Complexity and Skill

“The richer and more complex the life of a society, the greater is the skill required from the new generation…”Moshe Feldenkrais


Dr. Feldenkrais often spoke of his method as a way of learning how to learn.  He questioned educational approaches that rely on memorization and mimicry, favoring instead the use of experimentation and self-discovery.  He often noted that unless you can do something three ways, you do not know how to do it.  He was committed to teaching others how to engage in self-directed learning.

A Year of Awareness – Movement as Metaphor

Eons ago, I began a journey of awareness.  My trip started when I enrolled in a four-year Feldenkrais Method® training for, dare I say it, purely selfish reasons.  At the time, I had the very limited sense that the Method’s power lay in it’s ability to unlock movement potential in those who had physical limitations.  My daughter has Cerebral Palsy so anything that offered hope of freer, easier movement for her was fair game. Like many who stumble into the method, I was captivated by the stories of physical transformation.  I wanted that – for my daughter and for myself.

Through the training and beyond, I did indeed find my own movements becoming lighter, less strained.  Pains and aches diminished and often disappeared.  My body became more flexible, more supple.  More importantly, so did my mind.  The focus on attending, noticing and awareness became an overarching theme.  So much so that I now view all those hours on the floor, the lessons of rolling to sit, sitting to stand, differentiating head and shoulders, etc., as metaphors for how I could approach life.

When I’m stuck, can I find ease within the constraints of my situation?

Is there another possibility?  Possibilities?  Could I choose another way instead of the one I habitually choose?

And, my daughter?  Like mother, like daughter, the method also gave her a keen sense of self-awareness and an acceptance of herself and her different abilities.  She takes pride in learning and never tires of experimenting.  I’ve never heard her say, “I can’t”, even though her physical limitations are significant.  She tries, and in time, using small, slow movements achieves what is most important to her.  Not what’s important to me.  Not what anyone else expects her to do.  No.  She brings her awareness to what is important to her.  Beginning with what she can do, she slowly expands her possibilities, step by step by step until she can easily do what it is she wants to do.  She has learned how to learn.  No parent can ask more of their child (or themselves for that matter).

To the untrained eye, my daughter’s physical being is still very challenged.  To those who know her, she has accomplished much and still continues to experiment and learn.  Her spirit soars.  Movement aside, she is incredibly aware of herself and her world.

So what is this marvelous method?  At it’s core, the Feldenkrais Method is a physical metaphor for the processes of learning and self-awareness.  It uses movement and body awareness as tools to self-discovery and expanded possibilities for being in the world.

Most of the people who come to me do so out of a desire to “get out of pain” or “learn to move better”.  That may happen.  More often than not it does.  From my point of view, their questions and desires all boil down to learning to trust, to letting go of self-imposed restrictions, to opening possibilities.  I see my role as empowering people to live authentic lives.

As I re-read Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais’ work, I am finding anew how his ideas, written decades ago, continue to be relevant and apropos.  So I’ve decided to pull quotes from his writings and interviews and offer them here, sometimes alone, sometimes along with my personal reflections, as a step to helping you (and myself) increase awareness.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey.



Are You Needlessly Aging Yourself?

Dangle a time and effort saver in front of my face and my first reaction is – “I gotta have it!” Visions of ease (we all know I’m all about ease) dance merrily in my head until somewhere from the back of my brain a new “reality” creeps to the fore. I begin to see what all the lack of motion that comes with those devices begins to do to a body.

Huh? Seriously. Every time you stop doing something – be that carrying water, vacuuming, hanging laundry, reaching for things on the upper shelves – you limit your body’s movement potential. And when you stop using your body in more complex and demanding ways, you essentially tell your brain – “Nope, don’t need that skill anymore. You can forget about it.” Which is exactly what your brain does. It adapts to the more limited repertoire you’ve given it and it, and your body, become ever less adapted to a life that requires manual exertion and complex motion.

But, “I go to the gym,” you say. Great. Working out can be fun. It gives you a sense of accomplishment, social engagement (one of the best life extenders known to man) and defined muscles. But does it improve function?

How many people do you know who regularly work out who can’t open a jar of pickles, reach a glass from the top shelf, or complain that stooping to get something from under the sink gives them a backache? Well?

We humans are designed for movement. Lots of it. In infinitely varied ways. To live in a youthful body, we need to expand our movement potential rather than diminish it. (That’s a fancy way of saying “use it or lose it”.)

I’m not talking about hard labor. Excess is rarely appropriate. I’m talking about reclaiming movements like bending, squatting, reaching, stair climbing, walking, etc., that modern life and effort “savers” are slowly eliminating. Put movement back into your day and see if you don’t feel stronger, more flexible and, yes, younger.

How? Here are a few suggestions:

* Take the plates out of that drawer and put them back on the upper shelves.
* Take the stairs whenever you can.
* Running errands? Consolidate. Park once and walk between your stops.
* Ignore the pull-outs and bend down to reach appliances.
* Get on the floor to play with the kids (grandkids?), or watch tv or read.
* Take business on the road with mobile meetings. Walk with associates.
* Ditch the car. Walk the kids to school. Help carry their books.
* Try baking bread (kneading), whipping cream (stirring), etc. by hand.
* Walk on the grass, balance along a curb, hike uneven surfaces…

What other ways can you think of (and TRY) to expand your daily motions?

7 Ways to Exercise Your Brain – And Why You Really Need To!

Getting old isn’t for sissies.  There’s wear and tear on the ol’ body and more frighteningly on the brain.  Change happens and like your favorite sweater, as you age you do get a little worn around the edges.  But that doesn’t mean you lose your spirit, focus or verve. You’ve probably read a lot about brain health and keeping your edge as you age.  Here are several ways to do just that.