Capturing a moment

There is some discussion of non-human images! Can a stuffed monkey do Feldenkrais?

I like the way that the angle of the monkey’s head suggests a curiosity about something –just over her shoulder? And the perspective of the photo, right down on her level, makes that expression somewhat infectious for me. I want to know too.

What's this cat thinking?On an Amherst tape Moshe plays with his wooden doll (Year 2, Tape 33, AM #1). He gets a remarkable expressiveness out of it. The attitude of the whole body in the simple sense of its configuration and balance in gravity already says so much. We think it’s the details of facial expression that tell us about a person’s mental state. Not true!

Now the cat has joined the monkey, and we all know the line about cats and curiosity. But does that communicate subconsciously a feeling that what we do is dangerous?

This cat’s just about to do a very popular “Feldenkrais” move, i.e. rolling over. (How did this guy get his name attached to so many primitive human patterns?)

Cat and monkeyNow this is the luxurious lengthening stretch we all know so well. Have we still got the curiosity?

The monkey hasn’t moved.

A new self-help process: personal growth through reverse googling

It’s divination for the modern era.

Get yourself a website, or a blog, and find the function to track the google searches that find you. Treat that like a divination, like a prediction of the future, like a message from the deeper wisdom of the universe about what to do or where to go next.

My results: a few weeks ago there was a flurry of messages for me from the universe, very specific and direct, that Lynette Reid needed (or already has? temporality is not linear in the world of google search divination) muscle memory training.

More than anything else, people care about one leg being stronger, longer, or faster than the other. That’s probably the number one concern of the “universe according to google” that brings people to kinesophics. It’s much more of a going concern than walking on volcanos, although there is an occasional volcano enthusiast out there.

What message is there for me in this? Is this the wisdom of crowds, or the mania of crowds?

science, feldenkrais, and professionalism

I was reading recently the Introduction to Moshe’s Elusive Obvious, and I was struck by his description there of his fundamental procedure in developing the Feldenkrais Method. He said he reads science, and he takes hold of thousands of heads between his hands, and he explores that science in his practice of helping people.

This touching, handling, manipulating of living human bodies enables me to see in the books of these superb writers and turn into practice the science they teach. Probably they themselves do not know, how useful their knowledge is already when translated into the nonverbal language of the hands, i.e. Functional Integration, and the verbal Awareness through Movement. (p. 3)

I was struck by how distant that approach is to what I (or dare I say we?) do in learning and practicing Feldenkrais. The closest things I know are our current fascination with mirror neurons, and here, along with Tom Landini, I’m not sure that we aren’t just hopping onto a band wagon that isn’t really ours. I also recall some lovely advice from Yvan Joly about how to spend your year of teaching Feldenkrais as a form of research project. Pick a theme; think of it as you do and choose lessons for class or form themes for workshops; do some googling and other forms of research to pick up on current scientific thinking, and try to relate that to your teaching.

Of course, I can’t entirely discount that at this moment Moshe may be playing up the scientific roots of his thinking and downplaying his long study of martial arts as a source, for some political point.

But still–we aren’t reading Nature Neuroscience and thinking “how can I apply that in FI?” Or, to put it in another way, “how can I test that in my methodology?” If we scan the science, it’s with the eager but somewhat unseemly desire to find out that science has caught up to us and validated us…in our insecurity. Not to learn something from science that we use or test in our methodology. For the IFF Research Journal we did a small interactive poster study, trying to draw out from practitioners their understanding of the place of research in the work. We were fishing for something that we didn’t find: an awareness that every FI, every ATM, is an investigation. Sometimes I fear that we, like Big Pharma, understand research as a branch of the marketing department.

This week on Feldyforum, Bob Chapra in New York was looking for some info on the physiology of hot flashes, and the process of finding that info reminded me of one reason (among many) that I missed academic life in the few years I spent “on the outside” as a full-time practitioner.

The discussion on Feldyforum moved quickly, as it often does, to herbal remedies, experiential accounts, and so on. All of which was great–we don’t have all the answers and we should be curious about other solutions, and the experiential accounts are close to the heart of our work–but very little of it answered his questions about what the basic physiology of hot flashes is.

In my years out of academic life, one of the things I liked the least was not having access to an academic library. Now that I’m “on the inside” again, I was able to track down an abstract of a suitable recent review article for the practitioner, and through my library access download the pdf to read (and share).

I joked to him that I had access to the article only through my ties with “Big Learning” (like “Big Business” or “Big Pharma”). But it’s not so much of a joke. There’s a wall between us and this stuff, with pay-as-you-go access to academic research at $30 per article or more. Way beyond the budget of most any Feldenkrais practitioner. It’s even worse than the new higher cost of Alexander Yanai volumes!

When I was young, anyone could wander into an academic library off the street, and pick up a journal off the shelf or from the stacks. This is not true any longer. Most academic libraries check cards for access to the stacks; journals are increasingly on-line and you have to log in with your academic library card to read them. As in so many areas of our culture, the gap between haves and have-nots gets bigger.

Now, it turns out that after some more poking around I discovered the article (despite Elsevier’s attempts to hide this from me) is available for free (see here). Perhaps because the workshop for which it was commissioned was funded by NIH (i.e. public) dollars and the NIH has got active in the last few years about ensuring that what is funded by public dollars isn’t there just to line the pockets of private, for-profit academic publishers.

Nonetheless, I have a certain hobby horse, which I will take this opportunity to ride. A couple of years ago Chiropractic almost got itself into York University (in Canada). An “alternative health” methodology in a mainstream accredited university. What knocked it out of running at the end was its distance from mainstream science. This is not a stumbling block for Feldenkrais. One of the things that made Feldenkrais for me more than an interesting experience but something I could invest years in learning and exploring was, well, that it doesn’t present an alternative metaphysics. Some of my best friends are intuitive shamanic healers etc; but I’m not. I value deep experiential exploration; and I value the critical and rigorous intellectual engagement of my academic life.

We have heated debates about the right model for our work, craft or profession, avocation or vocation, hobby or gainful employment, and (related) its epistemological base: intuition or science. In North America it’s shaped by a fierce American “get the government out of my life” attitude, and endowed with enormous entrepreneurial energy.

There are no easy answers to these questions. If things go well, we’ll answer them with “both/and” or “neither/nor” creative solutions. I personally favour a future that sees somatic education as something taught in a graduate level program in a mainstream educational setting.

But we may not notice that our (most specifically, FGNA) hostility to professionalization, in the world as it is today, alienates us from what Moshe describes in the Elusive Obvious as an important source of his work: the best science of his day. The choices we make to maintain our private on-the-fly training program structure and not to attempt to play ball in an academic setting keep these sources of knowledge out of our hands. We’re in a chicken-or-egg situation too: we’ve attracted people to the work who aren’t comfortable in that kind of setting. That sets our culture and where we will go to a significant extent.

If you’re a practitioner who likes to work from science, you can do what you can if you don’t have academic access. You can always search pubmed for information, and often see at least the abstract. I know one practitioner who has good experiences in writing scientists directly and asking for copies of their articles or permission to post them. Many researchers expect emails asking for “offprints” and respond generously.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking eagerly about what it would really mean to take the latest thing I read in my “neuroethics” reading and process it through Feldenkrais. Maybe I’ll try something out and report back.

What is the image, the feel, the thought, the action we want to capture?

My teacher Stephen Rosenholtz would say all the time, “You’re not in church! This is life! Teach ATM like you’re having a conversation.”

I was puzzled. Like a conversation about what? The Iraq war? Family gossip? It took me quite some time to figure this one out. But that’s a story for another day. It has something to do with the title of one of Moshe’s books.

I think at the beginning I taught more like it was a relaxation/awareness process.

Yochanan Rywerant has a section called “Modes of Control: Sedate, Aroused” (no. 13) in his book Aquiring the Feldenkrais Profession.

A tentative classification of the modes of control, not really exhaustive but pertinent to our subject, could yield the following: the sedate (or calm) mode, subdivided into apathetic (not interested) and inquisitive (curious, interested); then the aroused (or stimulated) mode, subdivided into euphoric (well being), alarmed (sensing some immanent danger) and distressed (sorrowful). For the purposes of Feldenkrais, you might prefer the inquisitive mode of control. (p. 12)

My favorite phrase from Feldenkrais for the mood of a lesson is where he admonishes people to do the lesson like they’re wasting time. Wasting time with a point, but wasting time.

I’ve got my eye out for somewhere in an AY lesson where he says more about this. I can’t put a finger on it right now, but when I do I’ll post it.

How do produce pictures that capture that feeling of wasting time? But with focus? And with the “inquisitive mode of control” as Rywerant puts it? It isn’t the same as relaxation; it isn’t the same as a spiritual awareness exercise.

Some photos around the web

One big question about photographing Feldenkrais is: to pose or not to pose?

The PR Kit photos are posed; the Swedish Guild recently re-did their website and posed the photos. This is a very understandable step. It would be challenging to create an image that’s attractive and that communicates something where there’s the typical Feldenkrais “chaos” in the room.

The typical Feldenkrais chaos I’m referring to comes from the fact that everyone is following their own pace and engaging in their own exploration. Yes, there are lessons where we all coordinate in the end, but these are rare.


I really like the website of Feldenkrais Teachers in Seattle for its sense of spontaneity and variety.

Feldenkrais Teachers in Seatttle Website: from

Of course, this is only one person, so that’s another way of controlling the chaos. While using only one person in the photo is in a sense inaccurate, because the lessons are group lessons, it does capture the feeling I have of being alone (in a deep and pleasant sense) in my own exploration in an Awareness Through Movement lesson.

Photographing Feldenkrais

The FGNA Council of Regional Representatives did a lot for Feldenkrais practitioners in the last couple of years in getting a PR Kit produced for practitioners. (You can purchase it at the FEFNA bookstore or download it for free at the members site (off-line at the moment).)

Photos by dance photographer Rosalie O’Connor are among the gems of the kit.

I was recently using some of them to make cards publicizing our Wednesday evening class at the Yoga Loft.

Robert, the owner of the Loft, offered some advice that really made me think about what a good image for Feldenkrais would be.

You want to be able to take the whole poster in in a second or two. Assume that whoever sees it will be walking past it and may not stop unless something about the posters makes them. I keep coming back to this but in that moment they need to see the solution to some problem they have. That makes them stop and take a look. From there poster inspires them with the idea that Feldenkrais has the solution. But you never offer an idea of what that solution is. This part stays entirely within their mind. If you offer a solution they will start to question it. Its basic human nature and a lot of psychology…

457F.inpostReaching for something new: by photographer Rosalie O’Connor.How interesting it would be to explore what it is we’d want to give as a first impression of Feldenkrais, something that resonates for a person, even at a level below awareness, as speaking to their needs!

An interesting challenge in making Feldenkrais images is the cultural vocabulary available to us. There’s a basic cultural vocabulary around yoga at this point (as there might not have been thirty years ago). One can resonate with a sense of spiritual peace, or the sense of a quest that tests the limits, or connection with a community of conscious living, or the sense of taking time to come into touch with oneself, or relaxation, or challenge…. What vocabulary do we want for Feldenkrais?

242F.inpostA new angle: by photographer Rosalie O’Connor.

I particularly like the sense in this image of looking at things from a different perspective; maybe this gives people the sense of that characteristic Feldenkrais feeling of delighted but relaxed discovery of a possibility that never even occurred to one before.

I’m thinking now about exploring this topic in various modes, as a kind of “marketing research” in the best sense. A contribution to our on-going process of self-definition and development of our understanding of what our work is about. We talk and write about that a lot, but how about connecting those words with images? What experience, sense, thought, feeling, mood, possibility that you connect with through Feldenkrais would you like to communicate?

You can leave comments below, or on the images in the gallery here. The comment form lets you submit your own images of Feldenkrais or the “sense of” Feldenkrais!

Self-help or holistic health?

I am reading a paper by Anthony Weston called “On the body in medical self-care and holistic medicine” that explores the difference between what you might call two kinds of challenges to medical authority: self-help movements (the Boston Women’s Health Collective and the book “Our Bodies Ourselves” would be a paradigmatic instance) and alternative health practices (chiropractic, traditional Chinese medicine, ayurveda, homeopathy etc. etc.).

(The essay is in a book edited by Drew Leder called The Body in Medical Thought and Practice. You can search it on Alibris or Powell’s but it’s a frightening price on the used book market–hopefully your library has it!)

He starts with a fairly basic observation, and one that was rich for me to reflect on in relation to Feldenkrais. He points out that some of the rhetoric surrounding CAM would have us think that CAM practices are intrinsically self-help practices, but this is not so: in contrast to self-help practices, CAM practices sometimes (not infrequently) replace the external authority of the mainstream physician with the external authority of another kind of practitioner, one whose authority is based in an esoteric system with an alternative metaphysic to the mainstream scientific metaphysic. As a first approximation, it seems plausible to say that the metaphysic can change and all the authority structures remain the same.

(The same can be said, Weston points out, of the so-called “holism” of such practices, but for me this is a topic for another day.)

I believe that by using the distinction Weston works with, we can focus a crucial question about the nature of the Feldenkrais Method (and perhaps related forms of somatic education, though I can’t speak for these), a question with deep implications for how we practice and teach, how we propagate our work in the world, what structure these “professions” (if that is what we will turn out to be) will have.

These questions are at the same time questions about the nature of expertise in the Feldenkrais Method. (And perhaps that question is one of many that stands behind the defining of “competencies.”)

It seems to me that in the Feldenkrais Method we have a practice that is in the deepest and most fundamental sense one of self-care as Weston describes it. For one thing, it fundamentally rejects the formation of an alternative esoteric metaphysics to underpin its practice. This is a controversial claim, I’m sure, but I would be commited to the view that Feldenkrais approached his work as a scientifically-trained engineer with an interest in scientific approaches to the nature and activity of the nervous system in human action.

For another thing, the process we teach is fundamentally one of empowerment, for people to develop the capacity to have a sense of agency in relation to facets of our embodied existence that otherwise we feel at the mercy of, in need of medical expertise to fix or manage. Like restrictions of back pain, for which we think we need MRI scans and surgery, for example–or for that matter restrictions in imaginative approaches to thinking and planning for action in the world, which we think are just our nature or character and nothing we can do anything about.

And for another — the Feldenkrais Method is a development of the natural functions of the human nervous system to learn and explore and experiment in the direction of maturity and growth.

In all these senses we have a practice of self-care.

And at the same time, I would argue, we have practices of teaching classes to the public and of maintaining our training structures that treat Feldenkrais as though it is an esoteric body of knowledge, to be grasped in awed silence. The public comes and lies on the floor; they go through this experience that seems astonishing and mystical in its powers and effects; we keep them passive and self-involved, quasi-sedated, on the floor while one and only one voice leads the lesson; after some time doing that, if you’re addicted, you go away to a training program for 800-1000 hours not infrequently spent doing a lot of more of the same. I’m not really trying to enter into those same old tired discussions we have about The Trainings (as though there is only one, and it’s run by bandits). I want to start to think in other directions, about how we teach our ATMs to start with long before anyone gets to the trainings.

What would it be like to start to teach the Method on Day 1 as though it were a natural extension of processes we all already carry deep in the brain and nervous system? As though from Day 1 it were something people could understand and use for themselves and amongst themselves? As though the first day you do an ATM, you also invent an ATM and take yourself through it? So the Method belongs to the student from the first day of learning it, the way that you start to write your own name the first day you learn how to write letters, and go on writing more and more complex text to express yourself and explore the world without having to go to a training program and get certified in it first. Not because I think training programs aren’t necessary for practitioners! Of course they are. But because I think our students should from the beginning have a more mature relationship to the work.

This is the question that occupies me now. I’m working on a book that takes this approach, and looking at piloting the content in the fall in a different kind of Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class process…watch this website or sign up to the mailing list on the right for news.

(Weston says a lot of interesting and subtle things as his article progresses, about how entering deeply into the realm of self-care may after all take one to a different metaphysic than the mechanistic, though without the authority structures of esoteric or mainstream medicine, and I hope to return to the topic to write more about those thoughts soon. The question of the nature of expertise in practices of self-care is also a deep one in need of further reflection!)

Dominant leg?

Robert Schleip has an interesting discussion at his website, The Dominant Leg, summarizing an article by Simone Kosog in the science section of the ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin’ (1999) on the fact that we tend to walk in circles to the left, when bereft of external cues to orient us to a straight line.

From our experience with our hands/arms, we create a certain idea for ourselves of what it is to be right-handed, to have a certain dominant hand, to be “stronger” on one side. And if I’m right-handed, am I right-legged too?

But is one side stronger, faster, better–or do they specialize, and typically play different roles, each doing some things more skillfully than the other?

One night, during my Feldenkrais training, with some irritation in one shoulder, I decided to wash dishes “the other way”–to use my left hand to wipe the dishes. To my surprise, far less challenging that using my “weak” arm to wipe was using my “strong” arm to stabilize the dish being wiped. It became evident quite quickly that one side was not so much weaker than the other as it was accustomed to, and skilled in, doing certain activities.

The same is true for our “leggedness”. If you want to know which leg is stronger, ask what for first. To hold your weight? For most people, the left leg. To kick a ball? For most people the right leg. Yes, this will have expression in muscular development among other things down the line.

Moshe’s instruments for teaching included a long thin stick, about the height of a human being. If someone lies on the table and you hold such a stick over him or her, parallel to and above the centre-line of his/her face, you will probably find that the continuation of the centre-line of the face comes closer to one foot than the other: it orients over one leg. Usually the left leg. Usually, then, the left foot is more pointed to the ceiling than the right foot; the latter has its toes turned out more to the side.

The drawing here is obviously very rough, and it exaggerates the phenomenon I’m pointing to! [[I just redid the diagram in 2011: improved the spine, and the tilt of the head. And I did it opposite to what I’m describing–because my own organization produces a more fluid tilted circle and the rest if I’m drawing the stick figured organized in a mirror way to that in which I am organized.]]

If you ascertain which leg this person would find it easier to balance on–the answer is likely to be “the left.”

The right knee might be slightly bent as well, slightly turned to the outside and/or lifted minutely more away from the floor than the left.

Schleip summarizes Kosog’s explanation to say that the right leg is stronger, and therefore we take larger steps with it. And all that hard work of the hard-working strong right leg wears it down, making it shorter.

This is actually a very funny view of walking! Wouldn’t I in fact push off more strongly with my stronger leg–and so take longer steps when the weaker leg swings forwards? Moshe, quoting Mabel Todd quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, says “legs are spokes” in walking…you don’t reach forward with your leg when you bend it, grab the ground, and pull yourself forward; you swing it to come under yourself just as you pass over it and come onto its support under you. How far you move ahead to pass over it depends more on the leg pushing off from behind–how far that takes your whole body forward; your leg going forward only needs to manage to get far enough forward to be in the right place to receive the weight of your body.

So if the question is “stronger at doing what?”–then the usual pattern is that the right leg is stronger in bending (flexion) and more agile in manipulations in flexion, and the left leg is stronger in stabilizing and pushing off (extension). The right leg carries this preference for flexing into rest–hence it typically lies shorter when I lie on the ground. And you can see that with that configuration, you may well rather stand on your left leg (stronger at standing) and kick with your right leg (stronger at kicking). But not because you’re “right-legged.”

But is it really fundamentally about strength? According to what I just said, I should walk in circles to the right, not the left, without those external cues to help me correct the line, because my left leg will push me off more strongly.

The next level of explanation is to consider the extent to which we, in action, are orchestrating a symphony of inertial forces. Looked at from a certain perspective, we don’t so much act as manage our tendency to fall in this or that direction in the course of carrying out our intentions.

Walking exploits the capacity of ourselves in gravity to act as a spiral pendulum. Take this figure lying on the table with the plumb-line through the centre of his or her face and continuing closer to one foot than the other. Now see this image as vertical, and see the green line as the pivot around which the spiral pendulum turns. Remember that this pendulum involves not just the legs swinging in the hip joints–that’s just the last finesse of walking–but the whole spiralling movement of the spine from the base of the skull down. The left leg swings a very small amount (taking small steps); the right leg swings a lot (taking large steps). The tendency, then, is to drift to the left.

Other explanations or considerations?

Thanks to Eva Laser, Russ Hall, Michael Krugman and Paul Rubin for our lengthy “legs as spokes” discussion on Feldyforum in 2003!

learn one CMS; use one CMS

I discovered open source content management systems a year and a half ago when the IFF needed something along those lines. I put Kinesophics into the first one I learned, phpwcms, a fine system.

The IFF, however, needed something more flexible, and I entered a year and more of challenge with drupal. Even with some pro help, it was a lot of learning. If only Lullabot had started those podcasts a year earlier!

Once you’re dealing with one system, best to stick with it. They all have quirks; they all need upgrades for security reasons. I just spent a couple of days putting kinesophics into drupal.

Smooth sailing indeed compared to my first go round.

I’m not just re-doing the technical basis; I’m rethinking the organization of the content and the conceptualization of my teaching and research in Feldenkrais. The “blog” expands; I separate out now “classes & events” from “learn more,” which gathers together resources for anyone wanting to explore Feldenkrais further.

Thoughts on Feldenkrais a month shy of my 40th birthday

I was walking across the Halifax commons last night, on my way to teach an ATM class.

The imminent 40th birthday is on my mind these days.

The whole thing that got me into Feldenkrais began at the age of 30. A quick shift from elation (a completed dissertation, a postdoctoral research fellowship in Toronto) to pain, and pain that lasted and lasted. At around six months you pass a magic point where what was once tendinitis becomes something else: “chronic pain.” The experience and sensations are the same, but (some) health care practitioners start to label and treat you differently. Funny thing about medical diagnosis.

At the time I would go to family gatherings and find myself with my aunts and uncles, in their 70s and 80s, swapping stories about aches and pains and medications or miracle cures. That generation really seems to believe in sharing prescription medications. If “it” works for me, then “it” will work for what you have too!

I thought to myself, “this can’t go on.” If I’m like this at 30, and I have 30-40 more years of decline ahead of me, what will life be?

Feldenkrais slowly and insidiously broke this cultural belief that aging means bit by bit getting worse. Instead, for the past ten years, every year has brought more feelings of ease and comfort in my body. Every year I feel more flexible than I did the year before. More able to do what I want to do. Every year brings less pain, less struggle, less tension. More ability to move out of and past the inevitable stresses and strains of daily life.

Walking across the commons, reflecting on the immanent 40, remembering this moment at the age of 30 when I thought “it can’t go on like this” — I realized it hadn’t gone on like that. “Improvement is endless,” Moshe used to say. And so far, it is.