Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The whole system

One of the axioms of the Feldenkrais work is that the whole body is a system.

As an idea, this may seem simple, but to make it effective in practice takes detective work.

Claire, a professional woman in her 50’s, came in this week and said, “Oh, thank you, Maureen, for last week. I have been remembering to stretch out my left ribs, and my neck feels so much better.”

I was glad to hear it.

Do you know what’s the connection?

The previous week Claire had come in and after the briefest hello, and while rubbing the right side of her neck, had reported, “Maureen, this weekend was so bad. My neck just seized up.”

She shared that after a full work week she had taken a long drive to spend the weekend with family. On Saturday morning there she was having fun with everyone, except that her neck was killing her. Over the course of the next few days, some of the tension eased up by itself, but now, home and back at work, she still hurt.

What could I do about it?

I asked Claire to walk. I saw my clue right away.

Claire was holding contraction in the left ribs. It wasn’t extreme, but the desired fluid shift among the central muscles was missing. The contraction naturally pulled the head to the left. But Claire didn’t want to walk lopsided. So, something inside – some part of the brain – automatically pulled on the right neck muscles. They brought her head to the middle. But the tactic overworked the neck muscles, and they hurt.

I asked Claire to lie down on my table. I explored what was happening in those left ribs. The muscles were tight! They were happy to let go! When Claire stood, she felt that she was taller and that her neck was fine.

Over the next week, the left side contraction would come back in again. But Claire noticed it. She could move in a certain way and let it go.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Most of the people who come to me for private sessions are motivated by pain. As we work through the pathways that bring about relief, usually the person starts to feel a fuller breath. First a small improvement comes, and then more. A big breath means a big relief!

Today I was winding up a lesson with Maria. After having been lying on the table for a while, she was sitting and looking off into the distance, feeling that bigger breath, and enjoying it.

She turned to me and said, “You know sometimes when I am sitting someplace and wondering what I should do next, I say to myself, ‘Now you have time to just breathe.’

But then another voice inside challenges me, ‘You are not being productive!’

To this the first voice responds, ‘Yes, I am! I am producing calm, and well-being.’ ”

I added, “And these are in short supply.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lie on your back

Most Feldenkrais classes begin with the instruction: “Lie on your back.”

Why is this so?

For regular students, the answer is obvious: “Because it feels good!”

There is also a deeper reason: to be sensitive you have to be relaxed.

In this context, relaxed means that your muscles are not activated for exertion. Especially the extensors, which are along the back, should be resting and quiet.

In his book The Potent Self, Feldenkrais talks about his thinking process behind this starting position:

“The most complete elimination of the extensors in an act of spatial orientation would in fact be a complete contrast with our habitual experience and as little as possible associated with normal activity. Furthermore, the effort involved should be the smallest possible so that we can distinguish the slightest variations in muscular effort. For all sensations are so related to their causes that the slighter the cause, the smaller is the change that can be sensed. If we lift a heavy weight, for example, we cannot tell whether a sheet of paper is stuck beneath it or not. But on lifting a single sheet of paper we know at once if another one is stuck to it or not. Similarly, in daylight we do not notice a light bulb shining. But in the dark we can see the glow of a cigarette. Near an airplane, we cannot hear anything because of the propeller noise; in complete silence we can hear a fly or our own breath. Thus the intensity of the stimulus must be reduced if we want to become aware of small changes.” (1)

Taking this thinking into action, Feldenkrais developed a large number of movement sequences, which he called lessons and which students perform mostly while lying down, although sometimes in upright positions.

For example, a lesson might ask you to lie on your back and move your arms and head in one coordination and then in another. You are asked at the same time, “Please notice how you feel while doing it the first way, and the second.” Since you are able to do both, the distinction is usually small, but one way is preferable. By paying attention, you refine your ability to discriminate between these small differences and to make the choices that are best for you. Gradually, these awarenesses accumulate and deepen, and you find yourself moving in a way that makes you feel better.

Often, a whole lot better!

(1) Feldenkrais, Moshe. The Potent Self. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985. Page 135.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Sitting in an upright manner

Yesterday “Constance” sent me an email saying that she would have to skip one of our regular sessions. Then she sweetened the cancellation with this report:

“Last night at a concert I used your sitting position (both feet flat on the floor, head above spine and hands on legs) and had not one iota of back pain.”

I thought this was great because Constance has been living with a lot of pain and in our sessions so far we hadn’t worked that much on sitting.

Constance has been coming to see me privately for a little while because of pain in various places that is sometimes nagging and sometimes debilitating. It often surprises her with new manifestations.

During much of each session Constance lies on my padded table. At the end I ask her to sit and notice, briefly, how she feels.

She often reports that she sits upright more easily.

During one of our early sessions, I took out a notebook and showed her several photos of seated Egyptian pharaohs. From these sculptures, I call this way of sitting “Egyptian Pharaoh Pose.”

As you can see in the photo above, the posture is very upright and full of right angles.

Maybe it looks stiff to you. It’s not casual. It’s definitely regal.

It demonstrates “weight bearing through the skeleton.”

It has the advantage of efficiency. Once you feel comfortable like that, you can sit for a long time.

If you are in a lot of pain and try to sit like that, you probably won’t be comfortable. But if you do movements that bring you to a deeper state of relaxation, then sitting like that comes very naturally.

When I asked Constance if I could talk about her experience in this post, she said, “Yes, of course, you may use my experience. It was truly wonderful for me.“