improving instead of succeeding

unpolished thoughts 1/9/19

“When [you try to] succeed with something, it shifts the attention…

Try to do the opposite [of the habitual]. First, make a small movement, a tiny movement…

Many do [these movements] one after the other… That has no value…

It does not matter how much time [you] give it or how slowly [you] do this… Once it starts moving it will be possible to do it more strongly and faster, but now it is necessary to go slowly…

When I look, with many, I see that they do movements one after the other and don’t try to understand… For them it is more important to do the movements quickly and succeed than it is to improve.”

Excerpt from transcript of Moshe Feldenkrais, teaching Awareness Through Movement (“Getting to Know the Hip Joints” – AY #241):

(Punctuation for emphasis in this quotation and elsewhere are my own.)

More on this quotation at the end of this post.


I’m working on waking up earlier in the morning.

I’m not typically a morning person, but I’ve become aware of the benefit of those quieter hours when more of the world is asleep – including my daughter.

I’m trying to train myself to take better advantage of that opportunity.

Last night I was up until nearly 1am, but I set my alarm for 5:50am this morning.

And 5:55am, and 6am.

But I didn’t end up needing the last alarm. I turned it off before it sounded and I was out of bed at 6.

That was more or less the plan. The ten-minute buffer was built-in.

(I don’t think I will ever understand – or be like – these people I see in movies sometimes where the alarm sounds, they reach to turn it off, and then immediately rise up out of bed – how is that possible?!)

My daughter, who is 10-years-old, actually has the early morning habit, largely trained by her mother, because mom’s house is a longer drive to school than mine.

(Our daughter has lived in two households for nearly four years now.)

But although Maria’s alarm – one of those terrible buzzing alarms like the sound on a truck backing up – also went off at 6am this morning, she kept hitting snooze and stayed in bed.

Her extra rest was also a gift to me.

I set up my coffee machine last night, so I only had to turn it on, and then used the bathroom – right next to Maria’s room – being as quiet as I could.

(It’s not easy since nearly every floorboard in my apartment creaks.)

Then I returned to the main room and did my sitting meditation for 15 minutes.

During my meditation, I became aware of the ever-present tensions in my right arm and had a dialogue with the part of myself that resides there.

I’ve recently come to a fuller understanding of how a childhood injury and a traumatic “therapy” experience have impacted me emotionally as well as physically.

Using my breath as an anchor to keep myself present, I questioned my child self about the experience I had been through, offering love, support and acknowledgement for what I went through.

As I type now, I can still feel a clear difference between my two arms, but this conversation did actually create some palpable shifts in my physical sensation, a little more ease in my thinking, and a fuller breath in the right side of my torso.

After my meditation, amazed that my daughter was still in bed, I set a timer for 15 minutes and lay on the floor to practice a Feldenkrais lesson I recently learned and taught which continues to fascinate me.

This was a breakthrough.

The fact is, even though I am a Feldenkrais practitioner and the method is literally my “bread and butter”, I have not recently had a disciplined daily practice, despite knowing that it would be of major benefit to me both personally as well in my teaching practice.

In 2018, I became much more engaged with the online world and I am regularly in front of my computer for most of the day.

Thanks to a suggestion from my friend Chandler Stevens, my computer is set up so that I can sit on the floor when I work. That’s better than being in a chair all that time, but it doesn’t change the fact that so much time spent focusing my eyes at short range (usually looking downwards) takes a serious toll on me.

I’m “aware” of what’s happening, yet I rarely do the best thing I know to relieve the physical and mental tensions that inevitably result from this situation: practice Awareness Through Movement (“ATM”).

Instead, I’ve mostly surrendered to the fiction that “I don’t have time” because of all the other things I’ve set in motion – from writing this blog, to regular engagement on social media channels where clients can find me, to writing newsletters, and setting up online courses.

At best, my personal practice has become a “reward” I give myself on a “good day” rather than a normal part of my routine that runs like clockwork.

Not surprisingly, the more savage version of my mental voice often likes to tell me that I’m lazy, undisciplined, and a fraud.

“What kind of movement teacher doesn’t religiously engage with the practice they teach?!”, the voice screeches.

Today, I did engage, and when I got up off the floor this morning, I didn’t hear that voice.

Nor did I have the sense of “not enough time” as I went to wake up my daughter for breakfast.

Instead, I felt the three qualities that are available to anyone who engages their attention in this unique process invented by Moshe Feldenkrais: it’s a feeling of physical integrity, mental clarity, and emotional dignity.

The teacher that clarified for me that these three opportunities are embedded in the fabric of each Feldenkrais lesson is Jeff Haller, educational director of the Feldenkrais Training Academy in Seattle where I am currently engaged in further study.

As Jeff would put it, in this precious moment at the end of an Awareness Through Movement lesson we have the opportunity to “step outside of our historic way of knowing ourselves.”

If we broaden our attention beyond the often dramatic changes that can be felt on the physical plane, we can also experience our potential to live more of the life we would like to live.

In that moment we feel more of ourselves – and less of our social conditioning.

Perhaps this morning was different because I sent Jeff a message last night describing my struggle to make time for regular practice. I looked forward to his reply, but I could already feel in my body that I knew what to do.

This morning I finally did the non-habitual thing intentionally, breaking the old pattern because I knew – that is I could feel –  why it no longer served me.

My plan is to continue with this new pattern because as I type these words I can already clearly sense that it serves me better.


After writing the above this morning, I found the quotation from Moshe Feldenkrais that is at the top of this post.

I encountered it last week while studying the transcript of the Awareness Through Movement lesson, “Getting to Know the Hip Joints” (AY #241), part of my preparations to teach a 3-part online course, ¡Reimagine Your Hip Joints! 

I read this excerpt aloud while teaching because I thought it perfectly captured something I find myself explaining over and over these days:

It is gross misconception that the Feldenkrais Method is simply a process for achieving “better movement.”

In Jeff Haller’s training, all students are reviewing videos of Moshe Feldenkrais at his Amherst, MA training in the early 1980s.

That experience, combined with my recent acquisition of the collected transcripts of Feldenkrais  at his Tel Aviv studio on Alexander Yannai street (the source of the “AY” in lesson titles like “AY #241”) have both reinforced something essential for me:

Feldenkrais was always connecting the process of improving movement to all parts of the human experience.

Another ATM I taught in this series was “Frog Movements with the Legs and the Arch” (AY #117).

In part of this lesson, Feldenkrais directs his students to do a movement that looks like a crunch –  but isn’t supposed to feel like one!

That is, he tells them to hold their knee with one hand, hold the head with the other hand, and bring the forehead and the knee towards each other.

However, over a dozen times he tells them not to touch these two body parts together.

In fact, he goes further:

“Do it with a special intention not to ‘try‘”


“Eliminate any desire, any thought, of touching the head to the knee.”

He then explains why this emotional drive directly undermines the efficient biomechanics necessary to make the action easy:

“Why should [you] make an effort in order to touch?

[You make an effort] because the chest, in front, does not fold. Instead of continuously softening it, all of a sudden [you] strain it; then an effort is necessary to touch. [Is it possible to continue doing the movement with a soft chest] and do the movement without any goal of touching?…

Pay attention to how [you] strain the chest the moment you want to move the knee closer to the head.”

Finally – could he make it any clearer?!

“Try not to touch.

Try not to touch.

Do not try to touch.

Try not to touch.

Do not touch the knee to the head.”


It’s one thing to write out these quotes.

It is another thing to live by them.

My recent bias towards working in front of this laptop at the expense of a daily learning experience in my body is a perfect example of how we can distort ourselves by orienting towards “success” (i.e., my idea of building my business) at the expense of “improving (i.e., becoming clearer every day how to properly take care of myself).

Although it may be obvious, it’s worth underlining that not making time for something – a “mindset thing” – and straining to touch one’s knee and head – a “body thing” – are actually no different.

(Click here for yet another example of how we can choose success over self-improvement – even when we think that we are pursuing self improvement!)

I think that Moshe Feldenkrais treated both of these kinds of self-destructive drives as being essentially one and the same.

The process of liberating ourselves is also essentially the same, which is why so many people who have worked with this “movement practice” for a long period of time will tell you that it has changed their “whole life.”

In any case, that is how I understand the Feldenkrais Method – and that’s how I teach it as well.