Quarterly Essay: Winter 2019

Printable essay: 2019 Winter Essay: Why is it important to relax?

Why is it important to relax?

It is important to relax — so that you can have a more creative relationship to your own life.

Everyone knows how it is when you are tense and in pain: all your focus is there. It is very hard to stay in the present moment. The imagination looks to the past and says “if only.” It looks to the future and catastrophizes. Even during sleep, you barely get relief.

This is not a creative way to live.

Is there a way out? For many people, the Feldenkrais Method is a way out. It is a way to find a fresh experience of life, to renew and vivify.

The new experience comes from relaxing, not in the sense of vegging out, but by engaging in conscious, growth-affirming activity. Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the Feldenkrais Method, formulated his strategy like this:
“It is important to learn how to do the familiar thing in an unfamiliar way.”
Does this sound easy? It is not! It is difficult because for each of us it is hard to “see around our corners.” Left to our own devices, we repeat. Thus, it is important to have resources from the outside.

In a Feldenkrais session, as an example, you may explore the sit-up. Most people think of such as an abdominal crunch, which it is; but what if you think about it from the other side – from the back? Crunch the abs = lengthen the back. When you try this, you see that it gives a different feel.

Another approach to sit-ups is to vary the placement of the head. With the thought of directing the head toward a knee, you can focus on aiming different parts of the head toward the knee — the nose, the chin, the forehead, the top of the head. With each variation, the use of the eyes changes and so does the overall experience.

While engaged in these variations, the brain is not repeating. It is being invited – seduced, even – into seeing a new point of view. This opens up something inside. You find yourself feeling more relaxed. You find yourself having more options, as you engage in life.

Quarterly Essay: Fall 2018

Printable Fall Essay

“The purpose of the skeleton”

“What is the purpose of the skeleton?”

Many years ago I was sitting on the floor with a group of colleagues, like myself, fairly new Feldenkrais Practitioners. Facing us, on a chair, was our senior colleague Jeff Haller. We were together for continuing education, and Jeff was the teacher. He had asked the question and now was waiting for a reply. Several suggestions were offered, but it was clear they weren’t hitting the nail on the head.

After a while, Jeff answered his own question: “The purpose of the skeleton is to make the body light.”

There was a collective breath, and it all made sense. Our training and our experience so far could be focused through this single lens. If a human were like an amoeba, all tissue, no matter how muscular the person was, he, or she, could never stand up. There could never be enough strength to counteract gravity initially or energy to maintain the effort.

So, the bones are there to give something for the muscles to pull against and to give strength without having to spend energy.

Secondly, the bones give a way to efficiently transfer power. When you throw a baseball, you use, say, your right hand – and your right arm, back and legs, etc. But the real force comes from the earth, channeled through the feet and the whole body. If the force had to travel with only muscle as a pathway, it would be take much more effort.

To share a quote from Moshe Feldenkrais:

“Any posture is acceptable in itself as long as it does not conflict with the law of nature, which is that the skeletal structure should counteract the pull of gravity, leaving the muscles free for movement.”

With these truths steadily in front of us, in the Feldenkrais Method we work to develop in each person a clearer awareness and more optimal use of the skeleton. Many pains are relieved by this route, and much vitality regained.

Quarterly Essay: Spring 2018

“Clarifying the hip joints may help the back”

When you lift something truly heavy, do you bend your knees? You know that you should, and you probably do.
But when you lift something only somewhat heavy, do you bend your knees? You know that you should, and — possibly — you do not.
The man in the drawing is definitely bending his knees. It contributes to the impression that the object he is lifting is heavy.

Man bends well in the knees and hip joints to lift a heavy box

Besides bending in his knees, he is also bending in his hip joints. To use somewhat coarser language, he is bending his knees and sticking his butt out. In some circumstances we may feel shy or vulnerable about doing this, but it is a critically important element.

Movement happens in patterns. In a healthy movement pattern, every part of the body contributes to the whole. By contrast, in an unhealthy movement pattern, some parts are idle. Then, other parts have to compensate. The compensating parts end up being overworked, and, sooner or later, they cry out in pain.

Young children bend easily in the hip joints, as do people in cultures where one sits on the floor. But in countries where one sits on chairs, and as the person gets older, and whenever there has been injury, the movement in the hip joints often, gradually and imperceptibly, diminishes.

The failure to bend in the knees and hip joints is one of the predictable causes of back injury. It can also lead to strain in other places, such as the neck and shoulders.

Besides this to-many-people-familiar bad news, there is less well-known good news, which is that the inverse is also true. Regaining healthy movement in the hip joints is a way to heal the back, as well as the neck, the shoulders and other parts. Restoring elastic, reliable, consistent movement in the hip joints is a good route for reducing pain and restoring strength and stamina throughout the body.

Exercises to clarify the hip joints include:

  • while standing: squats and lunges with upper body counter rotation
  • on hands and knees: cat-cow
  • lying on your back: the pelvic clock.

Another good place to hang out is with the anatomy book. There is a lot to discover. Everybody likes to be understood! Your body, too, will function better when you understand what makes it tick.

To read this essay as a pdf: 2018 Spring Essay

Quarterly Essay: Winter 2018

Cultivating Flow with the Pelvic Clock

Would you, please, imagine the following:

Following through on one of your New Year’s resolutions, you sign up for a Winter exercise class through Arlington County. On the first day, you are early. You find the room and enter through the back door. Although you are the first to arrive, twelve mats have already been set up. They are laid out in a rectangle, and there is room for another row at the back. On the wall at the front of the room is a clock.

Feeling conservative, you walk toward the mat that is furthest from the door and in the last row. As you arrive at the mat, you see something unusual. Looking toward the front of the room, you see a “double” of the clock slide leisurely down the wall and along the floor until it comes to rest on the mat where your hips will be. You are standing near the top of the mat, where your head will be, and see clearly that the clock’s “12” is close to your feet, and the “6” is close to your head. Your head tilts to the side in silent astonishment. The double settles into the fabric of the mat. A moment later, a second double slides off the wall, travels along the floor and comes to rest in the place where you head will be. Again, the 12 is closer to your feet and the 6 closer to the top of your head. This second double also blends into the fabric.

In the meantime, another student has arrived. You see the same thing happening on her mat. But she is not surprised. With an accustomed air, she lies down and makes herself comfortable. You decide to do the same.

This imagination is the setup for the one of the very practical and well-loved Feldenkrais movement themes, which we call the Pelvic Clock. The lesson begins when you are asked to lie on your back with your knees bent, your arms and head comfortable and:

1. Rock the pelvis, lightly, from side to side. Sense the weight shifts and silently use the vocabulary that you are rocking the pelvis from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock.
2. The same idea, but rocking from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock.
3. Shift weight around the pelvis in a diamond pattern: 12 – 3 – 6 – 9.
4. The same as above, but smoothing the diamond into a circle.
5. Same as above, but circling in the other direction.

If you go slowly and pay close attention, you are likely to observe that your circle is, to begin with, not even. But, by continuing, most likely, gradually, it will become smoother.
Next, you will be guided through a similar sequence with the head. Then, combinations between the pelvis and the head.
There may also be enough time to explore a circle of an arm in relation to the pelvis or the head. And, best of all, a circle of the ribs in relation to any of the other parts.
This is comfortable, patient work. It brings about more connectivity and flow between the torso and the limbs. It yields surprising benefits in terms of relief from pain and improvement in the overall sense of well-being.

2018 Winter Essay “Cultivating Flow with the Pelvic Clock” PDF

 

Quarterly Essay: Fall 2017

Frequency and Depth

Print Version: 2017 Fall Essay

For the third week of August, I went to a Feldenkrais Retreat at Camp Medomak in Washington, Maine. Medomak used to be a boys’ camp, Twenty years ago it was converted, in part, into a place where groups can hold summer retreats. The setting is idyllic: a forested and partially mowed mountainside that slopes down to a three-mile long lake. The facilities are just right, and the cooking is superb.

Our Feldenkrais group of twenty-three had seven days together. The first and the last were half-days, for arrival and departure. In between we had five days of study. The main activity was group class, which we call ATM. It stands for Awareness through Movement and means a movement theme explored for an hour, or more. We had fifteen ATM’s in five days. That’s a lot!

 

Maureen swimming in the beautiful Medomak Lake
There was time during the Retreat for swimming in the lake.
That’s me in the water!

My first personal goal for the Retreat was to swim in the lake. That was realized as you can see above. My second goal was to learn new lessons, both for my own benefit and to share with my students. Here, too, my feeling is “Mission Accomplished.”

In addition, there was a surprise. I have the feeling of being brought to depth. This experience is difficult to bring into words. It is a feeling of being touched by something. And, you may well ask, touched by what?

I have the feeling of being touched by contact with a larger Self.  This is not the small “s” self of selfishness. It is a feeling broader, more stable, and more lively than selfishness. Certainly the private meditations in the outdoor chapel and at the side of the lake played a part. But mostly the new feeling came from the hours of Feldenkrais instruction. Somehow, by paying very close attention to one’s self, and physically especially, one comes to a new experience. It was not just my own experience. It could be felt in the harmony of the group.

 

Our group at the 2017 Feldenkrais Retreat at Camp Medomak
Our group at the 2017 Feldenkrais Retreat at Camp Medomak