Monthly Archives: March 2014

Shifting Acture, Shifting Emotions

I was just interviewed by Suzanne Kronisch for her “What’s YOUR Feldenkrais Story?” series.

One of the things that came up in our discussion was this essay I wrote in 2005 to my classmates when I was in a four-year Feldenkrais training program. I’m sharing it here so Suzanne can link to it and to give more context for some of my Feldenkrais musings on this blog.

Date: Tue, 25 Jan 2005
To: <My NY Feldenkrais Professional Training classmates>
Subject: shifting acture, shifting emotions


Sunday morning of our last segment, David began by saying that he was going to teach a rarely taught lesson. It began something like this. Sit on the floor. Bring your left foot to standing, extend your right leg in front of you. Lean on your right arm behind you. Place your left hand on your left knee. Exhale and slowly push out your lower abdomen. Inhale and slowly pull in your lower abdomen….

I don’t want to repeat the lesson here as you were all there doing it with me. I do want to share my experience of doing the lesson, and the experiences I had immediately afterwards and continue to have now, more than a week after this lesson.

Sometimes I am fully present for an ATM, and this was one of those times. As I heard David say “rarely taught lesson” and then go into a story about where he remembered it being taught, I said to myself, I’m gong to do this lesson really carefully, really attentively. Of course, I’d love to do every lesson with these qualities but I’m not there, sometimes I am, sometimes I am not. This one particular lesson, I was there.

During the lesson I stayed in a tiny range. The position is not the most comfortable for me, but it is a whole lot more comfortable than it used to be. Even at the beginning of the lesson I could feel how my hip flexors were engaged. My lower leg was not quite standing vertically, but more at a 45 degree angle with the floor. Other people had their lower leg planted almost at 90 degrees to the floor which seemed closer to the instructions. I closed my eyes and told myself again to find my own ease, my own starting place. I kept coming back to this.

Part way through the lesson I began to feel the tonus in the leg that was long change for me. I could let it rest more fully on the floor. That was one of the first shifts that I noticed. I also noticed that for me to stay in the tiny range that was fruitful for me required just allowing a tiny movement in my hips and pelvis, really tiny, maybe not even visible, but I could feel it.

The lesson continued and I continued with the same quality of attention to myself. When I stood up, I was rewarded tremendously. My feet were making an entirely new pressure pattern on the floor, balanced more along the line between the heel and the ball of my foot towards the inner border of my feet. My legs felt as if they were completely underneath me. My knees felt free. And my low back and hips and pelvis felt remarkably free.

I happily wore this new pattern all day Sunday. I didn’t pay as close attention to any lesson after that, I had gotten my weekend’s fill. That evening, I got curious, I posed a problem to myself to try to find my way from my brand new pattern back to my old familiar pattern. I was afraid to do this, afraid I might lose this newfound freedom, but I was also curious to see just how much I could sense in the difference between what I was doing. And, I wanted to have a choice. I know from past experience that if I can find the way there and the way back, I can choose, just as Moshe taught, just as we’re taught, to stop any place along the way.

My sensations were there to guide me. Because standing was where I noticed the difference most clearly, I did my experiments in standing. At first, I used the new sensations as they were prominent – the pressure pattern of my feet on the floor, my sense that my legs had turned slightly inward and were somehow more aligned to support me, my sense that my low back was long. Then, I started to make small adjustments, thinking of changing the pressure pattern of my feet, thinking of rotating my legs outward a tiny bit as the outer borders of my feet accommodated more pressure, realizing this made my lower back arch more. I found my old pattern eventually. It’s a pretty strong magnet.

It was harder for me to find my way back to the new pattern from the old. The thing that was most dramatic was how far I had to shift my pelvis backwards to get there. That became the key, the place from where I could initiate the entire shift in pattern. It’s not a small change in terms of physical distance. My pelvis actually shifts several inches backwards to get to the new pattern and that’s accompanied by my low back lengthening, actually my entire spine lengthening and my neck becomes free. My legs rotate inward and under me, and my feet are there to help me easily balance.

I showed a few of you the old and new pattern on Monday. You told me that I grew in the new pattern. I do, at least an inch I’d guess. The shift is so amazing to me that now that I’m home, I’ve been playing a game in the mirror where I stand and look at myself in the mirror with something behind me that I can see to monitor my height. I shift from the old to the new pattern again and again almost to convince myself that I can, and I see with my own eyes that I grow in the new pattern. I feel all the openness that comes with this new pattern. Then I allow myself to shrink again and my chest collapses as my low back takes on too much work and my knees nearly lock and my ankles become stiff and my neck feels strained.

Monday, the last day of our segment, began with Marie-Lauren teaching a fun lesson that I approached with too much exuberance with my newfound freedom. The position of kneeling with one foot standing, and then doing all kinds of side bending, led me to do too much. I didn’t feel it at the time, just on the bus that evening, I felt my outside of my left leg as if I had strained a muscle. My low back and hips still felt free, but I knew I had overdone it. Tuesday, in my yoga class, I was careful to just work on allowing that muscle to let go again, and it did.

Thursday, I went again to yoga, and my teacher who is very tuned in to energy took one look at me and told me that my energy had shifted. She knows about my Feldenkrais training, so I told her about my breakthrough. I showed her the old and the new pattern. Again, she exclaimed how much my energy hadshifted.

I can’t see or sense energy in the same way that she can, at least not yet. But, I have noticed that my mood has been better than usual, my energy level has verged on manic over the past week, and my overall emotional tone has felt less anxious, more calm.

I’ll attempt to describe a little how I understand this. In my old pattern, it’s almost as if my neutral is very far forward of what’s possible for our human structure. For me this seems to fit with my alpha tendencies to often be first, to act quickly, to plow ahead, not always aware of all that’s around me. It’s almost a starting place that doesn’t allow so much reversibility because I’m already committed to going forward.

In my new pattern, I can sit back with comfort and ease, I can shift easily forward or backward or left or right. I can take in my whole environment and choose when and how to respond. I feel as if I have more time. I feel less tightly wound. I feel as if I need to get to know myself all over again, which is exciting and fun, and a little odd. Every little thing I do, from walking, yoga class, shoveling snow, even doing dishes and brushing my teeth, each is an opportunity to attend to my pattern, to catch myself if I fall back into the old pattern, to delight in new sensations and new options afforded by my new pattern.


Case Study: Ponytails and Folding Socks

Zoe is a great inspiration to Mia. Just this morning, Zoe put her hair in pigtails, and before I knew it, Mia had too. Zoe is seven. Mia will be four years and nine months old tomorrow. Zoe wasn’t even aware of the idea of doing her own ponytail or pigtails until she was in kindergarten last year and saw a classmate doing it. Mia has the good fortune of watching Zoe do everything day after day so she gets the idea that she can too.


I don’t always see it coming with these new challenges that Mia defines for herself. A couple of weeks ago at bedtime, I noticed that Mia was brushing her hair a ton with leave-in-conditioner and getting frustrated with the tangles. I thought her frustration was related to hairbrushing. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I was sitting on the couch reading to them and Mia was attempting a ponytail and getting frustrated and then going into the extensive brushing routine again that I realized her quest to give herself a ponytail.

Mia is very dominantly left handed and she can do a lot with her right hand, especially in bimanual (two-handed) activities, but learning a new skill behind her head seemed pretty daunting to me as the observer.

So, here’s what I observed in an e-mail I sent to her occupational therapist. “Mia has embarked on teaching herself to do a ponytail on her own hair. She has many of the concepts and steps but not all so is getting frustrated. I am looking for ideas and ways to support her. She puts the elastic on her left hand, uses both hands to gather the hair into her right hand to hold it there. She uses her teeth to get the elastic from her left wrist onto her left hand, and then manages to get it around the bunch of hair somehow but gets frustrated and stuck after that. She then claims her hair is tangled and embarks on a lot of spraying of leave-in-conditioner and brushing with her left hand which migrates her part further to the right. Can you help Mia work on this, break it down, etc?”

Then, I went online and searched for “one-handed ponytail” and posted to ask other families with stroke survivors for their experience with kids learning to do ponytails. One replied that her daughter had learned at age eight. Another told me how ambitious Mia is to be attempting this so young.

I thought about putting out elastics of various size and texture to let Mia experiment. But, life is busy, and I haven’t done much to support her, and still she’s learning, very much on her own initiative and with the ongoing model of Zoe.

At Mia’s weekly occupational therapy, that first week of March, they talked about how frustration comes with learning something challenging. They experimented with doing things in front of Mia so she could see and feel to get the concepts more solid. The therapist even offered that Mia could try on her hair. Instead, they made a bunch of yarn to use for practice. And, in that way, Mia learned the concept of twisting and doubling over the elastic to loop it through a second time.

I’ve seen Mia successfully make a ponytail in her hair once. Even doubled over, the elastic was too loose and fell out after about half an hour. I had no idea she could do pigtails, and since I didn’t see her doing them, I don’t know exactly how she managed, except that she must have reached over around her head to do the major work with lefty.

Since I don’t have good video of her working on this new skill, I thought I’d share another recent clip of a different self-defined fine-motor task. I got the girls new socks and Mia set herself the task of folding them all into balls. Enjoy and look to see how she uses her two hands differently. And, if you listen, you’ll hear Zoe in the background, alternately vying for attention and cheering Mia on as she folds socks. That’s our normal. Zoe said just this morning, “Mia’s learning early with the pigtails and ponytails!” Mia’s persistence, determination and inner drive are all quite remarkable, even more so because she’s not yet five.

Update from March 21, 2014

I managed to capture a video of Mia making a pigtail. Notice how she gives each of her hands different jobs at every stage of the process. And, you can see her moment of pride as she accomplishes what she set out to do. Enjoy!