Thanks! That wasn’t necessary! Unlearning movement habits

I spend my days working with muscular habits – my own and with my clients.  This week in my Vitamin MM Mindful Movement class online, we focused on the habits in how we use our eyes.  As I dig more and more into the neuroscience of movement, I find that our movement has more embedded in it than we typically think.   We tend to think about how we use our eyes in terms of vision and seeing.  In our class this week we dove into a learning experience in how we use our eyes to locate ourselves in space.  Our eyes are connected to centers in our brain, providing sensory information through light, making sense of what we see.  They are also connected to the center in our brain that creates our sense of spatial awareness, feeding information to help us locate ourselves and our movement through space.  We use our eyes to see and we use them to create our sense of space around us and through this spatial sensing, our sense of balance.

I often talk about the muscular habits of how we try hard.  Sometimes that can mean trying hard with smaller muscles like the ones in our hands and wrists to grasp and lift something rather than coordinating bigger muscles in our pelvis, torso and arms to do the heavy work.  Changing this kind of trying hard is an up-leveling of body mechanics so you use the big parts of you to do the big work and the smaller parts of you to do more delicate, dexterous work.

The kind of trying hard I want to focus on here is when we tighten up muscles that are not necessary to achieve a task.  I think my favorite version of this is how my tongue helps out.  When I am baking and I pour liquid into a measuring cup and want to be hyper-accurate, my tongue sticks out of the side of my mouth.  Helpful?  Not at all.  The habit for me seems to be related more to my desire to be hyper-accurate than to the actual task of pouring liquid into a measuring cup.  I can stop this habit but often when I focus hard on how accurate I am in pouring, my tongue just pops out to support my intention.

Turns out there is a name for this habit of unnecessary efforts when performing a task; dysponesis, originally labeled by George Whatmore and Daniel Kohli in 1974.  Based on the Greek, “dys” meaning  bad and “ponos” meaning effort, work or energy.  The term is typically used to refer to unnecessary or excessive tightening of muscles to perform a specific task.

I helped a friend move recently and faced a situation where I tightened my muscles unnecessarily several times.  Each time I lifted a box, I wasn’t sure how heavy it was.  If the box was labelled books, I noticed that I tensed up more to lift it, often tensing too much and sometimes not enough to successfully lift the box on the first try.  She had a grand wooden semi-circular desk – as I prepared to lift it with another person, it turned out to be shockingly lighter than it looked – my unnecessary effort meant the desk shot up above waist height before I stopped over-lifting.

So dysponesis can affect the accuracy of your movement as you interact with objects or people in your environment.  How much effort do you really need to write?  Or drive?

But that isn’t as important as how dysponesis can impact your health.  A more harmful hidden habit is how we unconsciously brace or tighten our muscles in all of our movements.  This is part of the long slow learning process in Tai Chi; sensing and then learning to release this ongoing hidden habit of moving with unnecessary effort.  It’s why standing meditation practice is a long-term study.  To practice daily how to notice and release the unnecessary effort of standing and to bring that releasing process into the movements of stepping, pushing, blocking, etc. within the Tai Chi form and eventually into every day movement.

Let’s look at this in terms of our most consistent movement – breathing.  When you inhale, notice what moves.  It is likely in this moment of inhale, that you are holding tension that impacts your inhalation.  Notice if your ribs under your armpits expand when you inhale.  If you tend to sit or stand with a slightly rolled forward posture, your upper ribs closest to your collarbone, are more likely to be held still, in service of holding up the weight of your head and neck.  They are less likely to be freely available to move so that your upper lungs can inflate fully with air.   It is a hidden muscular habit that directly impacts how deeply you breathe in, each time you breathe.

From a Feldenkrais perspective, this is called cross-motivation.  The muscles surrounding your top ribs are used in service of holding you in a slightly stooped forward posture upright.  They are not available to be used in service of your breathing.

It creates cost-benefit situation in terms of how you function.

This hidden muscular habit keeps you upright (benefit) but the cost comes in terms of taking in less air than you could.  Breath after breath you pay this cost in this most basic of health promoting movements.  Dysponesis contributes to the creation and maintenance of many conditions, like high blood pressure, anxiety or asthma.  Reducing this hidden unnecessary effort can support reducing the impact of these same illnesses.  The cost of hidden muscular habits becomes more pronounced when you have a health condition that raises the cost – COPD, severe asthma.  This hidden movement habit starts to become one that takes a toll on our cardiovascular system, our respiratory system, our digestive systems.  The good news is that we can discover and reverse these unconscious movement habits to reduce their cost and increase the health benefits of breathing and all of our movement.

Santa Clause with elves

I like to think about my tongue and other unconscious movement habits as little helpers.  Like Santa’s elves, they are busy at work, helping me move through each day.  Learning to interrupt their helping ways is like saying, “Thanks! That wasn’t necessary!”.

You can learn more about my Vitamin MM Mindful Movement class https://www.kindpower.ca/classes/

 

Taking Responsibility for your Next Move

What is Driving your Movement?

“All the physical movement is to give her a change so she can own the responsibility for what she wants.” 

How does changing how you move affect the rest of your life?  Movement is movement and the rest of your life is the rest of your life.  Nothing more to see here, right?

Part of me wants to go epic and deep, to talk about the nature of matter, of our existence as movement – the vibration and movement of atoms, the space between parts of molecules, the matter of our cells.  As fascinating as the nature of matter is, it failed my Mom test – the practical, simple explanation I would use to tell my Mom about this.  (Thanks to Rob Fitzpatrick for the concept from his book, The Mom Test).

“All the physical movement is to give her a change so she can own the responsibility for what she wants.” 

This statement came from a teacher and mentor of mine, Candy Conino,  in the discussion of a client case – some of my peers and I gather once a week to discuss questions from our practice which gives us a rich learning environment to build our professional competence and confidence.

In the search for a practical, simple explanation of the what this means –  “All the physical movement is to give her a change so she can own the responsibility for what she wants” – it comes down to this.

We can lose ourselves in our unconscious habits.  We need our habits – try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand – to know how much attention this basic hygiene task takes without your habitual movement.   But habits can become a trap.

One way that our unconscious habits can become mal-adaptive behaviors is when something important in our environment shifts.  A partner becomes seriously ill or dies.  You have a serious accident or life event that changes how you get through each day.  We can do what we have always done and it doesn’t quite work anymore.  Or we can change but what we do now doesn’t feel quite right and we create a story that explains what is missing now that our partner is gone or our ability to run or walk is altered.  We create our story of coping.  And we cope.  That’s how we survive past the hard parts of life.

One kind of coping is to dive hard into an unconscious habit that feels like a save.

Let’s imagine Lidia’s journey – when Lidia’s partner dies, after an initial grieving period, one possible move is for Lidia to dive into activity – all of the classes, experiences, trips – everything that might have been on hold due to her partner’s poor health or just her unexpressed dreams for what she wanted but didn’t do.  And in that flurry of activity, Lidia sustains an injury, some physical way of breaking down.

She did too much, we say, her body wasn’t able to keep up with all this intense activity.  But more than volume, frequency or intensity of activity, we can also take the measure of the compulsive nature of what Lidia dives into – a way of coping that leads her away from herself.

What somatic coaching can help Lidia do is to bring her movement and her movement habits into conscious awareness so she can choose both how she moves and who she is in this new environment.  Unconscious coping creates a compelling and frustrating experience – while doing it you can lose yourself in the coping activity and at some point, Lidia comes back to herself.  And faces the frustration, the longing, the grief, the fear of what she is adapting to. And the limits of how she is coping.   Time to dive back in.

Somatic coaching can help Lidia listen to herself, her body and how she is functioning in her environment now and know herself – not through a story of who she was or is now, or the way she is coping to save herself, but in a concrete way right now.

Keep it sample, Mom

 

The practical, simple explanation I would tell my Mom is by helping Lidia become conscious of how she moves, she can choose what to do now because she can feel herself as she moves now. And her conscious choice is how she creates the person she can be, with each move, in every day.

Interested in learning more?  Book a free 15 minute call with Cheryl.  No sales pressure, just a caring conversation about what you are looking for and what I can offer.   https://www.kindpower.ca/book/

Ready to start?  Book a 45 minute somatic assessment session.  Then based on what we discover together, I will make a recommendation for what can support you.   https://www.kindpower.ca/book/

Being my #1. What is Somatic Coaching and why does my success depend on it?

Every body can be successful

What do coaches do?  Help you to perform better, to move better – in soccer, baseball, in leadership, as entrepreneurs – to help you improve how you perform whatever field you play on.

 

Isn’t somatic coaching basically the same thing?  It can be.  To respond to how it is different, I need to take you on a little journey.  It starts simply.  With nouns and verbs.

 

What nouns do you know yourself to be?  Son or daughter.  Wife, husband, mother, father.  Department manager, business owner.  Collector.  Cyclist. Citizen. Neighbor.   What is the rate of change in the nouns you know apply to you?  Do they change daily?  Monthly?

Are you more or less a wife or a neighbor between January and March?  Maybe you are a cyclist between April and November but not December to March.  We rely on nouns as the foundation for our stories about who we are, the building blocks of our identity.

To be or not to be….what verb am I?

What verbs do you know yourself to be?  Notice if this question doesn’t make sense.  As a teacher, I do several verbs regularly.  Explain.  Ask.  Listen.  Question.  Search. Demonstrate. Gesture. We tend not to associate as easily with the verbs we do.  I am a teacher and a coach.  I tend not to say, I question, listen, lead, allow struggle, support learning, offer feedback.

How does this relate to somatic coaching and improving performance?   Where do you think improvement happens – in the nouns or in the verbs?

Karlene’s verb is burst

Let’s work through this question with an individual.  Let’s call her Karlene.  Karlene is several nouns, a leader, a mother, a change-maker.  And one of the verbs that Karlene does is bursting through – traditions that no longer serve, outdated policies, inequities.  She is able to both have people feel she cares about them and she can burst their balloon, so that the changes that are called to happen have the space to happen.   Her body is organized around bursting barriers.  So parts of her are in pain – one shoulder, side of neck, hip – the side of her most often applied to bursting barriers.

So as a somatic coach, I could just work with her physical pain and that would help.  I could just work with her biomechanical movement and help her to move better so she can function better.  But without changing her verbs, in this case, the way she is organize to burst in, to burst through, any new change will fall under the weight of this verb, this bursting way of being.

As a somatic coach, I help people like Karlene discover their personal verbs, the way they do what they do, to feel it in their tissues.  And create a way of moving  that makes it more likely they will stop verbing towards pain and start verbing towards more wellness.  Towards more wholeness.  To simply being successfully them – complete. Capable.  Less striving to be and more being.

Somatic Coaching is what and how you move as you

So simply put, somatic coaching is concerned with both what you move and how you move.  And supporting you to decode your own mysterious black box of “Me” so you can become functional in your body as you.  Less about the nouns.  More about the verbs. 

Interested in learning more?  You can:

Sign up for a free 15-minute call to talk about your human condition.  No sales pressure, just a caring conversation about what you are looking for and what I can offer.  Book now https://www.kindpower.ca/book/

If you are ready to start, we begin with a 45-minute assessment (in person or online). Then based on what we discover together, I make a recommendation for what can support you. https://www.kindpower.ca/book/

While individual somatic coaching programs vary – this is not a one and done change effort.  Depending on what a client wants and needs, I tend to recommend 6-10 sessions so we can do more than just identify a personal pattern; we can anchor securely the changes that support my clients to hold their goal with their own hands and know they can achieve it.   If you are already working for your success – it can be good to have someone to give you a hand up.

My Inner Stranger

Picture by Mel Poole on UnSplash

Did you send the report?

I connected with a colleague over a pretty mundane issue – did I send her the report?  Did she receive it?  I went to the place of assuming I had thought about sending it but didn’t actually do it.  This happens.  It happens more right now as I live with my shifting hormonal, menopausal self.

I have developed within myself a sense of competence in certain areas of my life.  In this mid-stage of life, that sense of competence is tinged with a few dollops of chaos, a kind of disorderly reality – the strategies I have used to stay organized, that help me feel on top of everything are no longer working in the way they used to.

In my email conversation with my colleague, this truth popped out of somewhere – I am coming to know this inner stranger, the part of me that can be in tears one moment, touched deeply by a story and sometimes adrift in feeling, my long years of honing my attention, focus on a task somehow coming undone.  In the way that what I thought I did (send the report) and what I did (leave it in my draft folder) are increasingly not the same; what I think about myself and how I show up are not the same.  Part of me is paying attention to something else.

Of course, there are gaps in who I say I am and who I actually am – this is the work of life to know ourselves past the stories we tell about ourselves.  It’s the surprise that is unsettling – the surprise of how I show up, after 5 decades of getting to know myself well.

At the risk of jumping too deeply into the existential end of the pool, how do I define myself?

In the respect of competence in my work, in this area of consulting, I have an earned confidence in my competence – I trust in it.  I know my strengths, understand my weaknesses, how to live from a place of self-acceptance that my 25-year-old self craved.

It is easy to blame the hormonal changes as the villain, seeing other changes happen in my body and just hope this villain will eventually just go away.  We want what brings us certainty in this most basic part of ourselves – our identity.

I am being me.  And that is changing – the current impact of  my aging process. And there are moments, nearly every week, when I don’t really know who I am right now.  Breaking apart of my sense of self.

I am being and I am becoming. 

This is where certainty doesn’t serve the way it used to.  I used to use certainty as a way to keep the chaos of the world at bay.  Now the ground that my earned competence allows for is to see more clearly that chaos is truly part of my world, part of myself.

This week’s quote from Dennis Leri, a Feldenkrais elder, enfolded my experience of my inner stranger.

What is could be different.  What is different could be me. 

If our identity is a story, what if in addition to a personal memoir of all the ways I’ve been before, my identity is also a mystery, a personal “who-did-that?” thriller?   Except no crime has been committed.  Just being – living into my next chapter.

Please share this with someone you know that might enjoy it.  They can subscribe here https://www.kindpower.ca/blog/

 

Word Magic leading to suffering or wholeness

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

I realize that I have almost always picked work that requires me to learn on the job.  Coming from a family with a high number of teachers, grandmother, cousins, aunt, I grew up in an environment where the value of learning was infused in the air.  Growing up in my farming family, my earliest school room was the freedom to play outside as long as I was home for dinner.

It is no surprise to me that one of the people who influences my learning now is David Abram, an ecologist, philosopher and an accomplished slight of hand magician.  What I most want to share from his first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, is his ideas about word magic and how our language affects how we participate in what we sense.

My early outdoor expeditions in the shelter belt of farms in southern Alberta (the double row of trees surrounding the house and outbuildings) were wordless ones, shared with a black Labrador dog, sometimes a sister.  The smell of sticky poplar leaves on a warm spring afternoon, attaching anywhere I pressed close enough.  The sound and vibration of weighted wheat stalks tossing above my head to the persistent southwest wind, framing the autumnal blue sky.  These words may evoke the memory of what I sensed but it is not the same as the sense memory awakened when I smell poplar trees again or pause to listen to the swaying of a soon-to-be harvested wheat field.

The word magic he writes about is a simple sleight of tongue that hides what is right there in front of us. When we speak about touching the cat, about smelling the paperwhite blooms, about listening to the wind in the branches above the path – there is a word magic in “the”.  That small word renders for us a notion that the being we sense is an object.  Abram says, “To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we block our perceptual reciprocity with that being.”

Why does this matter?  It is grammatically accurate – a cat is a noun; the tree is a noun.  More word magic.  This construct shines a light on us as the sensing being and everything else as the thing being sensed.  It closes down what feels like real magic, that anything we touch, touches us back.  That anything we inhale, also shares the air.  That anything we hear, also feels our vibration as we walk by.  Abram says, “perception always remains vulnerable to the decisive influence of language.”

Word magic can magnify suffering.

In working with clients, I notice the impact of this word magic on their lives, as part of suffering that comes with pain.  Because one of the habits so many of us have learned, is to apply that objectifying language to ourselves.  The leg.  The neck.  If one of the superpowers of the Feldenkrais Method is making finer and finer distinctions as part of learning, this tiny distinction is a root of self-domination, the place where I try to control my leg to do what I want.  Without listening to my leg as a living being.  This small distancing in our self-perception, keeps us apart from ourselves. There is magic in claiming relationship with all of the parts of myself.  It doesn’t just change me, it changes the world I move in – how all of me can be part of all of we, living here.  Rather than part of me trying to control all of it, out there.  Expanded outwards, that small distinction makes all the difference. Please share this with someone you feel would enjoy it.

If this resonates with you, you might enjoy my upcoming In Touch series – starting Feb 4.

To register www.kindpower.ca/book

 

When we abandon ourselves

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Is Feldenkrais good for people to recover from trauma?  Like all such questions, the true answer is, it depends.  Based on my own background and training in Being in Movement ™, what I focus on to respond to this question is one aspect of what happens for people who struggle to recover from trauma.

What I have seen working with people as a somatic coach is a kind of abandoning of self in the present.  When I work with a person whose present is shaped by a traumatic past event, one in which they did not have resources for, what happens in the present is a kind of abandonment of self.  Their sense of self, their bodies re-enact a survival strategy that they used for their original or earlier, ongoing traumatic events.  Whatever remains within the body, the nervous system and brain, its predictive patterns, sets the person up to meet the present moment with a reaction shaped strongly by how they survived their personal, historical event(s). How that shows up looks differently for each person I work with and there are some common ways people use their bodies to do fight, to do flight and to do freeze.

What I believe is possible using the Feldenkrais method, is to work with the moment we abandon ourselves in the present and to learn to choose another option.  This is a transformative kind of self-awareness and self-care.

Sometimes I read an author that captures in words a powerful experience I have had.  There is a kind of sigh within me when I read, as if this author has seen me, knows me.  Someone understands this thing I have not been able to put language to, not this clearly.

Matt Licata in his book, A Healing Space: Befriending Ourselves in Difficult Times, captures beautifully in language when we abandon ourselves in this moment, when we get hooked into our personal history of beliefs, feelings and stuck ways of reacting and the nature of the work to train ourselves to choose a different option.

He writes, “In times when we are hooked in a torrent of limiting beliefs and overwhelming feelings, a doorway opens and we see a fork in the road.  In one direction, we follow the impulse to turn from the hot, sticky, claustrophic material, by way of denial or acting out, or stay with the underlying energy and surround it with new levels of awareness, curiosity, and warmth.  Within this, we can choose something different, establish a new pathway, encode new circuitry and establish original behaviors not oriented in habitual reaction but in wise, empathic attunement.  Familiarizing ourselves with this middle place – its qualities and felt sense – allows us to recognize the transformative nature of these moments, which catalyze the unfolding neuroplasticity, establishing new networks of skillful response that over time reduce suffering and struggle for ourselves as well as others. “

He writes that we have a strong impulse to react, to act out from this reactivity or to deny and distance ourselves from what appears to be “unworkable states of overwhelm and anxiety.”  He concludes, “It feels as if we must do whatever it takes to get back to center; otherwise, the consequences could be devastating as we tumble outside our window of tolerance into autonomic arousal, mobilizing fight-flight reactivity or immobilizing by way of disassociation and freeze, each of these ancient strategies, which emerged to protect us from full-scale psychic devastation.”

Awareness through Movement is a way to stay with ourselves and surround ourselves with new levels of awareness, curiosity and warmth.  To stay in touch with all of who we are, in the presence of pain in parts of ourselves, in the presence of historical habits, our patterns that can drive us, often without our knowing.  Using the concrete literacy of movement as the vehicle, it can support us to choose another fork in the road, so we can choose another way to move through life.

If this calls to you, check out my upcoming In Touch series, we will explore how to stay in touch with ourselves, with our environment so we can connect into our wholeness.  You can register for the whole series or drop in.  Find out more at https://www.kindpower.ca/book/

Are you sick of social distancing?

 

Photo by Wesley-Mclachlan on Unsplash

Social Distancing is the term used to describe staying away from people and microbial residue (or as our Prime Minister called it, “moist breath”) that people leave behind when touching objects.  Pre-pandemic, MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research conducted an experiment with forty people who sat in a windowless room alone for ten hours.  In another experiment this group was constrained to a ten-hour day of fasting.  In the first experiment, they reported a craving for social contact; in the second, a craving for food.  In both experiments, their brain images showed a similar “craving signal” after both the social and nutritional deprivation experiences. We are all in this life experiment, managing our cravings one way or another.

The pandemic is shining a harsh light on privilege in a way that we don’t sometimes look at – the haves and the have nots in terms of social isolation. In Canada, the number of people living alone has more than doubled to 4 million people in 2016 and has grown fastest for adults aged 35-64. So, this post is speaking to people without the privilege of touch as a regular part of your healthy life style.  (A big nod to everyone living and working in a family bubble – working, parenting and schooling from home is mega-challenging too!)

Coping with a craving, an itch that we can’t really scratch to satisfaction is a life constraint.  One of the things I am coming to apply more broadly from my Feldenkrais practice is how to get curious and creative when facing a constraint in how I move through life.  To cope with my own physical isolation, I have turned to touch as a way to not feel alone.  The difference that makes a difference to feel connected through touch is conscious touch – where I both am consciously contacting the cat or the coffee mug and where I am filled with awareness.  It is an inside/outside affair of awareness.

  1. To get a sense of what I mean, try this movement experiment.
  2. Reach for an object, like a cup.  As you touch it, do you notice when you could feel the first point of contact?  Can you slow down and try it again?
  3. This time, put your awareness into remembering what you had for breakfast and reach for the cup.  How is that different?

Finally, reach for the cup as if it contains the most delicious cup of coffee, your first cup of coffee.  Does your desire for the contents enhance or diminish your sense of touching the cup?
In my life experiment to find a sense of connection through touch, I notice that I self-isolate daily, when I touch without awareness.  Conscious touch is a gateway to know how interdependent we are with others and with our environment.  When we bring ourselves more wholly into what and who we touch, we have an opportunity to feel ourselves at the center of everything.  The connections are already there, we just have to find them.

There is no substitute for physical touch, connection with others. There is a wholeness we can tap into when we shift from absent-minded touch to present-minded touch.

If this learning expedition appeals to you, consider joining me for my upcoming In Touch Series.  This 6-session series will explore using our senses to functionally connect with ourselves (our internal sensitivity to sensations and feelings or interoception), with our environments (our ability to perceive our position in space or proprioception) and with each other (listening through touch).  Unconscious touch internally can create habits that keep us separate from our own experience (have you ever moved from one room to another with no conscious idea of how you got there?) and can keep us self-isolated from our world.  We will contrast the state of being “absent-minded” in movement with being “present-minded”, learning about your own unique habits of mind that take you out of the moment now.

You can register for the series or drop-in for each class.

Learn more: https://www.kindpower.ca/book/

Filling in Wholeness: When Part of You Wakes Up

 

After feeling numb, feeling more whole can be confusing.

When I write these postings, I share less about my own Feldenkrais practice, not because I don’t find it interesting, but because there can be a kind of daily grind of working with my own self image/body patterns that I am motivated to work with but don’t really want to talk about all the time.  That kind of, there I am again, doing me sort of thing.  I tend to feel a kind of odd appreciation for how persistent some of my personal coping patterns can be.  But last week, the left side of my back woke up.

When I started my personal Feldenkrais journey with local practitioner Tim Rose, I became aware that I had very little sense of myself on my left side, my ribs, shoulder blade, abdomen.  That I could sit and sense these things on my right side but my left side was a big blank.  I could imagine symmetry, like projecting a skeleton onto my body but I didn’t actually feel any semblance of symmetry.   When we came to this realization together, he gently asked me, “How are you now that you know that?”  I think he expected me to be upset, unsettled.  Instead, I got a glimmer of the kind of body/mind geek I really am.  I was fascinated!  It explained my uneven performance in aikido.  I would learn a technique, really get a good feel for it on my right side and then it was like nothing transferred to my left side – I had to learn it all again.

What do I mean when I say the left side of my back woke up?  Simply speaking, I don’t have to imagine my left side, I can just feel it.  Not as fully as my right side but I can sense details, like the expansion between ribs when I breathe.  Like details of how I bend from side to side.  I feel different walking down the street, feeling the ground through each step but on both sides now.

And for a few days, it was really confusing to feel this, like I had an extra shirt wrapped only on my left side – lots of sensation where I was used to not having any.  And how I moved started to shift a little.  I have a past injury in my right hip and lower back so live with stiffness and less range of motion in my right hip joint than in my left.  Typically, I don’t feel it much unless I am doing some deep lunging steps during aikido training.  Well, that old injury woke up too!

After feeling absence, feeling more was like walking around in a sensory bombardment, sometimes painful, sometimes pleasurable and very unfamiliar.   I had learned how to walk around with half of my back online.  All of the actual connections have always been there, but I was unplugged from myself.

What is a girl to do when her back wakes up?  Not really sure but what I did do was keeping moving, keeping noticing.  And dance in my kitchen.

I am working through a repertoire of Awareness through Movement lessons each week and practice (near) daily internal martial arts practices, so I brought this new, confusing back of mine into those activities.  To do the daily grind of awareness in my movement, noticing how this new jolt of awareness was creating new patterns of movement.  To get familiar with this development in my body/mind connection.  To see what becomes of me.

At a recent online aikido workshop, a teacher who I respect and love, Mary Heiny Sensei said, “The connections are there.  You just have to find them.”   When I ask myself why is this kind of work important, my honest answer is, “I don’t like living with limits when I don’t have to.”  When I live with my back half asleep, I am limited to what I can do.  I have the overuse injury on my right side to show for it.  The tantrum in my right hip continues for now and I keep moving.  And noticing.

I hope that in 2021, parts of you that feel absent or not filled in start to come to life, start to move as part of you again.  The connections are there.  You just have to find them.

If your issue is not absence of sensation but the presence of pain, check out my free resource, How Can I Move When It Hurts?  https://www.kindpower.ca/it-hurts/

 

Drip Lessons – Why Practice is Important

Photo by Adrien Converse on Unsplash

As I mark my half-way point in my Feldenkrais formal training, I am interested in the assumptions we can hold about learning.  I have worked most of my adult life in education and remember playing school as a girl in small wooden desk on our family farm.  That early play, mimicking the adult world, cast learning as taking tests and producing answers.   When my sister marked my test sheet correct, that meant I was a good student!  But good for what? 

I am preparing now for a different kind of test, a demonstration of aikido techniques to transition into 2nd kyu.  (That means I get 2 stripes on my brown belt – 2 more tests to go for the coveted black belt).   In my school, we have an encyclopedic number of technique variations to learn as brown belts – sort of like a finishing school to prepare for deeper study.  The approaches to learning I used sitting in my school desk don’t work as well here.  I am drilling through movement almost daily to load the fundamentals of the techniques into my body/mind and refining my understanding of why they work.  How can I be a good student here?  Good for what?

I am hip deep in learning two traditions that many might say are on a decline – Feldenkrais and Aikido.  Both are in a similar place generationally.  The founder/creator of the school has passed away; the people who studied directly with the founder are elders and the generations of people coming behind them to practice is thinning out.   It is reasonable to ask, “what are these traditions good for?”

In reflecting on my progress to become a Feldenkrais practitioner and a more seasoned aikidoka, I have a perspective on learning that seems to apply to both learning contexts.  I will call it “drip lessons”.
 
Drip lesson #1 Courage to Fail (over and over).

On the surface, in aikido I am learning dynamic biomechanics, lessons of force management, and a perspective of how to organize and coordinate my movement to achieve a result.  What result?   I train to remain calm and potent as I respond to an attack in a way that diminishes the intensity of the attack towards a balance point where peaceful options become available again between myself and my attacker.  Sounds pretty cool – people I know who are into mindfulness and consciousness raising activities usually like descriptions of aikido and its philosophy.   And if that outcome is like a shining temple on the top of the mountain, people look up and admire it. 

But the lessons had while trudging on the path are the hidden lessons.  I call them “drip lessons” because as drop by drop of experience happens, the lessons can shape you, just as water eventually shapes a stone.

In aikido practice, I mostly fail.  Not because I am a bad student but because I am practicing a way of being in movement that I do not know fully yet.  My Feldenkrais practice has been a sweet boost to my failures as I can distinguish in finer and finer ways how my body is aligned, how I use my perception so I can ask myself for more complex coordination and organization patterns.  In class recently, I worked for over 30 minutes with another person, who has a black belt, on a technique that required a new-to-me kind of coordination and organization.  Without it, the technique just didn’t work.   I found this new state 3 times in 30 minutes.  Can the word do without my learning of this technique?  Of course.  But the drip lesson of failure gives me gifts of gold.

I am:

  • Learning to rely on my curiosity and ingenuity as a learner to identify and remove what prevents me from progressing.
  • Learning to name where I am stuck and what I need help with to take on the challenge.
  • Managing my frustration to stay in and learn in the face of a challenge I can’t solve right away.
  • Acquiring patience and persistence.
  • Letting go of my ego’s need to be right, to perform well each time.

 
This drip lesson is kind of vital for my life as a solo entrepreneur as I explore marketing strategies, business technologies and ways to grow my business.  In this venture I have struggled and failed, over and over again, improving as I go because of the lessons of each failure.   I can apply this drip lesson to my Feldenkrais practice and pretty much any challenge in life worth doing.
 
Drip lesson #2 Facing fear

As a woman, dealing with force, falling, using strength for power, much of this territory is new.  I didn’t wrestle or fight as a child, not physically, so when I face dealing with force, I am often uncertain and fearful.  Both of getting hurt and of hurting others.  While I particularly like the way aikido deals with force, the lesson about how to deal with force is only part of the picture.  The drip lesson of finding myself triggered into fear and finding my way back to calm is a life skill that is starting to infuse who I am.  While I can see that I might have a slightly higher threshold now to feel fear (still don’t like snakes too much!), I have a greater capacity to move through and beyond my fear. 
 
Drip lesson #3 Expanding sense of what is possible

I turned 50 a couple of years ago and I am struck by something I have noticed about acquaintances and friends.  The people around my age are in the process of “smalifying” or expanding.  (Thanks to Paul Linden for the word).  I watch peers age in front of me, their lives getting smaller as they stay with what is comfortable, safe and convenient.   I watch other peers expand, even in their 70s, as they stay open, invested in what is possible. 

The practice of aikido is an expansive practice – literally opening up my body, my mind and my heart.   I am working with new members of our club on a novel way to learn how to roll.  Rather than putting beginners into the position of trying out front and back rolls right away, we are breaking down components following a Feldenkrais lesson on rolling, so beginners can learn to trust themselves in movement and trust their contact with the floor.  

It’s a classic collision of habits and practice – when I learned to roll, I was afraid of going over so contracted and stiffened myself to prevent myself from getting hurt.  This bracing habit is exactly what hurt me as I thumped my way through the roll, banging my shoulder multiple times in just the way I didn’t want to do.   What is needed instead is the ability to expand through our shape, so that we become as round and connected to the ground as we can.   I pick on this activity because it is one where I can see for the beginners an expanding sense of what is possible.  Again, the ability to roll or not roll may not be urgently important.  But the drip process of starting something that is not possible and learning how it is possible is kind of what learning is all about.  Learning something that you do not already know how to do.  
So to answer my own question, “Good for what?” I need to make a distinction.  Both aikido and Feldenkrais are practices that carry extra cargo.  There is the content of what you can learn and there is the capacity you can develop, drip by drip, experience by experience.   I know long ago I gave up being a small expert for being an expansive explorer.   Why is that important?

I recently saw Martyn Joseph in concert – Martyn is a hard-working, Welsh folk singer in the tradition of calling out, passionately for change and singing the songs of the people who don’t get heard in the halls of power.  So taking a cue for Martyn, here is my passionate outburst for today. https://www.martynjoseph.net/

In the uncertainty of today’s current pandemic, economic downturns, environmental distress, a small expert just doesn’t stand a chance.   Things are changing too quickly.  The experts, the authorities we look to for answers don’t know.  We need people who can stand their ground in the face of complexity, crisis and the threat of chaos and stay calm. Curious. Expansive.  People who can thrive with failure.   We need the kinds of practice lineages that cultivate this kind of person.   Today more than ever.

On a personal note, stay safe!  I support decisions people feel they need to make to preserve their health.  I am through my 14-day waiting period after my recent trip to Seattle for Feldenkrais training and have not shown any symptoms.  My seasonal sinus irritation that happens every winter is fully present.
 

I am offering the option to join my classes online – it is possible using a smart phone or a computer so recently gave a class to a person on the west coast, a person in another country and made a recording so a local person could catch up – she was self-isolating to protect herself with a non-virus related respiratory issue.   As we live in a social isolating way, I want to urge you to continue to find ways to remain connected with others and to stay connected to yourself and your environment.   From a grounded, connected place you will have more resources to manage the risk and to find your way back to calm when fear gets the upper hand. 

My current and upcoming classes – if you find yourself self-isolated or mandated to be at home, consider joining in a class online – I can help you get connected to the session and yourself.
https://www.kindpower.ca/somatic-coaching/fall-well/

Exercise vs Learning

Why did I start training to become a Feldenkrais practitioner? 

Working with people in their bodies, I intuit people want an answer something like this:  I have been interested in body-based practices for years – Martial arts like karate, Tai Chi and aikido, Pilates, gym workouts and physical hobbies like kayaking, hiking, swimming, walking.  So I wanted to become an embodiment professional. That is partially right. 

I want to age well and wisely.  Movement is part of that life plan.  Feldenkrais writes in Awareness through Movement, “The ability to move is important to self-value.”  As I age, this becomes more and more apparent – my choices to move and explore what I can do physically feels like a choice to value myself, a vote to become a rocking, lively older adult.  I don’t seek a fountain of youth; I do practice what brings a fountain of vitality.

What is truer is this –  I love learning.  I read voraciously as a child, I learned well in school, learned to play musical instruments, learned languages, learned my way through a Master’s degree in Education, learned software programs, learned about human development, learned to become a coach, I could continue this list.   I remember walking through fields as a child – forays through nature surrounding me – learning here included my senses, smelling, touching everything and listening to the wind through the wheat stalks. 

Feldenkrais is primarily a learning method.  Moshe Feldenkrais chose movement as a medium for learning because of the immediacy of the feedback loop from brain to body. Improvement in motor pathways, the connection from senses to nervous system to brain to nervous system to muscles can show up quickly.  He wrote in The Elusive Obvious, “Organic learning is essential,…,slow and unconcerned with any judgement as to the achievement of good or bad results.  Organic learning is individual, and without a teacher who is striving for results within a certain time, it lasts as long as the learner keeps at it.” 

This is the baby, the toddler who learns everything through play, persistent attempts, only taking in feedback on what functions more or less well. 

What is our purpose, our goals when we exercise?   

I started with a new student this week in my latest offering, Learn to Fall Well.  At one point during our first lesson she said, “This is like the opposite of going to the gym.”  She is active, doing several activities every week.  She is aware of herself and the movements she knows.  In the lesson, I asked her to do movement that was different from what she typically does in her workout classes.  I asked her to attend to strange moments and relationships, “Notice the moment when moving your R leg that your left leg is called to follow.”  Or “Notice the point of no return, when to go further means you fall onto your right side.”  I am not asking her to roll side to side 30 times, although we probably got to that number of repetitions by the end of the lesson.

What assumptions do we carry when we exercise?  How do we improve our performance?   In sports performance, athletes strive to improve skill, strength, endurance and recovery. In this context, exercise strives for an outcome.  I can do 50 lunges, I can play a whole game of soccer.  I can shoot accurately from a certain distance on the net.  I am strengthening my muscles, maintaining my bone density, improving my flexibility.   

In his teaching at Amherst, Feldenkrais talked about exercising and learning. He asked and answered: “[Do] You know the difference between exercising and learning? [Exercising] means that you know the final result, what you want, and you keep on doing until you obtain it”.  Learning, as defined by Feldenkrais, is a process, an inquiry into the quality of movement, into possibilities for how to move that supports how to function in the environment. 

Learning happens when you discover something you didn’t already know.

Before you jump to the assumption that I am for Feldenkrais over exercise or vice versa, what I am more interested in is how they are related to each other.   How do we improve our performance, our capacity to move? How do we move towards mastery? What is of interest to me, is when people decide to stop learning, when we decide we have mastered sufficient skills to obtain our objective. 

What satisfies you when you exercise?

Moti Nativ, a martial arts instructor and Feldenkrais teacher brings a lovely way to situate the relationship between learning, exercising and training.

In the context of a martial arts class, learning is often acquiring a technique, learning it until she/he has learned to perform it.  In my experience in aikido, I often watch, mimic, make errors and through several attempts come to approximate the technique I am being taught.  This is a kind of outside-in learning process – seeing a movement, being shown a movement by a teacher or trainer and attempting to replicate the movement. 

When do I own the movement? When can I say I have learned it? When is my task of learning the technique completed?   In many learning contexts, the teacher has the say for when a student has learned a movement.  In this context, exercise then is repeating what I have learned, until I can perform it competently with confidence, accuracy and speed based on a teacher, a coach’s feedback. 

When I have exercised enough?  When is my performance of a technique good enough? 

I can stop when I reach my goal – 50 lunges per day, enough stamina to run through a soccer game, adequate precision, strength and control to shoot accurately at the net.   If it is true today, I can assume it will be true in future games, in future workouts, yes?  No.  The problem with holding exercise in this way, is that we can assume success in one set of conditions will predict success for us in another set of conditions.

Moti distinguishes exercise from training.  This is another level of exercise – performing the technique in demanding conditions, in a more challenging and stressful environment.  Under attack from a partner, in the presence of a player on the defensive team, on uneven surfaces.   In training when is my performance good enough?  When I can perform the movement, the technique when challenged by my environment, the conditions?

In Feldenkrais, exercise means using my awareness, attending to my inner and outer sense of movement, of myself as I interact with my environment.  Exercise means attending to the process of the movement, not the goal.  How smoothly can I move?  Where do I encounter resistance, restrictions in my movement?  How can I find a possible, even easy way to carry out a movement?  How much of all of me can I attend to while doing the movement?  Can I attend to something in my environment and within myself at the same time?

One way to talk about what this difference is about is by looking at the question, “How do we build our capacity for quality movement?”  Exercise would answer – by repeating movements, sequences of movements so I can perform competently, with confidence, with accuracy, with speed.   Training would answer – by challenging performance of our movement in more difficult, more variable conditions.  Feldenkrais would respond by increasing the precision and consciousness of what I am doing, the ways I can move, exploring options for functional movement, finding ways to distribute work across more of myself.   I can become more functional because I know more ways to move, know more about how I can move, know more about how I work in different positions, different conditions.

At the end of one of our lessons exploring how to move from a chair to the floor and back again, my student said, “I feel lighter when I keep my head down.”  I could have had my student repeat a sequence of movements, created an exercise for getting down to the floor and back to the chair.  But I would have robbed her of this discovery, this way to find and own for herself a better way to move herself.  This was her process of learning, using her senses, using her own experience.   I am in it, this Feldenkrais gig, to create the opportunity to learn.

By finding a way to use the weight of her pelvis and her head in better relationship, she changed the perceived work of lifting herself up onto the chair and down to the floor.  We explored one better way to move from the chair to the floor and back again.  We could explore other ways as the medium to develop her capacity to discover and move for herself.

As an older person, I could ask her to repeat exercises to build leg strength, to maintain flexibility so she could get up from the ground after falling.  In working in this way, in this Awareness through Movement way, I also supported her to build her capacity to find the answer for herself. 

I am becoming a Feldenkrais teacher to support people to build their capacity to find the answers for themselves.  Through movement.  Through their bodies.  It’s one of the ways to support people to become more whole, more resourceful.  More able.