Category Archives: Body

A Happier Back

Yoga Triangle 2

Returned to yoga class today after month-long Feldenkrais Method teacher training. Our guide, Marina, invited us to focus on self-knowing. With each asana, she asked us to listen  to ourselves and to feel.

“What does this feel like?”

I discovered yoga before I started teaching fitness. Blessed with tight, well-used hip joints, yoga has never been an easy practice for me. Nor has it been regular. Over the past 25 years I’ve regularly and irregularly practiced. I hoped to maintain strength and flexibility for dance through a yoga practice. While I did find an occasional class that did not annoy my hips, more times than not I left in more pain usually lasting for several days.

I recognize that not every practice is for everyone. I also believe that yoga may just be the exception. (Except for dance, of course, which is also for everyone!) I have considered that finding a teacher who is a fit for me may also make a difference. It has.

Today’s class pace offered me a chance to explore myself within the asanas. Not just to create the “right” shape, but to feel into the shape and then feel around within that shape. To discover how that shape can be both “firm and relaxed” (Patanjali) and how it breathes. Today I connected to patience and the power of softening.

To both of the above, I credit my Feldenkrais practice.

Patience and the power of softening.

To be clear, when I say “softening” in this context I do not mean melting and being loosey-goosey. I mean finding where tension and muscular work are preventing me from going any further (in this case, a yoga pose or asana) – where working hard has become an obstacle. Then I find out if I can breathe a little in this place and at first I may not be able to bring an breath or space. This takes a little patience since I have been conditioned to “make” more space by using more muscular work, by force. This might give me some immediate gratification, but the next time I come to this or something like it I am facing the same challenge. Force gave me temporary space, but the second I left it, my body returned to the same tense state.

After leaving it and returning a few times (maybe over the course of several classes and without force), I noticed that there was something different. My triangle pose felt more stable through my legs and when I asked for rotation from my spine, I received it – more than in previous classes. At this point I had to wonder if I could ask for a little more rotation since this was comfortable and for once, my low back was not doing all the turning. I brought breath and thought about how long my spine was and instead of working harder for more twist, I relaxed my torso some and just asked if more twist/rotation was possible. (For a change, I decided that I would take “no” for an answer if more was not available to me today.)

The middle of my back responded by giving me another couple of inches.

Breathable inches. Inches that were not just for that asana and that class, but inches that I would be able to take with me and use, off the mat, when I needed them.

Who can’t use a more comfortably supple spine?

For backing out of your drive way or parking spot.

For turning to respond more easily and gracefully to your children.

For more efficient, whole-body running.

For more fluid walking.

For easier bending and straightening.

For a better coordinated tennis serve.

For a firm and relaxed triangle pose in yoga!

Yoga Triangle 1

The Feldenkrais Method gave me this approach – these tools.

That is what the Feldenkrais Method does:

it gives you tools so that you can

-do more of what you need to do

-do more of what you want to do

To explore how the Feldenkrais Method can help you do more of what you want to do, email me: MovementAlchemyHeals@gmail.com for class days and times. Group classes and one-on-one sessions available.

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Movement As Medicine

Awareness.

That word is everywhere. For myself I mention awareness in every class I share and I’ve been writing about it since this site went live.

We’re told it’s so important. It can takes us to higher levels of performance by creating a deeper relationship with our bodies. Through awareness we get to discover what our bodies enjoy; we get to uncover how we do what we do. Through awareness we can create, play and explore the pleasure and Joy of movement.

What happens when we connect to awareness and we don’t like what we find?

What if, instead of having fun, you want to cry? Instead of the Joy of Movement, you want to leave right now? What happens when awareness shows you a body that brings memories of shame? What if, when you connect to awareness you also connect to the “reality” that your body won’t do what you want it to – what it used to – what everybody else seems to have no trouble doing? What if certain moves cause you to feel alarmed and fearful?

What would happen if you cried in class? No flippancy here. Seriously. Letting oneself cry in public can be a very frightening thought. Are you in class with a group of people you know? Has a foundation been established for emotional expression? A conversation with the teacher will give you some insight as to how your expression may be handled. In a Nia class it is the class who creates the space and the teacher who is responsible for holding the space and every Nia teacher is going to hold the space in a way that is grounded for him or her.When you speak with your teacher, do you feel safe? If not, try another class.  Maybe there isn’t another class. If this is the class, you can give yourself a private moment by leaving the space until you feel more settled and then return.

What if you want to leave? Leave. Don’t leave the moment, though. Once you feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed, go back to that moment. Can you identify what it was that brought about your desire to leave? If you felt completely lost and frustrated that you weren’t “getting it” – you’re not alone. Not only has every teacher been where you are right now, there is a very good chance there is someone else who is or has had feelings very similar to the ones you’re experiencing.

Let me be absolutely clear: if you ever have an experience in class or anywhere that leaves you considering or with the desire to hurt yourself or someone else – get help immediately. If you don’t know how to get help, you can contact    the National Institute for Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov for information or the National Alliance on Mental Illness,  http://www.nami.org/ContentContentGroupsHelpline1Mental_Health_Professionals_Who_They_Are_and_How_to_Find_One.htm or 1800-950-6264 to find a professional to help you through.

 Nia was designed to do two things: guide you into fitness and encourage you to find your way into movement in order to arrive at fitness. This makes Nia a very personal practice; an individual practice within a community of individual practitioners. Nia accomplishes this in two ways: Form and Freedom.

What if, when you go back to class, you go with the intention of not trying out for the Olympics this afternoon or the San Francisco Ballet company later in the month! What if you go into class and leave the notion of “keeping up” at the door? Invite your mind to be curious about what’s giving you trouble. “Mmm, ok, I’m going to slow things down so that I can take a look at where I don’t have movement clarity.”

Like missing a word in a sentence can create confusion and misunderstanding in a conversation, a missing step or transition can create similar confusion and misunderstanding in your body. “Hey, how did they there get there?!” For myself, on more than one occasion in the middle of a class I’ve come to a complete stop to watch what the teacher was physically communicating. I was missing some foot work and I kept ending up in a different part of the room from the other students. Stopping was my way of re-booting my system. Instead of getting caught up in the confusion and becoming more and more frustrated, I came to stillness, giving my nervous system got a chance to regroup. Usually then I see what was missing and go on. There have also been times when my body didn’t know how to process what I was seeing into being able to do what I was seeing. Those times, I do my best and know that after a few repeats I’ll eventually learn it as it was shared or I’ll learn it in my body’s way.

In movement practice, the only “wrong” way to do it is if it hurts. Every body in motion will look different as they move – that’s the idea behind the nature of your body and your body’s way. Moving without judgment.  A movement practice is intended to reconnect your mind and your body so that you may have a balanced and sturdy foundation for emotional access and spirit expression.

This is movement medicine.

And there’s the fitness aspect. Some will seek movement practices in order to get fit and receive the gifts mentioned above or they will go after the gifts mentioned above and become fit.

We carry our history in our bodies. Everything we’ve been through has left something behind. Movement is a way of increasing circulation – the circulation of blood and the circulation of energy (a word later about if you ‘believe’ in energy or not). What this means is that when you move, muscles contract against and around blood vessels of all kinds and that helps to move blood and therefore oxygen throughout your body. When you experience an emotional response to an event, there is always a corresponding sensation and motion that occurs. That sick, sinking sensation that accompanies news you don’t want to hear. That fluttery sensation of “butterflies” when you’re about to give a speech or do something for the first time. Both of those sensations occur in your abdominal region. If you don’t move your abdominal region freely, you may not be moving those experiences and accompanying feelings and sensations through. Where am I going with all of this? If you feel the need to cry or to leave; if you suddenly feel anger – these are your emotions doing what they’re meant to do – they are telling you that something is going on. You may have moved a part of your body in a new way so that feelings and sensations are resurfacing on their way to diffusion. A concrete example: in the case of sexual abuse, the survivor may resist moving the pelvis as it brings the mind back to the event or events. If this individual begins to consciously move the pelvis, the feelings that may come up can be overwhelming. Neither blood nor energy was being moved freely and in a healthy way.  Sensation was stifled and energy backed up. When movement finally is initiated, the dam is broken down (a little at a time or all at once).

Movement is not all about physical accomplishment or physical accomplishment. Our bodies are designed to move. Discovering the movement that is fun, and brings pleasure, ease, and allows for a creative outlet is vital to creating overall balance. To be a competitive athlete is great but you are more than a competitive athlete. You are also a soulful artist, a lively and expressive communicator, a playful child.

Movement helps you to reconnect the competitive athlete with the soulful artist, the expressive communicator and the playful child.

When you connect to all parts of yourself, you connect with the world.

This is movement medicine.