Becoming More Comfortable with your Discomforts

green shirt 1

How do you like my new shirt?

I hope you like it better than I do, because, to be honest, wearing it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable.

But I’m going to be wearing this shirt at my “Connecting Insides and Outsides” workshop this Sunday.

Why?  I’ll tell you shortly, but first I want to clear up something that might have been confusing about this workshop.

You may have read previous descriptions of this event and my follow-up workshop on Saturday, April 29, “Experiments in the Laboratory of Your Imagination” and asked yourself, “why does he keep going on about creativity?!  Isn’t the Feldenkrais Method about relieving the pain in my lower back, neck, hips, feet . . . ?!”

And you would have a very good point!

Because there is nothing in the material I previously put out that would suggest that you will feel better movement in all of these places by attending my workshop.

So let me quickly address that:

You will feel better movement in all of these places by attending my workshop!!

So, what’s going on here?!

Actually, it’s not so different than what the workshop is all about.  I myself am trying to expand my creative reach and show more of my authentic insides to the outside world – to you – in a way where we can connect even better at the level of our true natures.

But doing this successfully, as we’ll discuss on Sunday, is a two-way listening process, where I need to listen both to myself and to you – I’m still learning how to do that.

For me, bringing creativity into the Feldenkrais discussion makes sense because the creative inspiration I got, particularly as a musician, when I began to practice this Method was one of the biggest reasons I continued with it.

But, even though I emphasize it less, this work has also vastly improved the movement of my right shoulder which often caused me pain.  In addition, it has taught me the most effective and reliable strategies I know for combatting stress and calming myself down when I am too revved up.

And maybe that part of my story feels more relevant to you?

In any case, there is a real connection between these two things.  Sometimes a client comes to me and tells me that their neck hurts.  We don’t talk about creativity at all, but when the client leaves without the pain or feels it is largely reduced, for me, this is a victory for creativity.

Why?  Because the change comes as a result of the interactions we have together that have to be made up on the spot.  On the days, I feel the most creative, I feel the best connections to the people I work with and I tend to give what feels to me like my best sessions and classes.

But getting into this place is never all about following rules and things we’ve previously been taught.  Often it involves trial and error and venturing a bit into the uncomfortable unknown.  So it’s worthwhile to develop a practice of getting more comfortable with a little bit of discomfort.

That’s why I’ll be wearing the bright green shirt this Sunday!

I was in a clothing store recently and noticed there was a sale on shirts.  I immediately gravitated to the grey and dark blue shades I always wear.  Then I saw the green shirt and thought, “Ew – not so sure that would look good on me…”

That’s when I decided to buy it.

A few days earlier I had been complimenting someone I know on her habit of mixing and matching bright colors in her clothing.  She does it effortlessly and it contributes to the effect she has when she enters a room, even before she speaks.  When I tried to protest that “I could never wear colors like that”, she gently suggested that this was just a silly idea of mine.

So, buying the shirt was kind of a personal test.  Not a very difficult one – after all the shirt was on sale . . . but then I had to put it on!

The first time I wore it, several people noticed the change and told me they liked it.  But for me, despite the positive feedback, I was still not very sure I liked the shirt.  It still didn’t look right in the mirror.

However, I couldn’t help but notice the sensations that came from people around me telling me that they liked me as a “colorful guy.”  It was not unlike the feeling of discovering how to use a new spice in the kitchen.  My recipe-making options when I get dressed in the morning now feel just a little more expansive!

Of course, putting on a new shirt isn’t such a big deal.  But in my case it actually meant confronting something very deeply ingrained.  It must be something like 10 years since I deliberately wore a color that bright (and actually this shirt isn’t that bright, but to me it feels like I’m the GO on a traffic light when I wear it!)

That’s the secret to transformation – don’t try to do it all at once.  Just take small steps that are only slightly uncomfortable.

(Who knows, maybe next year I’ll wear a red shirt! 😉 )

But it’s striking when you make a small change and everyone around you notices.  It might just generate a new creative opening in your life.

This Sunday, I’m inviting you to gently play with the boundaries of your comfort.  Or tool for doing this will be Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons.  You might just find that, by challenging some of the patterns you have become so used to, new freedom of movement becomes possible.

Then, what will change in your relations with your friends, spouse, children, co-workers, etc. if your neck no longer hurts?  If you can breathe easily in any situation?  If you aren’t afraid to dance?

And I promise that we will conduct these investigations together in a warm and supportive atmosphere.

I’m gonna need your support too – because I’m still not entirely sure I’m going to feel comfortable wearing that green shirt!!

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For all the information about my workshops exploring creativity – and BETTER MOVEMENT! – on April 23 and 29, please click here.

Connecting Your Insides to the Outside World with the Feldenkrais Method

Susan Lamont 1

Art by Susan La Mont at Artomatic 2017 (9th Floor)

Spring has really sprung!  It’s time to get those creative juices flowing again!

For some of us, getting outside more means seeing folks we haven’t seen in a while, and meeting and greeting new faces as well.  It’s a great moment to remind ourselves of the vital relationship between creativity and community.

I’m celebrating Spring with a series of six classes right at the intersection of this relationship, at the gigantic Artomatic festival in Crystal City, VA, where over 600 local visual artists and other performers are sharing their work.  It takes up 7 floors of an office building and is entirely run by volunteers.  The theme of my classes is “Opening Up Creative Channels with the Feldenkrais Method.”

I’m also offering two special workshops on this same theme, the last two weekends in April.  See the end of this post for details . . . )

Perhaps the most surprising impact that this practice has had on my own life is that my increasing comfort in my own skin has made me more comfortable in the social sphere.  What I’ve realized over time is that learning to connect more fully with ourselves puts us in a better position to connect with others.

But what does that have to with creativity?!

Everything!

Your creative ideas never reach their full potential when they are just thoughts bouncing around your head.  Creativity only really comes to life when you embody those ideas and share them with others.  If you are open to the exchange, the people who experience your creativity in action will help you generate new creative impulses as they reflect back what you offer from their own unique point of view.

But what if they don’t like what you’ve shown?

Perhaps they will highlight something you did that you would like to do better, thereby helping you to better craft your creation.  Then again, maybe their dislike highlights something different: your distinct way of seeing the world and communicating about it that you are not going to forfeit just because it isn’t the traditional take on things.

Whatever people think of your creations, for the exchange to be fruitful, you need to be confident enough to expose some of what’s inside you to the potential for criticism or disapproval, but sensitive enough to know when feedback is useful to you – and when it isn’t.

If you change yourself every time someone suggests that you should, you become like a leaf in the wind with no control over the direction of your path.  At the other end of the spectrum, if no one can relate to what you say or do, will you reconsider your approach?  Is there another way to express yourself that doesn’t compromise your original intentions, but makes it easier for others to understand you?

How can we learn to navigate these waters more skillfully?

When we live life creatively, we become less concerned with what’s “right” or “wrong” in a general sense, but we become increasingly sensitive to our own internal sense of comfort.

We learn to tell the difference between the tension of exploring the unknown with curiosity to find something new vs. the tension of doing something that goes against our own desires and best interests.  We start recognizing the subtle signals that show up in our body before our mind articulates them with words.  We develop a stronger instinct for moving spontaneously towards our true path – even when sometimes this means swimming upstream.

I talk about creativity a lot and often people think I’m referring to the arts, probably in part because I often point to my musical background and more recent involvement with dance.  But actually, I’m referring something that we can do in each and every moment when we have the opportunity to create something new, above all in the routines and interactions of our everyday lives.

Although we each have our moments of solitude and reflection that are a crucial part of the creative process, ultimately, our creativity serves us the most when it becomes a resource that we can draw on in those unrehearsed moments of spontaneous interaction with other creative beings.

Since we can never know what is happening inside of other people, becoming more  creative in the changing winds of our surrounding environment means becoming more intimately aware of the wordless conversations that make up our own internal life.

And each person we meet presents new challenges and opportunities to do just that.

Dale Jackson 2

Art by Dale Jackson at Artomatic 2017 (7th Floor)

My friend, my child, my co-worker, my lover, a stranger . . . I don’t communicate in the same way with any of these people, but I am always the same person if I remain true to myself.

But how can I be true to myself if I don’t know the difference between doing what I wish and acting to gain external approval?  . .  . If I don’t know the difference between defending the position that I always defend out of habit or because I remain convinced of my point of view despite the new perspective that I have just heard? . . . If I don’t know the difference between taking a creative risk to feed my curiosity and a reckless gamble that only serves my vanity?

You are not the same person you were yesterday.  Nor am I.

So why should our meeting today be defined by anything except the complete range of possibilities?  Why do we have to assume that we can only continue the same pattern of interaction that defined all of our past experiences together?

If we are truly present in this moment we can be creative together, here and now.

But this possibility begins before we meet each other, in the way that each of us know ourselves.

The more I practice his method, the more I understand one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ most famous maxims.  “If you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want,” he was fond of saying.

Also, when explaining that his interest in human movement was never limited to the action of the muscles, bones and joints, but extended to the entirety of our being, he once said, “What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible minds.  What I’m after is to restore each person to their human dignity.”

So how can we learn more about how to relate to each other more spontaneously and creatively by lying on the floor and observing the subtle details of the sensations that arise from doing slow and gentle movements?

Perhaps an example will help to give the answer.

Yesterday, at the beginning of the Awareness Through Movement class I was teaching, I asked the participants to simply look over one shoulder, then the other, to see how far they could see – easily.

Some immediately discovered that they could see further in one direction.  But others drew a different conclusion: if I crank on my neck and endure discomfort or pain, I can see just as far in both directions!

Which of these two categories of people do you think were listening more closely to their true selves?  Which ones might be more available for creative spontaneous action?  Which might be more likely to unquestioningly do what they are told and which might be more likely to stop and consider a different way?

In which of these two groups do you predict you would find more people who regularly show their true faces to the world, or more people who are perpetually wearing a mask?  And If you wished to find an atmosphere of safety and warmth where you felt welcome to act spontaneously, which of these two groups do you think you would rather join?

If the answer to any of these questions seems obvious to you, then maybe you can already see the connection between this gentle practice and development of your creative potential.

But now just take a moment to look over one shoulder, then the other . . . Did you stop inside the range of comfort on both sides – or did you push through?

Sometimes what seems obvious is more elusive than you might think!

But to return to yesterday’s class: by the end of the session, several participants reported that they could see further in both directions – with less effort.

It’s just a hunch, but I’m guessing that this new feeling of flexibility in their joints also created new possibilities for flexibility in their sensing, thinking and feeling – possibilities that will not only change their experiences, but also the experiences of everyone that they interact with, setting up the possibility of a new kind of human interaction . . . new creative possibilities for us all.

Susan La Mont 2

Art by Susan La Mont at Artomatic 2017 (9th Floor)


Would you like to explore how the Feldenkrais Method can help you open up your creative channels?  Join me for two special workshops this month! . . .

CONNECTING INSIDES & OUTSIDES

Sunday, April 23: 11am – 2pm

Dance Loft, 4618 14th St. NW 2nd Floor

What makes you unique and different? What do you have in common with others? How important is it to be different, or to be “the same”? Is one more important to you than the other?

. . . There are no “right” answers to these questions, but if you are willing to ask them and listen inside for your body’s answer, you might just learn something new . . .

. . . Learn how to deepen social connections by becoming more comfortable expressing more of your true inner nature to the outside world.

Single ticket: $40 / Early Bird: $30 (until 4/10)

4/23 & 4/29 workshops: $70 / Early Bird: $65 (until 4/10)

EXPERIMENTS IN THE LABORATORY OF YOUR IMAGINATION

Saturday 4/29, 3-6pm

Dance Loft, 4618 14th St. NW 2nd Floor

How would you move if you only had one arm . . . or if you had three? What would the world look like if you had eyes in the back of your head? Who would you speak to if language was not a barrier? Which limitations are real and which ones are the products of your imagination? . . .

. . . Explore fresh possibilities to expand your potential for creative action by recreating anew your image of yourself and the world around you.

Single ticket: $40 / Early Bird: $30 (until 4/10)

4/23 & 4/29 workshops: $70 / Early Bird: $65 (until 4/10)

“I am a dancer.” There – I said it!

Dancing where no one could see me . . . until now!

I am a dancer.

It only took me about forty years to realize that!  Yet, when I think about it, it’s always been the case.

Since early childhood, I have loved to move in response to sound (including the sound of silence).  Yet, because I never had formal training, and because when I would explore movement deliberately in a way that my body enjoyed, it never matched the forms I saw around me that were called dance, I was always sure that what I did was in some other category, something that “didn’t count.”

I have now been working with the Feldenkrais Method for five years.  This work has re-awakened the sensations of pure joy in movement that I experienced as a young person through soccer, skiing, running and, yes, through the years, “dancing.”

I have often told people that I was “raised atheist.”  Not only did I not go to church, but I grew up skeptical of anyone who did.  But, as confident as I once was that my family’s “scientific” understanding of the world was the right one, something was missing, something today I might call “spirituality.”

And somehow I knew it.  My solution was to tell myself: “music is my religion.”

One of my first religious practices was to turn off all the lights in my room, turn the music all the way up, close my eyes – and dance.  Sometimes I danced so wildly that I even crashed into things.  One of my favorite teenage “prayers” was the instrumental track “Any Colour You Like,” from Pink Floyd’s classic album, Dark Side of the Moon.

Ten and twenty years later, I still loved to move freely to music of every imaginable variety in the privacy of my home, but I rarely allowed myself to do so in public where others could see me.

Yet, slowly I realized what it meant that the music moved me.  Coordinating body movements with the rhythms and textures I heard made me feel more in tune with the sound and brought a freer feeling in my body.  While still refraining from identifying as a dancer, I shared with musician and dancer friends an idea I had that had grown into a strong conviction.

“I think that dancing is the highest form of listening,” I would say.

But, although I took an introduction to dance course in college and was invited into creative movement experiences on various occasions over the years, my creative path instead became defined as a musician, composer and improviser.  I played the stand-up bass, wrote music for small and large ensembles, and experimented with my voice, learning to throat sing, beatbox and experimenting with speaking in tongues.  Eventually, I even invented my own imaginary language, Beeayboll, to recreate the musical pleasure I always derived from hearing foreigners speak a language that I couldn’t understand.

But later twists and turns in life, including a transformative trip to socialist Cuba, led me to drop my active involvement in music and become a social activist.  During this period, I worked for nearly a decade in meat production facilities in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.  I learned to speak Spanish in factories where I was often the only English speaker.  After work I marched against police brutality and deportations, for a woman’s right to choose, and in solidarity with workers on strike, among many other things.

I was no longer a performer, but music continued to live in my body.  And as I worked with my hands, standing on my feet for eight hours (or more) per day, I began to rely more and more on rhythmic, musical movement to get me through the boredom of unvarying repetitive tasks.

I can remember some nights, working third shift in a provisioning house in NorthEast DC, cutting up bones on an electric band saw, jacked up on coffee and absolutely in the zone: generators whirring, my co-workers laughing, cursing, and singing in three different languages, and my fascination with the sequence of sounds and bodily movements involved in my job as I worked hour after hour with hundreds of pounds of product.  Sometimes I smuggled a microphone into work to try to capture the experience, but the recordings were never the same as my direct bodily experience.

(But a couple times I even smuggled in a camera – yes, that’s me!  Maybe this gives you some idea of the world of sound and movement I used to live in . . . and, sorry vegetarians!!)

But eventually, my factory experience would also run its course.  Among other things, I was destroying my right shoulder, so I quit that line of work in order to move on to . . .

. . . something . .  I wasn’t sure what!

Yeah, for a while there, I was a “lost soul.”

Eventually, I would find the Feldenkrais Method, the path I have followed until today, the discovery that began to weave together the disparate threads of my previous lives.  That discovery was the result of a search that began with a very simple idea: that improving my life had something to do with improving my health.

In my final factory years, I began running regularly.  But instead of thinking this activity as  “exercise” (which bored me to no end), I saw running as a laboratory where I could conduct musical experiments with my body.  I used to count all kinds of different numerical patterns as I ran, using the asymmetrical durations to synchronize my breath  to the rhythm of my feet on the ground in non-habitual ways.  As time went on, I began to  compose mental melodies that matched the number patterns in order keep track of the durations when I got sick of counting. This produced a new series of experiments where, for example, I got curious about differences in sensations that I felt when moving in relation to a high pitch vs. a low one.

(At one point, I described these experiments in detail in a lengthy three-part series of blog posts on a previous site.  If you want to slog through it, please – be my guest: Part one  . . . Part two . . . Part three )

Later, when I began to work with the Method, lying on the floor to do Awareness Through Movement lessons and doing hands on Functional Integration sessions with clients lying on my table, I understood everything I was doing in similarly musical terms.  The sequences of movement explorations reminded me of musical compositions, and as I studied the experience of my internal sensations, I was always aware of bodily rhythms and a sense of whether or not I was in harmony with my movement or the person I was connecting with.

Today, I work with people from many walks of life, but it gives me special satisfaction whenever I can show someone that movement can be an expression of creativity.

And, regardless of whether one identifies as an “artist” or not, I believe that each one of us is naturally creative.

There was a time in childhood for each of us when walking and dancing were not so different than each other.  Revisiting that sense of ourselves in a playful way as adults can often provide the key to unlocking rusty joints and routine patterns of thinking that limit our lives unnecessarily.  And this is one of the central ideas of the Feldenkrais Method.

In the past year, I have become increasingly clear with myself about this focus of my practice.  This is why it also makes more sense to me today to recognize my own joy in moving creatively and openly share it with others.

In the DC area, three wonderful safe spaces I have discovered where I can express myself this way are the Five Rhythms events led by Ann Kite, Ecstatic Dance led by Atticus Mooney, as well as the DC Contact Improv Jam, led by Ken Manheimer. (If you are a reader outside of DC, you can likely find something similar in your area by searching under these same titles).

The basic rules of most of these events are: no alcohol, no shoes and no talking on the dance floor.  And, so long as you respect the right of everyone else to do the same, there are no rules – and no judgement – about how you “should” move.

So, If you feel a creative energy inside that you haven’t given the full opportunity to bring to life, I’d like to encourage you to come out to one of these events and see what happens . . .  

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If you want to experience how the Feldenkrais Method could help you deepen your experience of creativity in motion, I hope you’ll join me on the morning of Sunday February 26 at the Dance Loft (4618 14th St NW, 2nd Floor) for an Awareness Through Movement lesson to be followed by Ecstatic Dance.  To receive the announcement for this event and others like it, you might want to join this Meetup group or sign up to receive my newsletter.

I’m also excited to be collaborating with local dance legend, Michelle Ava, founder of the Joy of Motion dance center, to offer a series of creative PLAY-shops where the Feldenkrais Method will often intersect with improvisational expressive movement.  These events, on February 4, March 4, April 21 and June 23, are leading up to a collaborative multi-media performance at the Jack Guidone Theater on July 16, 2017.

(If you are a creative mover or musician and curious about getting involved, please send me an email: sethbdellinger [at] gmail.com)

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If you prefer to explore your movement creativity on your own first (I still do that too!), I’d like to offer you one other way to do this.  Since I have spent so much time collecting music that has, for me, the quality of inspiring movement, I recently decided to start creating playlists on YouTube to share some of my favorite tracks. 

I have made four lists so far and there will be many more.  The styles will vary a lot, but I will try to always give you with a thematic title and description so you can have some idea if you’d like to explore it or not.  The first four lists, “Slow Build”, “Serenities”, “Can’t Stay Still”, and “Transporting” can all be found right here.

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So please – don’t be afraid to move!!  

Your creativity, no matter what form it takes, begins in your body, but it doesn’t have to stay trapped inside.  Give it a chance to come out into the light of day!

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Parkour Day 2 – More Baby Steps Towards Freedom

This is a follow up to my post yesterday about my first explorations with parkour.

I got really great feedback and that encouraged me to write about it again.  I’m definitely no expert yet, but I’m reporting directly from my experiences as I enter a new territory that seems to promise me a whole new universe of learning and inspiration.  It feels important to record some of these thoughts while they are fresh.

I’ve been very gratified by the response to the first post, and if you didn’t see it, I hope you’ll look at it before continuing to read this one.  Meanwhile, one experienced traceur sent me a terrific video that really gets inside of the mind of how this game is played and I think it adds a new dimension to what I’m trying to explain here, especially for others like me, who are new to parkour.  (Look for the link at the bottom of this article)

But first, I want to report on my second day of solo explorations, because I had some more fun experiences and insights, even being the beginner that I am!

Here’s some of what I discovered this morning:

A surface doesn’t always need to be under you to support you . . . 

Anyone who has seen crazy traceurs running sideways on walls on YouTube already knows this, but here’s how I learned the lesson directly: I was at the playground again and decided to run up a slide.  Given the angle, the slickness, and the moisture on the bottom of my boots from the snow everywhere, it didn’t go so well!

But I was pretty sure that those guys and gals on YouTube would have done it, so I tried to think of it another way.  The first thing I realized is I simply had to be fast.  But even as I worked with speed, the next two attempts were fails and I went slipping backwards and down.

But then as I looked at the slide, my attention was drawn to the raised edges that serve as guard rails for the kids.  The next time I went up, I wedged my feet in sideways in the corners of the slide, meaning I had to also push myself a little left and right as I went.  A little more progress.

The final piece was to identify a railing at the top of the slide to leap towards for a hand hold since there was no way I could stop part way up and rely on my feet not to slip back.  Two attempts later I made it to the top of the slide and then celebrated by sliding back down on my butt, the “old school” way . . .

I climbed a tree – by mistake!

Having mostly practiced jumps, I decided to start looking for things to grab with my hands.  At first I tried to grab things to climb upwards, but at a certain point, I just starting to test “what can I grab?!”  That took me away from only aiming for things that were strictly overhead, meaning that after jumping and grabbing, my momentum and body weight took me in all kinds of new directions.

So, there was a tree, on a bit of a slope, and tree branch.  I jumped and grabbed and then my legs were swinging way out in front of me, threatening to pull fingers away from their grip.  Luckily, I saw (surprise) the tree!  So I just put my feet on the trunk and pushed my hands on the branch and suddenly . . . I was in the tree!  Having cleared the hurdle of the trunk, now in the branches, it was a simple thing to go from one branch to the next and go further up.

I looked down at the earth below and enjoyed the feeling.  When the hell was the last time I climbed a tree?  I couldn’t remember!

OK, it was inevitable, I took my first real fall this morning.

It wasn’t bad, but I definitely just lost control and went down!  All that moisture again . . . I hopped up onto part of the playground equipment and when I landed it was just like a banana peel under my feet.  I fell backwards, very fast, my feet slipping out from under me.  But I didn’t hit my head – I stuck my elbows out behind me.  The left elbow was banged pretty good, but I determined quickly that nothing was damaged, so I decided to keep moving.

Turned out to be no . . . big . . . deal!

(Then there was the time back in college when I was walking about in a fog and did a similar banana peel thing at the top of a staircase . . . I did hit my head that time, on the top step – and then on every one of the next 20 steps down to the next floor!  That one sucked a lot more . . . glad I’m working on my movement these days!)

Rolling . . .

I’m not ready for super-high or long jumps yet, but I was just trying to imagine the idea a bit. One thing I knew from the videos was that a key thing to do in landing a jump from a height is to not try to kill your momentum all at once, but, instead, keep moving.  One of the main ways traceurs do that is by rolling.

Oh, I thought, I should practice my rolling . . . then my next thought: but it’s cold and snowy and I’ll get all wet and dirty!  In other words, I might as well have said, “forget this parkour thing, it’s not civilized!”

Hmm, well, anyways, I’m glad to report that I snapped out of it a couple of seconds later and I can still give people my business card (which says “move like a child again”) without feeling like a hypocrite!

Just another imaginary limitation – in this case, like many others, tied to ideas of social correctness.

Testing . . . 

On my way home, I got curious about a high fence I saw. Could I climb it?  Not today, I knew, I was tired.  But I found myself drawn to it anyway.  I didn’t even really realize what I was doing at first, but I just had to touch it, just to know.

Know what?

Oh, I saw that this fence was not well anchored at all.  No, let me find a different fence to mess with!  Only afterwards did I realize what this touching the fence was all about.  I realized how this practice was now drawing me into a new and more intimate relationship to my surrounding environment.

Wire fence

The evolving self-image . . . 

Finally, the Feldenkrais practitioner inside of me was happy to discover that all this action and playing around had brought me a new sense of my own body. We all carry certain habitual patterns of tension, overworking some of our muscles, underutilizing others, and this is what a Feldenkrais teacher can draw your attention to in a class or private session.  Awareness of the pattern is the first key to letting it go.

I’m no different than everyone else, and often feel stresses and strains that I can’t so easily release.  And that’s probably why I found all day that it was easier to place my hands on a bench to my left and swing my legs over it to the right, rather than the reverse.  But I worked on both things and afterwards, I found that my awareness had been refreshed.  My pattern hadn’t disappeared, but I was looking at it from different angles now and I had new ideas for ways to make little shifts inside myself.  Some of those little shifts were suddenly making a real difference for me.

Hey, cool!  I don’t always have to lie on the floor and move slow to know my body better.  I can also do it by running around outside!

I’m coughing and sneezing at the moment and it’s cold outside so that might mess up my plan to go out and practice again tomorrow morning.  But I doubt it.  I’m having too much fun!

– – –

If I don’t end up going, I’ll probably end up seeing a few more videos for inspiration.  Here’s the one I mentioned already – it really illustrates how this practice can grow a path towards a greater feeling of freedom in your life.

I think that feeling is what is what is really drawing me in right now!

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Parkour Vision: What I Learned in One Day and One Night…

 

I love to lie on the floor and do Feldenkrais lessons.  But, as a Feldenkrais practitioner, I feel it’s my duty to tell you, if you really want to change your life, you’ll need to take some of that exploratory curiosity that you embrace in class and take it with you up into the field of gravity and out into the big, bad world out there!

I was just reminded about this . . .

The other day I was doing something I often do, sitting on my butt watching YouTube videos of people doing amazing movement.  Trying to be a little more proactive, I switched to watching a video about how to do amazing movement, in case it might be useful the next time I actually got off my butt.

And, actually, it was useful.  This video helped me start to see that the basic first steps of the art of parkour are not so crazy and flashy as those other videos I was watching.  I thought: hey, I could probably do that!

As fate would have it, the internet delivered me another gift – a real human being named John Cedric Tarr who I “knew” on-line since he is a Feldenkrais practitioner just like me.  John lives in Sweden, but he happened to be in DC and had a few extra hours the next morning.  Would I like to meet up?

“Yes, of course!” I shot back, my fingertips making daring leaps from one letter to another across my keyboard.  As we discussed logistics and it became clear he’d have some time to kill before I could connect with him, he wrote, “no problem, I’ll just do some parkour…”

OK, now I had no excuses left!  Long story short, John gave me my first parkour lesson in a playground near my house yesterday morning.  And tonight I went back to the park to explore what he showed me for the first time on my own.

Wow, my entire world just changed!!

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John Tarr, Feldenkrais practitioner, adventurer

 

Here’s some what I learned from John:

  • The main thing isn’t being a daredevil, but yes, you must face your fears. So, start small, where everything is entirely safe!  Jumping from one ledge to another is no different than jumping from one line on the sidewalk to another.  So start practicing your precision jumps where the height of the jump doesn’t pose any danger.  And start with short jumps . . . there’s no hurry!
  • Vaulting over a bench or a fence starts by placing your hands down and kicking your legs behind you.  That doesn’t require half the work that would be needed to lift them over the bench going forward.  The first few times you don’t even worry about going over to the other side.  Just place your hands and kick your legs up behind you, then start over.  Later you can add a little forward momentum and your legs will fly right over the obstacle.
  • How do you pull yourself up to that high place above you that you can just barely catch with your hands? It’s not all about pulling!  Swing your legs and you’ll get more momentum.  Then hook one more part of your body on the support and swing again, you’ll get there!
  • Repeat! Repeat!  Repeat!  Jump over the bench 20 times.  It will get easier!  And, guess what?  There isn’t any such thing as a “right way” to do it!  Did you land on the other side of the bench?  Yes?  OK, that’s the “right way” to do it!
  • Just a little bit of parkour makes the entire landscape look different.

About that last point: there we were in the playground and John spotted the swings.  He jumped up and grabbed the bar they were hanging from.  Then before I knew it, he hooked his elbows over the bar, swung his legs and used that momentum to carry himself all the way up to resting the front of his hips on the bar with his entire arms above.  Then he jumped back down.

 

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Voila!

I tried, with less success.  He suggested that I use a different hand grip and then proceed by swinging my legs over the bar.

I thought, “seriously?!”, but on my third try, I hooked one ankle.

“Now see if you can get your knee over it.”  I could, but my next move was a false one and I jumped back down in order to avoid further embarrassment and/or injury.

But this was my just first try.  There was a bigger lesson than the success or failure of the effort at this stage  As I told John, “When we came here and I saw that swing set, I never imagined we could get on top of it!”  By encouraging me to try and giving me a couple of simple suggestions, John showed me that something I had ruled out completely was actually possible.  I hadn’t “conquered” it yet, but now that swing set looked entirely different!  I see it and think of it has potentially being part of the territory where I can move.

Thanks John!!

So today it snowed in DC and I spent most of the day indoors.  But at a certain moment, I thought, “what the hell am I doing inside?!” and I knew I needed some fresh air to keep myself sane.  I decided I would go back to the park and see what else I could learn.

I just did what John showed me, but this time I really practiced, repeating each little movement adventure dozens of times and running all over the playground, having more and more fun as I got more used to the idea of being a kid again.

Here’s what I learned from my own adventures:

  • One of the key ingredients to turning the environment into my playground is making decisions. 1) I look around for something to do.  2) I decide: I will jump over that bench.  3) I decide how I will jump over that bench: I will put my hands right THERE in order to support myself and swing my legs over.
  • Another key ingredient: the eyes . . . once I decided that I was going to jump over that bench by putting my hands there, then my eyes would zero in on that point out of all the other possible stimuli of interest in the environment and my entire experience would be in relation to that single point until I was on the other side of the bench.
  • Once I developed the understanding of my eyes and how they could zoom in on the points of support that would help carry me from one place to the next, I realized that this way of seeing the space changed the way I saw everything. Suddenly, I was looking at each structure and judging it – can it hold my weight or not?  Is it close enough to reach or too far away?  I began to see pathways of points that led from where I stood to places I might not previously have imagined that I could arrive to.
  • Nothing I attempted was a test. Many times I began to try to jump a fence and a clear voice inside told me, “NO WAY DUDE!!”  At that point, it was a simple choice: injure myself or bail out and start over?  Never a hard decision!  But usually, after a few more attempts and adjustments, I jumped the fence.  Other times I said, “this fence is for another day.”

. . . And, tomorrow is another day!!

My conclusion: we can all do more than we think we can.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to question your idea of your limits.  Some of those limits are entirely in your imagination.

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Practicing balance + having fun = making practicing balance more fun!

 

 

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Finding Meaning in the Results of the U.S. Presidential Election

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Join 2 FREE events on the meaning of the US elections, Saturday 12/3 in NW Washington DC and Saturday 12/10 in Takoma Park, MD

What do the results of the U.S. presidential election mean to you?

If you find that the answer to that question is hard for you to put into words, let me offer you another option . . .

Today, November 9, 2016, I had a couple of opportunities to have meaningful discussions with good friends and colleagues who, like me, practice the Feldenkrais Method.  Everyone had something to say about the headlines, of course, but very quickly we began to discuss something else: ourselves.

Who are we?  Why do we do what we do?  What are the contributions we want to make in our families, in our communities, in the world?

Feldenkrais practitioners work “with movement,” but that is a more of a description of how we do what we, not what we do.  In fact, the movements we use are only a means to ask questions, in order to find answers that often lie way below the surface.

Among the colleagues I spoke with today, no two of us practice the Feldenkrais Method the same way.  Even for those of us who had been together in the same training, no two of us learned the same things.  In this sense, we realized we could say that each one of us actually had taken a different training.

Because a Feldenkrais training, above all, teaches you to listen deep inside yourself to understand better who you are and it offers you the opportunity to become more of who you wish to be.  Your ability to make meaningful shifts in your life depends on your willingness to ask yourself question after question, and learn to stop arguing with the truth when you something inside that you speaks loud and clear.

But there was one thing we agreed that we had in common.  Doing this work had transformed each one of our lives, and that is why we do it.

At the end of our discussion today, everyone involved expressed their gratitude for what had passed between us.  Somehow we all felt a little lighter at the end.  We all felt a little clearer about who we are, and what contributions each of us wants to make in our families, in our communities, and in the world.

I personally felt grateful for the way our conversation showed us the ways that each one of us is unique and also the ways that we are bonded together by what we have in common.  Both things were celebrated.

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I’m guessing that you too have spent today in conversation with important people in your life discussing the results of the U.S. election.  And probably you also have an internal dialogue with yourself about this.

I wonder, where do your conversations go, once they move beyond the familiar names, faces, words and phrases that now dominate the headlines?  Did you also begin to ask questions about yourself?  What you do?  Why you do it?  The role you play in your family, in your community, in the world?

I have some other questions for you.  These are questions I also ask myself, but I won’t make this about me . . .

Are you satisfied with your life?

Maybe that’s an easy “yes” or “no” answer . . . but how did you decide?

My guess is that you didn’t need to think about it.  The answer was right there in your body.  And maybe the answer wasn’t the same as a simple word or phrase.  But probably that unique sensation that only you can feel is quite familiar to you.

What could you do if the feeling in your body, the one you connect with your overall idea of where you stand today after all your years on this planet, is not what you want to feel?

Maybe you would like to ask yourself a few more questions.  And surely you will hear yourself forming answers in your mind with words, but please notice also what your body has to say . . .

What makes you unique?  What is it that you do . . . or that you know . . . or that you observe . . . or that you discovered . . . or that you think . . . that others do not?

And how does that thing affect your relationships with the other people in your life . . . the people you love . . . the people you know . . . the people you put up with because you think you have to . . . the people who you form opinions about from a distance?

Do you feel that your uniqueness is a special thing that draws people towards you?  Or does being unique in this way somehow “set you apart” from others?

What is it about you that you have in common with people around you?  A common activity?  A common origin?  A common appearance?  A common language?  A common habit?  A common worldview?

And when you identify yourself with other people in this way, what feeling does it bring you?  PrideEmbarrassmentClarity of purposeDoubtStrengthWeakness?

In short, what qualities in you makes you unique and different, and what qualities do you share with others?

And, most importantly – what judgements do you make about this?

Is it OK to be different than everyone around you in some way?

(Perhaps that depends on what makes you different.  If the difference is plain for everyone to see, you probably already know what other people think about it, and you have to be very clear in yourself about whether you will accept their judgements or whether you will define yourself on your own terms.  But what if the difference is something that no one can see?)

Do you ever find yourself celebrating something inside of you that other people do not appreciate?  Do you ever find others celebrating something about you which does not bring you joy?  How does this affect which parts of yourself you show and which parts you hide?

Is it OK for you to be “the same” as others?  When you see other people who are “like you”, how do you define that?  When you see those common elements, does it make you feel “special” and feel good about yourself?  Or does is make you feel “ordinary” and feel bad about yourself?

What are your hopes and dreams?  Are they unique to you or are they common to everyone that you know?

And, does it matter?!

How important is it to you to be different?  How important is it to be the same?  Is one of those things more important to you than the other?

How do you feel when you see another person who is somehow “different” or the “same” as you?

These are questions without “right” answers, but if you are willing to ask them and listen inside for your body’s answer, you might learn something new about yourself.  Perhaps you will even notice that some of the answers are to be found in particular places in your body.

Perhaps you could place one hand on that place and listen to your breathing as you look into the mirror of your life.  Would you like to make a little more space for your breath in that place?  Is there something you feel when you ask yourself these questions that suggests the need to make a shift in order to do that?

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There are a lot of words in the air these days that have been repeated so many times that they begin to lose their meaning – unless we reclaim them for ourselves.

What does “America” mean to you?

Or “love”?  Or “hate”?  “Us” or “them”?  “Same” or “different”?  “Citizen” or “immigrant”?  “Woman” or “man”?  “United” or “divided”?

Do you feel the need to find the same meaning in these words as the people around you?

When you hear these words in conversation, how much are you willing to show of the parts of you that make you “different”?  How much are you willing to show of the parts of you that make you the “same”? 

And how does your willingness to show your true self or hide affect each unique fellow human being around you?  Do you make more space for them or less?

In my experience, if I am totally honest, questioning myself this way is never easy.  Often, the most truthful answer is “I don’t know”, but this doesn’t mean I get to stop asking the question.***

But I’ve discovered that the process becomes more meaningful and the answers that I find are more useful to me if I’m willing to listen beyond the words I find in my mind.   Often I get closer to the truth if I acknowledge the feelings in my body – which are much less likely to lie to me.

I’ve also found that the more I listen to myself and get clear about what I really think and feel, the easier it becomes to be who I want to be, do what I want to do, and share what I want to share with the other people around me.

And it’s that last thing that I think is the most important right now.

How we relate to ourselves determines how we relate to everyone else around us.  How we listen to ourselves determines how we listen to each other.

The U.S. election, just concluded, was not the same election for any two of us, but we all still share our humanity in common.

So here is my invitation to you: ask questions.  Maybe the questions I’ve asked here are a useful place to begin, but surely you will discover many more.

Listen.  Feel.  And try to find the places inside where you might need to allow something new to move in order for you – and everyone around you – to breathe more freely.

Some questions are difficult, even to ask, let alone to answer.  And sometimes listening requires you to remove yourself from the noise of your surrounding environment.

But sometimes we can’t go to a movement class or put down what we are doing for a moment of silent meditation.  So in the end, in order to truly help us, the quiet practices we do on our own or with the people closest to us must also serve us in the louder hustle and bustle of our daily lives, among strangers as well as among friends.

How do we begin?

We begin with what’s comfortable, because that is the only place where we can be honest with ourselves.

But if we are willing to continually listen to the feelings in our body that accompany the words we hear and the words we speak, we also will not be able to ignore the places we discover that we are not comfortable.

Because usually these places are precisely the places inside that we have ignored for too long, the places where we have made ourselves blind by refusing to look at the parts we don’t want to see.  Maybe we have become stuck in these places because we were afraid to ask ourselves the questions that might allow those parts of ourselves to move, and breathe again.

When we find those places, it’s a good moment to ask another question:

Am I more comfortable with truth I feel or the lie that I tell myself? 

And there are no right answers, but maybe just asking the question will change the way you breathe.  And that already will change how you relate to the world around you.

My Feldenkrais colleagues taught me one more important lesson today about how we become more of the people we want to be, do more of what we want to do, and give the world more of what we know that we each have inside of us to give . . .

Sometimes life seems to ask us almost impossible questions and at first we have no idea how to respond.  Perhaps it makes sense that we sometimes have the instinct to hide.  But there is something we can always do that makes it easier to show our face to each other.

We can stop worrying so much about whether we are the same or different.  We can show each other our faces and look into each other’s eyes – no matter what it feels like –  and we can begin to look for the answers together.

Join 2 FREE events on the meaning of the US elections, Saturday 12/3 in NW Washington DC and Saturday 12/10 in Takoma Park, MD

*** Thanks for reading – please see the comments for an important clarification by Allison Rapp on the process of asking questions . . . and please feel free to join the conversation! – SD

Microscopic Infinities and the Difference that Makes a Difference

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Still shots from 1977 film, Powers of Ten

 

One of the things that many people find difficult when they first try out an Awareness Through Movement class is the idea of doing “less”. You come to class, lie on the floor, spend a couple of minutes just feeling your body and then do the simplest movements you can imagine – that sometimes feel like doing almost nothing . . . so why does the teacher still keep telling you to make the movement even smaller, make the movement slower . . . to “do less”?!

It’s perhaps the simplest and yet most revolutionary idea that Moshe Feldenkrais introduced to the world when he created the Method that now bears his name. Now a little over three decades since Feldenkrais left the planet, countless numbers of people continue to experience the power of that idea by slowing down and paying attention to themselves in a way that they normally would never do – and those that stick with it find that almost everything they do in life gets easier.

But this simple idea is often not so simple. And many people find that slowing down can really be a challenge. I have now been practicing Awareness Through Movement for nearly five years, and I still find this idea a challenge. But a recent experience gave me a new way of looking at this idea, something that has made doing less a bit easier.

Just as things can get infinitely large to the point where we can barely fathom their magnitude, things can also become infinitely small, and similarly beyond our ability to imagine . . . unless we have a telescope or a microscope.

And this is truly a case where a picture is worth a thousand words – and a film is worth infinitely more.

So, here is an amazing film, The Powers of Ten (1977), by Charles and Ray Eames.  It was recommended to me by a good friend after I told her my experience of a new way to find “less” – and the rich rewards it afforded me. I’d like to invite you to invest the nine minutes it takes to watch this stunning demonstration of magnitudes before I explain what happened to me:

So, did you watch the movie?!

OK, here’s my story.

Not too long ago I was lying on the floor doing an Awareness Through Movement lesson and it was one of the ones we sometimes refer to as a “quiet lesson” – where the movements are especially small and subtle, even compared to other Awareness Through Movement lessons. I decided that this would be an opportunity for me to learn something new on the microscopic level, so from the very beginning of the lesson, I was thinking of my movements in terms of millimeters.

But then the instruction was given again and again to make the movement smaller and slower. So when I tried to do this I quickly ran into a problem – I was already going just about as small as I possibly could go without ceasing to move! My first response was to move mostly in my imagination and then I tried to imagine smaller and smaller movements until I seemed to come to another place where nothing could be further be divided into smaller parts.

How to continue?

It was at this moment when I began to imagine my body under a microscope. Then when I would arrive at my tiniest denomination of movement, I would imagine “zooming in” so that the fraction of a millimeter would suddenly appear to be a whole meter long. From there, it was no trouble to cut this new “meter” in half, and in half again, and again . . .

Somewhere in the midst of nearly an hour of this kind of exploration, I began to actually feel for the first time the sense that the arising of a thought is already the beginning of a movement, and I began to try to stop the movement at earlier and more embryonic stages of this mental seed of action.

This was all well and good for most of the lesson – and was further reinforced when the entire class was explicitly asked to make movements so small that a bystander would not be able to observe them. But after all that, how was I to accomplish the idea of “doing less” when asked at the end of the lesson to do a movement billions of times larger than what I had been doing for the previous hour?!

“Roll to your side and come up into standing.”

What I arrived at was the sense that doing anything beyond simply hearing the instruction was already too much. So I simply lay on the floor trying to resist any sense of having any intention to move and simply observed myself. And I was amazed, after about a half a minute, to observe myself doing exactly what had been asked. I rolled to my side, came into a sitting position and then into standing. But it was as if I didn’t move at all. I almost had the sense that I was watching myself from the outside as my body transitioned through space. It was perhaps the closest I’ve come to experiencing the total absence of effort in movement.

I don’t think I will ever forget this experience, and I now bring it with me when I teach.

For example, I recently asked a group of my students to make their movements smaller by the following process: “Do the movement again, taking the same amount of time as the previous movement, but make the distance you move half as large,” I said.  “Now, do a movement the same size as the last one, but make it take twice as long in duration.” And then I repeated each of these two instructions again, several times.

But then I had to acknowledge that all of this was much easier said than done. Furthermore, I noted, it might seem exasperating. So then I invited them to think of it another way.

“Do you remember when you were a little kid and you saw what was on the other side of a microscope for the very first time?” I urged them to become that child again, to gaze in wonder at the enormous universe of sensation and experience to be found in the first millimeter and microsecond of each action.

Just as in the film, Powers of Ten, when we observe the very smallest and most initial moments of our movement patterns, we often discover that every aspect of the larger structure is already present.

For example, if you turn your head to one side, you will most likely also move your chin either towards or away from your chest. You may not notice it at first, but once you place your attention on this part of the pattern it becomes clearer and clearer. And the clearer it gets, the smaller and smaller a movement you can make, and still observe it.

And perhaps if you turn your head one millimeter to the other side you will notice that your chin moves in the other direction. At this stage the difference between the two sides is still tiny, but it is already indicative of a pattern that will be dramatically different when enacted on a larger scale. The importance to the end result of such subtleties is what Feldenkrais practitioners sometimes call “the difference that makes a difference.”

Well, this might be interesting, but what does it matter?

It matters in every way!

Because most of us are constantly enacting patterns that don’t serve us – not only patterns of movement, but also patterns of thinking, patterns of communicating, patterns of not being fully present in each moment.

But when we can observe the patterns of our life in midstream at an earlier and earlier moment of each act, then we have more and more time to catch ourselves and change direction if we need to do so. Each thing we do becomes more considered, more precise, and more expressive of our true self – because we are less and less at the mercy of the autopilot of our ingrained habits.

One of the clearest expressions of this change that I can observe in myself is when my wild-spirited 7-year-old daughter again and again challenges my notion of “what we are supposed to be doing right now” by continually returning to her natural drive to explore and play.

So, when I ask her to put on her shoes to go to school and a minute later I find her barefoot playing with her dolls, I have time to observe myself as I tense and draw a breath, preparing to raise my voice and unleash fury. I also have time to admire her seemingly limitless imagination and remember what a space cadet kid I used to be. And then I’m often surprised to simply observe myself as I calmly say, “Maria”, and wait for her to look up and make eye contact with me. “It’s time for school. Please, put on your shoes!”

Before I began my Feldenkrais training, I had a number of parenting moments that did not turn out anything like this. And yes, Dad is still capable of losing his temper these days, but it happens less and less. So when I think of the math involved in the millions of interactions yet to come between my daughter and I as she grows towards her full adult potential of confidence, creativity and self-awareness, I can’t think of a better reason to continue exploring the realms of microscopic infinity to find the difference that makes a difference.

That is why I practice the Feldenkrais Method!