they practice observing the patterns they express. That’s because Moshe Feldenkrais connected some very important dots early in his career: Western Civilization makes a distinct difference between the body and the mind, which makes intuitive sense, yet is not supported by neurology. (Nota bene, this is not a “diss” on religion: the body versus the soul is a different matter, one which by definition cannot be addressed by science.) The nervous system operates in such a way that it can only have a single “pattern” running at any given time, and that pattern encompasses the organization of ALL OF YOU.

There is no creature on planet earth which can think “yes” and “no” at the same time. And the physicality of your emotions works the same way – you can’t be joyful and depressed simultaneously. Neither can you be curious and anxious at the same time.

So when you are anxious, there’s a physical feeling that comes with anxiety. When you’re curious, there’s a feeling which comes with that, too. When you’re depressed, fearful, enraged, there are physical feelings which come from those. And in their proper place, all of those are really useful feelings to have (see below for a couple real-life examples). Where we get in trouble, though, is that the pattern you express in trauma can wind up becoming your go-to way of organizing your body. You can wind up identifying with the traumatic pattern, creating an insidious and compulsive habit of suffering, without knowing how to escape it (and as many in this situation can vouch, the “not knowing how to get out” is frequently as traumatizing as the suffering itself).

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

To get out of that, what you need to do is to break the pattern and outgrow it as a response, so that it’s there if and when you need it, but you don’t have to engage in it. You don’t need to go back and relive it over and over again. (I once had a serious claustrophobia attack from watching Naked Lunch — it’s a good movie, but re-watching it wasn’t the key to breaking the claustrophobia!)

Personal Example: I suffered un-diagnosed but apparently quite severe depression for the better part of twenty-five years. It cost me many opportunities and ruined more than one relationship. My eventual ability to cope with it, prior to involvement with the Feldenkrais Method, was the realization that it came with physical symptoms (a lumpy, heavy, clay-like feeling in the body and the sensation of having a wet wool blanket directly over my brain). And one night, strolling rather tipsily through downtown San Francisco after knocking back a couple beers with my twin (yes, I’m a cheap date), I realized that it wasn’t that different, in practice, from “thinking clearly and walking with control while tipsy.” The tipsiness was a condition, not a summary of me as a person. If depression came with physical symptoms, then, I told myself, logically speaking, the emotional component of the depression was itself also simply a symptom. I cannot tell you how liberating it was to be able to class my depression symptoms along with migraine headaches as “this is a really irritating thing I have to deal with,” rather than “this is an inescapable life sentence which defines my life (in misery).” I didn’t yet have the tools to get out of it, but I could at least stop identifying with it.

I don’t know why I became depressive. And it doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that I have become able to recognize that pattern. Once I can physically sense the “depression pattern” peeking in, I can shift to a different pattern that is a lot more pleasant for me and my loved ones. And while I’m Very Seriously Not Saying(tm) “go throw away your medications,” you can learn to mitigate that suffering just like I did, and in a lot less time for not having to figure it out from First Principles. I’m in no way special or unusual.

Anybody can do this, and I’ve helped a number of folks to do so — making distinctions and choosing is part of our fundamental birthright as human beings.

If a specific trauma leaves you “triggered,” than what does that mean? It means that you’re reacting to a certain, specific thing, in a certain, specific, usually unpleasant way. That’s a good thing, in the short term — that reaction is what permitted you to survive.

I’ve been at gunpoint. I was in real danger.
It wasn’t much fun.

Going to “high alert” was a completely appropriate response to being at gunpoint. If you (God forbid!) find yourself in that situation, you need that response! But I wouldn’t want to go to full-adrenaline “my life is in peril” pulse-pounding high alert every time I saw a firearm, either. I mean, I live in Texas. I will have a much more pleasant life as a Texan if I respond to a firearm the same way I respond to any other specialized and hazardous tool in my environment – with curiosity, respect, and appropriate caution. If you can do that, then regardless of what your story is, you can relegate the “triggering” circumstance to being simply a story in your life, rather than the story which defines your life.

“When you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.”
In other words, awareness helps turn compulsion into choice.

By learning what you’re doing with yourself, you learn how your patterns don’t have to be life-sentences imposed upon you, but can instead be choices you get to make. When I recognize depression symptoms, I change my pattern to one that’s lighter — and the depression is gone. When peers get anxious, they focus on their balance and the quality of their breath — and the anxiety abates. Instead of “fighting” the suffering as I did for actual decades, you can choose to do something else.

“If you get rid of the pattern for anxiety, where does the anxiety go?”

Freud was wrong. There is no impersonal, tyrannical energy of emotion that gets pent-up and needs to be “released.” We’re not the prostrate victims of impersonal forces outside of our control — though sometimes we do find ourselves stuck in some extremely unpleasant and damaging ruts. Rather, we’re expressing ourselves. And by recognizing what we’re doing, we can catch less useful and less-happy patterns early on, and shift them. Learning how we can choose to express ourselves helps us to regain our fundamental dignity as a human being who make choices and can care for themselves.

The Fundamental Insight

I have a client who, when hearing that I’m offering classes to people, will regularly chime in on Facebook to say some version of “his hoodoo works.”  He calls it “hoodoo” because how we work in the Feldenkrais Method is unique, and even though he intellectually understands the process, he’s regularly stunned at how changes happen from doing “basically nothing” for forty-five minutes or so. Especially for a guy whose other gains are built around Moving Heavy Objects With A Solid Work Ethic.

But there’s a reason why it works, and that reason is also what makes the work different from every other Method out there.  We don’t stretch and pull on the body:  we train brains.  Moshe Feldenkrais realized early on, based on reading the neurology of his day, that the nervous system operates as a unified entity, rather than one which sub-divides processes.

In simple words, if you’re drinking coffee and tapping your toes (while doing eighty other things you’re not consciously aware of), your nervous system is engaged in One Movement Pattern.  Now, obviously, the pattern is less complex if you’re lying in bed getting ready to sleep, and more complex if you’re “the Unipiper” playing flaming bagpipes while riding a unicycle… 

Or, you know, upgrading to “droid mode.”

But each time you do something, you’re still creating one complex movement pattern, and it’s a much more complex pattern than we can hold entirely in our conscious attention.  That’s why we have a motor cortex after all — so we don’t have to!

And that means that every time you can refine any part of your pattern, you refine everything you do with your body, because what you’re actually improving isn’t the strength or flexibility of muscle X or Y, but your ability to create “movement plans” which involve less strain.  Sometimes that movement is a conscious “aha! I’m doing this silly thing when I breathe!  And sometimes it’s something that your motor cortex has figured out “way under the radar,” and you know that you feel different, somehow more relaxed, somehow more fluid, but can’t say how. 

The “hoodoo” still works, because at some level, you’ve learned.  This month, we’re working on what are ostensibly “breathing lessons,” because anybody who gets Covid-19 is likely to benefit from as refined breathing as they can get.  But during that time, we’re also leveraging the role of the Intrinsic Core in regulating both breath and balance. And the more you refine either of those, the more relaxed and capable, and less stressed and anxious, your movement patterns will be.

Learning to See Another Way

Moshe Feldenkrais once said that he wasn’t after flexible bodies, but flexible minds. I had a recent experience of that you might enjoy hearing about that has some bearing on our current situation.

In recent training, we had an exercise in which we had to tackle a tricky problem — moving through space in order to dodge, evade, or be in harmony with people who were, for the point of the exercise, coming through our own space. And to do that we were provided with a very specific tool — one particular piece of footwork, which worked brilliantly when performed well, and which fell apart when done poorly. At a certain point we each got to be the people weaving in and around those coming through our space, in order not only to make it easier for the group to manage it, but also to observe how we reacted to the people coming towards us.

This exercise made it very explicit that the incoming people were a living metaphor for “the difficulties one faces in life,” and the particular technique in stepping was a way to keep moving forwards (without getting crashed into). In other words, that technique allowed one to “swim upstream” rather than simply retreating in the face of difficulty. It was a great stepping technique, and I’ve already begun to steal it for my fencing class. But there are useful insights all around us that we can draw, and most of the best ones come from all the times we failed to step in just the right way. Things went wrong, and we could see ourselves and our fellow trainees react to “things gone wrong” in very different ways.

“Never let a crisis go to waste.” — old political proverb.

The world is in pandemic. We’re “living through history” as one wag put it, and there’s some real truth to that. With the incoming difficulties coming our direction, do we have the tools to keep moving forward? Or do we need to retreat, avoid, consolidate, or do something other than “making progress?” More specifically, with tempers occasionally fraying and all the partisan nonsense of an election year, what tools do you see your peers and neighbors using to solve their problems?

You can guarantee that in the face of serious difficulty, your friends and neighbors have picked the best tool they know how to use. If they’re failing, and especially if they’re being aggravating in the process, is that because, as my daughter calls it, they’re “being butt-cakes” that day? Or do they not have the tool for the job in their quiver? And how much better could their lives be if they had options available that let them move forward with less strain and dependence upon willpower?

It’s a lot easier to be sympathetic to people when you can recognize “oh. He’s not being a jerk on purpose. He’s suffering because the only way he knows how to handle the current situation isn’t working for him.”

Awareness Through Movement classes such as I’m teaching online Tuesday nights are a lot like that. They’re “movement puzzles,” so to speak, where you try to follow the given directions, and sometimes it’s just a fun piece of cake. But most of the time, they’re tricky and difficult, especially if we’re trying to perform them well. The real learning then comes in, as we recognize our interior selves reacting to the spectre of failure, and looking for what our next choices might be. We might strain. We might move faster, or with less attention. We might stop. We might pause, and try again much, much more slowly.

Specifically, it’s the crisis of having to change your go-to plans and go-to habits that creates the opportunity for growth!

And the better you get at being able to switch gears and find the best approach to your situation, one which lets you prosper and thrive regardless of the circumstances around you, the better it becomes for everybody else sharing your world. Instead of “do the thing, but just do it faster and harder and more,” we can choose to do the same thing in a different way, or to try new approaches entirely. We’re developing more flexible minds, and with it, perhaps more patience for those who are doing the best they can, with the tools they know how to use, when those tools aren’t the best for the job.

Would you like to see it in action for yourself? Come join our online class on Tuesday nights. 🙂

Flexibility: It’s more than your hamstrings

Photo by Tamba Budiarsana from Pexels

Let’s talk about flexibility again in a deeper way.  Particularly for people who find themselves getting frustrated easily — especially those of us who are trying to be high-achievers and are stereotypically hag-ridden by Impostor Syndrome.Flexibility is also ease, poise, and the ability to change shape.  That’s not just “can I yank on my muscle fibers to lengthen them.” 

It’s also “oh, I had three clients cancel this week and my kids want to go to the park on Sunday,” can I leave my valid aggravation where it sits, rather than staying in “frustration-land” and taking my grown-up frustrations out on a bunch of kids who just want to play and have fun?

This is not the face you want to take to the swimming pool and swing-sets.

Being “off balance” is no fun for anybody, but it applies emotionally as well.  The neat trick about our nervous system, though, is that it doesn’t distinguish between the two.Really.Try this. The next time you get frustrated by “that time adulting wasn’t much fun,” right before you go to do the next thing, just close your eyes and very gently teeter-totter left and right until you can clearly sense “what’s left,” “what’s right,” and how they’re different from “what feels like neither left nor right.”If you do that, it becomes, like magic, much easier to remember the things for which we’re grateful, rather than the things that make us want to go chew on a lamp-post.

Try it!

What’s happening is that you’re talking to the nerves that control the multifidis, a set of muscles alongside your spine. And in doing so, you step OUT of the nervous system pattern/organization of “frustration” and back into the one called “balanced.”

If you remove the frustration pattern, where does the frustration go?  Nowhere. It’s just a pattern that you experience emotionally.  Long-time Awareness Through Movement students develop the ability to do this almost-instinctually, and have a MUCH easier time shrugging off stress than their peers.

Give it a shot!