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

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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.

 

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The mismatches . . .

 

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

 

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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!

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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

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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.

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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?

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Curious?  Come to class!

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Becoming More Comfortable with your Discomforts

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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!!

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

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Connecting Your Insides to the Outside World with the Feldenkrais Method

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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.

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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.

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“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 of 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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