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!