Monday, March 28, 2016

Feldenkrais® Movement to Help Hands and Feet
People sometimes wonder if The Feldenkrais Method can help with wrist or hand pain, or with foot problems such as plantar fasciitis. It might be a stretch to think that trouble with hands and feet could be related to how we use and organize our entire body. How could our posture or the way we walk, for example, affect those dexterous movements of our fingers, or the flexibility of our feet?

Yet, even hand and wrist pain resulting from excessive computer use can be easily reduced by awakening better ways of supporting our whole body when sitting. Likewise, more flexibility and comfort can begin to be had by your feet as you work with how your whole body balances itself. Even small adjustments to one's posture can relieve the foot muscles of extra work. Our bodies strive for balance, meaning your nervous system is not going to let you fall over. It could be your feet muscles that are working overtime to achieve this balance.

Feldenkrais brings more awareness to how your whole body is a system. When we experience better support from the center of ourselves, excess tension in hands and feet is able to release. We understand how the use of our hands and feet can be directed from this better support of our entire self. Wrist pain dissipates, tingling in fingers subsides, foot muscles relax, and arches lift naturally. Nothing is disconnected in our bodies. All parts play a roll in all that we do. 

For more information about my “Finding More Flexible Feet” workshop on Saturday, April 16, click here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

You Didn’t Learn to Walk by Walking

And you probably won’t improve your walking by walking either. This can be confusing for people, because we usually think that in order to improve an activity we must literally practice that activity. But, as a wise man once said (I think it may have been Moshe Feldenkrais), “practice doesn’t make perfect - perfect practice makes perfect.” So, if just walking more isn't going to perfect how we walk, what is the answer? Perhaps it’s returning to how you learned to walk in the first place.

If you are lucky, you get around your life by walking on your two legs without much thought about how you learned to do it. You probably don’t remember the many hours lying on your back exploring the movements of your hips and legs, figuring out how to roll over, arch your back, and lift your head. You’ve probably forgotten what it felt like the first time you figured out how to stand on hands and knees, sit upright, and then finally stand, precariously balanced on those two little legs. 

There are so many specific movements of feet, ankles, spine, and shoulders that play a part in walking that there is no way we could track all that activity when we are actually walking. Yet, people sometimes intuitively know it’s something about their walking that aggravates their hip pain, back pain, or foot issues. But, since walking is so complex, how can they possibly change and walk better? And if someone on the outside told them what to change they’d be hard pressed to incorporate that change, for we walk with our whole bodies and trying to force a particular part to do something different is very hard when the other parts of the system are still acting in their usual way. Fortunately, the answer lies in the problem. And that is to bring our attention to how the different parts of ourselves are affected by what happens with certain other parts. The Feldenkrais Method offers specific and simple ways to do this. Which brings me to the question, “just what will you find yourself doing in a Feldenkrais workshop to improve walking?”

Well, you will start with some walking…

Then, you’ll be invited to slow down and “catch” some things about your walking - things that happen too fast to “catch” when you are actually walking. Things like what part of your foot pushes the floor when you step, or how does your right hip support your body weight compared to your left, or do you use both legs equally or is one more like a prop as you never quite align yourself over it? All these things affect what muscles or joints are getting more or less strained. Then, we’ll explore the nuts and bolts of walking when you are lying down, comfortable and relaxed, in an attitude of exploration. New, or maybe just old and forgotten, ways of using your parts can be introduced and there’s a way all the pieces of the puzzle will change together in an integrated fashion. The process awakens innate ways of moving that re-coordinate your entire system, so when you stand up to walk again you’ll sense the changes being made naturally, beyond your conscious control. For your mind is far too slow to track it all anyway. 

…and this is how we’ll improve walking by not really doing much walking at all.

For more information about my “Walking With Ease” workshop on Saturday, March 5, click here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Importance of Stillness
Why, you might ask, is a movement practitioner writing about stillness? Yes, my work involves guiding people to learn about how they move. Because to live in and take care of this human body, and to function in society, we must move about. Improving the quality of how we do that - how we move about - has always seemed to me a practical undertaking, and usually a very fruitful one for people. However, there are times when a focus on movement is not the most appropriate thing.

For example, when someone comes to me wanting relief from chronic pain, focusing on movement may not be the primary thing for them. Often, pain is caused by too much movement, or in other words, too much activity happening in one area. And our bodies tend to create excessive movements to deal with the sensation of pain, and then more movements to counteract the excessive movements, and so on and so forth, until all a person notices is pain, tension, and awkwardness in getting around. The first step out, then, is connecting to the stillness that is the background of all this activity. A session for someone in this situation may involve simply finding a way for their body to be supported and comfortable, so they can experience all the excessive activity quieting. Only then might we introduce a movement, going slowly, so it can arise from a background of comfortable stillness.
For most of us, knowing deeper stillness will help us learn more about our movement. When we are in a still place, we have the opportunity to see how we really begin to move. One way to work with stillness is to simply lie on your back, on a firm surface - a mat, or your carpeted living room perhaps. If you sense you need a support under your head, try folding a bath towel one or two inches in height. If your lower back is uncomfortable with your legs straight, try a rolled up blanket or a firm pillow under your knees. Make the knee support larger enough so your back can relax. 

Close your eyes and pay attention to the contact your body makes with the floor. Imagine that the floor can support all of your limbs, your head, and your hips. It will be natural for there to be spaces and places where your body does not touch the floor, but see if you notice any places where you might be “holding” yourself away from the floor. Is it possible to allow the floor to support you more fully? 

Next, pay attention to the movement of your breathing for a while. Of course, it’s impossible for our bodies to be completely still. There’s a lot of movement going on that is not within our conscious control. But, the more still we become, the more fascinating all this inner movement becomes. 

Finally, think (without doing it yet) that you want to lift your shoulders away from the floor very slightly. Now slowly begin to do it, seeing if you can catch the moment your shoulders start to move? The more still you are, the more obvious it will be. Hold your shoulders away from the floor for a couple seconds, then allow them to rest on the floor again. Repeating this several times can help reduce tension and eliminate any excessive movements that aren’t useful and sometimes get in the way. 

Or, you can simply enjoy the ease of allowing the floor to support your body, watching the movement of your breathing, scanning for any “held” places that could soften and rest more fully on the support of the floor. Sometimes how we don’t move can tell us way more than we expect about how we do.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Practice Makes Perfect: A New Perspective
For much of my life, it seems I have been on a mission to improve myself. I started dancing at age five and trained professionally in dance through high school and college. I worked hard at it, always in the studio stretching, bending, and practicing. I was stumped, however, at how technique came so easily to those who seemed to never work hard at all.

In college I discovered the Pilates Method. It was 1989 in New York and my college had one of only a few Pilates studios in the New York City area at the time. Now, I suspect, there are hundreds, if not thousands. I was attracted to the innovative machines and whole body philosophy. I thought this could be the answer to my quest for physical perfection! I was around the studio so much that I soon became an instructor and found myself teaching professional Broadway dancers, often twice my age.

But, I was still far from satisfied with my own abilities. Various aches, pains, and stiffness led me to try any other technique or modality that promised relief. By this time I was in Seattle and was attending a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class. I was intrigued by how these often slow, small, and subtle movements not only offered relief from chronic tensions, but also gave me a feeling of integration and wholeness that was perhaps what I was looking for.

I joined a four-year Feldenkrais professional training in 1998. We met three times per year for 2- to 3-week intensive segments. After one particular segment, I was trying out some familiar Pilates moves on the "High Barrel." I was performing a “swan dive," a significant back bending movement where the goal is to touch and possibly walk down the wall behind you with your fingers. Back bending had never been easy for me and usually I would experience a level of resistance that I would have to push past before touching the wall. This time I practically bruised my fingers slamming swiftly and effortlessly into the wall!

What had happened? I hadn’t practiced this move in months. Did I suddenly become Superwoman? Something was different. I felt more alive and integrated, yes, but after further reflection I realized that I could explain it another way. I was no longer working against myself. My intention to bend backwards did not have to fight against parts of me that had previously refused to bend. Other Pilates moves also felt more graceful and effortless —all without excessive work or practice!

My mission continues, but the Feldenkrais Method has changed my perspective. I have learned that more practice and hard work does not guarantee improvement. The Feldenkrais approach offered me the opportunity to perceive myself moving with greater ease and elegance. This new awareness of myself is something repetitive practice cannot provide. It could be, in fact, the essence of the perfection I seek.

Copyright © 2003, 2013, 2015 Peggy Protz

Friday, February 20, 2015

Why Movement?
Why is movement so important? Why would I want to pay attention to how I move? How will changing my movement help my back pain? And how can I change the way I move anyway? I just move. I move when I workout at the gym, I move and stretch in my pilates class, I’m moving when I go for a walk….

Yes, that’s just it!! You are always moving! You take it for granted. You just move… because you have to in order to get from place to place. But that back or neck pain you wake up with every morning that makes it hard to move… It may not be your mattress or your pillow. It may be that something you are doing during the day is straining certain areas of your body, and when you lie down to sleep at night these areas are still straining. You just don’t notice it (after all you are sleeping) until you wake up and start moving again. Then you get going with your day, and you’re paying attention to other things, and you don’t realize how you are straining those areas because you just move and do things the way that you do. It’s a habit….

But my back hurts. Why would I want to work with movement? I’m tired. I just want to rest.

Sometimes working with movement means not really moving at all. Or hardly moving. That’s because the way you start a movement is the most crucial thing, and to see how you start to move you must first be still, as relaxed as possible. See, our bodies, throughout life, get conditioned or “wired up” to move in a particular way. But we are always moving around so much that we can’t see this. Sometimes we have to stop moving so we can observe how we truly begin to move. And then you might realize that you do a lot of movement you really don’t need to do anyhow. What a relief to see the possibility of moving in a more simple, relaxed, and easy way.  And this is where the pain relief part comes in. Our bodies have the capacity to move well and simply. Reconnecting to this allows healing to begin. 

I believe the Feldenkrais approach is so effective because it takes something we are always doing (even just breathing is a movement after all) and gives us the means to explore and refine what we are always doing, so that we can do whatever we want to do with the most ease and enjoyment possible. 

And on that note, I’ll leave you with an article I recently discovered about Feldenkrais in relation to yoga, but with this caveat…  I never suggest anyone do Feldenkrais instead of yoga (my job is to help you do what you like and what works best for you), and your experience with yoga may be quite different from the authors. But, I do think the article captures well, and at times humorously, the essence of what Feldenkrais and the creative exploration of movement can offer us in our lives. Enjoy!...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pain in the Neck? Relief May Lie in How You Move
Neck pain really can be a pain in the neck. Especially if the pain affects your ability to move easily and comfortably. Ask anyone who has experienced a whiplash, a pinched nerve, or a bad tension headache. Pain caused by these conditions will often restrict the natural, free movement of the head, creating an experience of life that is limiting. A real pain in the neck!
The pain can easily spiral downward into more discomfort. As you try to keep your head still to avoid pain, muscles in the neck, shoulders, and upper back begin to tighten up. This is understandable, as your body intelligently wants to protect you from further injury. The increased muscle tension, however, can actually cause more discomfort. One way to disrupt this cycle is to begin moving in a gentle way. 
Try this experiment...   Sit on the edge of a chair that has a firm, flat surface. Have your feet flat on the floor hip width apart and your thighs parallel to the floor. Rest your hands comfortably on your thighs. Gently turn your head a little to the right and to the left, being attentive to keeping the movement in a range that is easy and without strain. Observe how far you turn by taking note of what you see in the room around you.   
Next, keeping your head in the center, slowly look downward, lowering your chin to your chest. Allow your chest to sink, relax your shoulders, and think that you are bending your whole back backwards, creating a “C” shape from the top of your head to your tailbone. This position may feel like slouching.  
Now reverse the movement. Slowly lift your chin off your chest, looking straight ahead as you straighten your back. Push your chest forward and gently pull your shoulders back. Think that the top of your head is being pulled upward toward the ceiling, causing you to sit taller on your seat.  
Repeat the motion: lowering your head as you bend your back, lifting your head as you straighten your back. See if you can feel the pressure of your hips rolling back and forth on the chair; leaning back on your tail bone, then sitting forward on your sit bones.  
Begin to coordinate your breathing with the movement. Exhale as you look down, relaxing the chest. Inhale as you lift your head, expanding the chest. Allow your whole body to relax into the motion.

After you’ve done the exercise five or six times, stop and rest with you eyes closed, noticing the feeling in your shoulders, back, and neck. Open your eyes and turn your head again, like you did at the start. See if it feels easier or if you can turn a little further. Notice if you see more of the room around you.

This is an exercise I often share with my students and is something you can do anytime to relieve tension. The back and forth movement or your spine is designed to "reset" your nervous system so your body can relax. And as you become more in tune with how you relate to your surroundings (what you see in the room as you look around, the pressure of your seat upon the chair, how your breathing coordinates with the flexing and bending of your joints), you’ll start to have a more pleasant experience of your moving body. This more pleasant experience allows your body to learn something useful without you having to think so much about it. Just with gentle practice the better way becomes the natural way, and perhaps that pain in the neck won’t have to be such a pain in the neck!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Musings on Resolutions
Unusual for me this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “resolution”, because I do have a couple... things I've been putting off or putting aside for various reasons, projects in my head I’d like to take action on. But this word “resolution” has always seemed a little daunting to me, like the idea of having a goal, which I suppose is helpful, but can also set one up for failure if the goal isn’t met. 

If you take the "re" out of “resolution” you have the word "solution", which means the answer to a problem. So, a “re-solution” could mean looking at a problem from a different angle, or different perspective, in order to come up with a new solution. Just as one might rearrange the furniture, one can resolution a problem. I was recently at a workshop where we used the word "aspiration" instead of “resolution”, in the context of “what are your aspirations for the new year?” In other words, what do you hope to achieve? My aspiration, or my hope, is to be able to see clearly what actions need to be taken in order to manifest, with ease, these couple things I wish to see happen in my life. My hope is to find the "re-solution", a way of “re-solving" the problem, a way that is easy, spontaneous, and graceful. 

This is not unlike what I know can happen physically, when we work attentively with the body. By taking the time to reposition, refine, and relook at how we are moving, spontaneous solutions seem to present themselves without any effort on our part. This repositioning and rearranging allows us to then look out from this body with a different perspective. As you try on a new physical experience, you look out from a new angle. You become more open to the possibility of a re-solution, sometimes to problems you didn’t even know existed, but you now see how they relate to your well being.

As I write this, I’m beginning to see that resolutioning my problem of how to manifest what I want to see happen in my life, could be like repositioning the body to manifest better ways of moving through life. For that’s kind of what we are always doing isn’t it? - constantly repositioning ourselves to get from place to place or to do this or that. We are always in motion, even if seemingly very still. So, as we have the ability to refine how we move, maybe we could think of resolutions also as constant “refinings", continually looking at things from new and easier perspectives as we gather more and more wisdom with each passing year.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my musings on this topic. Comments are welcomed. And by the way, one of my “resolutions” is to write more for this blog, so stay tuned….