Let your spine support your head
It’s challenging to stay comfortable at a computer. One tendency many of us have is to bring the head closer to the screen, leaving the trunk where it is. The neck seems to grow forwards as the pressure or interest increases.
This week’s lesson explores this movement, a kind of peck.
In doing the lesson, the muscles we habitually hold should release, and let the spine better support the the weight of the head.
And how does this help you turn your head right and left? Which side does your weight shift as you do this? An interesting puzzle. Photo by Michal Grosicki
Do look after yourself during these lessons – take it easy, don’t do anything that’s uncomfortable. Listen to this clip for more advice on this.
Is slouching bad for you?
A slouch is slovenly, lazy; with slumped shoulders and rounded lower back. The term is pejorative, connecting with many people’s negative aspect of their self-image, perhaps reminding them of childhood instructions to sit-up straight.
Yet, the drive to straighten can be unhelpful. We are designed to round, and it’s helpful to do so at times. It’s key to be aware of how you’re holding yourself, more so than conforming to a notion of correct posture.
Try this lesson. Does the difference between how you feel you should sit, and how you sit in a relaxed way change by the end?
Photo by Toa Heftiba
Sometimes a little confusion can help! 26/1/18
Feldenkrais can be a little confusing! Each lesson could be described as a physical riddle, which the student can explore kinesthetically and only later on come to understand for themselves in a more logical way. If it was obvious, where would the learning be?
This week’s lesson, click here, is is a good example of this: in terms of understanding what’s going on (and how to stay in comfort). How does being twisted on your side relate to lengthening and rounding, or slouching? The full lesson (about an hour long) is called – Mobilizing Pelvic Thrust. Does that make sense to you?
Can your fingers and wrists make you slouch? 19/01/18
Sit at a desk. Rest your hands on the desk with your palms flat, facing downwards, with the elbows bent at about 90 degrees. Spend a few moments to notice where you round and straighten along the spine, where your head sits.
Now, turn your hands over so the backs of your hands lie on the desk. How does this position change the way you hold your pelvis, spine, chest and head? Do you notice your shoulder blades move as you repeat the movement?
Questions, questions! Maybe even find some answers as you explore this further in this week’s lesson.
Slouching or straightening…or somewhere in between? 12/01/18
Many of us are pretty clear that slouching is bad. And, that the opposite – straightening – is good. It is drilled into us from an early age.
But why do we take ‘straightness’ as a point of reference when so little of our skeletal system actually is….straight? The spine, in particular, is curvy along much of its length. And over-straightening can create as many problems as rounding the spine, or slouching.
To change, first we need to know what we actually do – where and how much we straighten, or slouch. Try this week’s lesson to help you find out.
Small is beautiful – 19/11/17
The movements in Feldenkrais are not an end in themselves. Their impact lies in enabling learning to optimise everyday actions.
Taking a movement as far as possible is less helpful than doing similar but much smaller movements. Discomfort is less likely to cloud awareness, and the nervous system can create new pathways to act in a more effective way.
Music can be exquisite without having to be loud.
Try this week’s lesson. It’s tempting to lift the head as high as possible. Resist the urge. How small can you keep it and still do the movements?
Make sure you look after your own comfort and safety while you do these lessons. Listen to some pointers to help you do this.
Is this the most important joint in your body? Finding the hip joints, 9/11/17
The hip joints (where the heads of the femur meet the pelvis) are key to many, many actions. But, they can be difficult to locate.
The idea of ‘self-image’ is central to Feldenkrais. If your image of where your hip joint is located is very different to reality, this can cause problems. How can you know to improve movement in the hip joints, if you misunderstand where they are?
Notice the location of your hips joints in this week’s lesson. Are they close to the groin, or buried in the buttocks behind the pelvis? And does noticing this affect your walking?
What do you make of walking? 3/11/17
Walking, our theme for the next few weeks, is a bit of a miracle. Hour after hour we co-ordinate this action with barely a thought. It’s all the more amazing given we have such a small base of support – the area between the outside edges of the two feet. In fact, proportionally, it’s the smallest base of support of any mammal – giving us our unique upright stance. The feet, with its intricate system of small bones and muscles, seem particularly miraculous. (Though, our shoes often don’t do them justice.) See if this week’s lesson can enhance some of their possibilities.
What’s the point of pain? 21/10/17
I have to admit it: I woke up with a sore neck last week, and it’s still stiff. I can only turn my head a small distance in comfort. Cycling through London (which I do a lot) is uncomfortable, and I sleep less well. So why have we evolved to experience pain? It can be construed as an early warning system to prevent you harming yourself. Often, we ignore it at our peril. Feldenkrais helps to develop awareness, and fine tune that system. Try it with this week’s lesson.
Feldenkrais himself developed his radical approach to rehabilitation after a terrible knee injury. Can I learn from my stiff neck? We shall see!
How much of yourself do you make use of in sitting? 13/10/17
We do a lot of sitting – and we are designed for it, taking the weight of gravity through our sitting bones. But it’s easy to take sitting for granted, to place your bum on the chair and then only notice your head, if that. What about your skeleton in between?
Try this week’s lesson, movements of the head draw attention to the importance of your ribs, your spine and your pelvis when you sit. It turns out there are lots of options. And you don’t have to keep still.
The riddle of the sphinx, and the mysteries of…
Feldenkrais is sometimes described as a physical riddle. Each lesson is seen as process of making sense of unfamiliar movements and how they facilitate everyday actions like sitting, walking or playing sport. Try this lesson, Sphinx-like.
Do the mysteries of your shoulders, and how they relate to your spine reveal themselves? Or are you strangled and devoured, like Greeks of yore? I hope not…but, seriously, do go easy in this position: only continue with the lesson if you can find a way to be comfortable throughout.
Are you comfortable when you sit…? 29/9/17
What does holding your big toe and straightening your leg have to do with sitting comfortably? Not much, you might think…but try this week’s lesson.
Do you sit with greater ease by the end? Comfort in sitting has a lot to do with the relationship between the shoulders, the spine, the ribs and the pelvis. Straightening your leg a little in this way (there’s no need to straighten the leg completely) is a great chance to explore these relationships, try some new options and notice your habits in sitting.
Free the neck…lose the millstone! 29/6/17
For most of us, when we think of the neck, it’s only from the top of the shoulders upwards to the base of the head. But actually, the neck is just the top part of your spine. If it didn’t have a separate name then we might think of it differently. Begin at the coccyx, the base of the spine: between your buttocks, and feel your way up your back, one vertebrae at a time until you reach your head. Does how you sense your neck change if you alter the concept of where it starts? Explore rolling the head between the hands in this week’s lesson, and find your inner giraffe…
Ps – I’m now working more closely with a Feldenkrais colleague, Emma Alter, who kindly wrote this week’s blog. Emma, who is also a musician, teaches a class at Waterloo on Tuesday evenings. Click here for her website. Please sign-up to our new joint Meet-up page – Feldenkrais in London to help spread the word. The more people sign up the more coverage it gets, and if you are coming to a class do RSVP on the page. Many thanks!
Why is back pain so common? 12/5/17
When you bend forward, the muscles at the front contract and shorten while those in your back release and lengthen. To arch the spine (the opposite movement), the back muscles contract and the muscles at the front lengthen. The strength of muscles is important. But it is not the only thing that matters. To optimise movement and alleviate pain, it’s important to learn how to release as well as contract muscles. If you habitually contract on both sides of you at same time, it can become a painful tug-of-war between your own muscles. Let go, and release your back with this week’s lesson.
Do the two ends of your back know each other? 28/4/17
The back, our current focus in class, is a feat of engineering. The relationships between the 33 vertebrae, ribs and shoulder blades give scope for enormous variety of movement. And, the back functions well when the parts work in concert. When we move one end of the spine it has a significant impact on the other end. Due to the distance between the two ends this isn’t always evident. Over time, if our perception is different to reality this can impair function and cause pain. Explore the relationship in this lesson between the two ends of the back. How does your’s stack up?
Why are the hamstrings such a big deal? 23/3/17
Straightening the leg and touching the toes seems to be something that we like to try and do – no matter if it hurts. Try this week’s lesson – for a Feldenkrais take on this stretch.
The movements engage the skeleton all the way from the crown of the head, along the spine and down to our toes. It’s more about the nervous system learning how to connect these different parts of us, than elongating one muscle. And how might this help with everyday action? Do you feel more grounded? Does your spine support your head better? Has your peripheral vision changed?
In daily activity, like walking, we transmit force diagonally across ourselves. This week’s lesson, click below, explores this. The two diagonals (from the left hand above our head to the right foot and vice-versa) intersect somewhere in our lower trunk. We might term this point our ‘centre’.
Yet for many of us the point that feels most like ‘I’ is between the eyebrows, or around the chest area. Why the discrepancy? And does it matter? Try for yourself: the next time you walk, note what difference it makes to sense your centre as near the navel, and then between your eyebrows.
Connecting you to…all of you, 10/3/17
It’s easy to compartmentalise ourselves: the shoulders, the head and so on. The feet, say, may feel some way from the centre of us (wherever we consider that to be). They may feel so distant that they feel like ‘my feet’, rather than part of an integrated ‘me’. That can cause problems. Toes can have a big impact on our pelvis, spine, and head. And Feldenkrais is great at linking up the distal (‘distant’) and proximal (‘near’) parts of the skeleton to improve self-use. Try this week’s lesson and explore the relationship of the feet to the rest of us.
Ps – Apologies for the hiatus in posting this blog – my time has been taken up by joining a new clinic in Shoreditch at Scrutton St, and I’m now teaching individual lessons from there. Do get in touch, if you might be interested in these.
How relaxed are your shoulders? 12/1/17
The shoulders, our current theme, can be a bit of mystery – how do they work? Listen to this week’s lesson. They are often a challenge, and laptops and phones often don’t help. The Feldenkrais method teaches us how to use our skeleton, to hold our bodies against the force of gravity.
Part of this process it to understand when we needn’t use our muscles to do this, to prevent them becoming tense and strained. Many muscles we use for postural (‘or anti-gravity’ purposes) are better used helping us move through space. So…how do your shoulders hang on your skeleton?
Have a good Rest this Christmas! 24/12/16
Rests are key in Feldenkrais. During group lessons these are frequent and short. It’s an integral part of not straining: knowing when a break will enhance what you’re doing, and then resting. I’ve not been able to post for two weeks and it’s hard to accept you can’t do what you plan to. It’s that reluctance to stop that encourages us to push a little further or longer in a movement, which might lead to discomfort. Here are two lessons this week: moving the head…via the feet
and exploring our breath
Noticing is more important than the movement itself, Week 11, 2/12/16
In Feldenkrais, noticing movements and staying comfortable (the process) are much more important than completing or perfecting the movements (an end goal). Try this week’s lesson:
It features a bass line – the ‘Bell Hand’. It’s a fascinating pulsing of fingers and thumb which both calms and alerts us to when we are straining. The melody is straightforward movements which we’ll likely do every day. But how easy it is to do them without straining? As Feldenkrais said: Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.
Apologies – recording not so good this week…you have to turn up the volume a bit.
Visualization and Movement, Week 10, 25/11/6
Feldenkrais was a French-trained physicist and pioneer of judo in Europe. Drawing on these two bodies of knowledge and cultures, his method emerged as a blend of both. Visualisation of movement, used for centuries in martial arts, was one approach he popularized in the West. By imagining a movement we’re not held back by normal muscular and environmental constraints, and we can improve further. Try this week’s lesson, including a short visualization.
Or, instead, try to visualize an everyday movement. Can you sense a kinesthetic feeling as you imagine? Can you feel the connection between your mind and your body?
Do you notice your feet?, Week 9, 18/11/16
The feet have quite a job to do. Receiving sensory input from the ground they make slight adjustments to allow us to balance. Depending on the positions of our head, spine pelvis etc. they also have to adjust to the particular way we hold our skeleton. Each foot has 33 joints. There is potential for a wide variety of movement, and opportunity to optimise their function. Try this week’s lesson to explore some of that variety.
And, if you better understand how your feet stand underneath you, does that draw your attention to where you might improve self-use higher up?
You don’t always have to move to learn how to improve movement, Week 8, 11/11/16
In some lessons students lie or move entirely on one side, like this week’s lesson. Try it here.
Its counter-intuitive. If we are asymmetrical – say one shoulder is lower than the other – this can have a negative effect. In this example, the rib cage may not expand fully on one side, impairing breathing. Feldenkrais realised that once a movement pattern on one side is clarified in the nervous system, it can quickly be replicated on the other side. To improve function it’s not necessarily muscles that need to move, rather our nervous system needs to learn how to move them.
Balance for everyday life, Week 7, 20/10/16
Balance – the theme of the next six lessons – is key to optimising the use of our skeleton and muscles. Try this week’s lesson excerpt:
Feldenkrais was one of the early pioneers of Judo in Europe. He learnt how dynamic equilibrium – and an ability to readily change direction – enabled judo masters to excel. They had a pre-eminent understanding of how best to use gravity and themselves to succeed. What if we could use that knowledge in everyday life, for movements like walking, typing, or playing a musical instrument? That’s the core of the Feldenkrais Method – a kind of martial (or movement) art for everyday life.
Self-exploration, Week 6, 13/10/16
Before discovering Feldenkrais, I’d enjoyed movement classes – but felt I was trying to live up to a standard which my tall, often desk-bound body was unable to attain. The teacher’s demonstrations just looked too good, echoing my experience of gym at school. In Feldenkrais the teacher almost never demonstrates, and I could explore movement much more at my own pace. I judged myself less and was no longer constrained by what I thought I could and couldn’t do. The movements became my own, and I began to take responsibility for them: a joy to be freed from someone else’s standard. Try this week’s lesson
The Elusive Obvious, Week 5, 7/10/16
The principle movement of this week’s lesson – arching and rounding the spine – is well known.
So how can the Feldenkrais method bring something new to it? Feldenkrais talked about the ‘Elusive Obvious’ – that in everyday movements we become so used to what we do that our own habits become very difficult for us to recognise. Rounded shoulders, say, may be obvious to anyone who watches us – but not to ourselves. So, by revisiting movements slowly and precisely, by introducing constraints which pinpoint a part of the movement – the elusive can become obvious. And then you have options for change.