Erecting the head over the elbows

One reason I’m back in my old training program notes is that I recall a really important series of lessons we could call “sphinx” lessons that I can’t find in any other canonical source. (I don’t have the San Francisco training notes, so perhaps they’re from there.) I believe Marilupe Campero and Beatriz Walterspiel were teaching this module.

The developmental idea is that for babies, lifting the head over the elbows while lying face down and freeing the forearms for developing fine motor control of the hands is a key sequence for organizing the head, neck, and shoulders to support the hands.

Feldenkrais loved the word “erecting” for arriving at a clear vertical orientation. Whether or not he loved the sexual connotation of the word in English, I can’t say. But in the experience of the lessons, it has much more to do with upright, alert, balanced use of the skeleton in gravity, ready for action, than that connotation suggests. So in this lesson, erecting the head over the elbow is developmentally the first experience towards being a bipedal creature with a head poised on top of the spine, ready to see, react to, and act in the world around us. The idea of the head “erecting itself” reflects the deep reflexes involved in this orientation. (I had typed “uprightness” but the very mention of that word makes the idea more static and effortful than what our reflexes can achieve.)

Having this kind of idea in mind can really change the way that you experience the “movement” that the lessons develops.

This is the “first” lesson in that series. (The lesson before was side-lying, lifting the head sideways and the top leg, and drawing circles with one or the other or both, in various directions.)

Erecting the head over the elbows
M6 II.2.1

Face up; sense shoulder blades. (Ref.)

Side-lying, arms extended in front, knees and hips bent at 90 degrees (one leg on top of the other).

On L side.
– Slide R arm forward.
– Slide R arm backward.

On L side, also with top leg resting on floor in front of bottom leg. (Not clear in my notes what the sequence or development of leg positions was.)
– Slide R arm forward and backward, same distance in each direction.

On L side.
– Slide L arm forward. Can be tiny.

On L side.
– Slide L arm backward. Use R arm as support/help in any way you like.

On L side.
– Develop movement of sliding L arm backward farther. What happens to pelvis, legs, head? (Let legs straighten as you come onto the stomach.) At some point you can come up on the L elbow and the head stands (“erects itself”) over the elbow.

Do the other side. (Going through the variations.)

Go back and forth. Gradually it’s more a matter of erecting yourself over the elbow and less a matter of pushing with the palm of the supporting arm.


Nibbling on your arms

I’m going back through my (now very) old notebooks where we wrote down skeleton lessons during my Feldenkrais training program (Colima I, Mexico, with Stephen Rosenholtz as E.D. and Marilupe Campero as onsite organizer; Beatriz Walterspiel and Yvan Joly also taught). Partly this is because coronavirus has thrown us all back on our own resources for entertainment and self-care.

The first one I have for you is absolutely splendid for dealing with that rock-hard block we all carry around at the base of our necks. I think about this lesson often–odd that I didn’t go dig it out until now.

My lesson skeletons are very bare bones. (A little repetitious with the metaphor, I know.)

**If you haven’t done Feldenkrais before, you probably won’t make much of this outline. Go do a few lessons on my site or elsewhere from live recordings. These few short words are meant to be the skeleton of a 45-minute (or so) process!**

When you teach or explore them for yourselves, there’s a lot to fill in. But don’t fill in too much. The skeleton has just about everything you need!

I label a movement or position (in this case two) at the beginning as “Reference”. This is what you come back to when I put “Reference” on a line by itself later.

The statements with no dashes before them are positions to assume. The statements with dashes are movement instructions. A word with a question mark is  an indication of where to take awareness in an instruction.

If anything else isn’t clear, just let me know in the comments.

Nibbling your elbows

Face down, knees bent, feet to ceiling. Fingers almost touching over head.
– Feel and check—how is each foot oriented at rest? (Reference.)

Same position but legs long.
– Lift head/look up (reference).

Face looking R, L ear on floor.
– Move your head to take your nose towards crook of R elbow.
– Take back of head towards crook of L elbow.
– Alternate.

Face looking L, R ear on floor.
– Same, but when you take your head forwards, differentiate nose, forehead, and mouth to crook of R elbow.


Face looking R, L ear on floor. Toes standing.
– Push with R ft. Neck? Head?
– Same with L ft.

Face looking R, L ear on floor.
– Take chin along arm from elbow to shoulder.
– Lick and bite from shoulder to elbow.
– Try with toes standing. How can one or the other of your feet help?

Face looking R, L ear on floor.
– Lick and bite from wrist to elbow.
– Try with toes standing. How can one or the other of your feet help?
– Make the whole circle (shoulder to elbow to wrist and back). Do whatever helps with your legs.


From Colima I training, Module 3, week IV, day 4, 1st lesson.

I have a friendly suggestion I’d like to make about teaching in general. For scans in the rests (indicated by the double line break), focus on one or two really simple ideas that you expect students to get from the lesson or feel in the course of doing the lesson. Both match their curiosity and shape it. Don’t go all over the place with all the different awareness questions you ever heard or learned in Feldenkrais. I have a particular pet peeve about this.

And I have an even bigger pet peeve about this: always, always, except when you have a really good reason not to, leave a space between the last question you ask and the rest you give people.

Don’t say, “and what are you feeling in space between your ear and your shoulder and stretch out and rest now.” I cannot believe how often I hear that in recorded lessons. If you ask a question, give people time to feel your question before the rest.

End of lecture!


Teaching notes on Tilting Pelvis Sitting

I’m no longer practicing (as a practitioner); these days I’m doing lessons on-lineby myself and by others (and in person when I travel).

As I do the lessons, I like to write up a few notes about what I observe in my teaching and in my developing understanding of the lesson. Maybe these reflections are useful to people developing their own teaching.

This week I did Tilting Pelvis Sitting, a lesson I recorded in my last series before I stopped teaching. (It’s from San Francisco.)

A few things strike me on doing my own recorded lesson, and they have an effect on how I “tag” the lesson with the tags by which you can navigate to find lessons in the “tag cloud”.

One is that I like the way I go through the scan with a sense of curiosity, even though it’s a very familiar approach to the scan. At the same time, I think this scan could be more in tune with the actual progress of the lesson. For example, the lesson definitely for a spell engages the extensors, and what people might find through that portion of the lesson is that the arch behind their low backs gets higher and their heels/head press more heavily into the floor. Then the lesson balances this with actions in folding–and here the usual process of flattening and spreading on the floor happens.

Another thing I notice is that I preserve in my teaching something that whose significance didn’t strongly effect me experientially until doing the lesson this time through (after many times). That is, Moshe emphasizes in lessons like this that we feel how the ribs and elbow on the opposite side to the knee that is going towards the floor move away from one another.  So I mention this. I don’t place a great deal of emphasis on it. If I were teaching it today, I would emphasize it more. But still, with some subtlety, so that people can really discover it for themselves. But the movement of the elbow and ribs apart is the key to what I now see as the point of the lesson: that a certain involvement of the shoulder girdle (movement of the clavicle, direction of movement of the shoulder blade—and the freedom of both of these in relation to the ribcage and the neck) has everything to do with the precision to which one can form and enact the intention of taking the knees towards the floor. This is much more Moshe’s point than the local low back/knee relationship I mentioned when I posted the lesson.

I tend to tag lessons so you can find them–you would recognize this because you’re sitting and lying face up with the soles of your feet together. I tend not to tag them by the “expected result” or the “intention” because I think it takes a lot of interpretation to get to that point, and (separate point) people’s learning from a lesson can be very diverse, whatever the key intention Moshe had in designing the lesson.

When it comes to this intention/action point, I hear myself as I teach this lesson doing something that we all tend to do as teachers in our “California” style of teaching (if I may call it that), something that is quite different from Moshe’s style. I emphasize that it’s all right if the movement is mysterious to you and you’re not sure how to do it. You should just accept that and notice what you are doing.

Moshe wouldn’t say that: he’d harangue you. Not only can’t you take your knee to the floor, which any idiot ought to be able to do, you can’t even tell that you can’t do it–you’re making all sorts of distorted movements and pretending to yourself that what you’re doing is taking your knee to the floor, but you’re not. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t do what you want. Etc.

Now, many of us don’t adopt this style because we’re not personally comfortable delivering this kind of harangue. But we can evolve a style that captures a bit more of Moshe’s challenge and urgency than I have done here. You can say to people — look at that! Look at how hard it is to really tell if you’re doing what you think you’re doing! Who would have thought that would be so unclear? And then, the point of forming the intention and then being aware of what you actually do is that you evaluate that gap and learn from it, whether you do this consciously or not–your nervous system does this quite naturally and can be trusted to do it, unless you overwhelm it with willpower and force. That, and not some general belief in the self-esteem value of accepting yourself, stands behind the injunction that you should notice what you actually do and not rush past (end-gain as they call it in the Alexander Technique) your learning to the desired result.

And then there’s my repeated singular/plural problems  I display (we have two thighs, not one; the impression of your head into the floor is a phenomenon, not a phenomena). I hear that the latest research shows there’s one personality profile for people who are sensitive to spelling errors and another for people who are sensitive to grammatical errors…

EDIT: Addition!

I wrote the notes while a little sleepy last night. I left out the second half of the lesson in claiming what I do about the elbow and ribs. In the second half of the lesson, taking the knee towards the floor in flexion and then into rolling, you slide your hand under your legs in sitting–now you’re freeing the shoulder blade and clavicle from the neck and ribs in the opposite way. Note the different tilt of the shoulder blade: the upper angle and the lower angle–which goes towards or away from the spine in the way you take the knee to the floor in extension and in flexion? This supports the idea that the lesson is designed for this freedom of the shoulder girdle and its integration with the intention of the taking the knee to the floor, in the context now of a function as a whole–rolling.

Head and Pelvis

There are a lot of hidden gems in this very simple idea of lying on your back with standing legs and lifting your pelvis…give it a try and see if your back doesn’t get much longer and easier, your arms lighter and more free, your breathing deeper. Go easy to find those gems!

Based on London Transcript, Lesson 18:

Extensors with a twist

Probably the most neglected function in modern life is extension–lifting the head to look up, reaching up to touch something overhead. We live in an environment carefully designed to obviate the need ever to do this. And every day we forget more and more what geniuses we were to be able to use our spines to lift a huge head with a tiny weak body.

This is a snow-day lesson posted slightly out of order! It’s based on Esalen 2:

November-December 2011 Class: Turning on a Dime

Can you turn on a dime?

The kind of flexibility we learn in Feldenkrais isn’t so much about how wide you can open a joint or how far you can twist your spine. It’s more about how readily you can respond to your environment (inner and outer), and change course.

In this six-week series, we’ll refine our control around the central axis, manage and coordinate the masses of the pelvis and head, get a few nice twists in, kick out our heels (subtly), and learn how to turn on a dime.

  1. Turning heels out
  2. Turning heels and head
  3. Recording failed. Sorry! An outline of the lesson is on Feldy Notebook at this page
  4. From clarifying the hip to turning and lifting the head
  5. Twisting the Pelvis with a Long Arm
  6. Turning on a side axis

From clarifying the hips to turning and lifting the head

This lesson continues from the previous week (for which the recording unfortunately failed–you can find an outline at this page on Feldy Notebook).

We’re clarifying the hip joints and finding the magic path of the head in space for a effortless turning, extension and lifting of the head, somewhere in between side-lying and face down, and somewhere in between side-lying and face up.

Integrating Breathing and Action

This is the first of two lessons in the Integrating Life and Action workshop, March 2010. I keep talking in this lesson about how your breath “accommodates itself” to your actions and positions in the world. This strikes me as a little strange as I listen to it and do the lesson. Part of every moment of life is breathing and acting together–and you breathe differently at every moment, depending on your action and position. All that language that “your breathing” does something while “you act” reflects our sense that the latter is something we do while the former takes care of itself. But it’s all stuff we do, all together.

This is the first of a two-lesson workshop. The second lesson is Sphincters.