Doing the opposite or doing the same? Starting from the other end

Move your right shoulder forward. Now move your left hip forwards. (You can do this sitting in chair, or on the floor, or your back or side.)

Was that second movement the opposite of the first?

Or is it actually the same movement?

Let’s look at it very abstractly: think of the line of your spine, and imagine your shoulder girdle and your pelvis each as some kind of gear or steering wheel, perpendicular to the spine, that you turn to twist the spine. You can turn the top wheel left, and the bottom wheel right, and basically you’re introducing the same twist into the spine. You’re just doing it from the other end, and in the opposite direction.

Do the movements a few more times with that image superimposed on your experience, and see of you can sense the idea that you’re “winding up” the spine in the same way both times, but from opposite ends.

Now, you aren’t just a spine. You’re a whole torso with ribs and guts and muscles. So instead of just the line of the spine, you have something like a cylinder.

In every movement, you can attend to the line that lengthens or shortens across or along this cylinder. So take the line from your right shoulder to your left hip across the front of your body, and pay attention to that. Now take your right shoulder forwards. And take your left hip forwards.

Now we’re into the infinite variability of how each of us organizes him or herself for action. There are many options and variations we each do. But try this one: as you take your right shoulder forward, feel that the diagonal line to the left hip is shortening. And as you take your left hip forwards, feel that the diagonal line to your right shoulder is shortening.

Something similar happens with movements that are not twists on the vertical axis, but that are in one plane–bending forwards, sideways, backwards. Let’s approach the idea from another angle.

Sitting, tilt your head to the left. What way does that spine bend? Where does that cylinder lengthen and where shorten? Maybe you shorten all in the neck; maybe you shorten all down your left side. (And lengthen on the opposite side.)

Now lift your left shoulder. Maybe your spine bends or maybe it stays straight–but where does that cylinder lengthen and shorten? In the neck on the left it shortens–and maybe it lengthens in the torso on the left and in the neck on the right.

Now lift your left hip from the chair (but don’t let your head travel right–stay with your head directly above your pelvis). Where do you lengthen and shorten now? You shorten your left side, and lengthen your right.

Lifting your left hip, bending your head left, moving your shoulder–all these things can shorten your left side and lengthen your right side.

All fine and good. But so what?

In effect, you’ve now realized that you can do the same thing (the same “manipulation” in Feldenkrais’s terms) in different ways. The magic is that when you intend or receive the instruction to do it in different ways, your brain (surprisingly easy to fool) represents the movement differently. This is one method we use in Feldenkrais for bypassing familiar habits and creating new possibilities.

So you can take any movement you’re playing with in a lesson recorded on this site, and ask yourself how the spine twists or bends, or how the torso lengthens or shortens. And then imagine: how can I create that lengthening or shortening from the other end?

When you come back to the original conception of the movement, you find some of that Feldenkrais magic. You didn’t “stretch” in the classic sense, but suddenly your muscles lengthen much more. You didn’t “strengthen” anything in the classic sense, but suddenly your recruiting and coordinating that entire lengthening-shortening thing to make a much more powerful and easy movement. An example is the lesson [[Clock Hands]], but it occurs frequently in lessons, and you can do it with any movement you want to explore.