Welcome to TCF, Twin Cities Feldenkrais
Group and private Feldenkrais study with Nick Strauss-Klein
- Tuesday mornings or Thursday evenings, 2/24-4/2
The St. Paul JCC
- Tuesday evenings, 4/14-5/5
Notes, Announcements, & Updates from Nick and TCF
The Brain That Changes Itself — February 1
I’ve just finished a book that’s very popular with the Feldenkrais community (I’m quite late to the party, actually): The Brain That Changes Itself, Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge. It’s a fascinating read consisting primarily of stories and studies illustrating neuroplasticity, the science on which the Feldenkrais Method is built. The author ends the often very uplifting book with an interesting warning, using a paraphrasing of Rousseau (who died in 1778) speaking about the popular concept of his time known in French as perfectibilité (the idea of the changeable, improvable nature of humankind).
[Perfectibilité] provided hope, but was not always a blessing. Because we could change, we did not always know what was natural in us and what was acquired from our culture. Because we could change, we could be overly shaped by culture and society to a point where we drifted too far from our true nature and became alienated from ourselves. While we may rejoice at the thought that the brain and human nature may be improved, the idea of human perfectibility or plasticity stirs up a hornet’s nest of moral problems.
I find myself making many references in my teaching to how we hold our pelvises forward or “tail tucked,” keep our knees close together in seated, collapse from our true height in order to socialize, etc… — all ways that we deny the most natural, functional, and sustainable self-use dictated by our anatomy in order to meet cultural expectations of what is proper.
Doidge’s book is full of remarkable stories of healing and human improvement, but he ends by reminding us that neuroplasticity can lead both to human improvement and rigidity. Attempting to become aware enough of ourselves and our interactions with the world to know the difference is a primary goal of Feldenkrais study.
Questions after a first Feldenkrais class — January 29
I had a new student come to class recently, a 28 year old woman with some varied personal and professional interests in Feldenkrais. We’ve carried on an email dialogue and I asked her permission to share some of it with you.
Thank you for the first class in the ATM series at the Marsh. It was really interesting for me… There were some things that I’ve been told about my body (e.g., that I have a right anterior innominate tilt to my pelvis and that I over-supinate) that I actually felt during class. While I had some intellectual understanding of what the terms meant, I had never experienced it in that way, physically sensing the embodiment of it. I also was able to sense a little bit of a shift during the class (though it wasn’t as dramatic as what some people were reporting). It was really interesting to me. Also interesting to me was that I was able to do it and be engaged with the process–I was a little worried about my ability… But, given your guidance, I was able to sustain more awareness of my body and my physical sensations during that hour than I think I ever have before.
It’s still early on in the series and I’m curious to see more as time goes on, but I have a couple of questions for you if that’s okay…
First, what is the ultimate goal of Feldenkrais? “Awareness Through Movement” seems to indicate that the goal is awareness, but is it awareness for its own sake or for the sake of something else (or both)? Also, you spoke about (and I read before about) integration and what we are doing changing something outside of the hour we do it in class. Is it the awareness that flows over or is there a change in how we move that we are striving for? I know you said it’s not a prescriptive movement program, but I guess I’m just curious as to what the broader goals are.
Second, I’m wondering if you could point me in the direction of some information on the mechanisms behind how Feldenkrais works. From what I’ve read so far, it seems to be based on the principles of neuroplasticity (while I’m no expert, I do have a fair grasp of the concept and how it works). I’m mostly curious as to how an hour a week can influence the brain and the neural pathways. I have read about the effect attention has on the formation of new/different neural pathways and how focus (especially intense focus) seems to increase and speed up the processes that occur due to neuroplasticity. I am just looking for some more in depth information on that subject and how Feldenkrais makes use of it. I’ve found some of the research on the effectiveness of Feldenkrais in different situations, but I’m looking for more of the theory/mechanisms behind the demonstrated effectiveness.
I should say, too, that the person who recommended Feldenkrais to me did so because he thought it fit in line with not only what I am doing and trying to do personally in my own life, but also in the professional/academic parts of my life. So, I’m curious to get a more in depth understanding.
Thanks for the detailed feedback and questions. A couple of ways to start to answer, but let’s call this a dialogue, not final thoughts, so write back if you want to!
For what I believe are your main questions, some direct answers: the ultimate goal of Feldenkrais? To improve how you live your life by empowering you with your own tools of self-awareness, so can follow your own curiosities about yourself in more detail, solve problems, weather the challenges that all our lives bring, and pursue excellence, comfort, satisfaction, and sustainability in whatever you choose to do with yourself.
So then your follow-up question about awareness: it’s a tool to expand your self-image so you can easily change your self-use when necessary or desirable. Awareness is a lovely thing, but not an end in itself.
How does it work? If you haven’t already, please read this: Feldenkrais Nuts and Bolts
It covers the basics of most applications of the method.
You asked a really interesting question regarding how does a one-hour-a week class effect neuroplastic change. I believe I alluded to the answer in class last week: we are trying to create an environment and exploration that leaves you fascinated with yourself and how you relate to the world. Your own fascination and curiosity, plus the “intense focus” you spoke of, is then what extends the neuroplastic change potential beyond class. The more you engage with our process and your new sensations and explorations, the more you will improve. This can be playing at home with movements you like and remember from class, or more passive, like simply noticing you find yourself feeling or doing things differently after class, the next day, the next week. It does even work with people who aren’t “thinking about” the lesson at all between lessons–such as small children–provided we make a meaningful impact in their own satisfaction and comfort within themselves in their movement during the lesson.
Or other ideas are here: Integrating Feldenkrais into Everyday Life
You said a couple of things that are really significant victories after a first lesson:
“There were some things that I’ve been told about my body (e.g., that I have a right anterior innominate tilt to my pelvis and that I over-supinate) that I actually felt during class. While I had some intellectual understanding of what the terms meant, I had never experienced it in that way, physically sensing the embodiment of it.” So that’s awareness! You had an intellectual concept, but now you have an embodiment. Only one of those two things gives you an organic start to changing behavior/integrating your whole self around an improvement process related to your actual current state.
“It was really interesting to me. Also interesting to me was that I was able to do it and be engaged with the process–I was a little worried about my ability… But, given your guidance, I was able to sustain more awareness of my body and my physical sensations during that hour than I think I ever have before.” Great…getting fascinated with yourself! This is an excellent first lesson response.
Don’t worry about others responding more expressively than you are to changes they feel. Subjective experience is so personalized. With what you say you felt, I think you’re well into the process. The more you can trust in the value and be present for the novel raw sensations and unusual movements, the more you are changing your brain and motor behavior. Not all lessons hit all people with “oh wow!” clarity, but over time a cumulative learning will become more obvious for anyone who engages these processes fully.
Moshe Feldenkrais was an intellectual, and there’s nothing about his work and teaching that is “voodoo,” so to speak. So keep thinking and asking questions! I can explain each step of a lesson and I enjoy the chance to talk about lessons. But while in the lessons, let some of those frontal lobe cognitive processes recede a bit so you can really play and explore in the language of sensation and movement. It’s our first and most important language, and very powerful for change.
To put it another way, and one it sounds like you’re familiar with: the period of your life in which you experienced the most neuroplastic change was when you were pre-verbal, and certainly not thinking like an adult!
Hope that helps! I look forward to learning more together.
Pain, willpower, and skill — September 29
Moving Out of Pain starts Oct. 14
We all experience pain. It’s a natural and essential message from our nervous system, designed to keep us safe and tell us when we need to rest and heal. Sometimes it seems to take over our lives. Whether it’s brief or chronic, mild or severe, physical or emotional, research shows that it’s how we relate to our pain that makes the biggest difference in our ability to perceive the causes and make the changes we need to find relief.
Unfortunately we’ve all heard too much cultural programming: “Push through the pain.” “No pain, no gain.” “Good pain.” These point to a willpower-based response to pain, where our experience is denied and we try to “tough it out.”
Anyone who has struggled with pain for a long time knows meeting pain with an iron will is a dead end. A favorite teacher of mine once told me,
“Willpower is what we use when we lack skill.”
So how can we relate to pain differently? How can we become more skillful in encountering our sensations–unpleasant and pleasant–and learn from them to guide our own healing and improvement?
Moshe Feldenkrais taught us that curiosity is the foundation of skill. Once we find a fascination with the details of what we sense, how we move, how we handle ourselves in the world, our natural curiosity nudges us to find our own solutions. New, less painful movement options become available. Using Feldenkrais’s ingenious movement lessons, we can restore our curiosity about ourselves, even when we start from a very painful or limited situation.
In a few weeks I’m offering my most comprehensive introduction/refresher course in the Feldenkrais Method, called Moving Out of Pain. This five-week, 90-minutes per session Tuesday evening class is focused closely on these principles of pain, willpower, curiosity, and skill. The class will use a textbook, and includes lecture and discussion, and beginner Feldenkrais lessons designed to be accessible for people with significant pain or movement limitations. Many lessons will be done in simple chair-seated positions.
I’ve gotten very enthusiastic feedback each time I teach this course. Here’s one example of a student’s process as she encountered Feldenkrais Method for the first time in my Moving Out of Pain course:
“Body movement awareness has been outside my consciousness–frankly, it has never occurred to me that I could engage in such an impactful and intimate relationship with my body–that is, to actually tune in to it, to observe how I move my body or how it moves me, or even consider that being conscious of body movements could be therapeutic, or that I could experiment with the movements and modify my habitual way of moving in the world.”
I’m pleased to be offering Moving Out of Pain at The Marsh, in the West Metro, for the first time. Please click here for full information. Feel free to be in touch by email or phone (612-412-8060) if you’re wondering if this course is appropriate for you.