Sit in a chair with a firm seating surface where both feet can be flat on the floor. Sit forward enough so that you are not leaning on the back of the chair.
1. Establish a sensory “baseline” (what this particular movement feels like now): Let your eyes look upward, your head lifting to allow you to "follow" your gaze. Assess how easily your chest and rib cage allows movement up and forward while you look up this way. Go slowly. Don’t do this more than twice.
2. Interlace your fingers with your hands comfortably in front of your torso but not resting in your lap. Look down in the direction of your hands. While you continue looking down, un-interlace your fingers and then re-interlace them in the non-habitual way. Do this ten times; each time you re-interlace your fingers, alternate between habitual and non-habitual interlacing. Each time you re-interlace your fingers, give your hands a brief but firm squeeze before you undo and re-interlace your fingers. (Interlace, squeeze, undo, interlace the other way, squeeze, undo, etc. until you’ve done it ten times).
3. Sit quietly for a moment with your hands free and resting comfortably. Then try the initial movement of looking up, letting your head follow your gaze upward. Is there noticeably more “willingness” of your chest and ribs to move easily upward and forward?
What happened? In general terms, these actions alerted your subconscious to the fact that the musculature in the front of your chest was in a state of unneeded shortness, or that there was some residual contraction of that musculature that was not doing anything positive for you at the moment, so that contraction/shortness was changed by your brain. (The action with your hands provided new “input” to your subconscious and a change was made as a result.)
If you’d like a more detailed explanation, come to the workshop and ask Mark to explain what happened more specifically.
If you felt no change in the baseline movement at the end, you may have discovered that you began this little exercise with what your nervous system felt was already an equitably distributed balance of effort/non-effort in your flexors and extensors. OR this little exercise was not enough “experience” to change a state that might be such a familiar habit pattern for you that more input is needed before a change is made. Come to the workshop and you’ll get the chance to experience more and bigger stimulus, engage in a bit of practice and be rewarded with the resulting benefit of feeling better.
Who are we? When any of us speaks of "I" or "me," what do we mean? Most of us identify with our consciousness. We see ourselves as an synthesis of what we think and how we feel emotionally, coupled with the perception we have of the world through our five senses. It is our consciousness that gives us a sense of autonomy, of control over our own actions, our sense of free will.
Consequently, many of us limit what we identify as "me" or "I" to what we take in or produce through conscious action. What if you were "bigger" than that? More than just your consciousness? What if there was a creative, immensely capable part of yourself that you left unacknowledged, its power unused, simply because it resides outside your consciousness? Worse, what if leaving this power center's potential untapped caused it to atrophy and lose its ability to help you?
I'm writing of the potential power of your nervous system as a whole and, particularly, the part of your subconscious mind that organizes your movement. This power center resides within every human being but most of us never realize even a small portion of the ability that this aspect of ourselves has to contribute to our health and wellbeing.
Let's back up for a moment and think just about human movement. Even as adults, most of the time, we think of movement much as we did when we were babies. We think of movement not in terms of how it is done—what muscles are contracted in what sequence, timing and power level—but rather we think of movement in terms of what we want. Stand up. Sit down. Take a box off the shelf. Turn to see what made that noise. Walk to the car. Dial the correct combination to the padlock. Run to catch the bus. We rely on this untapped power center—our nervous system—to do the job of translating our desires into action, of directing the appropriate musculature to fire in just the right sequence at just the right time and with just the right level of contraction (and that is a gross simplification of what actually takes place) to move our body as our desires have requested. And most of us do only a small fraction of what we are capable of to improve the functioning of this part of our brain and nervous system.
Every Feldenkrais lesson provides food, in the form of information, for this aspect of our being, improving the functioning of our nervous system. But some lessons provide more direct input than others. These are the lessons through which we come to know our physical selves with greater and greater clarity and detail. In essence, these lessons provide pure and undiluted information to your nervous system that helps it (you) to do a more "informed" and efficient job of the movement assembly process outlined above. When your nervous system has better tools to work with, it will improve its (your) ability to assemble the details of how you move in a more efficient manner, resulting in greater comfort and pleasure in movement.
How does improving your movement improve your sense of self? Moshe Feldenkrais saw the human organism as an integrated system. If a change is made to one part of the system, a response is generated throughout the rest of the system. A positive change in one aspect results in a positive change to the whole.
The types of Feldenkrais lessons that contribute most strongly to the nervous system's ability to sense itself and the body in which it resides require much more mental effort than they do physical exertion. These lessons can be mentally taxing, sometimes frustrating, but the effort expended in concentration and attention generates great rewards. As with all Feldenkrais work, the benefits can be immediate and profound. Moreover, the more of this type of work that is done, the more those benefits accrue over time. Whether or not a change or improvement is felt right away, these lessons provide very powerful input into the amazingly competent information processor that is our nervous system. And as one's physical self-image becomes more detailed and complete, one's self-image (in the larger sense that encompasses our thoughts and feelings as well) also expands and improves. The result is that we feel more confident, more powerful, more secure and more comfortable in the world.
I invite you to begin or continue, as the case may be, your journey toward finding a "bigger," more confident version of you, one that includes all of yourself and is no longer limited to just what your consciousness brings to your attention. This is what we'll do at my three-hour workshop, Improving Your Sense of Self (click here to register), on Wednesday, October 10 at 6:30 pm.
Senior Practitioner Mark Hirschfield gives us an inside look at this unique workshop. Register here.
Why did you create the Feldenkrais University workshop?
I see too many people in my classes and even, at least initially, some of my individual session clients, who are not receiving as much benefit from Feldenkrais as they might. The Feldenkrais Method is basically a training modality. We frequently use the term, “educational” when describing the method. We use those words because they come closest to describing what we are doing. Really, though, we are asking our clients/students to engage in a different mode of training from most other modalities and to view education in a way that is very different from what most people’s experience of education has been. For some, understanding how we view these differences and the techniques we use to implement them can help bring about more rapid improvement.
In the workshop description you say regarding the Feldenkrais Method “people often experience changes that seem to defy logic--a mysterious reduction in pain, a sudden discovery of ease, or the sensation of movement where there had been none before.” Can you talk a little more about this experience?
The simple answer is that in most cases where something surprising happens, one has experienced a change in their habitual pattern of action and the nervous system is acknowledging the improvement of the new pattern over the old--a pain signal is turned off or a feeling of wellbeing is generated. Pain is a form of information that is used by the nervous system for more than just alerting one to the fact that something has been “damaged.” That is one use, but others include moving in a way that has hurt in the past so one’s system is issuing a protective warning by sending a pain signal “in advance,” as it were. Once the movement that has been painful in the past is approached and explored in a small, slow and delicate manner, then slowly built upon and enlarged through a Feldenkrais experience, the nervous system learns through experience that circumstances have improved and a pain “warning” is no longer needed.
Is it important to understand why the Feldenkrais Method works? If so, why?
The efficacy of the method is not dependent on understanding how it works. But, for some, not knowing can be frustrating. For some, that frustration can become enough of a distraction to mute some possible benefits of practicing Feldenkrais. For some, improvement can be found more quickly within a more complete framework of understanding why one is asked to do the things that take place during a Feldenkrais experience.
Again, there is no need to truly grasp the details of what is going on. It is primarily the subconscious we are trying to affect. I think it’s fantastic for anyone who is satisfied with “not knowing” to simply enjoy the changes brought about by any experience.
But the real crux of it for me is this: once you begin to grasp and (more importantly) to accept how the Feldenkrais Method affects change, you cannot escape realizing that the way you have been viewing your very being has likely been incomplete, or for those operating at the far end of the scale, completely erroneous. When your ideas about how you function begin to become more holistic, your view of what you are and what you are capable of nearly always expands and improves. That will happen with or without cognitive understanding. It is engaging in the practice that brings about the improvement. Nonetheless, understanding may enhance the entire process.
Is this workshop appropriate for someone who has just started doing Feldenkrais?
If you are interested in finding out more about the method while you experience its benefits, this workshop is for you, regardless of your level of experience with the method.
Anything else you want to say about this workshop?
The workshop is called “Feldenkrais University,” but if you’re thinking of an actual college or traditional school experience, think of this as the class you sign up for because the rest of your schedule is super-tough and you need something that’ll get you an, “easy A.”
Our Clinical Director Marek Wyszynski recently competed in the USA Fencing Summer Nationals in St. Louis, and will be representing the USA on the Veteran's World Championship Team in Livorno, Italy later this year! Congratulations Marek! We are so proud of you!
For this Between the Lines event on May 16, 2018, Senior Practitioner Mark Hirschfield led a discussion involving three articles and how they relate to the Feldenkrais Method. Here’s the material we discussed, as well as some background information from Mark about why he chose each article.
From The Feldenkrais Journal, “The Weber-Fechner-Henneman Movement Optimization Cycle,” by Feldenkrais trainer, Roger Russel. Click here to download.
"Mr. Russel’s article provides a very concrete justification for using slow and small movements during an Awareness Through Movement lesson that combines biomechanical and epistemological research and theory (how one moves and how one 'knows')."
From Mental Furniture by Dennis Leri. Click here to download.
"During the 1990s, Dennis Leri, another Feldenkrais trainer, authored a series of articles published as a compendium (and now available to read for free on Mr. Leri’s website) called Mental Furniture. In Mental Furniture, Mr. Leri, describes and summarizes his research into various sources that Dr. Feldenkrais used in the creation of his method. One of the articles, “The Fechner Weber Principle,” goes into greater detail than does Mr. Russel, in summarizing the background and research that went into forming this principle that is fundamental to understanding how to use the Feldenkrais Method."
From the April 2, 2018 issue of The New Yorker, “Are We Already Living in Virtual Reality?” by Joshua Rothman. Click here to download.
"This is an intriguing article that offers a synopsis of ideas put forth by the contemporary German philosopher, Thomas Metzinger, and others, about a concept they call, 'mental models.' Metzinger asserts that it is through mental models that we know the outside world, not through direct interaction with the outside world itself. The concept gets pretty 'heady' but there are many ideas in the article that directly relate to how we form a sense of a self, and what that concept we all have of ourselves might actually be."
This article from NPR gives some world-wide perspective about the importance of moving from the hip joints. Learn more about how the hip joints function in the upcoming workshop Pain-Free & Healthy Hip Joints on Tuesday March 6 with co-Institute founder Marek Wyszynski.
Here’s what Marek said about his trip to Norfolk, VA:
“I did a presentation during Grand Rounds titled ‘Surgeon’s Health, Focus on Posture & Movement Patterns: Application of the Feldenkrais Method in Prevention and Treatment of Repetitive Strain Injuries’, which was received with interest and followed with great questions from the doctors. Then I spent the whole day in operating rooms observing and evaluating postures and the surgeons’ self-use during common head and neck surgeries. The goal of the project is to help surgeons with musculoskeletal symptoms associated with performing surgery which are very common. There is a plan to publish an article and present at the national conference.”