In my regular newsletter, I sometimes share ideas for experiments that you can try at home to improve your body awareness. Because a number of people have remarked to me that they found them useful, I have decided to continue sharing these suggestions on a regular basis, and also collect these experiments here.
Now, are you ready to do some experiments inside the laboratory that is you?!
The following ideas grow out of my experience of practicing and teaching Awareness Through Movement – and if you have ever been to one of my classes, I think you will easily recognize the similarities between what we do in class and these suggestions for what you can do on your own.
But there is are two crucial differences – which I’ve already mentioned:
1) you do them at home.
2) you do them on your own.
Why is this so important?
Because in order to gain substantial and lasting improvements from Awareness Through Movement classes, you need to continue to cultivate what you are learning by developing your movement awareness as a practice.
Below you will find a series of movement experiments that you can try on your own. My hope is that you will try some of these things, but also be creative and make up your own experiments.
But why would you want to do that?
Because these experiments aren’t just silly games. They point the way towards developing the kind of attention and curiosity towards your own movement that can increase your capacity for self-care and self-reliance.
If practicing Awareness Through Movement has caused you start becoming more aware of how you perform routine actions in the course of your day, beginning to develop your own movement experiments can further accelerate this process and give your more insights into how to live life with less restrictions.
If you try out any of these experiments and would like to share your experiences, I’d love to hear from you! – firstname.lastname@example.org
Have fun . . . ! !
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#1: DO try this at home . . .
A lot of the people who attend my Awareness Through Movement classes or visit me for private sessions ask me how they can continue to grow their movement awareness on their own. Here are some ideas that you can try on your own.
Do something non-habitual . . .
. . . Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth or comb your hair. Notice how difficult it is! Can you do it simply and keep your breath even and uninterrupted? Does it seem like this hand “doesn’t know what to do?” Switch to the dominant hand briefly and notice the change in the state of your whole body. Try to notice what you do with this hand that works more easily. What can you learn from this as you try the non-dominant hand again?
Experiment with rhythm . . .
. . . When you are walking, listen to the sound of you feet. Is there more of an accent on one foot? Does it sound like “ONE…two…ONE…two” as you walk? If so, try “one…TWO…one…TWO instead and see how it changes the experience of walking when you shift the accent to the other foot. If you want to take it “one step further”, try walking like this: “ONE…two…three…ONE…two…three” so that the accent shifts each time from one foot to the other. After these experiments, go back to walking normally – does it feel different?
. . . Not enough challenge? Repeat the steps above while walking backwards!
Notice your breath . . .
. . . Throughout your day, periodically bring attention to your breath without trying to change it. Is it different when you are doing different activities? When you interact with different people? When you are in different places? Do you ever notice that you are holding your breath? How does your breath change when you shift the position of your body?
. . . Spend a few minutes re-imagining an every day activity. For example, how many different ways can you open the refrigerator door? Can you do it with your foot? The crook of your elbow? With your shoulder? Your chin? How many things are capable of that you simply don’t allow yourself to try? Be a kid for a while – have fun!
What other routine activities could you transform with your creativity?
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#2: How many ways can you walk?!
Here are a series of ways that you can alter your walking.
I suggest you try each technique for 10 or 20 paces while paying close attention to the resulting sensations, followed by at least the same number of paces of your normal walking gait. I also suggest that you perform each sequence of walking experiments with only one foot while the other foot walks normally.
Use the periods of normal walking to see if you perceive differences in the quality of how each leg carries you – the side where you do the experiments and the side where you don’t (especially compare the sensations on each side in the soles of your feet, your ankles, knees, and hip joints).
If you feel very “lopsided” after some time, you can then repeat the same experiments with the other foot to “even yourself out” – or you can maintain the experience of having very different sensations on the two sides of your body (as we sometimes do in Awareness Through Movement classes) in order to give your nervous system the opportunity to compare two different kinds of self-organization. Don’t worry, you won’t stay that way forever!
If you are still curious, you can try the experiments with both feet simultaneously, or combine two different walking styles with the two different feet to make more complex patterns.
If any of these experiments cause you pain or discomfort – END THE EXPERIMENT! You won’t learn anything if you don’t feel comfortable and safe!
Rotation of the leg . . .
– Step with the toes turned to the outside (“bow-legged”).
– Step with the heel turned to the outside (“pigeon-toed”).
– Alternate taking one step with the toes to the outside, one step with the heel to the outside.
Support from different places on the sole of the foot . . .
– Step so that only the outside edge of the foot touches the ground.
– Step so that only the inside edge of the foot touches the ground.
– Alternate stepping so only the outside edge touches the ground, then only the inside edge of the foot touches the ground.
– Walk on tip toes.
– Walk on the heel (i.e., front of the foot stays lifted of the ground).
– Alternate stepping once on tip toes, once on the heel.
Trajectories of the leg through space . . .
– “High step” or march, i.e., lift the knee to waist height as you walk.
– “High step” and flex the ankle each time you lift the foot from the ground (i.e., bend in the ankle joint so that the toes move towards the shin).
– “High step” and extend the ankle each time you lift the foot from the ground (i.e., open the ankle joint so that the toes point towards the ground.
– Alternate between “high stepping” once with the ankle flexed, once with the ankle extended.
– Try the above experiments including flexing and extending the ankle (and alternating between these two options) – except – instead of “high stepping”, swing your foot backwards each time so your knee points down to the ground and the foot approaches the back of your pelvis.
– Each time you lift your foot, swing it in an arc to the outside before bringing it down again.
– Each time you lift your foot, swing it foot in an arc to the inside before bringing it down again (be careful to swing it in front of the other leg so you don’t get tripped up!).
– With one step, make an arc to the outside, with the next step make an arc to the inside.
– Each time you lift the foot, rotate in your hip joint so that your knee points to the outside and the sole of the foot points to the inside.
– Each time you lift the foot, rotate in your hip joint so that your knee points to the inside and the sole of the foot points to the outside.
– Alternate between these two options
Invent your own! . . .
– What other simple variations could you make on taking a step?
– What simple movements of your arms shoulders or your head could you coordinate with each step?
– Could you do any of these experiments while walking backwards? While side-stepping?
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#3: Re-imagine how you write!
1. Get a piece of paper and sit in front of a table or desk. Write 2 or 3 sentences.
Notice which part of your pelvis is carrying most of your weight on the chair. Notice which shoulder is further forward, and the general shape of your posture as you write.
2. Note how you oriented the paper in front of you. Shift the angle of the paper so that it is no longer parallel to the arm on the side where you are writing, but more parallel to the other arm. With the paper in this position, copy again what you wrote above.
3. Turn the paper so that the long side is in front of you (the beginnings of the lines you have already written will be directly in front of you, then extend further forward away from you). With the paper in this position, copy again what you wrote above.
4. Orient the paper so that what you have already written is upside down. In this position, copy again what you wrote above (so that it will appear in the same orientation as the other text).
5. Face the paper the way you normally would. Close your eyes. Copy again what you wrote above.
6. Open your eyes. Put the pen in your other hand. Copy what you wrote above.
7. Keeping the pen in the hand you used in the previous step, turn the paper so that the previous text is upside down. In this position, copy again what you wrote above (so that it will appear in the same orientation as the other text).
8. Turn the paper so that the text appears in the normal orientation again. Keeping the pen in the hand you used for the previous two steps, close your eyes, then copy again what you wrote above.
9. Move your chair very far away from the desk or table, so you can just barely reach the paper by leaning forward. Copy again what you wrote above, using the hand you normally write with.
10. Move the chair closer to the desk to a place that feels comfortable. Copy again what you wrote above.
11. Compare the first and last lines that you wrote. Do you notice any differences in your handwriting? How did you feel as you wrote the last lines. Was it it easier than when you started?
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#4: How do you relate to sound?
When you listen to music, or simply encounter other sounds, it has an impact on your biological rhythms. If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head, I think you’ll understand what I mean!
Here are some ways that you can explore your relationship to sound. Many of the experiments I will describe here involve listening to music. You can use any kind of music and each time you choose something different, the experiment will feel different. If you’re looking for something new to listen, you might like to visit my Musical Inspiration page on this site.
Listening inside and outside
If you get comfortable, get quiet and listen, you’ll hear sounds in your surrounding environment as well as “inside” you – sounds that are generated by the biological rhythms of your body.
- Listen outside:
How many sounds can you pay attention to simultaneously in your environment? Identify each sound you here, then look for the next sound. Notice if you “lose” the sounds you have already collected each time you identify a new sound.
- Listen inside:
How many sounds can you pay attention to simultaneously that come from inside your body? Look for at least three sounds that are probably present: the sound of your breathing, the sound of your heartbeat (place two fingers on the side of your throat to help focus your awareness on this sound), the “sound” of your thinking (are you “talking” to yourself? Does that talk have a certain “volume” that interferes with your ability to hear other sounds?
- Listen inside AND outside:
Alternate your attention between listening inside and outside – do you feel a shift in your body when your attention crosses over this divide? Alternate many times and pay attention to see what happens . . . Can you spread your listening attention simultaneously to your internal and external environments? Try to simultaneously listen to your breath and heartbeat as well as the sounds around you. Try to quiet the “sound” of your thinking . . .
- Take it two steps further:
What happens if you start “tapping” the air with one finger. Do you “hear” a “sound”? . . . Can you keep track of the rhythm of the tapping while also listening to your breath and your heartbeat (fingers remain on the throat to clarify the pulse) . . . Can you continue to notice all these rhythms simultaneously and begin to walk, also now noticing the rhythm of your steps?! . . . Can you do all this and also continue to hear the sound in your external environment?
Relating to music
How does music affect you? Does it soothe you? Cheer you up? Make you want to dance? Well, it probably depends on the music, doesn’t it? Each kind of music affects us differently.
The following experiments involve listening to music and observing its interaction with the rhythms of your body. You can, of course, repeat each experiment with different kinds of music to refresh the experience.
(Click here if you need some Musical Inspiration . . . )
- Listening in stillness:
Often when we hear some lively music, we feel, and follow the impulse to dance. What happens if you listen to something energetic while maintaining yourself in relative stillness? Lie on the ground or some other comfortable position while listening and notice if you feel a shift in your internal rhythms as you take the rhythms of the music into your body . . . Try placing two fingers on the side of your throat to track your pulse, listen to your breath . . . Do these rhythms shift in relation to the music? . . . Can you keep the rhythms of your breath and heartbeat in your awareness while simultaneously listening to the music?
- Dancing with constraints:
Dance to the music – how do you do it? Do you notice yourself moving one limb more prominently than other places? What would it be like to do a dance that only involved your right elbow? Your left hand? Your right shoulder? . . . Play with constraining the dance to small regions of your body, then allowing it to expand again . . .
- Dancing and listening inside shapes:
Make yourself into a statue in an interesting shape. Decide what parts of you will remain in place in order to maintain the continuity and integrity of the shape and its meaning while other parts are permitted to dance in order to express the finer points. Alternate between emphasizing expression through movement and listening through stillness. Of course, it could be interesting to explore other shapes . . . BUT how interesting would it be if you continued to explore just this one shape beyond the moment when you get bored?
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#5 Mastery and Challenge:
Think about this:
There is at least one thing in your life that you know you do REALLY well. And it holds a key for you to unlock new doors in other parts of life where you experience challenge . . .
You know what this thing is. It may or may not be your professional field, your life-long passion or your hobby.
It might be graphic design, cooking, or a martial arts practice.
Or maybe you are the peace maker at your job or in your family. Perhaps your friends know you for always having your finger on the artistic pulse of your city and count on you to inform them about the best new plays, exhibits and concerts.
Whatever it is, you know this is area of your life as a place of mastery because this is the arena where you solve problems effortlessly, where you always take pleasure in the activity, where others come to you to be mentored when they feel bewildered or overwhelmed.
Moshe Feldenkrais often spoke to his students about how one could use this area of mastery in life as a blue print for expanding competence into any situation. It’s an idea I’ve been playing with recently and I’d like to share what I’ve been doing with you.
As a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method, you’d be correct to think I apply this exercise to challenges involving movement. However . . .
There is no need to restrict its use to the realm of movement Apply it any way you like!
Try it, and I think you’ll get ideas right away for how it might help you:
Moving Between Mastery and Challenge
- Get comfortable
- Close your eyes
- Notice the state of your body: your breath, any tension that exists, where you feel ease and strength…
- Think of this area of life where you have achieved mastery.
- Think of an area of life where you feel challenged, where you often experience frustration or overwhelm, where you have the sense of slogging through, where you feel like it’s harder for you than it is for others
- Alternate between 4 & 5 while sustaining 3 . . . In other words, move between these two imagined places while observing the state of your body: your breath, ease and tension, etc. – notice any small shifts and where they occur (your jaw? your belly? your throat? your hip joints?)
- Mentor yourself: Observe how you carry yourself in your state of mastery and find out if you can NOT add unnecessary tension in those places you noticed it as you move into your area of challenge.
Can you find a fresh perspective in your area of challenge if your find a fresh relationship to challenge in the state of your body?
To explore variants of this exercise, you can redefine step 1 – “get comfortable” – in many ways:
- resting in many different positions
- or not resting at all! – try it while moving comfortably in a familiar way, for example while walking or running (and in these cases, you’ll probably want to skip step 2 – “close your eyes”!!) . . .
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If you try out any of these experiments and would like to share your experiences, I’d love to hear from you!