Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The purpose of the skeleton

A couple weeks ago I was working with “Patrick,” a man who for months had been waking up with back pain. He had pain intermittently during the day, but consistently in the morning.

I asked him to show me how he slept. He lay down on my table on his stomach and turned his head this way and arranged his legs like this and his arms like that. All fine. But as I looked more closely, I could see that there were odd things about his ribs. They weren’t going the way one would expect them to.

So, I sat next to him and gently pushed on each rib, a little this way and a little that. I wasn’t trying to put them “in the right place” but to clarify possibilities to his brain. Through movement I was saying, “Dear Brain. You can hold the rib here, or you can shift it there, or there, or there.”

Patrick was taking some big breaths, so I had the feeling that I was going in the right direction. Over time the ribs as a whole were softening, and he looked more comfortable in his sleeping position.

Then it came time to sit. He sat quietly for a moment; he looked nice and easily upright. Then he made the transition to stand, and as he did, he said with surprise, “This feels a great deal lighter than I usually feel.” At my suggestion, he went back and forth between sitting and standing a few times, and the feeling of lightness continued. Then he walked around my room, and felt the lightness also in walking.

He turned to me and, “How did that happen?”

So I told Patrick a story.

About 15 years ago, when I had been a Practitioner for a few years, I went to my annual week of continuing education. In the opening session the trainer, Jeff Haller, asked the group, “What is the purpose of the skeleton?”

Jeff was sitting on one of our low tables while about 20 of us were sitting around him on stools and on the floor. There was a long silence as we reflected. One answer was offered. It was a beginning. Another few offerings were made, but none seemed to hit the mark. Silence returned to the room.

Jeff answered his own question: the purpose of the skeleton is to make the body light.

If you think about an amoeba, he continued, it only moves by projecting a pseudopod against a squishy mass. It can never get very big, and it cannot live outside water. To get bigger and still be able to move, fish developed with vertebrae and muscles to pull against them. To move across land, amphibians developed limbs. And to get the head at maximum height to the ground, apes and humans developed the ability to walk on two legs.

In the process of being human, things happen that lead to a loss of the natural alignment. Then the weight of the body, and particularly the weight of the head, is no longer carried directly over the bones. In consequence, the muscles have to do extra work.

When the alignment is restored, weight is taken off the muscles, and the person feels, in every action, lighter.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An unexpected benefit

Two weeks ago I was talking with Stephanie, one of my students, as we were waiting for the evening Feldenkrais class to begin. Stephanie is in her mid-20’s, vivacious and charming. She started coming to my class several months ago for help with back pain.
We were sitting on a balcony overlooking the gymnastics gym. As we watched the girls flip around, I asked her, “How’s your back doing?”
She said, “It’s much better, thanks. But, you know, a funny thing happened. This past weekend I was with my family in California for my brother’s wedding. My mother and I were getting changed in one of the bedrooms. She was standing behind me and all of a sudden she said, “Stephanie! What happened to your bruises? You’re not all bruised any more. Where did they go?”
Stephanie said, demonstrating, “I twisted around and looked at my legs and my back. Then I said to my Mom, ‘You’re right! I’m not full of bruises.’ “
Stephanie took in the question mark on my face and explained that she is a manager in a shop where there is a lot of equipment coming and going. Every day something heavy and awkward is in a place where it was not yesterday. She has a long habit of bumping into these things.
“Before,” she reported saying to her mother, “I was always ahead of myself. I was thinking about the next thing. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was. Now I am more focused on my self, on where my body is in space, and on what’s around me. All that! So I am not getting bruises.”
We both agreed: this is a nice, and unexpected, benefit from the classes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"That's the way I work best!"

Hello everybody.

This is my first day of blogging, and I am excited about it.
I am starting this blog because I want to share interesting things from my practice of the Feldenkrais Method.

When I meet with my students and clients, most of what we do is about movement. I do, also, talk about the "envelope" of the movement -- the concepts that are behind it and the types of experiences that people have through participating.

Through this blog I wish to share more about that envelope.

Here is my first item, a true story:

Overheard in a restaurant

I had lunch in a restaurant a little while ago, and a family of three sat at a table behind me, mother, father and a boy about 3. Dad stayed with son Matthew while Mom went to get food from the buffet.
Matthew had a strong, well-enunciated, little boy voice. While he was waiting, he kept up a running commentary that everyone could hear. He asked Dad when the food was coming, and what he was going to have to eat. He had a lovely upright posture and projected a strong sense of himself.

When Mom returned and he ate, he observed that he liked the food, and that the rice had gotten cold.
Suddenly, Dad noticed that Matthew was kneeling while he ate. He told him, “Sit down, son.”
Matthew glanced at him and then looked away and continued eating.
Dad repeated: “Sit,” and pushed the boy’s legs to move him into position. “You don’t kneel on chairs. You sit on them.”
Matthew maintained his kneeling, his silence and his eating.
Dad raised the stakes: “It’s wrong to kneel on a chair.”
This brought Matthew to respond: “That’s the way I work best.”

Ignoring this logic, Dad picked up his son and placed him on his tush.
Mom, silent until now, protested. “But look at him. The table is too high for him. How would you like to eat with your chin in your plate?”
Dad looked. Dad relented.
Matthew quietly returned to his kneeling position. The way he works best.

I feel this simple story says a lot about what we are trying to do in the Feldenkrais Method. We are looking to develop ways of moving, and living, that are in accord with our natural design.