Wednesday, February 08, 2017

How FELDENKRAIS Works

How can something so subtle really work? How can something that often looks like nothing is being done be effective? How can movements so small and slow create lasting, effective changes for people?

How does FELDENKRAIS work? It reduces the constant stimulus of the nervous system. We live in an unconscious state of hypermobilization, distraction and pain from old injuries to the body and the psyche. It offers learned self awareness that gives you immediate access to ease, possibility and a new alignment. Polyvagal Theory explains why what may appear to be doing nothing, or so little that it's almost imperceptible, can have such an impact on the sense of well being. Because we get stuck in one way of responding to life due to injury, or accident, or a lifetime of little, additional shocks to the system, only a sense of safety can allow us to move out of that place. 

The polyvagal part of the autonomic nervous system includes these 3 stages of development: Immobilization, mobilization, and social communication or social engagement. By working to reduce the excessive stimulus of the polyvagal system, the body is able to come out of living in a perpetual state of unconscious hyperarousal. New neuroception allows neural circuits to distinguish that one is finally safe, and can resume normal function. It feels like greater awareness, comfort, stability and mobility; it feels like the absence of restriction, the sense of spontaneous well being. It offers an improvement in function that addresses even restrictions you were previously unaware of, in addition to the ones you are actually acutely annoyed or hindered by!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hip Pain

Yesterday, I led my first Awareness Through Movement Class after a hiatus from teaching.

One woman showed up with hip pain. The most obvious difference between her stance and the other women in the class? She stood with her feet really close together. Not functional, in space or in life. Talk about women being trained to undermine their own success, aliveness and sense of place in the world. Conscious or not, we women have taken in the subtle message to keep our legs together. Especially women who have grown up in the fifties and sixties.

But what other toxic messages have we imbibed from visual media alone? Looking at this photograph, I hear whispers that it's more feminine, that we are here to be pretty, not powerful, that we if we comply, then we get to take advantage of the commandment to manipulate: the only power women are allowed. Why? Because its a form of shadow power, it's not real. Real power emanates from a sense of connection to one's inherent right to be in the world. You would not be here if you were not completely unique, a part of all that is, even as the waves are an intrinsic part of the ocean. You are here to express your unique gift, not to manipulate men into desiring you or your 'services' whatever your skills might be.

So, back to the hip pain thing. Her idea, this lovely woman who showed up for the class, was that she was always trying to do her best, to do the right thing. In this case, she had learned the right thing, or so sh thought, in yoga. She had learned to stand with her feet together in a yoga pose and assumed the famous American axiom that 'more is better' must be true. In some cases it is, in some cases it's not.  Sorry, there are no absolutes in life. Be easier if there were, but until that time, you'd do better to trust your own sense of what feels right. Yoga is an amazing practice for opening the heart - in that realm it's powerful like no other. Yoga is great for strength and stamina, but it's not meant to be practiced with the rigidity of a boot camp. It's not about standing at attention, it's about standing with awareness. If you stand in a Pilates stance all the time, the same thing holds true: you will exhaust yourself and be more stressed. There is a time and place to practice and neither of these excellent exercise methods are meant to teach you a way to stand all the time.

In fact, any fixed idea about how to be that we impose on ourselves is an external construct. Free yourself of the imposition of conceptual ideas about how to stand and I can pretty much guarantee that most of your hip pain will go away. Make it your practice to listen to your body, not the ideas others have taught you, for they are meant to help you, not direct your life for you so that you don't have to.

With respect, I no longer believe it helpful to tell people what they want to hear, but rather, I stand for the truth. And that's just the truth as I see it. You have your own. Live it.

Namasté,
Gabrielle

Monday, April 15, 2013

3:15 pm PST 4/15/13 “The Boston Marathon Bombings just happened 10 minutes ago…Grief is a physical experience. It just makes sense to work through it using a somatic, or an embodied approach.” #ATM Boston (twitter hashtag discussion)

Wednesday, April 03, 2013



Writer Natalie Goldberg tells a story about how she first met the local Zen Master and found him less than impressive. At some point afterwards she went to a wedding in Hawaii where he was also in attendance. Then, a few weeks later, she went back to the Zen Center to find him wearing a vibrant pink Hawaiian orchid from that very same reception. When she commented in surprise, he said, "Yes. When you take care of something, it lives a long time."


Even so with ourselves. We are conditioned to ignore this small detail that can prolong both life and joy. Taking time, taking time out, none of these are encouraged. Instead, as a society, we are admonished to strive. As children we are prompted to succeed. As young adults we are shoved out the door and told to sink or swim.

This is all such a given we hardly even notice it.

Conditioned to strive, to succeed, to get it done, we have to actually give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves, to nurture ourselves or to do what brings us joy! This leaves a vague sense of stress, of feeling depleted, of being unappreciated. Yet, the choice is ours. We can choose to buy into this subliminal social conditioning to produce, or we can enjoy the process of our lives. In a complicated world, it's a simple choice really. To take time out to savor being in a body, to take care of our bodies, to enjoy being embodied?

Awareness Through Movement Provides a clear path to enjoyment on the physical plane. The fact that it also helps maintain smooth functionality in the body at the same time is icing! Its just that 'when you take care of something, it lasts a long time!'

Monday, March 26, 2012

BeingHuman 2012: Perception From Both Sides of the Fence

"The developmental learning process involves creating integration of movement and perception into a coherent pattern..." - Carl Ginsburg, The Intelligence of Moving Bodies: A Somatic View of Life and Its Consequences

Life is chaotic (a pattern). Everyone seems to have their own agenda (a pattern), or at least their own strongly held convictions (a pattern), about how things should be done, their own lens (a pattern), through which they see the world and make sense of the seemingly incoherent movement of time, technology and ideas, not to mention politics, economics and power. Neuroscience sees the world through the filter of it's own studies, which of late, have brought new insights into the discussion about how we make sense of experience. 

For example, what if, because of the way our brains are designed, we only understand reality through the veil of past experience (another pattern)? For example, you recognize the logo above as a bar code (yes, it's a pattern!), even though you didn't think about it; it was a visual recognition that occurred below the level of conscious awareness. You made sense of the image without thought, based on past exposure to bar codes over a lifetime of shopping in supermarkets that use them on every item they sell.  If its true that we can only perceive an experience based on past experience, neurologically, then given that knowledge, we can be a little more detached from 'being right,' (a seriously deeply ingrained pattern!), and a little more objective and compassionate in realizing that others see the same situation as we do, but from an equally valid perspective. This could be a huge step in the direction of creating a coherent integration of understanding among peoples across a world divided not so much by geography as in past centuries, but more by minds that are set in peaks and valleys of righteousness, which, like walls of certainty, interfere with coherent integration and living with each other in a way that makes sense.

Consider this: At the first Being Human Symposium held March 24th, 2012, in San Francisco, Beau Lotto, who holds a Ph.D. from Edinburgh's Medical School in cellular and molecular developmental neurobiology, demonstrated just how differently we understand the meaning of experience based on the perspective we are coming from. He runs the Lotto Lab in London: an experiential public research lab that specializes in perception. By means of a number of ingenious illusions, he demonstrates the divide between what we perceive and what is actually there.  He began clarifying the divide by using a visual illusion based on the perception of color, since, he says,  'Its is one of the simplest things the brain does,' which is remarkable in and of itself when you think about it. For years I have been reading about these kinds of visual illusions, never really understanding their relevance to reality. Lotto is a vivacious presence with a mischievous sense of humor which you can get a sense of by viewing an older version of his presentation from a TED talk given in 2009.

By showing a variety of images in successive illusions that challenge you to discern which colors are held in common, you begin to realize experientially, that context is everything. Without understanding that the context, or the lens through which we see a thing either puts certain distinctions in bold relief or tends to cast them as minor by setting them in the background, we will never realize how biased our most cherished perceptions are; including the one that holds that we are unbiased.

One of the things that was so moving and powerful about this symposium, was that it was a true attempt to create a meeting of the minds between the hard sciences and the social sciences, and between how the brain makes meaning of reality through the senses and how our environment, our familial, social, and cultural assumptions and perceptions dictate our behavior 'below the hood;' in other words, without our conscious awareness. Psychology proclaims that at least 80% of anyone's behavior emerges out of subconscious impulses. If we behave in ways that are driven by things we don't even notice, no wonder we are at loggerheads with each other on most issues that impact us all. All this and more is the domain of AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT, hence, my enthusiasm: this is a major move in the direction of understanding how somatic experiencing contributes much more than an understanding of movement, it's trains us to refine our perceptions, be clearer in our communications, to evolve a functional life and a functional ability to survive on a planet we have compromised by our lack of understanding of these principles up to now.

Another piece of somatic understanding that was implicit, although unfortunately not explicit, at this symposium, was the importance of balancing different ways of perceiving: via the intellect versus the non-verbal, via cognition versus imagination, via information versus the arts. Some might frame this as left brain versus right brain 'thinking,' although that model is also being questioned by neurology currently.  My only suggestion to improve this event, would be to include the awareness that experiential movement could have augmented learning for both audience and presenters, by providing relief from eight hours of sitting and by instigating a mental state change to prevent intellectual overload and further cement new learning as a somatic experience.

So, although the lack of the inclusion of movement as a way of perceiving and sensing our environment, was an oversight that demonstrates the need for a better understanding of the efficacy of accelerated learning models as well as somatics on the part of the organizers, it was a really nice start to what I hope will be a continuing conversation about the intersection of understanding that can further human evolution when the linguistics department speaks to the education department, and the social sciences speak to the neurologists and when artists, musicians, poets, writers and movement educators are in conversation with philosophers, microbiologists, psychologists, and neurologists about how we shape our reality in functional ways.

This is the very foundation of AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT: it's the development of a learning process that integrates our perceptions, internal and external, with our actions into a functional relationship with reality. To use the language brought into the conversation by Carl Ginsburg in his new book quoted at the beginning of this article, this is exactly how we create a agency, or the ability to direct our actions in functional ways as individuals and as a society: there can be no functional act without integration. And integration involves improved understanding of our own perceptions, sensations, awarenesses, how to augment them, how to develop them, and how to make them useful, intentional, coherent and organized so that function can occur with ease and grace like a symphony moving in apparent synchronicity.

Oh, and to add the salient question of the symposium, lest it be overlooked: 'What does being human mean to you, now, in the 21st Century?' And from my point of view, biased, I know, 'What, in your experience, does AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT lend to Being Human?'