A new post on Elephant Journal
"Creating flexibility can be more complex—and simpler—than you might think"
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There's a short video on how to make a roller, below. If you have an exercise ball, you can use that instead, however, it will provide different feedback.
If this is a new process for you, consider watching first. Then, you can follow along with just the audio, because you'll know where you are going. Feel free to use the ideas here as the inspiration for your own creative exploration.
It can be tempting to work with the problem.
Like, when my neck hurts, I keep feeling this urge to work with my neck, to massage the sore places, and to tweak things. While this might give temporary relief, it doesn't seem to resolve the issues. Sometimes it even makes things worse.
Pain in my neck is more successfully worked out in my whole system, by working with my breath, spine, hands, ribs, eyes, jaw. These areas don’t usually seem painful. So, how can they be the key to neck pain?
As a dancer, I know how to keep my torso very still and stable, (imagine the breath disfunctions that might carry over into my everyday life!). In order for my upper body to be still--focusing on the computer, for example--my neck has to do extra work. That extra work results in pain, and injury. If you bend a long wire across its whole length, the stability remains. If you bend a wire only in one place repeatedly, that place becomes hot (inflamed), and eventually breaks down.
Our strengths and our difficulties are both integral to how we are organized. In Feldenkrais Method, the approach is to focus on, and increase the skillfulness we already have. In this way, we can use our strengths as the key to disrupting patterns of pain.
So my skills are in keeping my torso stable, immovable. That is a talent! Lessons that help me become more intelligent about how much I tense, how and when I tense, actually help me learn to do the opposite. (Paradox!) I learn to find movement in my upper ribs and torso, so that the movement of my neck becomes more integrated and I have less pain. In this mini-lesson, we move all as one, stable and together, and then begin to differentiate parts. Try it out and see how it impacts your sense of yourself on the earth and in standing.
Feldenkrais Method Movement Meditation (guided recording below)
1. Lie on your back, and map the imprint you can feel yourself making on the earth.
2. Stand your feet, bend your knees. Cross your legs comfortably, arms long with palms together (or in a hug around, with one arm under, one arm over. Play with rolling to one side, keeping your eyes, sternum, hands, knees, all aligned! Follow the sense of the movement in each direction--stay with the one side only.
Less is more--that means, a movement that allows you to have NO MOMENTUM, NO FORCE, GLOBAL AWARENESS.
6. Play with staying rolled to the side, balancing--in this shape, relax everything possible while staying rolled a little to the side (like in the photo).
8. Let your arms, legs, body continue to roll to this same side, but let your eyes, head, and nose go opposite!
Play with the timing, staying in ease. Less is MORE! That means, one movement done smoothly is worth more than many repetitions.
9. Try it on the other side!
10. SENSE YOURSELF ON THE EARTH. Feel the difference of your imprint on the ground. Sense yourself also in standing. What's new, more available, more present in your sense of yourself?
Want to deep dive? Here is a recording of this lesson.
If you choose to follow along with this lesson, or if you choose to try the moves on your own, remember that nothing should ever increase pain. Read this HOW-TO for more information.
Other free and low-cost resources?
Annie Thoe's Sensing Vitality offers short video lessons. My recommendation would be to do these at a much slower rate (they will already seem slow to most of you). Find a lesson that seems completely unrelated to your difficulty, and see what happens.
Taro Iwamoto has a video every Wednesday with mini-movement explorations that can be challenging, playful. Stay within your comfortable range!
Jill Aldridge offers bi-weekly, donation-based/free classes weekly in Hanna Somatics, a related field of movement work. Clear some room on the floor, and possibly have a chair nearby.
Want something longer? Something guided, and created just for you?
Schedule an online Feldenkrais Session with me--these are $60/an hour (40% off regular rates) or meet with a Feldenkrais Method Practitioner near you. Need resources? Ask! I'm happy to spend some time connecting you to all kinds of people who do online movement or healing work in many modalities including Reiki, Shamanic work, Somatic work.
With love and gratitude, Heather
Hatha Flow-Slow and Mindful
A free 90 minute yoga exploration for you!
Dears, here is my first recorded class. It is cued for using one blanket, but those of you that take restorative yoga class regularly will find you remember how to add your bolster if you have one. You may want to fast forward through the first 1 minute.
I have begun seeing clients online, for private Feldenkrais® and Restorative Yoga and Reiki as well, using ZOOM. This has actually gone very well. Payment is sliding scale $60 - $80 per hour. If you would like to do this, you may schedule by email.
It can be so difficult to set aside the mounting to do list that is ever present in our own homes. Finding a few minutes to lower your stress level is incredibly effective. Even 1 minute.
Here is a VERY short practice.
I recommend putting your phone on do not disturb, and setting a timer, so you don’t worry about when to rise. This can be so helpful in really giving yourself permission to rest.
1. Find a chair (if it has no padding, pad with a towel.)
2. Lie on your side, as close to the chair as possible
3. Roll to bring your legs up.
If your chair is too tall for comfort, use a wall instead, and put your legs up! Be mindful to avoid stretching.
What else can you do to increase your comfort level?
Play restful music you find enjoyable.
Cover your eyes, if this is helpful.
Listen to a guided meditation (free on Insight Timer, or youtube).
The benefits of putting your legs up are myriad, including support for the immune system, lymph system. This pose, legs up on chair, or at the wall, is a balancing posture that can help regulate imbalance. If you have any concern about whether this pose is right for you, please consult a trusted health care provider. If you find you are not comfortable in this pose, there are myriad variations, and I'm happy to consult with you.
When I taught high school, students would share their fears. Sometimes these were large fears—about being accepted; other times they were fears of tripping when going up to receive their diploma, or failing a test.
Sometimes the fear of failing was so strong, that the student would play this scenario over and over in their mind. This replaying was in fact a form of rehearsing failure, because our minds do not know the difference between imagination and reality.
Imagining—especially if you do it very well—is a way of practicing. To imagine well is to incorporate sensory information.
Instead of rehearsing the fear, I would ask students to imagine the scene, and imagine success. Try it:
You are walking up the podium to receive your diploma. What does the auditorium smell like? How do your feet feel on the ground, and how hard is the earth? Do your footfalls make a sound? What do you see? Notice how the fluorescent lights in the gym turn everyone slightly greenish, and the echo of the voices around you reverberate due to the high ceilings, and lack of sound proofing. How fast is your heart pounding, and how do you manage the feelings of anxiety, pride, and excitement that come and go with the speed of your thoughts? Do you grasp your hands together, and are your palms cold, or sweaty? Feel your feet, notice how you hold up your gown and step each step confidently, head level. Feel your balance. See the principal holding your diploma. Feel it in your hands. Take the steps down from the podium easily. Notice your posture, your sense of well-being.
This is a way of rehearsing success.
I would then have the students work backwards, looking at every choice they made that got them to the point of graduation. Because part of the successful outcome is the choices they made that supported them along the way.
Using sensory imagination in movement is well documented and studied. In sports, this method has been used to improve outcomes; for musicians, to improve skill and performance. As a yoga teacher, I use sensory imagination to guide somatic movements and meditation, to help students feel themselves more completely. In the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education®, we use imagination to sense movement, change habits, and create improvement. In fact, using the imagination can change the brain. And,
...we can use sensory imagination to clarify choices and consequences.
Beyond improving action, imagining is a powerful tool for discerning whether an outcome is right for you. Sometimes it is difficult to know what you must do, rather than what others think you should do. My friend, Holly, used to say “what can you live with?” And so I’d imagine how I would feel having made first one decision and then the other. Almost always, I would instantly know which one I needed to do, and what I couldn’t or didn’t want to live with.
So, imagine yourself having completed something that you want to do. Brainstorm everything about the outcome: the weather externally and internally; what you hear, feel, see, smell, know. Add to this, a process I was reminded of by Bina Venkataraman, (author of The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age) look back as though from this place of success and answer the following questions:
What steps did you take do to get here?
What did you let go of, and what did you add to your life?
How did you say no to things you didn’t have time for?
Now that you know what it feels like to have succeeded, is this path/outcome right for you?
Was the outcome worthwhile?
Two recordings from the Spine Integration Workshop at Momentum Climbing 1/18/2020
Thank you so much for spending the afternoon with me. I am so curious how you found the work, and what you discovered about yourselves. These recordings can be used to help you revisit the work we did, and help to improve your self-use. I did not record the check-ins. Enjoy!
Please read the HOW-TO before you do a lesson at home.
1. If you experience any pain during any movement, stop. It usually means you are not organized in a way that is working for you. Instead, imagine, work smaller, or check with your doctor.
2. Explore in a gentle curious way. You are expanding your sense of self, your ability to access parts of yourself.
3. Avoid goals. In this work, being involved in the process is more important than achieving a goal. The process of moving slowly, with attention, is how your brain learns to rewire and reorganize movement for efficiency and strength.
We are working too hard!
If you make a fist, holding it maybe just a moment, and then relax your fist, it takes a little while to soften, and to settle. Even then, your hand may not be totally without work. Many of us are walking around in a fist, and we don't know! And even if/when we do know, we might not be sure how to address it.
The more I teach Restorative Yoga, and the more I work with clients, the more I am aware that we all are working far too hard. I don't mean your job, although, perhaps that is also true. Instead, I mean muscular work.
I am continually learning this truth: before I can change any behaviors that turn me into a fist, it is necessary to learn how to soften, to do nothing but yield and breath, to be available to myself, to be available for breathing. I must take the time I need to begin to let myself un-ball, unwrap, unwind. And I must practice doing it, so that it becomes more possible to be that way more often in my day-to-day.
Most of us are working twice as hard to be in gravity as we need to be, because we simply have no other way to accommodate gravity than to fight it. We have only what we know how to do, and what we have developed out of habit. But, you know, it is very hard to be ready to move, or to walk, or to run, when the body (you) are already tense. Being tense is like a state of continually flinching, being ready to run, always in fight or flight at some level.
That tenseness is sometimes called high-tone, high muscular tone: like with sound, low tone would be soft, and high tone would be hard. We usually think of tone as a positive--strong = toned--but in this case, it means ON. If you are ON, like a light, how much brighter can you become? If your hand is in a fist, it isn't immediately available to do anything else. Many of us are walking around so tense, we aren't aware of how "on" we are. No wonder we are tired. We've lost the off button. A well-toned muscle needs to be able to be on and off, so that when it is needed, it can be turned on, and when it isn’t needed, you are not spending our resources keeping a light on for no reason.
And we need to be able to tell when the lights are on, and when the lights are off.
This is where Restorative Yoga and the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education are such powerful practices for me, and for my students.
This work of taking the time to do this practice of softening is deeply profound. It is a practice of being embodied (and learning to be embodied) mindfully, gently, without agenda, judgment, fear. It is a practice of being in the moment without being in a story we were told about ourselves, or a story we have been telling ourselves. It is about creating through our breath, through our inquisitiveness care for ourselves, our own experience of what it means to be. BE.
Curious? Go to heatherdanso.com.
I’d like to share three things with you.
I am very fortunate to be able to stop everything.
So, I did. And I practiced finding quiet. Listening to the underneath, the thoughts and emotions that are so easy to set aside in daily life, to quash, or to ignore. When ignored, emotions can become stuck, can sour. I was feeling so out of sorts, grumpy, and had not painted since January, but for a few sketches. It was like a little girl inside me was stamping her foot: "STOP" she said. And eventually I listened.
Movement is one of the ways to work with emotion, not to deepen and exaggerate it, or to dwell in the stories that emerge, but simply to see it, and experience it in the body.
In yoga, we often talk about meeting ourselves on the mat as we are, with acceptance for our bodies as they are. Sometimes, it feels like we say that, but then we push to meet some goal, to change ourselves. Yet, if we really do see and accept ourselves as we are, then change becomes a possibility. It entirely depends on us to actually do the first step: really to accept and witness ourselves as we are. Otherwise, our actions are in conflict with our needs.
Its like we've been driving down a road, but we got lost. How do you go anywhere from a place of being lost? You can try, but where will you wind up? Yet, given a map, if you know your location, then step by step you can move towards your intention. Sometimes, we pretend we aren't lost, or we know we are lost, and keep going anyway. That's part of the process too.
Both Restorative Yoga and Feldenkrais are opportunities to create an inner map to our relationship with stillness, with our bodies, with pain, with comfort. They are ways to have a deep conversation rooted in compassion and honesty. For me, these can be ways to meditate with and in the body in a way that honors my whole self, that teaches me to meet myself with neutrality and create ease.
This is why I practice, this is why I teach.
Heather Danso, now Heather Emanuel, is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Method® Practitioner, Restorative Yoga teacher, LMT, and Awareness Through Movement® facilitator.
As an artist, she playfully explores work in Acrylic, printing, and multimedia, creating portraits and abstracts that explore expression, playfulness, identity, and the possible. Her CV is here.