Feldenkrais Press

A Method for Better Living in A Daunting New World
Who Am I?
Feldenkrais Impacts Self Image in Multiple Ways...
How You Treat Yourself Is Significant
January 19, 2022|News
By Margot Schaal, GCFP and Assistant Trainer
Ultimately, how we treat ourselves says everything about what our self-image is. Am I as kind to myself as I am to my neighbor, or a stranger on the street, to my clients or even my grand/child?
A client who showed up curved forward in her upper torso, wanting to “stand up straight” for her daughter’s wedding, had a sad, almost sour, facial expression. She ran a business and carried the work of family gatherings. Would she be a primary organizer of the upcoming wedding – oh, yes. After a few sessions, the Feldenkrais® office clerk noted – “she is smiling now.” Yes. As this client developed greater sensitivity to herself and became more upright, her habitually drawn down face shifted into softness, fullness with a more ready expression. Without mentioning this, she had begun to alter her self-image.

Why do you think that there is a lot in the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education that we don’t mention in classes and individual sessions? I believe it is because Self-discovery is the most powerful path of understanding, and this supports a healthy Self-image. You know how special the “light-bulb” feeling is – you get this, you get you, in a new way, and it is your discovery. You have a direct experience of your innate intelligence. A student was shocked after his first ATM® lesson. “I’m sixty years old and I learned something new about myself!” Even after decades of learning through this method, we practitioners continue to experience light bulb events. It is delightful in the moment; it deepens our experience and our self-understanding. This work/play is another opportunity to refine and evolve our own self-image.

The difference in your perception of yourself before a lesson and after the initial scan is already a shift in this image of yourself. You observe yourself differently, thus you are different. The self-image is not static, it is changing continually. You may even feel it change throughout the day. You present (and feel) a given way when working, another way in the grocery store, or with a family member, or at the ocean or mountains. What happens when you are with a friend? Right – which friend? Notice how you are different depending on the individual or group present. Self-image involves our response to our environment, including the people we associate with. Have you experienced another’s expectation of you when you’re about to meet someone you haven’t seen for a while, that you are the you you used to be – but you are not that person now?

As Feldenkrais Practitioners we see each client and student beyond their pain or current challenge. Our “other’s image” of them is that of being whole, and healthy. Working together they get to know their own wholeness. I share a sample of this through Functional Integration® lessons with one client.

Thomas was full grown, of sturdy frame, a bit chunky, and spoke in a high-pitched voice. He worked steadily at his craft and was probably very good at it. There was a jolly ease about him in spite of the childlike demeanor; his way of being off-handed had a flirtatious air. He also expressed through rounded shoulders, head forward of spine. And no lordotic curve. While walking Thomas made parasitic movements of his mouth.

Thomas, who worked sitting at a computer for long hours, had back pain. As we worked in walking and lying it was evident that his left pelvic girdle did not allow the fluid movement of the right side. And his sensation of himself was in opposition to his organization. For example, he stood with more weight through his right leg and on his right foot, yet he felt there was more weight on his left foot. His sensory image contradicted his presentation, even though it corroborated with the excessive muscular contractions. Working with his patterns of muscular contraction, and the relationship of the bones of his legs, he sensed improved balance while walking.

Between sessions he was able to sense himself more and make gradual improvement. When Thomas arrived in a t-shirt declaring “BOY” in large letters, this affect and self-image stared me in the face.

As we brought more movement into his pelvis in sitting, reaching and bending, the distribution of effort shifted from his ribs, became more even through his torso and engaged his pelvis for movement that connected his upper and lower body…and sitting became more comfortable.

Unsurprisingly, additional discomforts were revealed with time, such as an extreme popping in his jaw. We addressed this in various ways, including relating his eyes and feet. Having rapidly developed his sensory capacities, Thomas experienced a period of not knowing how he felt different.

On his own he became aware of his way of carrying his head forward. He could do and he could not do it; he appreciated the difference, and the relief of his head resting over the spine. We worked with a variety of pecking actions which include the spine, with reducing shoulder tension, and he often left walking with more command in his step.

While we did not discuss “self-image,” his was changing. He had some days without pain and so decided to reduce the frequency of acupuncture sessions, which had been bi-weekly.

Thomas’ ability to sense himself grew, as the pain reduced. While he sat more upright, head above pelvis and a curve in his lower back, he felt changes through his shoulders and chest.
Nonetheless, he continued to walk with small steps. The boots on his feet belied the character of the action. So we incorporated the boots into lessons – he sensed his body and seemed to like himself more and more.

After working with his diaphragm and sacrum, when sitting supported through his skeleton, Tomas perceived this as “sitting more properly.” How vital our understanding of a client is through their choice of words. Proper is an indication of correctness. (How does that relate to claiming one’s 30-something self to be a boy?). Paradoxically, language is also flexible – when I worked for a residence of retirees where the average age was 84, I was half that age and fully accepted the residents addressing me as a “girl.”

Tomas developed optimism. “It’s getting better. The symptoms begin but don’t get to a high level. When they begin, I can go to sleep and wake up without them.” He did practices I provided often, and it “felt good.” Once he experienced the skeletal connections through his own body, we discussed the relationship of his lower back and pelvis to his upper back and neck. Remember Moshe’s dictum – experience before theory.

We also talked about Thomas’ life goals and the changes in them he has made through this learning/experience of himself. While I saw the changes in self-image, he felt the changes in himself and made new decisions about what mattered to him and how he would direct his life. Thomas was maturing, he expanded himself and his vision. He no longer had extreme “bad” pain when leaving work after too many hours, though sometimes he had a low level of pain.

He knew he was sitting more upright. All movement was easier. Walking with all of himself connected he declared “It’s like all of me is a little pushed up.” His pelvic movements were nearly even on the right and left sides.

Two months into our work, I noted that he looked good. What could that mean? Happy, healthy, in possession of himself. Again, I examined and experimented with the relationship between his pelvis and jaw. He learned about diagonal use of himself, many ways his shoulders could move, and the release of his thoracic and cervical spine. Over the past few months, Thomas gradually minimized his parasitic mouth action while walking.

When he declared he didn’t have back pain it was like a graduation.

Then Thomas returned after vacation at home with family where – guess what happened? Yes. He had severe pain. He spent time in the pool to aid his movement.

And he decided to exercise again.

During what may be our last session, while Thomas was walking I had him add a sucking movement of his lips. In the conclusion that is not conclusive, he stated “I feel great!”

Knowing there are a multitude of ways to help Thomas continue improvements, I encouraged him to proceed through ATM®, keeping the door open for Functional Integration. He returned a couple more times. Then declared “I’m going to see if I can be more independent.”

Published in SenseAbility January 19, 2022 
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Articles by Gabrielle Pullen, MFA, GCFP, LMT
Teaching People To Feel Better in Body, Mind & Spirit Since 1997

Practitioner/Trainer Spotlight: Denis Leri
Thriving in Any Circumstance
Within each and every lesson is a potential. It sets you up fo that you could have an insight into how to act, or how not to act. Then, with that insight into your own thinking and emotions, you can act out of a more productive space. If you are just acting or reacting to an experience, you are going to get more of the same.
April 21, 2009|News
By Gabrielle Pullen, MFA, GCFP, LMT

Practitioner and Trainer Dennis Leri (1945–2016) was a mentor and an amazing Educational Director for Feldenkrais® Training Programs in Denver and Berkely. He apprenticed with Moshe at the Feldenkrais Institute in Tel-Aviv, Israel and has been teaching the Method for nearly 30 years.

SA: What is this Method really about for you?

DL: The process of Functional Integration® and Awareness Through Movement® brings us into our human-ness by helping us understand how we function and learn. Feldenkrais would often say that the benefits most people experience are really trivial relative to what a person could experience.

For most of us, all the usual benefits; things like more ease in movement, less pain, gracefulness, a feeling of grounded-ness– are actually not trivial at all. Yet, we have to look at what he meant by that. If greater ease is merely a collateral benefit of the Feldenkrais process, then what?

SA: What other kinds of benefits was he referring to?

DL: When Feldenkrais was in Israel and just thinking about doing the Amherst Training - beforehand - he told Mark Reese and I that he was looking for people who were failures in life. And when we said, what do you mean? He said he wanted people who had been successful at one thing or another, but have failed to really find themselves. He said he wanted people who have had the success to find a profession, but for whom that just wasn’t enough.

I feel that for those people, there is something more in the Method that they connect with than the immediate benefits. Almost everybody who comes to a class connects with greater ease and comfort in the body, but for some, there is a sense that they might find more if they continue, and often those people become practitioners…

SA: So, you’re framing Awareness Through Movement as a self-directed search for self-knowledge?

DL: Yes.

SA: Our current social environment seems to actively discourage people from self-enquiry. Is that a problem for people trying to connect with the work?

DL: I think basically all social environments have always worked against individuals in a certain sense. There are many ways people have coped with that throughout the ages. For example, a person could adopt a sort of hermit’s perspective, putting yourself outside of society or in your own little world and decide for yourself what the meaning of everything is. Or, you could make your decisions about things according to the state, or to a religion, or, subject to fashion and fads, such as Twitter, and that’s who you are. And then, there’s a tradition of real enquiry. This is something you do with other people because you want people to bounce off of, it deepens your enquiry. It gives you a system of checks and balances on your own illusions and delusions.

SA: Let’s relate this to something that is a universal experience. In the current state of the economy, for example, many people are out of a job. I know several that have been unemployed for longer than a year, fixated upon a certain kind of job opening. For people in between jobs like that, it seems this could be really helpful. They are basically at an impasse anyway, and the question is, ‘Now what? Why am I here?’

DL: Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration lessons are both like a laboratory situation where you are looking at the components of an action. When I say ‘action,’ I don’t mean movement. I mean when somebody acts using their intellect, their emotions, and their sensations, as well as movement. When we examine that, we experience when and where we are deficient, and how we have resources we didn’t know we had. This is all within each and every lesson. The lesson sets it up so that you could have an insight into how to act, or how not to act. Then, with that insight into your own thinking and emotions, you can act out of a more productive space. If you are just acting or reacting to an experience, you are going to get more of the same.

SA: Could you give an example out of your own experience?

DL: Well, in my study of martial arts, I would see people stretching or doing their ritual before they warm up. I noticed that people who had been stretching for years didn’t get one iota more flexible. So, for myself, before and after class, I would do bits of Feldenkrais lessons that I knew worked for me. Then, when I went in, it would just give me more ease of doing and it made me more amenable to a learning situation. The other way, when you are stretching, you are working against yourself and that attitude carries over into the learning situation.

SA: Why could stretching be a problem?

DL: It’s a problem for several reasons. It’s a problem because it’s an idea that they’ve been told. They have an idea that it’s good to stretch so they do. But the physiology of it is that it’s like working against what your nervous system is trying to tell you. There’s something called the stretch reflex. Stretching activates this and actually excites the nervous system to shorten the muscle and act against what you want to be doing. You can actually lose rather than gain flexibility. That’s a physiological fact. But the psychological fact is that you feel that you’re not good enough to do what you are doing or that you can only get good enough with pain. ‘No pain, no gain.’ That’s unnecessary. We know that. That’s a fact.

SA: How do you think this idea of self-enquiry came up for Feldenkrais, in his life?

DL: When Mark Reese was doing the biography of Feldenkrais, people would always ask when the work came together into the Feldenkrais Method® as we know it. And so Mark realized that from the very earliest stories of his life, Feldenkrais recognized that there was a difference between what was possible and what he was being told. He always preferred to find out for himself what was actually true, based on his own insights.

SA: He was very interested in his own authentic answers, and not taking answers from outside authority figures.

DL: Yes, he would put himself in the hands of people, like his Judo teacher or his math teacher, where they had the capacity to train him. But he gravitated towards the best ones who would bring it out of him, not impose it on him. And then he did the same thing. In Palestine, he had a friend who had a son who was not interested in school. All he wanted to do was play soccer all the time and Feldenkrais was a very accomplished soccer player. So, when his friend said, ‘Can you teach my son mathematics?’ Feldenkrais said, ‘Sure.” And what he did was he took the kid out to play soccer. Then he had him notice the difference. ‘See what happens when I kick the ball like this, how it goes over there? But when I kick it like that it goes a different way? Why do you think that is?’ Then he began to talk about trajectories and force and the kid got very interested because he wanted to get better. Eventually the kid began to get interested in math and physics through playing soccer.

You want to work with where somebody is, discover where their interest is, and graft onto that. You don’t want to impose your ideas on them.

SA: In the last article you wrote for The Feldenkrais Journal, you wrote about the ‘breakdown of will.’ What do you see as the relationship between will and integration?

DL: The article is about the breakdown of will as conveyed by the ancient Greek word, ‘akrasia’ which means ‘bad mixture.’ It comes out of the notion that there has to be some sort of harmony within, between the various parts of ourselves. So, for example, when something breaks down, there has to be a reason for it. Throughout time, there have been many different lineages that have decided there are parts of people. There’s the intellectual part, or the movement part, or the emotional part. The idea is that a harmonious use of the self allows for the resiliency in all aspects of your life to absorb a shock or a breakdown and be able to carry on or even thrive when other people might be debilitated or just loose hope.

With akrasia, it just means that when you are confronted with a situation such as a desire to not drink, or eat chocolate, but you end up doing it anyway, there’s a sense that you had a breakdown of will. There’s a sense of the breakdown of your intention. Usually, people make statements like, ‘I knew better, but I did it anyway.’ In those situations, if you look really closely, you see there’s an internal negotiation with ourselves regarding short-term versus long-term gain. We end up discounting the long-term advantage and giving in. We find a rationale for our behavior, and those situations come up all the time.

In the process of self-enquiry, we often find ourselves in novel situations where it’s new and there is some uncertainty. What we’ll do is revert to past choices, or choices we don’t even consciously make. We may revert to choices we haven’t generated for ourselves, but that others have generated for us. You know how people say, ‘You shouldn’t do this or you shouldn’t do that.’ That’s when all the ought to’s and ought not’s come into play rather than having a sense of how to decide for ourselves.

In that negotiation, we come upon a will, or really, as my old Zen teacher used to say, a willingness to think about who I am in this situation, and who I’m going to be. If I think about it in terms of who I am in the grander scheme of things, it’s not about whether I’m a good or bad person. In each moment when you have a choice like that, you have a chance of gifting a future sense of yourself with some capacity, some skill that you wouldn’t have if you just decide to take the short-term gain.

It’s not that one piece of cake will add thirty pounds, or one drink will turn you into an alcoholic. It’s about the development of a sense of self that says, ‘Wait a minute, this moment can determine who I am, or who I will be.’ Who are you in this moment? In a moment of insight, there is a willingness to think and to act with conscious awareness of the ramifications of our choices.

SA: Do you mean, ‘This is what I want, not what my mother or my boss or my friend wants for me?’

DL: ‘This is what I want,’ based on a mechanism that Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration teach, namely to discriminate for yourself, to not simply take actions based on ideas that are ready-made for you.

SA: In other words, ‘the map is not the territory,’ or ‘we are not our story.’

DL: Well, yes, we are not our story of who we are. Our story is a story. For some, the map is the territory if we live at that level of superficiality. We have to get deeper than that. The Feldenkrais Method is not just about turning heads. It allows us to go deeper into being present to more of the world. The head turns in all directions. What is it going to see? It’s not just about more movement. The head turns to see something specific, and what I see is different than what you see. In the process, you realize that this is what it opens up for me, this is what I see. In Awareness Through Movement lessons we get back to fundamental movement patterns. When we embed ourselves in those kinds of practices, we finish a kind of apprenticeship with gravity and our surroundings that we didn’t get. Those tenacious stories that are dug into our relationship to gravity and to the social realm become clearly just a story; one of many possible stories. It’s self-liberating.

SA: So, would you agree that the Method is like an apprenticeship in how to continuously find real meaning in one’s own life?

DL: Yes, absolutely. I think Moshe was basically a seeker his whole life. That’s why he said his work was trivial when taken at face value. In the transcripts from San Francisco, which I’m editing now, he said something I don’t think anyone really heard at the time. He said, ‘Look, when you do a movement on one side then do it in the imagination on the other side, and then you do it in real time, you are working with your fundamental temporal sequence of yourself.’ So when you do it so that it’s organized better on one side, and then you cut and paste it to the other side, you are working with a very fundamental level of yourself. All I can say is that if you can do this, a light will shine that is brighter than anything you could ever know. That is what all the teachers and all the gurus have always talked about.

SA: And it’s coming from within…

DL: It’s coming from within and you’re editing, frame for frame, you see you’re not your story. When you can hold the whole pattern on both sides of the brain, this is an amazing ability that few people ordinarily get. Some people do, artists maybe. It’s a rare occurrence. He stayed with it for a long time before it evolved into the Feldenkrais Method. If you stay with it a long time, you find you are no longer doing the Feldenkrais Method, but you are doing the Method of bringing more of yourself to the world. This impacts the whole world, not just you.

Published in SenseAbility April 1, 2009
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If you are ready to find a new way to live in a world gone mad, this methodology is the most effective way to change, adapt and renew your enjoyment of life come what may.