Awareness: an alternative approach to core strength and stability

Painful Sit-up
Many students say to me at their first private Functional Integration lesson something like “I know I need to strengthen my core.” (This is almost as common as “I know I have bad posture”). Sometimes they refer to their own experience, telling me that they feel weak, or that they tire easily, but more often their personal experience is simply that their back or neck hurts, and they heard from someone (often a skilled Physical Therapist or yoga teacher) that the pain in their back is due to weak “core” muscles.

When I help them feel what they’re actually doing, it usually turns out that they’re tightening those “core” abdominal muscles all the time. No wonder they feel weak! If a muscle is always engaged, it has less strength to engage further -- its potential is already in use. They would do better to learn to relax their muscles, engaging them only when they need to.

Why are my students doing this? Ultimately, I think it’s because they are not really aware of what they are doing. Read More...

Less is More


LESS:  effort, strain, pain, injury, stiffness, stress, suffering….

MORE:  ease, power, agility, creativity, flow, flexibility, pleasure, satisfaction…

These claims are made by Feldenkrais teachers (including myself), and teachers of pretty much any mindfulness-based approach to self-improvement. But how exactly is it supposed to happen?

Here’s how it works in the Feldenkrais Method®.

Less effort = more awareness

Imagine yourself at a train station, trying to hear someone speak while a train goes by. Now imagine that you are holding the same conversation by a quiet lake. Of course your nervous system will have a much easier time taking in your friend's words in the quieter environment.

The same holds true when the "noise" is your own effort, and the "words" you are attending to are the sensations in your body. Read More...

Walking and Wholeness

Note: I wrote this post yesterday, and didn’t upload it for technical reasons. As I write now, a drama is unfolding only a few miles away in Watertown, where several friends of mine live, and where I have my office for private lessons (I was supposed to be teaching there this morning). The post seems all the more relevant in its small way as my neighbors and I are asked — in some cases ordered — to stay at home while the authorities try to apprehend the suspects in Monday’s bombings and the further violence in the past 24 hours. I can feel in my body the sensation of being cooped-up from the outside, and also pulled inward by fear and anxiety. Thinking about walking, even if I can’t get out yet, helps me feel more free and alive.

walking meditation

This spring, the theme of my Feldenkrais workshops and weekly Awareness Through Movement classes will be walking and running. Sitting down to write about my teaching, I found myself uncomfortable at first talking (more specifically, advertising) about running so soon after a celebration of this human capacity turned to horror at the marathon on Monday. But then I realized that in the midst of this shattered moment, our responsibility — to ourselves and to the world around us — is to find wholeness. And that is, after all, what I teach.

There is something very wholesome about walking.


Dynamic Sitting: a Feldenkrais® look at posture

One of the most frequent requests I get in my private Functional Integration® lessons is for help with sitting. My students tell me they have trouble finding a comfortable position to sit in, or that they can't make it through a work day or meditation session without discomfort. They have lower back pain or RSI, hand pain, tight neck and shoulders... you get the idea. We all sit a lot, and we all face these challenges.
"I know I have terrible posture," they often say. Or else "I try to sit up straight, but I get tired," or "I keep reminding myself to sit up, but the next time I check, I'm slouching again." Often their idea of "good posture" is to stiffly pull the shoulders back and tighten their belly, which is usually counter-productive. They are coming to me to help them find a better way.
While private FI lessons are well-suited to addressing this sort of question, I thought it would be useful to spend some time exploring the topic of sitting in my classes and workshops. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that we will be looking for solutions to the problem that have to do with movement and awareness, rather than the usual approaches of proper alignment, ergonomics, and core strength.
We’re all pretty familiar with this problem:
Or, put another way:

We certainly did not evolve to be sitting creatures, especially not sitting in chairs and staring at a computer screen. Yet so many of us spend so much of our time doing just that, and most of us know that we don’t do it in an optimal way. We don’t need a physical therapist or a mom to tell us that our posture is all wrong, we can feel it in our aching backs and sore shoulders and necks. (That said, we may need a professional to point out to us that our so-called repetitive strain injuries are also linked to the way we work at our computers).

So, what’s the solution?