Monday, September 29, 2008
To Feel, Or Not To Feel in The Information Age
Sophia came into my office for a functional integration [F.I.] session today.( I have changed her name, lest she be uncomfortable with being put on display for public scrutiny.) She initially came in for shoulder pain, and she was convinced it simply hurts to reach because she is short. Her height is under five feet and she has to reach for everything.
The lessons evolved out of the first, glaringly obvious fact (to me anyway - not to her) that she moved her shoulder as if it were a hinge joint instead of the ball and socket joint that it is by design. "So," you say? "What's the difference?" A hinge, my dear fellow somatic being, may move only 90 degrees, it may even move to a staggering 180 or 190 - but never featuring normal range of motion of 360 degrees. Nor would a simple hinge joint feature the graceful ability to move itself forward and backward in space around the ribs, or the ability to lift itself in unconscious tension patterns and get stuck close to the ear, held in space by a huge amount of pain-causing effort all occurring below the level of conscious awareness.
This phenomenon is very common. In Sophia's case, it was exacerbated by her experience that as a retired, married woman, who came to adulthood in the late fifties, it fell to her to do most of the daily work around the house (you know; the cooking, cleaning, dishes etc, etc, etc.) "That's just the way it is, somebody has to do it, so I do it." She had veritably manifested her self-image as a symptom. She had developed the pattern of using her limbs in the same way she felt she was being used; like a machine.
The problem with this way of moving is that it's limited and wears out the parts (anterior deltoid) prematurely. It also affects self-worth. She knew she was important - for getting the job done - but lent no credence to the value of her own experience while doing it. She didn't have time to sense herself, (maybe if I ignore the pain it will go away...unless it's glaring and can't be ignored). There's always too much to do. She had been a grade school teacher before she 'retired.' Her expertise was in passing on knowledge, not feeling. For her, how she felt never came into play. Her unconscious priority is 'duty before preference.' I call it the Queen Elizabeth syndrome. Stiff upper lip and all that, duty calls. The evidence of this was in the comments she made about the difference between being a woman versus a man.
For the record - this is not a feminist treatise and so I neither concur nor disagree - however I must point out that is is not an uncommon experience for many women. Another disadvantage to not being interested in feelings is that you often cut yourself off from sensation. If you find sensing yourself a challenge, you might not be so clear about what position you are in. It makes it hard to find the landing gear when you want to sit down. But if you are not sure about landing, chances are you will reach for the chair arms with your hands and lower yourself down with your arms, not realizing you are adding insult to injury by taking the weight of your body on your shoulders - that already tender and over-worked part of yourself.
The human soma is like a multi-faceted diamond, sparkling from many different planes of contact with the light at once. The soma is our felt experience of being alive with all the various levels of aliveness it is possible to feel (sensation, emotion, thought, personality, others, internal environment, external environment, expectations, disappointments, love, hate...you get the picture of the complexity, you live it everyday!) Sometimes it is overwhelming in areas we have not fully integrated and so we shut down.
In Sophia's case, I'm sure she was a very sensitive teacher, compassionate even. But she is less compassionate with herself. When she came in for her third F.I., she reported improvements in comfort and less pain in general. Her eyes were brighter and her expression softer. Yet, her request was, "Could you watch me to make sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing?" (This is where the practitioner cringes and refrains from ripping out her hair.) Personally, I think communication is The Greatest Challenge of Our Times. Just look at what's going on in the world. Clearly I hadn't been clear.
So I thought for a moment and I said to her, "There is no right or wrong in movement, there is only 'does it work or not?' Is it functional? For most people, reaching is functional if they get it done, no matter how they do it. Eventually, if they always reach without sensing, they loose the capacity to tell if it's functional on a subtler level. Are you overextended? Do you feel like you are going to fall down if you reach just a few inches more? How hard do you have to work to stay upright when reaching? The nuance you loose is that the amount of work in staying upright while reaching is relative to how overextended you are in space. If your head is hanging out on a limb, it will take you down. Gravity is reliable that way.
For those of you who were convinced that there is an Ultimate Truth about the Correct Way To Move, sorry. I have to knock all the external experts off their pedastals in the Gallery of Authorities. If you were a machine, it might be so, but you are not. Your mission, should you accept it, is to reclaim your own authority over what works and what doesn't by learning to evolve your abilty to sense yourself in space. You will begin to notice amazing things! Like, "Wow, man, if the pelvis is not under the head, it feels really different!" If you're lying down it can be great, but if you're standing up, get ready to lie down quickly. That's the Experience of being over-extended. If you are overextended in space but you can't sense that you are, you have sensory amnesia and FELDENKRAIS is the key to ageing without killing or injuring yourself by mistake before you do. The problem is that if you can't sense it, you have to wait for injury to let you know something is up. Unless you are smart enough to realize that there may be something here for you to learn that you are not aware of; hence, the name for our group lesson format: AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT.
Now for Sophia, this idea was revolutionary. No, wait, correction: the Sensation of it was Revolutionary. When she got it she said, "It even feels graceful." The next time you are wondering if you are off-balance, check in to see if it feels graceful...Imagine, the entire world gracefully moving around in waves like reeds in the water, a global dance of lives lived in sparkling unison, graceful, aware, fully alive by virtue of seeking out self-integration intentionally. FELDENKRAIS is not the only path, but it's one of them. I look forward to meeting you on the mat.