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.

POISE at RBR Muzik

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius from Pexels

6 Fridays, 6-7 pm, March 13 through April 17 – $100

Poise: Balance. Grace under Pressure.
Get it, Keep it, Refine it.

Why do some people seem to roll with all the world’s sudden changes, and perform effortlessly in front of others, and other people have trouble “getting out of their own way?”

The secret is breath and balance, and those secrets can be unlocked and learned — more easily than you might believe possible! Rediscover just how easy it can be to stay calm, centered, and ready to perform at your very best — whether that’s on a stage or in the office.

Open to adults and children: Great Hearts students especially welcome.

Sign up for the series HERE.
To try out class on a one-off basis, schedule a drop-in attendance HERE.

(On rare occasion RBR must bump classes for special events — in this case we will reschedule for a following Friday)

Getting Out Of Our Own Way

As I get into middle age, I find that I’m not afraid of the usual stuff. Death? Been (almost) there, (almost) done that. Everybody’s story has a beginning, and everybody’s story will have an end. Disease? Meh. Kind of the same thing. You do your best and make your choices.

No. What I fear, is fear. Times change, and every year is different from the last, and my fear is that I will find myself retreating to the sterile comfort of the familiar, while the completely amazing world continues to beckon with beauty and opportunity. People to see, things to do.

That’s a big part of what attracts me to Awareness Through Movement classes, and why I teach them.

In Awareness Through Movement, we might say that we do these strange movements not because they’re hard (that would be Classical Gymnastics and Pilates, where you become strong by trying to function from a position of outright mechanical disadvantage), but precisely because the movements are strange to us.  I love Awareness Through Movement and honestly believe that it can be pursued as a form of “enlightenment practice.” And anybody who knows me can tell you, I’m not into fluffy words, so I don’t use the word “enlightenment” lightly.

I don’t think that’s for all the myriad physical benefits that one can gain using the Feldenkrais Method, but because of the nature of the Method itself. Moshe Feldenkrais created something truly unique, using movement in order to get to something much more profound.

In a class, we have something like the following:

  1. You’re invited to do something with  your body, usually something a bit unusual.
  2. You’re not shown how to do it, but reminded to take care of yourself while you give it a shot.
  3. You try to do it, while having your attention brought to various parts of the process.
  4. Somehow a miracle occurs, and like magic, you learn. And after a while of doing that, you hurt less, and you can do more, with more ease. Put simply — your life gets easier.

Most of the time when people refer to the benefit of these 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 fifty, I’m keenly aware that I don’t relate to technology the same way that my child does.

My wife’s hot-take on the same issue.

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 are “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 ourselvesand 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?

(Would you like to find out?)

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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.