“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.
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.
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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.
Why did I start training to become a
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
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
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
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
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
happens when you discover something you didn’t already know.
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.
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
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
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.