Healing Pain 101: Understanding Pain is the First Step

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 11.12.07 PM

In a recent post about the Feldenkrais Method, I emphasized how this practice can help you tap into your creativity.

I also downplayed the idea that the Method “is good for aches and pains” because I was making a different point – that Feldenkrais can transform your life even if physical challenges are not your primary concern.

But I also added this:

Your creativity is your most potent tool for diminishing your aches and pains!

. . . So if you are recovering from surgery, suffering from exhaustion or depression, or feeling stuck in traumatic memories or current dysfunctional relationships, I still recommend that you try the Feldenkrais Method – because when you face those kinds of challenges, that’s when you’ll need your creativity the most!”

In this post, I’ll explain the connection between Feldenkrais, creativity and the challenge of physical pain.

The question of how emotional discomfort can be approached creatively through the Feldenkrais Method will be addressed in a future post.

(If pain is not your main concern, you’ll still want to keep reading, in order to find out how you can expand your creative capacities through a better understanding of pain!)


One of the fundamental principles of the Feldenkrais Method is that we move closer to our potential through the act of self-knowing.

And it’s not a single act.

When we’re after significant life transformation, it’s more realistic to understand that it’s going to be a journey.

Still, it helps to have a map.

By exploring our insides, we start to fill that map in. In terms of our physical experience, we need to get more familiar with our body’s structure and the mechanics of how it works.

This is a key component of what Feldenkrais call the “self-image” – if you like, our basic blueprint of self that we feed to the operating system that guides everything we do in life.

What’s quite fascinating – and also scientifically proven – is that the image we have of ourselves also largely shapes what we feel.

That includes our experience of pain.

And, as it turns out, pain doesn’t actually work the way most of us think it does.

I recently came across a terrific video of pain expert Lorimer Moseley explaining how pain actually functions. He makes the significant point that this understanding is the first and key step in healing chronic pain.

His presentation also makes clear why the Feldenkrais Method can be so effective where other approaches have failed.

That video is linked at the bottom of this post, and it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time, but I will go over the main points briefly.


Mosley begins with a message of validation for anyone who might have ever been told by a doctor that “there’s nothing wrong with you” even while experiencing pain.

“Pain is always real, no matter what is causing it.”

And if the doctor sees nothing on your x-ray or has no explanation why you should be feeling what you feel, there is a reason for that too.

It’s rather startling, but it has been scientifically proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that pain is not a measurement of damage to your internal tissues.

“You can have brutal pain without having a brutal injury,” says Moseley.

Actually, pain is a signal from our body that is intended to alert us to potential dangers and get us to stop something that we are doing before it’s too late.

It’s about protecting those tissues.

And since protection – not tissue damage – is the key factor in your pain, this is the key thing you need to understand in order to heal your pain.

What’s wonderful is that once you have digested that, many doors open.  Now you can begin to take effective action to improve your life.

That’s why Moseley says that rather than asking an expert to “fix” your pain, you are much better off when you ask for help to understand your condition and the journey that will be involved in “retraining your pain system.”

Why retraining?

Because when we don’t understand how our pain works and we have been in pain for a long time, our pain signals have taken on a life of their own that distorts our biology and our reality.

You might wonder . . .

  • Why is it that some research subjects experience greater pain from a stimulus when it is associated with a particular color?
  • Why do violinists experience a pain stimulus differently with their left hand than their right?
  • How could a monstrous injury, such as the amputation of a limb, be experienced as essentially painless?

Moseley recounts several fascinating studies and anecdotes that demonstrate that pain signals are related to cues that tell us whether or not we are in danger.

“Anything that suggests you need protecting, takes pain up. Anything that suggests you don’t, takes pain down,” he says.

And how we understand what does or doesn’t suggest danger is highly individual and largely based on previous experience.

“You learn pain. . . It’s an adaptation within your nervous system.” Or, as Moshe Feldenkrais put it, several decades ago: “the pain is in the brain.”

The way we learn pain affects what Moseley calls the “pain buffer.”

Simply put, pain precedes injury – it’s a warning signal of the possibility of injury.

What this means is that there is a certain experience of pain, which although unpleasant, is essentially harmless to the tissue. But it gives us a signal: stop what you’re doing!

However, when we have chronic pain, the size of this buffer can grow, so that we feel pain not just a little before injury could happen – but way before.

This situation is far from harmless because now the slightest movement or stimulus triggers a pain that paralyzes us, interrupts our ability to think, creates emotional trauma . . . and on and on.

Life is completely interrupted.

Moseley explains that this very real experience of pain is happening not because of internal damage, but because “your nervous system and your immune system has learnt how to be very efficient at producing pain. So you get pain when you’re not anywhere near being in danger.”

So the real challenge of anyone with chronic pain is to figure out “why is my brain protecting and how can I reduce the size of my buffer?”

Retraining the nervous system is possible, Moseley says, and “movement is king” because it is tied to how we learn.

Here’s where the creative approach of the Feldenkrais Method really shines.


Explaining how he works with patients with the most severe pain, Moseley sounds like a Feldenkrais practitioner. The key, he says, is “finding the line that you can go to without things flaring up, without things getting worse, and then slowly progressing.”

He adds, “even imagining movement is helpful.”

If you have never tried Awareness Through Movement (the group format of the Feldenkrais Method), a brief explanation is in order.

If you come to one of these classes, you will explore movement not by straining at your limits, but rather by discovering all the rich subtleties of what can take place within the range of their comfort.

Sometimes this includes doing imaginary movements, another approach that Moseley advocates.

The teacher not only suggests how to move your body, but also helps to guide your attention. You are always being led towards efficient movement patterns, but there is enough space for you to make your own discoveries, conduct your own experiments, and adjust for the highly individual situation of your unique body.

You are in the driver’s seat for your healing.

A similar thing happens in an individual hands-on Functional Integration session.

One small example of how this gentle and creative approach can produce changes without setting off the too-early warning systems of chronic pain is something that happened with one of my clients the other day.

This woman, who had experienced rheumatoid arthritis for years, was having trouble turning her head from side to side comfortably. This movement dramatically improved when I simply asked her one simple question.

“Did you notice that when you do that the back of your head moves in the opposite direction than your nose?”

Suddenly, she found a new image of what she was doing which helped her release a place where she was unnecessarily contracting to protect against imaginary dangers. She immediately found more freedom in her neck.

This one small example contains within it a key the overall Feldenkrais approach.

We don’t look at our current limitations as walls to try to break through with force. Rather, by looking at what is possible here and now – and using our creativity to discover new possibilities – we find new freedoms without setting off the alarm bells.

When you discover that you don’t have to rely solely on medication or the advice of experts to ease your physical pain, a new horizon opens up in front of you.

When you begin to “re-engage with a new sense of what’s possible,” in Moseley’s words, suddenly you are author of your own story again.

Every situation is different, but if you’re in pain right now, you don’t have to assume it’s a life sentence.

It’s not impossible to take your life back from your pain.

And once you’re on that path, there is no reason to stop improving even after the pain is gone!

If you’d like to find out what can happen when you begin to retrain your system based on this new and emerging understanding of pain, a good place to start would be with your local Feldenkrais practitioner.

If you’re ready to begin, let’s talk!

 

 

 

DO YOU WANT TO TAKE IT ONE STEP FURTHER?!

How can understanding pain help you express yourself more creatively?

What if you understand pain well enough to dance with it?!

For some inspiration along those lines, click the link below to check out my good friend Juliana Ponguta and her collaborator Jhonatan González in this beautiful dance, Aspero.

https://vimeo.com/176370071

Juliana and I co-founded the ¡DC Movement Research! group, a space for child-like exploration of creative movement. If you’re in town, and would like to join us, please visit us on Facebook!

 

 

 

 

Improvising with Movement as Metaphor: The Creative Practice of the Feldenkrais Method

drawing kid

 

How do you define creativity?

My own experience as a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method, a transformative somatic movement practice, has taught me that creativity is one of the central components of the experience of being human.

I think of creativity as the ultimate gift of being alive, the ability to recognize the elements of any moment that can be reimagined and reorganized to create a new experience – and the courage to do so.

Here’s my personal conviction:

If you are a human being, you have a deep natural wellspring of creativity that is your greatest resource for vitality.

. . . And I can’t think of anything that will universally improve all aspects of your life more than increasing your understanding of how to tap into this power.

You may have already heard that the Feldenkrais Method is a good for you if you have aches and pains of various kinds. While I agree with that idea, I think it promotes an unfortunately narrow understanding of what this practice is all about.

In my mind, the Feldenkrais Method is most fundamentally about rediscovering your inherent creativity and learning to apply and embody it in each moment.

Meanwhile, I’d also say that your creativity is your most potent tool for diminishing your aches and pains!

. . . So if you are recovering from surgery, suffering from exhaustion or depression, or feeling stuck in traumatic memories or current dysfunctional relationships, I still recommend that you try the Feldenkrais Method – because when you face those kinds of challenges, that’s when you’ll need your creativity the most!

Practicing the Feldenkrais Method can help you open creative channels and, subsequently, open doors you might have thought were permanently locked. It can make it possible for you to feel things you never thought you would feel, and do things you never thought you would do.

If you follow this creative path to the end, ultimately you will realize that you are the sole author of your own story. And if you come to that place, you realize that you don’t have to write any other story than exactly the one you want to live.

When that happens, your entire experience of life shifts and you gain access to creativity on a whole new level.

What I’m describing right now in general terms is the story of how my own life was changed by Feldenkrais practice. This is why I have never been comfortable with telling people that the main benefits of the classes I offer are increased flexibility, improved balance, and easier movement – some of the features most commonly associated with this work.

While I have certainly witnessed time and again how people receive those physical benefits by taking a class or receiving an individual Functional Integration session, what I’ve come to see over time is that the much deeper reward of this practice comes when we begin to understand how that kind of transformation is achieved.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer you a different description of the benefits of the Feldenkrais Method than you may have previously heard. The unifying feature of all the items on my list is that they all relate to tapping more deeply into your natural human creativity.

Here’s (some of) what I think you can expect to gain if you practice the Feldenkrais Method:

A higher level of sensitivity to the signals of your body and your environment, consequently increasing your capacity to recognize and manipulate the subtle elements of what is present at any moment to make very large differences in the quality of your experience.

[please note: text in red = links to other blog posts that explore these themes in greater detail]

A deeper experience of sensuality, naturally flowing from your newfound sensitivity, which creates the opportunity to make peace with your body and give it the respect and care you deserve. This transforms not only your sexual nature, but your enjoyment of all your senses.

The ability to reimagine any situation in multiple ways in order to create variations, solve problems and invite endless possibilities. Over time, developing this skill will boost your confidence because you will be less likely to go into paralysis when you feel “stuck.”

Greater autonomy, beginning with the permission to constructively redefine your definition of competence to discover more sustainable pathways for learning – rather than being constantly demoralized by other people’s definitions of “success” and “failure”.

More comfort with being uncomfortable, a skill that creates the possibility for you to safely discover and test your limitations and assumptions, thereby gaining access to interesting people and experiences that live on the other side of your imagined limitations.

A deeper understanding of how you connect to the outside world, an awareness that lays the basis for recognizing the ways you wear a mask to hide your true self, and eventually moving beyond that habit to make meaningful social connections that will further nourish your growth.

A greater talent for improvisation, making it possible for you to more confidently, authentically, and spontaneously express your truths – whether in the midst of creative performance or simply within the rhythms of your everyday experience.

The permission to be playful, so you can revisit the magical experience of childhood when nothing was impossible, and bring that inspiration back into your adult life (a change that, among other benefits, will help you deepen your relationships to the children you love).

A growing recognition of your habits and blind spots, sometimes sobering, but always the basis for understanding how to create more choice in your life, and to clarify where you need to place your attention and efforts to increase your overall potential.

– A tangible experience of transformation, first, in your body, in an unbelievably short amount of time, second, in your life as a whole, when you understand how the creative process of intentional improvisation can be applied to any area of your interest – not just “movement”.

When you hear about these benefits of practicing the Feldenkrais Method, does it give you a different sense of why you might give it a try?!

If so, please leave a comment! I look forward to your feedback.

– – –

This post represents my first attempt to redefine my own Feldenkrais practice in a way that opens the doors to new participants who may not have previously recognized themselves in the language that currently surrounds the Method. I will outline this perspective further in future posts.

In 2018, I will be developing new classes and programs based on the idea of Improvising with Movement as Metaphor.

The movement of our bodies is a metaphor for everything else in our being. It cannot be separated from our perceptions, thoughts and emotions – it is simply more visible and available to work with. That is what you will be working with when you work with me.

I will sometimes teach the “greatest hits” of the Feldenkrais Method so often found in public classes, but will also be including more of the lessons usually only taught in practitioner training programs which sometimes offer greater challenges to our bodies and our ability to pay attention.

Above all, I will be inviting all who join me to engage in movement explorations to make a conscious connection between this practice and the possibility of bring more creativity in all aspects of life.

One feature of these programs, not always found in Feldenkrais classrooms, will be an emphasis on building a community experience of learning through frequent discussion and the inclusion of partner and group movement experiments.

To learn more about Improvising with Movement as Metaphor, enter your information on the form below…

…meanwhile, do you want to start improvising right now? Click here for some ideas!

 

 

When a Feldenkrais Practitioner Breaks Her Arm… [VIDEO INTERVIEW]

chrish 5

Chrish Kresge, Feldenkrais practitioner, with her puppy Bear and grandson Rohan, just after breaking her right arm

Can you imagine breaking your arm and then describing the experience as “the most exciting journey I’ve had in decades”?!

. . . Well, if you were Chrish Kresge, a highly skilled Feldenkrais practitioner with two decades of experience, you just might!

Kresge broke her arm early this August while playing outdoors in New Hampshire with her grandson Drake and puppy dog Bear.  She told me that at first she experienced a “complete loss of control” and feared that the injury might spell “curtains” for her career as a Feldenkrais practitioner in which her livelihood is dependent on the healthy functioning of her arms and hands.

However, after getting through the initial trauma of the event, seeing a highly skilled hand surgeon, and receiving generous support from many friends and colleagues, Chrish discovered that breaking her right arm had actually opened up a whole new world of learning.  As she continues to recover, she has already returned to a busy schedule of teaching classes and workshops and working with individual clients.  The experience has renewed her excitement about using novel movement strategies to help reorganize the brain for improved function.

Chrish FI 4

Back on the job at the FGNA 2017 conference in Seattle…

 

chrish 2

…and at her home studio in DC

One of the central strategies of the Feldenkrais Method is to help individuals discover their habitual movement patterns and then expand their options by introducing them to “non-habitual” movements.  In my previous blog post, I invited readers to deliberately create a non-habitual experience for themselves, to see what they could learn.

But in Chrish’s case, there was no choice!

Still, in this interview, her cheerful optimism shines through as she describes how she has approached tasks such as putting on her contact lenses with her left hand – after having done it for twenty-five years with the right!

Chrish made this video of cutting up brussels sprouts with her non-dominant hand:

 

She faced many challenges and had to learn to slow down in order to discover the coordination for movement patterns she had never previously employed.  But her enthusiasm for learning kept her going:

“I began to realize that when I slow down and have conscious actions, then I can be beautifully organized with my left hand. And what was so extraordinary was how quickly the brain filled in those parts that were not previously there . . . I was almost observing my brain literally buzzing and fizzing and actually filling in these parts!”

Don’t miss the end of the interview where Chrish shares a Feldenkrais strategy she used from the very first moments after her injury – even before she had received any medical attention – in order to remind the brain of how the functioning of the hand can be most efficiently integrated into the movement of the whole body.

 

 

Thanks for the interview Chrish – you’re an inspiration!!

Exponentially Increase Your Aliveness with One Simple Step…Today!

woods 3

OK, here’s the trick behind the click-bait title . . .

😉

It’s true: sometimes all we need to do to shift our experience into a completely new feeling is to take one simple step.

BUT . . .

. . . Right from the beginning, I’ll admit that doing that one thing is not always so easy to do!

In my last post, I described how I recently experienced this phenomenon in my kitchen, where doing one simple thing made such an enormous and positive difference.

But, to do it, first I had to deal with my own resistance.

I recently had another experience where doing one simple thing produced big changes. I decided to break with my normal routine of jogging through neighborhood streets in favor of driving 10 minutes to a nearby park, and running in the woods.

When I got back I felt “exponentially more alive!”

Seriously.

And before today is over you can take the same step and I bet it will shift you too.

(Read to the bottom of this post for a special incentive to help get you started!)

What is this something I’m suggesting you do, you ask? Go running in the woods?

Maybe. But there are other options too.

Because the point wasn’t the woods (and if you already run in the woods all the time it doesn’t count).

The point is . . . Do something non-habitual!

Why?

Because, when you are in your habitual experience of the world, there tends to be very little surprise.  It becomes tempting to feel like you don’t need to pay very close attention.

That’s not a very good formula for being totally present in the here and now.

On the other hand, when you do something nonhabitual, everything that you normally count on goes out the window, and you are forced to wake up and be on your toes.

That’s a good thing!

When I ran in the woods instead of on my familiar sidewalks, suddenly I found I had to pay attention to every single step.  This wasn’t the same kind of daydream experience I often have on my familiar neighborhood route!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of daydreaming.

But I think you’ll agree that it’s very different than being in present moment.  And that’s the place you need to be when unexpected things happen in life  – which, if you think about it, is all the time.

By deliberating putting yourself in less familiar situations, you call upon your body’s deep non-verbal intelligence to wake up and be ready to serve you in those moments when thinking is just too slow.  

And if you carefully create your experiments with the non-habitual, you can include enough of that unpredictability to get your juices flowing, but also enough safety where you don’t ever have to go into panic mode . . .

While running  in the woods, I needed to make frequent, quick, and spontaneous adjustments to stay on my feet. The attention and physical aliveness necessary to do this combined with my new surroundings seemed to generate new mental waves.  As I ran, I had new creative ideas and insights that I know I never would have had otherwise.

The more you get used to flowing in this way, with mind and body both engaged and improvising together in a dynamic environment, the faster your feeling of being alive can shift.

(This is something my buddy Chandler Stevens might call an ecosomatic experience.  

I’ll say more about that in an upcoming post – and also stay tuned for news about an ecosomatic weekend that we are cooking up together in the near future!)

If you see where this going, maybe you’d like to stop reading right now and just go out and do it?!

Why so soon, you ask?

Because no matter how many “good reasons” I give you, at some point, you just have to be willing to dive in.  That’s way more important than anything else I say in the rest of this post!

(…except that if you do get to the bottom, I’m going to give you a little incentive if that’s what it takes!)

But wait, do . . . what again, you ask?

Anything – as long as it’s non-habitual! 

. . . (WARNING: be prepared to face resistance!)

. . . (SUGGESTION: when you face resistance, ask it a question!)

For example:

  • Drive somewhere you drive to all the time –  but don’t take the same route and don’t take the GPS. Maybe don’t even take the car!
  • Think of someone you love that has no idea how much you love them because you never tell them.  Call them and tell them!
  • Go eat at your favorite restaurant, but order something you never ordered before.

Does that sound simple enough?

The alternate route:

Hmm, sure, simple enough – except that if I get lost off my familiar route, I might be late.

. . . Well, what if you left yourself a little more time for the trip?

The phone call:

Yeah, ok, but then we might get into a conversation that I’m not prepared for.

. . . Alright.  So, what could you do to be more prepared for that conversation?

Ordering a new dish:

Well, yes, technically I could do that, but my fav dish is SOOOOO good – I can’t bear to pass it up.

. . . What if you imagined that they ran out of your favorite dish?  How would you feel about making a different choice then? What will actually go wrong if you don’t have your dish? And even if you regret it, how long will that feeling actually last?

– – –

Oh, I see – there’s that thing called resistance again!

That makes it a little harder to shift out of our habits doesn’t it?

But then again, do things shift – even a little – if you are willing to ask a simple question or two about why you resist doing something new?

Perhaps it would also help to think about the last moment you felt really alive:

Were you doing something that you do every day, that you always do in the same way?  Or did that moment occur during some kind of break from your norm –  a special event, a chance occurrence or a surprise?

If you wanted to increase the chance of having that kind of feeling again, do you think it might help to break out of your typical routine?

(Maybe you’ve heard of Einstein’s famous definition of insanity? “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”)

If you are trying something new that you are unsure about, would it help motivate you if you were clear that the small risk you take increases your chances of revitalization?

What else could you do minimize your resistance?

And how many steps do you need before you see that there is never going to be a perfect guarantee that you will have a good experience! You will simply have to give it a try at some point or else you will never know what the thing was all about!

My resistance to running in the woods took a few forms:

  • First, I had this idea that it made no sense to get in my car and drive somewhere else in order to run when I could just walk out my front door and do that.

(Too bad for me, my front door doesn’t lead straight into the woods.)

  • Related to the idea above, I told myself that any time spent in the car would be a waste.  If I only had an hour to spare, I could run more by sticking to my neighborhood.

(This argument made sense as long as I measured benefits of my exercise only in terms of the distance I run.  I found out later that this was nonsense.)

  • Finally, I warned myself that I might get lost running in the woods!  Again, this could lead to my run taking longer than planned, messing up the schedule of my day.

(A perfect argument – impossible to disprove without taking the risk!)

All of these thoughts were actually nothing more than rationalizations for why my status quo experience should be endlessly repeated.

In the end, I didn’t have to answer these arguments.

I simply had to bypass them.

One simple thing made this easier for me to do, and it’s something that could also help you get past your own resistance to doing something new:

I didn’t do it alone.

The day that I chose to run in the woods instead of city streets to get exercise I broke with my normal habits, but it wasn’t the first time I had been there.  My first run in those woods actually happened a few days earlier when I was invited there by someone close to me whose company I would enjoy in any setting. Knowing I would enjoy her company meant I didn’t think twice about whether or not I’d like being in the woods.

So by the time I went on my own, in fact, I already had a good idea what it would be like. I’d already tasted it.  The only remaining question was: would it just be a one-time experience or could I motivate myself alone?

In fact, I came quite close to caving into all my justifications for avoiding adventure.

But at the last moment, the more confident and spontaneous part of me looked at the more timid and boring part of me, through his hands up in the air, and said:

“Oh, COME . . . ON!!”

That was enough.

I went running in the woods and I never looked back.

– – –

YOUR TURN!!

OK, now it’s your turn to do something non-habitual . . .

If you do it – and let me know about it by answering the questions in the form below – you might just win a free Feldenkrais session!

(If you are in the DC area, we can do that in my studio, if you are elsewhere, we’ll do it via Skype)

I’m interested to find out if you also experience that doing one simple thing differently can change quite a lot.

At the same time, perhaps you will also discover how that one simple thing is also not always so simple.

I wonder what internal resistance you might face and how you’ll work through it?  Will it just be a silly waste of your time, or will something new open up for you that you find you might wish to explore further?

In my next blog, I will report more on the new experiences I’ve been having in the woods, (something I’m already making into a new habit).  But I’d also like to share some stories from readers like you who are willing to try something non-habitual and explore the value in doing that.

If your story is included in the next blog post, you’ll win the free session!

(I’m hoping for multiple winners . . . )

🙂

Still not sure what to do? 

Here’s a few more ideas of things you can try, or to get you thinking more about something that would be particularly meaningful to you:

  • Which hand is your dominant hand?  Either way, give it a break and use your other hand to do one of the following things: brush your teeth, comb your hair, sign your name, put on make-up, shave (but be careful!!), hold your tennis racquet, etc.

(NOTE: it is NOT important to “do it well” . . . just find out what happens if you spend some time in one of these activities with your non-dominant hand.  What is difficult?  How do you adjust?  Does it get easier with practice?)

  • Get an eye patch at your local drug store.  Put it on and keep it on for a while as you go about your day (obviously, think twice about whether this is a good idea while driving!).  Do you know that you see better out of one eye?  Great – make that the one that you cover up!
  • Do you usually keep to yourself when in public?  Then make a point of striking up conversation with at least three strangers the next time you go to the supermarket, the bank, or wherever else you are going.
  • What are your habits on-line?  How could you challenge those habits?  What do you post about (not post about) on social media?  What do you usually comment on (or not)?  Is there something you’ve never shared about yourself on-line that you could consider sharing?
  • What is the tone of voice you usually use when you talk to yourself?  What words do you choose?  How could you change your internal dialogue to a non-habitual mode of communication?  What setting or activity would be the most interesting place for you to explore this?
  • When you do odd things, do you usually keep it to yourself?  This time, share it with the world!  Report on your experiences by filling out the form below (1-2 sentence answers are sufficient, but if you have more of a story to tell, please do!!)

TELL ME ABOUT THE RESULTS OF YOUR

EXPERIMENTS WITH THE NON-HABITUAL!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elusive Obvious . . . Your discomfort is not “normal”!

tupperware 1

Why shouldn’t my kitchen cabinet look like this all the time?!

 

Do you experience discomfort in your body on a daily basis?  Do you consider this “normal”?  Have you resigned yourself to living with it?

What if you didn’t have to live that way?  If you had a choice between living with discomfort or not, it would be a no-brainer, right?

Moshe Feldenkrais, who created the Method that bears his name – the Method that changed my life and has changed the life of so many of my clients – once wrote a book called The Elusive Obvious.

The title captures how we can easily get stuck when we are looking in the wrong direction – and why, at the same time, a simple nudge from someone helpful with a little expertise (or even just a different point of view than our own) is often enough to create a major shift in our relationship to a particular problem.

Sometimes we are left wondering why we thought we had a problem in the first place!

But we all have our blind spots.

You can probably think of someone you know whose life would be better – if they would only listen to the simple advice you have so often given them!!

Or, have you ever had someone tell you they just had a big breakthrough, but then they tell you the story, and you think, “Really – that was a breakthrough for you?!”

You might have felt that way if you had seen the look on my face this past weekend.  I had just re-organized the Tupperware in my kitchen and it literally changed the quality of my entire day.

And here I am, still thinking about it several days later.

I’d perfectly understand if you didn’t get why I was celebrating this “great achievement” of mine!

Because if you had seen the two shelves above my sink where I have almost literally been throwing containers and lids for the last couple of years – yes, YEARS!! – you would not have been surprised that I can rarely find a match when it’s time to save some leftovers after dinner.

And, if this was your kitchen, like my 8-year-old daughter when she encounters a mess in her room, you probably would have declared, “I can’t live like this!”

But, somehow, I did live like that for a ridiculously long time – as if I had no other choice.

. . . Until it finally dawned on me that I could pull out all the Tupperware, match containers with lids, separate out any items without a match, and then put everything back on the shelf again!

And – truth be told – the realization of how I could take this obvious and easy step to improve my quality of life was not immediately followed by action.  It actually took me about another month to do the job!

“That was a breakthrough?!”, you might ask.

Sorry to say . . . yes, it was!

Here was a glaringly obvious solution to this mess, yet I had been incapable of taking this simple step for all this time.

And, because of this blind spot, I created tons of unnecessary difficulties for myself.

How many times did I waste time stressing out because I couldn’t find a suitable container for storing leftovers or packing up my daughter’s school lunch?  Even worse, what about all the times I cursed when I opened the cabinet door and a pile of containers and lids fell down onto my head?!

And how did I fail to read the messages I was receiving from these experiences sooner?

When I finally acknowledged my discomfort with the situation and decided to do something about it, I was amazed to discover that, of several dozen containers I own, there were only a tiny handful of mismatches.

 

tupperware-2.jpg

The mismatches . . .

 

In other words, when I actually looked, the reality of the situation was nowhere near as bad as I thought!

 

tupperware-3.jpg

The matches . . .

 

Changing that image actually changed many other things for me . . .

This past week, I have enjoyed the experience of being in my kitchen, cooking, cleaning up, and storing food in easily locatable containers, always finding the size I need, and nothing falling on my head!

I’ve also had the opportunity to laugh at myself more than once. Making life easier isn’t always that hard!

Here was a classic case of the elusive obvious – probably obvious to anyone else who would have looked in my cabinet, but, up until now, completely elusive to me.

In the context of movement, this is the kind of thing that I am helping my clients with all the time.

So, back to you…

Do you have pain somewhere in your body that constantly nags and annoys you, lowering the quality of your experience in a range of activities throughout your day?  Or perhaps there is some hurdle in your yoga, martial arts, or other movement practice that you feel like you can’t get past, despite having tried everything you can think of?

Do you find yourself making comparisons with other people you see who you perceive as moving more easily than yourself?  And when you perceive that difference between yourself and others, do you create a story about it where your character is not so loveable?

How long are you going to accept this version of your story?

Why not consider a different story line:

What would change in your life if you could jump over that obstacle today?  What if the problem wasn’t that the hurdle is impossibly high, but simply that you are not looking at the actual source of the problem? What if all you needed was a fresh pair of eyes to help you find some easy solutions?

Then, what if you began to develop a new kind of awareness and relationship to yourself where the earliest signs of your frustration with any task became signals that you knew how to interpret and translate into useful action to quickly restore comfort?

What if developing this kind of awareness led you to a growing confidence in your ability to tackle and solve problems on a daily basis?

If these things changed for you, don’t you think you might have a different experience walking down the street tomorrow?

It might be something similar to my newfound happiness in my kitchen!

My Tupperware cabinet was my most recent reminder that I prefer to live in the story of the guy with an image of his daily routine as being a breeze rather than the story of the guy who always wonders why his life seems so much more difficult than everyone else.

In my experience as a Feldenkrais practitioner, I have found that I am often offering my clients opportunities to experience their bodies in a completely new way by helping them to make some very simple shifts.  Then, suddenly doors begin to open that they had  assumed were permanently closed to them.

That is, many people are moving all day long in a way that creates their discomfort, but because they don’t perceive other available options, they feel that they have no choice but to live that way.  They assume that, because of their age, a previous injury, lack of movement training, or some other factor, that they must endure the situation and, at a certain point, they simply assume that their discomfort is normal.

But your discomfort isn’t “normal”! – and it’s radiating out into the entire way you experience life . . .

Why shouldn’t feeling great in your body be the norm?!

And if it was, how would that change everything else – your job, your relationship to family and friends, your personal and creative projects?

If your kitchen is better organized than mine (a pretty safe bet!), you probably already know how important that is to your peace of mind when you are cooking, cleaning, or entertaining house guests – and how making those tasks easier sets the stage for enjoying the rest of your day.

In the same way, learning how to identify some simple changes you could make to increase your comfort in movement will create new possibilities for you in countless ways.  I’d love to assist you in writing that story.

If you are not happy with your experience of your body – which is not only your anatomy, but also the home of your heart, mind and soul! – the first step is to recognize that discomfort. Then you have to decide that you care about yourself enough that you are not going to accept this situation as the norm.

From there, the next step is to act.  Hopefully, you won’t wait as long as I did to deal with my Tupperware!

If you’d like me to take a look at your movement with you, I’d be happy to help you sort out the elusive from the obvious so you can get back to the business of writing the story of your life where comfort is the norm – because you insist that you won’t accept living any other way!

– – –

Click here to make an appointment today for a consultation session or if you have more questions, just fill out the form below and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Not in the DC area?  Still get in touch! – I’d love to refer you one of my skilled colleagues…they’re all over the world!!

Learning How to Learn . . . Again

atm flyer 2

The world is brand new every day, as new as yesterday, and, as far as baby knows, it will still be new brand new tomorrow.  Learning isn’t part of life – it is life.

I have now been teaching public Awareness Through Movement classes, the group learning format of the Feldenkrais Method, for nearly three years. As I continue to look at how I can create a meaningful experience for my students, I found myself looking again at the very first blog post I wrote here, when I was just beginning my career as a movement teacher.

I was happy to find that I still agree with the basic approach I outlined at that moment.  And now, with a little more experience under my belt, I’d like to return to some of those ideas and flesh them out a little further.

In August 2014, I invited students to attend my class in order to “move like a child again.”

. . . rediscover the experience of pure joy in movement and learning.

I’m talking about the joy exhibited by any child who is allowed to move freely and who has not yet been inculcated into one of the infinite variety of doctrines of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.

Babies that coo and goo have no concern as to whether their sounds are as melodious as other babies and experience more pure delight in a simple game of peek-a-boo with Mommy than many of us have known in any form in years. 

The world is brand new every day, as new as yesterday, and, as far as baby knows, it will still be new brand new tomorrow.  Learning isn’t part of life – it is life.

Is your world brand new every day?

Today I know very well that, for too many of us, the world does not feel new every day.  It’s the “same old same old” and frankly, we can get a bit bored, or even pessimistic.

The people who seek out my classes are usually looking for something that will help them break out of their routines and renew their joy in living.

This idea of “moving like a child” is an essential piece of what I offer them in order to do just that.

A private client of mine recently highlighted this phrase when she came to me for help her with her balance.  At the beginning of the session, we discussed issues involving her hip joints, her neck, her posture . . . about what you might expect for someone visiting a movement specialist.

But then she explained that, in her mind, the key problem was that she held her body in a state of fear when she was walking.  In contrast, she marveled about having observed her 3-year-old grandson moving effortlessly on the floor from one position easily holding his head upright.  She noted that even when he fell on his rear, he simply laughed and then lifted himself up again and kept playing.

In our session, we worked on many basic biomechanical questions, but more fundamentally, we worked on recognizing what fear feels like in the body, and what playfulness feels like; and we began to define together a process for moving from one body state to the other.

While as adults we might have a hard time immediately finding the same playfulness as a kid, we can deliberately copy some aspects of the child’s experience if we set our minds to it.

And when we learn to move like a child – even if we can’t completely leave adulthood behind – we open up new world of possibility for ourselves.

But our social conditioning does not make this easy.  A list of some of the characteristics of that playfulness will help to illustrate this.

The following ideas are some of the essential principles that I return to again and again in my Awareness Through Movement classes.  This list could be titled “creating the ideal conditions for learning”, or, more simply, “how to move like a child again.”

  • Explore your body and your movement without judging it
  • Be motivated by curiosity rather than achievement
  • Let go of attachment to doing a LOT or doing things quickly
  • Let go of attachment to “getting it right”
  • Give up when you are stuck, rather than “pushing through”
  • Get more comfortable, more willing to spend time in a state of not knowing the answer to the question you are asking

If you try to imagine how to apply these principles in your 9 to 5 job or on the playing field of your favorite competitive sport, perhaps you will quickly see what a change in mindset this would be from the typical “grown up” way of doing things.

And perhaps you are skeptical that these ideas can actually transform your life – as the Feldenkrais Method has done for so many people.

So today, as I introduced these ideas in the first meeting of a new class series, it was not surprising that it was necessary for my students and I to discuss each of these points further in order to make sense of them.

In an ongoing exchange that took place before, during and after we explored a sequence of interesting movements, we clarified that:

  • Not judging ourselves, doesn’t mean that we don’t notice very specific details about ourselves.

In fact, dropping judgement allows us to get clearer on the specific manifestation of our asymmetries and illogical behaviors.  By gaining a clearer picture of our true selves as we are – not clouded by distracting questions of whether we are how we “should be – we can more readily find a new state of balance in our bodies and easier ways to move.

  • Dropping the focus on achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t achieve something.

In fact, the transformation of the sense of self that can occur in the space of an hour in this process can be stunning to first-time students.  A large part of why this achievement takes place is because we have shifted our focus to the quality of the process of what we are doing – something much more fundamental to the outcome than our ability to use sheer will power.

  • Making movements smaller and slower makes it easier for us to sink more directly into this process.

In most cases, when we move large or fast, the entire pattern of how we move is completely present in the first microsecond and the first millimeter of the action.  But if we move quickly, we will completely miss the earliest signals that we might be doing the movement in a way that causes us harm.  If instead we pay attention to that first crucial moment, we can find practically the whole story written there – at the best possible moment for us to make any necessary modifications to do the thing in a way that pleases us.

  • We certainly do want to “get things right”; if we don’t know how to do something, we would like to learn – but often, there is no single “right way” to perform an action.

Usually there are multiple paths and the best one for us will often become clear only by gently exploring several different options.  Furthermore, the “right way” for me to do this, often doesn’t work so well for you, and vice versa.  By not stressing about the “correctness” of our movement – just like an infant who rolls over for the first time without having the intention to do so – we open the door a little wider for unexpected discoveries.

  • “Giving up” doesn’t have to mean “giving up”!

There is a difference between admitting you don’t know what you are doing and ceasing to strain, taking a rest before returning for another exploration of the problem at hand vs. giving up hope, surrendering and figuratively holding your tail between your legs.

Don’t give up hope – but give up banging your head against the wall if it isn’t getting you anywhere!

  • Saying “I don’t know” is often the most authentic expression of our experience.

We adults spend much of our time lording it over our kids (“Look here, you’re not doing it right, let me show you how it’s done!”) and this is often part of how we define ourselves as having reached some significant level of maturity.  But, in this respect, we are often more childish than we’d like to admit.

Often we’d rather plow ahead with a challenge in order to “get it over with” rather than admit our confusion. But learning to get more comfortable in that state – in part because you discover with repetition that magical things may occur there – will allow you to lower the anxiety and associated strain of every other situation of being in the unknown that you face.

In other words, it will improve your ability to learn.

We remain adults in Awareness Through Movement class, but we allow ourselves to question our “grown up” assumptions in order to continue the process of growing.

– – –        – – –        – – –

From 2014:

In true learning, there is no finish line.  There is always another layer of understanding to be discovered if you are willing to take the time to look.

But if you’re always in a rush to “succeed”. . . you’ll miss it!

– – –        – – –        – – –

At the end of class today, a student made a comment that would stun me if I hadn’t heard it dozens of times before, and if it didn’t describe an experience I’d also had myself many times before discovering the Feldenkrais Method.

She said that she had found it difficult to concentrate on some of the more subtle aspects of the movement exploration because of a question in her mind that nagged at her:

“Am I feeling what I’m supposed to feel?!”

I assured her, “Whatever you were feeling was exactly what you were ‘supposed to feel’!”

How can any of us change what we feel to a different thing?!  We simply feel what we feel in each moment – like it or not.  Maybe what we feel later will be different, but right now – this is it!

The question is: what do you do with that feeling?

I encouraged this student to become interested, to ask questions, and to let go of the attachment to “getting it right.”

What would change if she told the voice asking that question to be quiet for a while?

What if she just sank into the experience of the feeling, whatever it was, and didn’t add words?

Perhaps that would be a little closer to the everyday experience of the most masterful learner of all, that magical, spontaneous and joyful being that we all once were, that still lives inside us.

Why not explore what it could mean to be in the experience of moving like a child again?

– – –        – – –        – – –

Curious?  Come to class!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR MY REGULAR NEWSLETTER

 

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.  Our 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!!

 *     *     *

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

 *     *     *

CLICK HERE TO RECEIVE MY REGULAR NEWSLETTER