Info and lessons from Healthy Back workshop

Lebanon Hills winter 2017

Goals, principles, and free streaming audio lessons used in my recent Fundamentals of a Healthy Back workshop.

[March 2018 edit: this workshop is coming up again on Tuesday March 13! Here’s this year’s event info.]


I get lots of requests to upload and share recordings of my workshops, and because of the way I like to organize and teach them this hasn’t been easy to do so far. When I get the chance to teach long form Feldenkrais I like to be able to segue in and out of lessons and discussions pretty freely, and to layer or nest lessons within one another as the cumulative learning of the workshop develops and we refer back to things already discovered. Because of that free structure, plus discussions peppered in, and sometimes handouts and demonstrations, I haven’t been able to share the workshop experience in the same focused structure that I use to deliver my regular audio lesson recordings.

But let’s try something new! I’d like to use another format to share some material from Monday’s workshop with you, and also point you to specific lessons from my free streaming audio collection that I drew on in the workshop. These are useful if you’d like to play with some of the goals and principles on your own. All of this comes out of the home-study resources email I’m writing for workshop participants today (I send “homework” emails to participants after every workshop I teach).

Enjoy, and please leave a comment or email me if you’ve got any feedback!


Fundamentals of a Healthy Back

Workshop goals:

  • To use our intelligence, curiosity, and sensitivity to build awareness of how we use our backs and spines, and how we might use them better.
  • Specifically, to improve the function of the spine as a whole including proper use from the pelvis, support from the musculature, and positioning of the head, in many different kinds of natural actions such as twisting, bending, and extending.
  • To question aspects of our cultural learning and typical support surfaces (furniture, car seats, etc.) which make healthy function of the spine difficult, so we can make better choices.
  • To improve our ability to learn from our own somatic experience generally: “Learning how to learn.”
  • Our spines are designed to support us in a mobile, dynamic way, centering around being long and approximately plumb with the force of gravity when we’re upright and at rest.
  • To be free, fully functional, and safer from injury, we are generally seeking for our spines an organization with:
    • a little pelvic anteversion (top of the pelvis tilted slightly forward)
    • a vertically-stacked (not hyperlordotic / sway-back) lumbar spine
    • an upright thoracic spine (not kyphotic / rounded at the chest)
    • and thus a lifted sternum, allowing the shoulders to fall freely behind us when at rest, and
    • a head positioned over the spine, not “pecked” forward.
  • All this results in a long, easy, dynamic-yet-stable, and very upright posture, ready for action. We want all 5 curves of the spine to get involved when we move (as an awareness tool I like to include the sacrum and skull in addition to the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical), distributing the effort with any action performed and supporting each other.
I showed illustrations from and spoke about one of my favorite books, 8 Steps to a Healthy Back, by Esther Gokhale in support of this “J-spine” thinking (as opposed to the classic “S-curve” spine). It’s not a Feldenkrais Method book, and I personally find the exercises a little ham-fisted (I’d like to see the whole thing rewritten with Feldenkrais lessons instead!), BUT the pictures, illustrations, anatomy explanations, and history are spectacular. She studied and photographed cultures around the world with little incidence of back pain and derived beautiful, efficient, and clear ideas about proper human spinal function. Really worth a look, if only to have lots of clear imagery in mind as you play with your own posture and function in and out of class.
  • Our chairs, couches, and car seats often by their very shape create terrible seated conditions for our spine. Among other problems, they force us to tilt our pelvis back and not actually have our sitbones under us.
  • Click here for general principles of the Feldenkrais Method (biomechanics, neurology, learning, and the nature of improvement). Feldenkrais is about learning how to learn from your own experience, or we could say, learning to be good for yourself.
Online audio lessons related to lessons taught in the workshop:
  • The first lesson from the workshop was an amalgamation of three Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons, with #2 and #3 nested within or layered onto variations of #1.
  • 2018 UPDATE: Here is the LIVE AUDIO: Fundamentals of a Healthy Back of this actual workshop lesson, recorded 3/13/17! The three lessons immediately below remain great resources on this topic.
  • 2019 UPDATE: As we launch the Feldenkrais Project’s website, the new home of all these lessons, I’ll be updating links ASAP. Until then you can find them by searching.
    1. Coordination of the Flexors Muscles and of the Extensors: we focused on tipping the crossed knees and learning to roll the head in opposition, seeking length and freedom of breath, as well as the steps lifting the head with interlaced hands while in a light twist. [Update: Simple Twisting, another version of this is also now available on the new website,]
    2. More Precise Hips and Spine: the first 30″ or so (until I indicate we’re shifting gears). Learning to nod the head and pubic bone simultaneously toward and away from each other with a long, lightly extending and flexing spine. Freeing the neck, jaw, and tongue.
    3. Differentiation of Parts and Functions in Breathing: the basic Feldenkrais “paradoxical breathing” movements.
  • My second workshop lesson was based on another classic: The Movement of the Eyes Organizes the Movement of the Body. We used the basic rotation in side-sitting from this lesson (known colloquially as “Dead Bird” in the Feldenkrais community) as a refrain while we explored different ways to tilt the pelvis and head with the assistance of the spine and whole back / chest in side-sitting.
  • We finished the workshop with a short chair-seated version of yet another classic, with heavy references to awareness of the three dimensional movements of the spine and chest: Pelvic Clock. My recording is led in a supine position, but it’s not hard to transpose the ideas to sitting. One day I’ll get a chair-seated version online! [2018 update: there’s now a chair-seated version: the beginning of our Easier Sitting collection of lessons.]

Feldie practitioners and longtimers will notice how straightforward my lesson choices are. This is often the case with my workshops. I find it very helpful to keep things simple. I use discussion, principles, and movement refrains repeated over multiple lessons to direct participants’ attention to particulars which illuminate the workshop’s goals in their experience.

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