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.

What’s coming up for

I don’t want to get your hopes up with that headline. Here’s the news from kinesophics. I won’t go back to teaching ATMs this year, so there won’t be new recordings on the site. Sad, I know, but I’m going to concentrate on other things for the next few years, and I’ll be doing Feldenkrais more for my own well-being and development.

What I will do is this. On the kinesophics Facebook page at, I’ll post a link when I do a lesson from my own site or from another open source resource. And then I’ll include some comments, either about the process of doing the lesson, or my reflections on teaching the lesson. If you find it difficult to know where to start with the 100+ lessons on this site and available from other resources, you can follow along and just do whatever lesson I’ve posted. If you “like” the page and follow it, you’ll see when I’ve posted something.

If you’re teaching yourself, you might find the teaching reflections useful. I say this because I hear from quite a few people who are in trainings or recent graduates and who say they find my teaching clear. It’s far, far from perfect (whatever that would mean), and so I’d welcome anyone to join in on the Facebook posts as a venue for that kind of meta-reflection about the teaching–what you would have done the same or differently from what I did, for example. My day job is as an academic philosopher–I say that to indicate that I have a thick skin. You can like or dislike anything about my teaching–it’s all good discussion for learning, in my books!

I’ll get started posting my first today.

On legalities

This is a brief post to explain some changes on the site. I am no longer (as of 2015) maintaining my certification with the Feldenkrais Guild of North America. I no longer practice the requisite number of hours, and can’t make sense of paying several hundred dollars a year for the right to state the biographical fact that I attended and graduated from an “accredited” Feldenkrais practitioner training program and that the lessons I taught while I was a “Guild-Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner” remain, in fact, lessons taught while I was a GCFP.

All legalities have an aspect of arbitrariness about them. I don’t suppose that my understanding of the Method, what I have to say about it, or how I teach a lesson if I do teach one has magically changed. But this is true of all lines drawn in law–the age at which you are allowed to drive, or to drink, for example. I understand and have sympathy for why the various national associations need to be able to indicate to the public that they have minimally ensured that people who hold themselves up as practitioners to the public meet certain standards, and you should know that I no longer meet those. Those standards are minimal–a certain number of hours of practice, until recently a certain number of hours of advanced training (which I will continue to do anyway), and now a reflective competency-based practice of setting out your plans for professional improvement every year, which you report to the Guild on an honour basis. So that’s the standard I no longer fulfill.

The law on service marks and their use in commercial vs. non-commercial speech were not crafted for the digital era, I suppose, and I imagine there is no settled answer in law as to whether leaving on the web an archive of lessons I taught while a GCFP constitutes a forbidden commercial use of the service marks. I don’t think that if a practitioner who had written a book subsequently let their certification lapse they would have to recall copies of the book and use white-out to remove claims that they are practitioners. But that may be because it would not be feasible. Of course it would be feasible for me to remove these materials from the web. I don’t think the Feldenkrais community itself, who support the Guild with their fees, would consider it in their interest, judging by the number of practitioners who thank me for this resource when they meet me at advanced trainings.

I will try to remove any misleading indications that I’m still an active practitioner, and remove the donation option, and I hope that will be enough. I have made life easier for myself by still using “Feldenkrais” casually, although his last name alone is a service mark in Canada (it is not in the United States). It is difficult to defend a person’s simple name as a service mark, for a number of reasons. Other people have that name, not Moshe alone, for example.

New site

Kinesophics was powered by drupal from 2006 until yesterday. It was a long and wild ride, with much hair-pulling. The last problem — probably a security failure from an upgrade I’d put off — was unsolvable for me. So here you see a WordPress version of kinesophics, thanks to the wonderful sql commands shared by Underdog of Perfection, which let me migrate a lot of content. There’s still a lot up in the air, however. I must get the iTunes feed working again, and sort out some of the more complex menus and submenus and content types that I’d had. And I’ll try to migrate you all to a new newsletter plugin.

WordPress is so easy. I woke up happy knowing drupal was out of my life. Drupal is a fine program, for the right people and the right purpose. You can’t fault its impact — what’s the name of the drupal derivative that was so big in community mobilization leading up to Obama’s first victory? — but on a personal level, I have to admit that I forced the relationship long beyond the point where effort outpaced reward!

Some have already written me with observations about what features of the old site they miss the most. Please share that info, by the new contact form or the comments below. It will help guide me as to where to focus in repairing the migration to the new platform.

Analysis of AY 217, On the side, the sternum becoming flexible

Body and Mature BehaviorA fellow practitioner suggested to me reading Chapter 7 of Body and Mature Behavior alongside the lesson On the side, the sternum becoming flexible, while we were discussing it on Feldyforum (Feldenkrais practitioners’ mailing list). It’s a delightful lens for this lesson. Many ways over.

First he starts that chapter talking about creating stability between the chest and pelvis as a precondition of any action — “the stability of the whole body relative to the ground should be increased in the plane in which work is to be done.”

So I’m happy just to take that sentence and do the whole lesson again, filling in commentary for myself around that.

When this point was raised, we had been analyzing this lesson in terms of where we go into extension, flexion, side-bending, rotation. The reference movement is extension in rotation. Then we sidebend and flex in rotation. Then we extend further. Then we flex in a less extreme rotation. Then we come back to the extension and rotation of the reference movement. All well and good.

But this comment all by itself transforms all that flexion and extension and sidebending: we see it along the axis of an imaginary standing body working in a plane, and ask about the creation of stability in that plane. When I lift my head in all these configurations, I am still lifting my head in a plane along this axis (while the sagittal plane of the spine itself is twisted and folded–can one describe it that way?). This takes us from the “manipulation” (internal organization of the movement–see Vary the lesson: orientation, manipulation, timing) to the person acting in gravity.

But that’s not the best of it. The rest of the chapter…too much detail for me to assimilate, and too many images of animals being tortured on this nice Saturday morning. But a broad outline I see goes like this (I lose not just details but main themes in summarizing, but what I get is enough to learn something, so here it is)…

He surveys many layers of reflexes and other mechanisms relating to keeping the head upright (for the human, along the tight central axis–certainly the theme of this lesson)…from spinal reflex, to brain stem activity (which itself only gives chronic contraction of extensors), to inner ear (balance), to proprioceptive feedback from neck muscles twisted and bent, to external sensory information of pressure against the surface, to orientation around the teleceptors. To summarize that list (hierarchy?):

  1. spinal reflex (e.g. withdrawal of limb from heat)
  2. brainstem reflexes (antigravity–standing upright–chronic extensor contraction, without moderation from higher brain activity)
  3. vestibular/inner ear (the information that feeds the reflexes (or the preference?) to take head to vertical, be able to survey the environment with the eyes, etc)
  4. tonic neck reflexes (among other things, if not moderated, turning head to a given side results in extension of that limb; also, information from the twisted neck passes the news along to bring the rest of the body to support the head and undo its twist, to bring the pelvis under, therefore again freeing the head/neck for these purposes of perceiving and relating to the environment…)
  5. reflexes relating to exteroceptive sensations–the rabbit that doesn’t right itself though vestibular reflexes (its inner ear having been tortured in some way) will right itself just because of how it feels the floor.
  6. then the conscious control–a monkey without all that can right its head if it is focussed on something with its eyes…and a human by looking, by decision…

After reading this, I think of the position of this lesson less as a “constraint” and more as a freedom–the freedom of humans to be in any position (not a preferred posture to which we return by reflex like the bunny in the youtube below) and lift the head to the horizon as organized by the teleceptors
and our conscious intention.

(This is an important point in itself. “Amongst ourselves” as practitioners we talk of positions in the lessons as “constraints”. You hear that language a lot on the Open ATM Project. I tend not to use it while teaching–it gives the wrong feeling. Yes, the position invites and even compels a certain organization of the movement, and finding and exploiting such positions is part of the genius of the method. But call it a “constraint” and the students will start acting constrained, rather than freed. You can go through this lesson and think about how the “constraint” makes you do certain particular things along the spine. Or you can think that we are exploiting the enormous freedom of the human skeleton to do all this.)

But back to motor control and reflexes. With this list in mind, now the lesson is just one gigantic complicated mess of layers of neurological control. As Moshe says, something has to determine, from that mass of input, what actual action will take place. This is integration.

The rabbit reflexes he describes on p. 61 are here on youtube…

The rabbit doesn’t quite cooperate with extending the forelimbs (maybe they aren’t isolating the movement in the neck enough?). And they don’t quite seem to have success getting it to lie on the side with pressure from both sides.

Now, having read this chapter, particularly this sentence (p. 62)…

“When the head has been righted and the body held in a lateral position, the neck is twisted. [I.e. the position of 217.] The proprioceptive nerve organs in the neck muscles, joints and tendons are stimulated and the thorax rights itself so as to untwist the head. The twist is now displaced to the lumbar joints, and the pelvis is righted as well by the proprioceptive stimulation arising from the lumbar region.”

“We see here the neck and lumbar-righting reflexes acting so that the body stands properly and follows the movements of the head.”

…I go back to the lesson and find it a symphony of actions addressing the lumbar spine and pelvis (as he suggests in 1a it will–“you will see that it does something very good to the whole body, to the pelvis and to the hips, and not just to the chest”)!

And I find the position of 3 and 4 (where you place the top leg above and in front of lower leg on floor) not so much something that undoes the twist and backs off the challenge, making it easier, but something that inhibits passing the extension down the spine to the lumbar joints and pelvis, actually something that makes it more challenging. It primes me to make that connection when I go back to having the top leg resting on the bottom. (This is a common technique we use: lifting your head is easier if the pelvis helps. Rather than telling you that directly, we take the pelvis help away and then give it back: voila, you discover it yourself.)

So the lesson plays not “just” on the biomechanical, but on the neurological connections…

The “popping” of the head to turn further when we turn the sternum by our fingers (5b and 7) shows us the purpose of this neurological connection that passes the twist down the spine to undo the neck: the freedom of the head and neck is regained.

Somehow now this all feels like a preparation to use the arm to turn further and lift the head in 8c and 9a….until the twist is passed down the spine and the lumbar spine (hips) are involved, the arm/shoulders aren’t free to help the head go further into this twist/extension.

And then in 10, we push the sternum down and flatten the ribcage…we moderate the attitudinal interference with righting the head, the anxiety pattern of contracted abdominal muscles.

The whole conversation had started with analyzing the lesson as the acts of a play. So to sum the lesson up that way, here it is:

So now I’m experiencing the acts and scenes of 217 as all about addressing the abdominals/lumbar spine (the flexibility of the sternum is not only relative to the spine, as important as that is, but relative to the pelvis) of the person who wants to lift their head to the vertical around their axis, to see and be free.

So Act I Scene 1 gives the challenge (1 & 2). Can you look back over your shoulder and bring your head into the vertical, while lying on your side? The hidden key (the neurological relation to the pelvis, as the proprioceptive input from the neck’s twist makes you want to bring your pelvis underneath/undo the twist from below) is in the background.

Act II Scene 1 (3 & 4): Completely remove the hidden key from the scene (the pelvis fixed with the top leg on the floor in front: the reflex is more or less blocked now). We haven’t given up the attempt at the challenge, but is now more in the wilderness than ever. Because being in the wilderness creates the opportunity for the realization of what is truly essential.

Scene 2 (5 & 6/7): The opposite organization: to lift the head to look to the extended arm, is a big abdominal organization and differentiation. Big differentiation because the obliques that would pull the trunk in one direction must completely stop (to let the sternum slide away) and the other obliques must completely work (to lift the head to look towards the outstretched hand). Here addressing the “attitudinal” layer: the chronic misuse of the abdominals. Having discovered the essential, we make use of it for something completely different, and clarify and differentiate. This is lateral flexion, not in the big sidebending sense (after all, the instruction is to take the ear to the shoulder, not to take the whole shoulder girdle to the side, and sidebend the ribcage, as we will see in 218), but in the sense of lengthening the muscles on one side of the abdomen while using the others–but in flexion in a twist, not in side-bending.

Scene 3 (8 & 9): Returning to the challenge, and now helping with the hand–the greater turning of the shoulders and the sternum sliding up related directly to letting the abdomen protrude.

Act III: Scene 1 (10): Cleaning up the attitudinal layer and coming closer to the heart, the centre, the axis: going with the pattern by sliding the sternum down. This addresses more the rectus abdominus, it gets more central: we do both sides in one “step,” just turning the legs from one side to the other. A lateral flex/twist that is closer to the midline than in Act II.

By “attitudinal layer,” I mean the body pattern of contracting the flexors, related to anxiety. See Anxiety as fear of falling.

Scene 2 (10 c & 11) And return to the challenge. Now you really are able to “strain the back” to lift the head with the abdomen coming forward. The hidden key is clear and available.

Another option for learning: perhaps at the beginning, one has no flexibility in the ribs and completely over-recruits the lumbar spine to lift the head, via this reflex. The lesson will also work for that person, creating many new possibilities in the ribcage to distribute the movement all along the spine.

Amherst, Year 2, Tape #31

These are my notes of an ATM lesson in year 2 of the Amherst training program. This is the lesson of rolling from side-lying in the fetal position to face-up, arms and legs extended. This lesson is taught in the days that Moshe is introducing FI to the Amherst students.

On July 2,1981 (#31), Moshe begins to introduce FI to the Amherst trainees. He is silent for a long time at the opening of class. After a joke about the hard work of yesterday’s lessons walking on the buttocks, he comments “I don’t know how to plunge into that thing of getting so many of you doing Functional Integration.” One row lies and the row behind sits over their heads, and he has us begin to explore rolling heads. [I’ll use “us” throughout to capture the experience of following the tapes.] In an atmosphere of calm and patience, he gives us a long time to feel the experience of rolling our partners’ heads, and the partners to experience having their heads rolled.

In the previous week we’ve seen and discussed videos of Moshe doing FI with Raesa, a child with CP (June 29-30, #26-7), and Elizabeth (June 30, #28), a child born with brain damage such that she could not even lift her head when she came. Discussion often centers on the question, what is missing for the student so that she can bring her intention into action? Sometimes it’s what we would classically think that we teach in Feldenkrais—how to be able to turn the pelvis when using the feet on the ground (for Raesa). Sometimes it’s the deeper issue of the student’s sense of her own power. Elizabeth has everything Moshe can give her to be able to walk; she doesn’t walk because she’s learned that there is a strategy safer than personal risk—getting help from her father.

At the end of this first head-rolling session, he comments on a person lying on the floor—comparing the space behind left and right knees. He brings the skeleton to the table, to show the contribution of the skeleton itself to the way the knees rest on (or away from) the floor. Moshe teaches in paradoxes: This is the famous moment when he sits the skeleton, showing that the skeleton itself can provide a completely stable sitting “posture”. At the same time, he makes the point that this stability of the skeleton is death. Life is risk, instability, movement: That’s what the muscles are for. He says his next book will be called “The skeleton and the future of consciousness.” Your skeleton will survive your soul—it will exist long after you are gone. (Moshe puts his shoulder around the skeleton and leans on it as though it’s a good, reliable friend.) At the same time, in what sense does it “survive”? It exists, that is all. Is it “alive”?

And he comments about these paradoxes that you learn from what makes you think. Understanding comes from questioning, from not being complacent about the relationship of words to thought.
The person whose knees we were noticing comes to lie on the table. Unless you have skeleton consciousness, you will not understand why the one knee is further from the table than the other, Moshe tells us. He comments on many features of how the person is lying on the table, introducing some of the many landmarks we look for, that indicate to us the unequal tonus the person brings the table from his habitual manner of standing in gravity. The midline of the face pointing to one foot. The angle of the eyes that would rest on the horizon in standing. The midline of the legs and whether the head is to the left or right of that. The tilt of the head relative to the shoulders. The direction of the feet. The person on the table is more organized to stand on the right leg; there is more space behind the left knee.

Suppose that medicine wants the leg to lie flat: they cut the muscles attachments, or push the knee with force (i.e. apply force in a direction that would break the leg). He seems to be referring to the surgery that Raesa underwent, cutting her Achilles tendon, and the question someone had asked about what pushing from the knee did to allow her previously contracted leg to lie long. You have to look at how the whole skeleton is organized such that the knee rests likethat; and you have to change not just the muscles (with reference now to Elizabeth’s FI), but create a change in a system that makes its own choices, manifests its intentions in action. And the idea of supporting the skeleton in its current configuration is important here.

After a break, he leads an ATM beautifully shaped to the questions he has raised in this first FI session. What would enable the knee (and similarly the elbow of an arm stretched overhead) to lie flat? The ATM is one we’re all familiar with, rolling from the fetal position lying on the (right) side to the back, arms outstretched overhead and legs outstretched, a smooth reversible movement. I’ll go through the ATM with the assumption that basically it’s familiar to you, and mention what he highlights.

He begins us in side-lying with the movement of the left arm sliding overhead on the floor, feeling where the arm (the elbow) wants to stop lengthening, feeling where the chest and head want to start to turn. Then we explore the movement of the leg lengthening down, feeling the pelvis participate, and adding a movement of very slightly lifting the head (1/10”). Combining the movements brings the discovery of what in the middle co-ordinates and leads the movement of the whole left side lengthening and turning back. Then each movement is done alone again, to sharpen awareness of where the “two” movements meet in the core. Then the focus comes to be on the moment where the arm and leg are partially lengthened, still bent, and a slight roll of the middle backwards, shoulder and pelvis turning simultaneously, allows the arm and leg to straighten further, in a completely passive fashion. Slowly more and more of the Amherst students are rolling with simplicity and ease all the way to the back.

From the back he has the students shorten the right side, arm and leg bent halfway to where they were in the original position on the side. Then slowly, slowly, in 50 movements, a lengthening of the left arm and leg, and then folding of everything together brings us back to our sides. Only you can feel where you need to stop and go back and begin again, he tells us; only by feeling the whole left side and its length can you roll with simplicity and ease to the side. We spend some time leading with the arm and chest; some time leading with the pelvis and leg, to clarify timing. Then rolling with everything together: the whole side moves together in a thousand bits, the rate of contraction the same for everything. (The tonus therefore equalized.)

Starting from the right side again, he develops the movement, bringing awareness to the knee moving away from the elbow, the ankle from the wrist, the toes from the fingers, the movement of the head at a crucial point. If at any point there is an exertion in the movement, he says, stop there and swallow saliva.
(See AY #17.)

How do the knee and elbow lie now? When we come to stand and walk he assures us that the brain is smart enough to make the side that feels worse come to match the side that now feels better, rather than vice versa. That afternoon (tape #32 PM2), he teaches the other side, and mentions at some point that in this place, half-turned from side to back, you will learn things about what it is to be standing vertically that you could never learn in any other way.

This will make clear to us many of the things we do in FI and why we do them, he says. And what trapeze artists need to do as they jump high to catch hold of a trapeze.

Commentary on AY 177: Making the spine flexible and integrating it

In Chapter 13 of The Potent Self (“The means at our disposal”) and a similar passage in Body and Mature Behaviour (in the chapter “Tonic adjustment”), Moshe discusses the question: how do we effect change in deeply held patterns of action? The deep unity of body and mind seems an impediment to change, from an empiricist perspective: I can only think what I have already experienced, and so cannot even imagine the change I have to make.

But this paradox is dissolved by “active learning.” By “forming new patterns of body configuration” we create new experiences; as we integrate the relevant sensory perception and muscular activity, we create new possibilities for action, and ones that (because they are learned experientially and not intellectually, body up and not head down) are readily available in real-world, real-time action. This is unlike the conscious creation of new habits: if I repeat a new pattern (“draw shoulder blade back and down as I lift arm”) by conscious rehearsal, I lose the action when I cannot talk myself through it. (Or I do succeed in making it subconscious, but it becomes an entirely “stupid” subconscious habit, invoked at the slightest stimulus, whether I want it or not.)

This process Moshe is proposing can shift those habits that are subconscious in the sense of being so omnipresent that we are unaware of them: for example, the habit of clenching the jaw that we don’t even feel until it stops. And it can also change habits that are subconscious in the sense that they belong to our vegetative functions: for example, the way the bronchi contract spasmodically for an asthmatic. For the latter, a more indirect approach is necessary.

But here is a barrier: in order to usefully derive new sensations from these new body configurations created by the lesson, the person must start as far as possible from their habitual self-use. And this is especially true of that ground of action in the world that is the state of the extensors–the postural muscles that keep us upright (sitting, standing) as we act.

So lowering the effort of the extensors is an essential first step to the work. We do this by doing so much of our work lying down. But we can also start with certain lessons that address directly and mitigate the chronic contraction of the neck and lumbar spine extensors. In these two passages of his books, he describes the simple act of lying on your back, knees bent and feet standing, arms alongside, and head lifted to the vertical. The engagement of the flexors will (by inhibition of antagonist muscles) lengthen the extensors of the neck and lumbar regions. In the books he describes the process in detail (pp. 120-126 of Body and Mature Behaviour, and Pp. 135-144 of The Potent self, if you have the books or can see these pages on Google Books).

I was a little puzzled in reading these because there is no ATM quite like this. But on further reflection, I do see that the training program I took placed a strong emphasis in the first two weeks on similar lessons, though lifting the head with the help of the arms–but progressing, as the description of “The Potent Self” passage recommends, to rolling up to sit through the sagittal plane.

So what does this have to do with AY 177, Making the spine flexible and integrating it? Moshe notes in these two books that if you have problems in the neck or are too contracted in the extensors, you will not be able to bring your head to the vertical and use your spine properly to support your head, so you will suffer instead of feeling relief through this.

So 177 seems to me a very ingenious mild form of what is recommended in The Potent Self and Body and Mature Behaviour. These passages emphasize using the flexor muscles as antigravity muscles (reversing the roles of the neck flexors and extensors); without going all the way to using the flexors to hold the head upright, we turn face down and use the flexors to lift the spine and draw the head along the floor, also an anti-gravitational use of the flexors.

If you would like to continue with this theme, as recommended by the books, Check out Rolling to Sit, Part 1, Rolling to Sit, Part 2, and Pelvis and Neck.

Meanwhile, stay tuned, and I’ll attempt a blow-by-blow analysis of 177.

Feldenkrais as a business

I made the attached simple spreadsheet as a tool for people who (like me ten+ years ago when I did a Feldenkrais training) need some tools to think practically about whether Feldenkrais can support them as a business.

The pre-filled numbers may represent what it takes 2 or so years to get to: 3 weekly classes with 5 students for ATM, and 5 average FIs per week.

Your reference point for filling it in should be what you see around you in the local market. What do yoga teachers charge for classes? What do MTs charge, and what can you charge, given the likely lack of insurance coverage? How many FIs do your fellow FPs give on average, honestly?

If you don’t want to think of “making back” your investment in training, take that number out. If you don’t want to attend advanced trainings, or they happen locally so you don’t have to travel, take that number out or lower it.

When you do the numbers, you see why it’s primarily a home/basement studio business, or second income on top of a secure spouse or early retirement payout (or a trust fund). You can also make the choice to live a somewhat monastic life in the service of pursuing your interests and helping people. That might sound romantic, but living monastically is also living one accident away from homelessness.

This spreadsheet is limited–you may have a space and rent it out to others when you’re not teaching, and this could be a major income source (or even the major source). You may start developing and marketing books and recordings.

We don’t need to kick ourselves over the challenges here–a Yoga studio is also a hard business to run successfully, and it has going for it that it’s what everyone’s doing. Think of this spreadsheet as your business’s ATM–try out variations. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be as realistic about money as we are about the role of the mass of the pelvis in organizing action. When you know what you’re doing…