Monday, January 23, 2012

Feldenkrais® for Yoga

The core of my Feldenkrais® Movement Re-education practice is helping people having acute or chronic pain of the back, neck, shoulder, and wrist.  However, I also work with yoga students, or yogis, who are interested in improving their flexibility, ease and comfort, within their practice of yoga.  Some of these people are currently in pain, some are already very healthy.  These latter individuals are simply looking for a better way to improve their yoga.

During a session with a yogi, I use Feldenkrais strategies to facilitate people's comfort in getting into the various beautiful yoga postures, or "asanas", as they are called.  Adaptable to all levels of ability or experience, working hands-on with clients, I present a Feldenkrais approach to "stretching" in order to improve their yoga practice.

We all know that Feldenkrais® is a wonderful body-centered self-discovery process.  Yoga can be also.  An obvious difference is that Feldenkrais uses movement for self-exploration and awareness while yoga uses asanas, mudras, and intentional kinds of breathing.  Therefore, I've found it sometimes to be a beautiful union between two different forms of self-exploration.

Complementing my primary passion of Feldenkrais, I've discovered in recent years a strong fondness for yoga.  It's interesting how my love for one ignites my passion and application for the other.  Within my own personal time, each occasion in which I design a Feldenkrais lesson around a certain yoga pose, I find that I enjoy the yoga even more so.  I'm also discovering that the more I do yoga, that returns my interest to Feldenkrais for more movement exploration.  What a serene blend between process-oriented and goal-oriented kinds of work!

Feldenkrais can dynamically help improve your flexibility and comfort within an asana.  Some of the asanas I have worked with clients for improving have been, in their English name:  Lotus, Cat, Camel, Hero, Plough, Spinal Twist, Head to Knee, Smiling Cow, Cobra, and the Bridge.



"Sensible Feet, rather than Sensitive Feet"

Each particular session with a client is unique with that particular person and on that particular day.  However, to give a tangible to what I do, I'll give a physical example of when I work with a yoga student who approaches me for improvement in sitting cross-legged, or sitting in Lotus.  Often times I am able to improve the yogi's flexibility by "working the client's feet".  More accurately, I am working through the client's feet, sensing for connections to the rest of the Self (body).  As I am working, I am asking within myself, "How does this (foot) connect to the rest of the Self?"  I may never actually articulate an answer.  However, it is this indulgement into this Inquiry Process that is the Feldenkrais® work.  I may also begin to gently turn or "play" with the client's toes and foot, as I am "into the process" of being aware of the connections throughout this individual as I am "exploring" the feet.  At some time during our "dance" together, I may find that I am even able to ultimately interlace the client's toes together, only if it is easy and comfortable to do so.  However, this is not a direct goal of the session.  As a practitioner, I am into the moment.  ...  I am into the process ... not the goal. 

Clients, afterward, are often amazed at how much more comfortably and easily they can sit cross-legged, or even in some form of Lotus.  What an improvement!  It's wonderful how this strategy can open oneself up for sitting.  One reason for this is because of the coherent connections between the toes/feet and the rest of the Self.  The toes/feet are instrumental in balance, which influences the organization of the Self.

An especially enjoyable moment in my practice occurred when a yoga teacher in the area, Deanne Shower, age 56, came to see me out of curiosity.  In the beginning of our session, she expressed that she was experiencing an intense tightness and pain in her right buttock when doing any Head-to-Knee pose.  This was unfortunately affecting her practice and teaching of yoga.  I guided her through a gentle “Head to Knee lesson".  Instead of having the intention of bringing her head to her knee (while the legs are straight), I built our session together around having her first explore bringing her head toward her knee while her leg is comfortably bent.  Then I would ask her to maintain the same relationship between her head and knee, namely that the two remain touching, while she slowly extend her leg in order to straighten it.  Instead of the traditional “hamstring stretch” that is taught to almost every American in our school system, this Feldenkrais strategy teaches the relationship between the hamstrings, back, neck, and the rest of the Self (body) for more efficient movement.

At the end of our session, Deanne was overjoyed.  She told me that she no longer had ANY pain when performing the “hamstring stretch”.  She then amazed herself by proudly showing me that she was actually able to wrap both legs behind her head, exclaiming “I’ve never been able to do this.  This stuff really works!”


I love how my experiences with yoga people have always been positive.  They have always been quite open to Feldenkrais movement re-education work. 

If you are just starting to develop an interest in learning yoga, I would advise you to first find an instructor that you feel comfortable with, and that you feel comfortable enough to be allowed to slowly go and learn at your own pace.  It’s important that you do not feel compelled to have to be able to pre-maturely force yourself into a yoga pose.  Be sure that you do not feel that you are, before you are ready for it, overly-stretching, in order to attain a, supposedly, certain level of fitness.  Find a teacher that you feel is nicely pacing you, and you do not feel is rushing you beyond your immediate abilities.

The best to all,
James


Guan Yin Acupuncture & Feldenkrais® Center
Dr. Lin Cheng Speer, LAc, OMD, PhD
James Speer, Guild-Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner®
1003 Wilshire Blvd. Suites #203, 208
Santa Monica, CA 90401
tel. 310-395-1952
http://www.drlinspeer.com/

http://www.feldenkraisjamesspeer.com/
http://www.feldenkraisjamesspeer.blogspot.com/
"Health Is All that Matters!"

James Speer

Monday, January 16, 2012

For Practitioners: "Two Tools for My Practice ... The Table (Folded) and Telephone Books"

[Please allow me to state up front that the following blog is for Feldenkrais Practitioners, rather than for others.  I will soon be coming out with some more articles for the general public.]

Greetings Colleagues!

I observe that many different forms of healing therapies employ the use of tools within their work. For example, some "bodyworkers" sometimes use a tool in order to be able to do, for instance, deeper soft tissue work, while still being able to salvage their thumbs, hands, or arms from overuse. Since our profession, The Feldenkrais Method®, an extremely powerful form of movement and somatic reeducation, also falls under the same protective umbrella with these other helpful modalities, vis-a-vis, the Healing Arts, it may be interesting to explore exactly some of the different "tools" that we frequently, or, occasionally, use within our own profession.

As Feldenkraisers, we are all familiar with the use of props, for the purpose of support, for a client when she is lying on our table. For example, supposing a client is lying supine (on her back), as practitioners, we may, or may not, choose to apply some sort of foam support behind her knees, as well as, possibly, under her ankles, if we see that it may be educationally useful.
Likewise, we may also apply padding, for instance, behind the lower back, the nape, the wrists, a shoulder, etc., if we see a large gap behind these areas. Thus, we may possibly consider the use of foam or pads as tools within our profession.

Evidently, the term, "tool", is not being conveyed in the traditional sense of the word, that is, "a device used to perform or facilitate manual or mechanical work". This use of the word, "tool", would convey a categorizing of a, for instance, "doing something", or, a "doing something onto". This would espouse the principle employed by a therapy, of a "working on". Whereas, we
are familiar that this does not, at all, confer Feldenkrais, which, instead, conveys the principle of a "working with". Utilizing this perspective, I am employing the term, "tool", to illustrate a device, which, as Feldenkraisers, we encapsulate its use, in order to assist us within our exploratory process.

When working with our clients, we are familiar with the use of chairs, or, even the use of a vertical wall, which is wonderful for using for standing lessons. We often times employ the use of rollers. Frequently, we place a pad(s) behind the head. Sometimes we enjoy using a plastic or wood board to simulate the valuable "artificial floor" lesson. Analogously, the use of a
board, applied to the hand, for an educational "artificial floor" lesson to the hand, can be helpful. This can be easily done with the client lying prone (on their stomach, or, front side), their arm hanging off the table, over the edge.

I propose two other tools which I relish within my work, the Feldenkrais table, itself, as well as the use of telephone books.

I enjoy using the Feldenkrais table, folded in half, and then securely latched up, as if for packing away. For instance, after positioning the folded, locked-up table, vertically (i.e., at an exact right angle with respect to the floor), I will then have the client straddle over it, so that her feet are just barely touching the floor. This set up provides a wonderful simulation for standing up in the vertical, while, at the same time, there is only a very minimal amount of force actually traveling through the client's feet. The client is "weightless" while in standing! The table is supporting the client in standing, through her groin area, as opposed to supporting her through her feet. This
provides the sensory motor experience of standing, without, otherwise, efforting through her feet, thus, an excellent opportunity for exploration, without the client possibly holding onto her, otherwise, habitual patterns.

The practitioner can also ask the client to bend her legs, so that her inner thighs are straddling, lightly pressing into, the table, in order to emulate sitting, more accurately, sitting on a bicycle or motorcycle, or horseback riding.

Using the folded table to emulate standing or sitting gives the practitioner an abundant access to almost all of the different areas of the client's body. Thus, it creates a large opening for simultaneously working THROUGH many different classical landmarks, which might otherwise be sometimes untouchable, i.e., a unique access to both sit bones, as well as full access to all sides of the ribs, etc.

Sometimes, for additional support, rather than having the table free standing, which might sometimes require the client to be a little concerned for her balance while straddling over it, I may, instead, place the folded table in between two sturdy supports. For example, I will push together my desk and my filing cabinet, so that the folded table, which is positioned vertically in
between them, is then securely locked into place. I position the table so that at least two feet, or so, is sticking out from in between my desk and filing cabinet, in order to allow enough room for the client to comfortably position herself over it.

Depending upon my level of comfort with the client, I may join her and also straddle the upright folded table, usually from behind, to position myself closer to her.  This provides an ideal place for the practitioner to run his fingers and hands up and down the client's spine and sacrum for doing, for instance, extension, flexion, or lateral bending lessons. The table becomes a "two-person saddle". Practitioner and client are, both, "riding the horse together".

On some occasions, if the client's feet do not comfortably reach the floor, I will place another "tool" that I use, that being telephone books, under her feet.


The use of telephone books also applies to when the table is in its original position, where it is unfolded, that is, where it is set up in its horizontal position, expressly, its entire length being about 16 inches or so along the floor.  In this instance, I will use simple, easily accessible, telephone books, when necessary, when doing a Kneeling Over the Table Lesson, and the client's knees will not, otherwise, comfortably reach the floor. Furthering the assurance of comfort, I will always place a kneeling pad between her knees and the telephone books.

Before using a telephone book, I will first wrap strong, packing tape around its entire perimeter, lengthwise, as well as, its entire width, in order to better maintain its solid rectangular shape. Otherwise, the depth (thickness) of the telephone book can sometimes buckle, slightly, under weight.  If, sometimes, the material of the outer cover of the book is too glossy or slippery, I will wrap it completely in paper, taped to seal. This allows better solid footing for the client, as well as being more aesthetically appealing.

Getting back to discussing the utilization of telephone books pertaining to working with the client while the table is in its original position, unfolded, that is, the table is positioned horizontal along the floor, the entire length of the table being about 16 inches or so from the floor.  ...  We all know how important it is to lift a client's arm, leg, head, or any part of their body, with the conveyance of little effort on our part in order to give the sensory-motor experience to the client of what it is like to move easily or effortlessly.  To give a practical application of how I use a telephone book to help me with this, let's suppose that the client is lying supine on my table.  I will arrange for her to be lying so that there is about 1 1/2 feet between her head and the edge of the table.  Within this 1 1/2 feet of space, I will sit on the table in order to bring my pelvis close as is comfortably possible (comfortable to both parties, the practitioner and client) to the client's head, in order to be able to gracefully and easily lift the client's head.  It is necessary for me to straddle my legs over the table in this position.  For shorter practitioners who have difficulty in straddling their legs over the table while it is in this horizontal position, simply place telephone books on either side of the table so that as your feet straddle over the side of the table, they don't need to go so far down as to be able to ultimately reach the floor.  Instead, having a thick telephone book nicely resting on the floor, your feet only need to go so far as to be able to rest them on the telephone book, which is supported by the floor underneath it.  Thus, a practitioner can feel very comfortable in this position of straddling a horizontal table.

As with any information ... Take what is useful to you. ... Discard the Rest. ...  Invent what you still need.

Enjoy!

The best to all!
James

Guan Yin Acupuncture & Feldenkrais® Center
Dr. Lin Cheng Speer, LAc, OMD, PhD
James Speer, Guild-Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner®
1003 Wilshire Blvd. Suites #203, 208
Santa Monica, CA 90401
tel. 310-395-1952
http://www.drlinspeer.com/
http://www.feldenkraisjamesspeer.com/
http://www.feldenkraisjamesspeer.blogspot.com/
"Health Is All that Matters!"


James Speer