When I arrived in Seattle, I was already a certified Feldenkrais practitioner. I had decided to take a second 3-and-a-half year training to further deepen my understanding and skills.
one of my key interests this time was to better understand the interaction of my emotional and physical bodies. I wanted to gain more competence working with the self-image to invite a change in our way of being in the world – not just to “improve movement.”
Leading up to the training, I had been thinking a lot about the journey I’ve been on since I discovered the Feldenkrais Method in 2012. I was at a crossroads in life at the time, and had no idea where I was going.
What was the most fundamental thing that I could say, in one phrase, that had changed for me since then?
I have become more “comfortable in my own skin.”
That phrase carries many layers of meaning for me, but most fundamentally, it refers to my social experience, to what extent I feel that I can comfortably “be myself” in any kind of company.
We all act differently with different people, showing them more or less of our true “insides.” But generally, the more we feel that those around us love us unconditionally, the more we feel free to decide exactly how we we want to show up in each moment.
We are less likely to compulsively hold things in or, conversely, blurt things out.
But how can we expect to always be in the company of someone that loves us unconditionally?
There is only one way that I know of: we can personally take responsibility for giving ourselves that quality of love.
When I truly love myself for being exactly who I am, there is very little that anyone can do to me.
But of course, that’s hardly the way I am in the world at every moment.
How can I improve in this respect?
What I’ve come to realize is that movement practice is one of the fastest ways for me to take the temperature of my comfort in my own skin. (In the case of my right arm, I mean this literally – quite often it feels warmer than the rest of me.)
On the first day of training, Jeff Haller talked about two different kinds of self-talk that we might engage in when we encounter something confusing during an ATM lesson.
We might say, “Hmmm – I don’t know . . . “
Or we might say, “I don’t know . . . ANYTHING!”
Jeff continued to emphasize this choice throughout the two weeks of the training.
During the day, I tracked my curiosity levels during the movement lessons of the training. But I also noticed how my comfort in my own skin fluctuated in relation to my social experience of being with the other 70 people in the room.
And in the evenings, I tracked the same thing in my interactions with my parents in my childhood home, or on the phone with my partner 3,000 miles away in Maryland.
My own journey with the Feldenkrais Method has led me to think of movement as a metaphor for everything else that we do. This idea came together in a new way for me in Seattle.
What’s fascinating me these days is that I’ve begun to identify a connection between my sense of comfort in any given moment and the way I relate to my right arm.
Early in the second week of training, I was struggling with a number of personal issues that were unrelated to the daily movement lessons. While I loved the movement work, my mind was bothered and my right arm continued to hurt.
Then, during a couple of long phone conversations with my partner, we resolved some tensions and came up with concrete actions to address a gap we felt between us.The next morning, I noticed that my arm felt much better, even before training began.
Jeff taught us a lesson that day focused on the role of the use of the eyes and head in relation to our vestibular sense. He spent considerable time helping us understand the importance of the physiology we were working with, but he also asked us to notice something crucial that resulted from the lesson in a different area of our self-image.
Most of the class had experienced that the exploration had given us better stability over our feet and expanded peripheral vision – even a sense of greater awareness of the room behind us.
What was particularly dramatic was the experience of a couple people who had experienced nausea during the first week when asked to take off their eyeglasses. This was no longer a problem.
Jeff asked one woman who had experienced this transition to describe what had changed. She said she felt an overall heightened sense of security accompanied by an unfamiliar sense of calm, She felt more connected to her environment and the people around her.
On another occasion, Jeff asked a student who he had worked with individually to demonstrate how she walked both before and after her Functional Integration lesson. The change in posture and gait was remarkable – but Jeff wanted us to note something different.
As she demonstrated her original walk again, shuffling her feet and looking down, Jeff told us that the theme of their lesson had been problem-solving. “How do you think you would approach a difficult problem if you moved through the world like this?”, he asked.
Or, what if you approached your problems as you walked through the world with a spring in your step, a long spine, and freely moving head and eyes at the top, capable of easily scanning any point on the horizon?
I also felt a shift that day in that extended beyond my body to other dimensions of my self-image. But it did intersect with my physical body – because what shifted was my relationship with my right arm.
The childhood shock trauma was something I’d already thought about a lot previous to my Seattle trip. I had already recognized how I recoil very quickly from any movement where feel strain in my right arm. So I often go into dark places during physical actions that depend on upper body strength.
While some might say that I simply need to “work my upper body” to create that strength, the fact is, I have never been able to stick with any ongoing training that would help me do that.
What I think is that there is a part of me – that is about twelve years old – that comes to the surface each time I feel that strain.
And that part of me likes to say, “I don’t know ANYTHING!”
It’s the part that feels weak and powerless, just like I did when adults told me that repeated electric shocks were good for me and I didn’t know how to make a different argument.
How can I deal with this?
Recently, I had an idea: I decided I would teach myself to do a handstand.
The handstand project was exciting at first. I started throwing my legs up in the air again and again, and started posting on social media and bragging to my mailing list about my heroic journey.
But it wasn’t long before I had to acknowledge that the first leg of the journey had ended in my giving up.
While I had made a good start, I was totally unrealistic about how quickly I should progress and quickly began to tell myself I would “never” do it.
(What kind of person will “never” be able to accomplish a goal like this? Someone with something fundamentally wrong with them, of course. Like me.)
By the time I got to Seattle, I’d made myself busy with many other things and ceased practicing altogether.
The one thing that remained was my acknowledgement of the situation. I knew that there was more to this challenge than just finding alignment upside down. I tried to regather my mental energies for the next round.
When Jeff began emphasizing the option of approaching challenges from a ground of curiosity instead of frustration something began to shift in me.
After that same ATM lesson mentioned above, I looked down at the floor, and imagined my palms planted there with my feet up over my head.
And a moment later, I was actually doing it.
It would be fun if I could end this story by saying that I held that handstand for several minutes with total control and I have been balancing upside down regularly ever since.
But that’s not what actually happened.
I made two attempts that lasted only a few seconds each. And since that day, I have once again fallen mostly out of practice.
Still, in that moment, something fundamentally shifted in my relationship to the handstand, to my right arm, and to myself.
After the ATM lesson I had a feeling of complete physical integrity where my right arm was not separated from the rest of me. I also experienced a moment of emotional dignity where the voice of frustration was silenced.
When I lifted the weight of my body above my arms they both felt solid and trustworthy. I could still sense the world all around me clearly. While I couldn’t maintain my balance very long, I felt completely safe and there was no strain in my arm afterwards.
I still have the intention of learning a handstand. But I’m not in a hurry. I’m following the paths that keep me curious.
For example, each night in bed, before I drift off, I do detailed visualizations of the all the surfaces of my right hand, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder blade and clavicle. My idea is not to “reorganize” this part of myself as Feldenkrais practitioners sometimes say.
Rather, I simply have the idea of repeatedly reminding myself that this arm is part of me. There is no difference between myself and my right arm. We are the same being.
Simple as it sounds, this feels incredibly new to me.
I’m also looking at other places in my life where I may be reacting to weaknesses by assuming that I am powerless. I’m getting curious about the possibility of reimagining those parts of my self-image as well.
As I continue this journey, I am now clearer on my orientation towards curiosity in everything that I do with my students. I’m reminded of what Moshe Feldenkrais said to the students of training in San Francisco about the goals of this work:
“…To be able to, in each session, give each person in each session what they need and would like to have even if the person does not know that he needs it.
The person may only know that he is in pain or that he doesn’t like himself. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t like himself. What is important is that you get the person to begin to love himself, not just like himself.
If you achieve that, you are worth your weight in diamonds.
If you take a person who hates himself, has no confidence, and make him feel that he can love himself. He feels he can begin to rely upon his own self and begins to have self-confidence enough to stand on his feet.
Well, who can do that? No politician, no millionaire can. You can’t buy that for money. Yet, you may be able to do it and that means that you are richer than any of those. And, a very funny thing. Wherever you go in the world, you will find that you are needed, without exception . . .
. . . Which is a very nice feeling.”