Friday, September 26, 2008

Arlene Bogna, Thank You

Finally - my web site is up and running. It has taken me several years to finish. I'm still adding several blogs a month, linked to the website. Please check it out and let me know how you like it! I love the logo, color, design and layout - it's understated and friendly to the eyes. It's a friendly simplicity that does not assault the senses. Thanks to Arlene Bogna of Vista Point Pictures for the great job!

Most commercial web sites, they kind of assault the eyes with bright colors, slick graphics and cleverly disguised salesmanship. I am so happy not to be part of that world. I'd rather offer quality - let word-of-mouth spread the word, if it is deserving. If not, OK. I prefer presentation that is understated, beautiful and inviting -  rather than manipulative in any way. 

Look carefully at the choice of fonts, the spacing of everything, the color choices - none of it is by accident. It feels simple and friendly, because Arlene knows how to do that. 

If you need a logo or web design - please visit her web site. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


It seems that as we grow older, it is normal to get hammertoes. Why? Osteoporosis? Diet related? Lack of exercise? Because of high heeled shoes? Is there a cure? 

Yes, certainly, there are specific stretches and exercises that will help alleviate hammertoes. I even use them when working with clients. But it is also good to know the big picture as well, to understand how you created the hammertoes in the first place, and what to do about it.

Yes, high heeled shoes will greatly aggravate the condition, but is not the primary cause. Hammertoes are one of the body’s many ways of giving us an “early warning” that certain aspects of our life are out-of-balance. It is really a profound message, and a fascinating one. It has taken me many years to piece this information together, and understand it (although, I am sure I was given this information in one way or another during my Feldenkrais Training).

It’s caused by gripping the bottom of the feet – especially the toes – when balance is somewhat compromised (for whatever reason), combined with a tendency to stare in the context of visual dominance. Staring means we fixate all the joints. That guarantees compromised balance. 

Gripping the bottom of the feet and digging in the toes - you might not even be able to notice yourself doing it. It takes a refined sense of body-awareness. Try it: stand up, and stare fixedly at a nearby object, keeping your body motionless. What is happening to the bottom of your feet? It takes time to become aware of such subtle reflexes. They are so quick, so seemingly-normal and “part of who we are” that we take them for granted. Or, more likely, they have been “full on” for so many years that there is no detectible response to such a test.

In my private practice I have worked with hundreds of feet. Almost all of them are far too tense, 24/7. People don’t know how to relax their feet! Even when sleeping or sitting, they are holding incredible tension. When I feel the feet of a client with soft feet, like a baby, I know there is a special person lying on my table.

Most of us are already so visually dominant, with over-tight arches of the feet, that we are so used to it, we cannot feel it going on. As you start to make the corrections I recommend here, however, you will certainly begin to feel it, eventually.

When a foot takes weight it should lengthen and widen, and the ankle should become tonified, active and intelligently managing the weight of the body. Any excess tension in the foot will only interfere.

You can easily demonstrate this with your right hand. With a relaxed right hand, make slow easy circles of the hand in the air, from the wrist only (don’t move the arm). That should be easy. Now, make a circle with your tightly-clenched fist. Not so easy, is it?

Stand up, relax. Slowly shift your weight from one foot to the other. Sway your body slowly left and then right. Notice what is happening to the foot that takes weight. Is it softening, lengthening and widening? Or is it doing something else?

Similarly, tension in the feet will interfere with the ability of the ankle to balance the body weight. Balance is no easy task to begin with, and foot tension makes it nearly impossible. What happens then, over many decades, is that – because of compromised balance – we are overly susceptible to stress, to anxiety and fears and negative situations and emotions. This is because, as Moshe Feldenkrais pointed out many times, our first inborn fear, the primary fear response we are born with (and which is the foundation of all later fears and anxieties in life) is fear of falling. Tensing the feet unnecessarily causes such a deep damage to our lives, over many decades, if we only fully understood it we would take drastic actions to turn the situation around.

So, tensing the feet unconsciously, as most of us do, not only makes us “ungrounded”. It sets the stage for a lifetime of compromised balance, and susceptibility to anxiety, fear and negativity. It creates a vicious cycle, the more you tense the feet, the more you have to be visually vigilant, and the more your eyes do that, the more your feet will grip, due to compromised balance. The ankles cannot balance you if the feet are tense. Tense feet cannot sense what is under them as well as can relaxed feet.

The very common end result is extreme visual dominance, impaired balance, extreme fear of falling, and in fact, a bad fall in later years is indeed very much like a death sentence. When an intervention is made at some point to soften the feet in weight bearing, wake up the ankles, reduce visual dominance, improve body organization and balance this unfortunate circumstance can be moderated. That's true even if one starts somatic work at an advanced age.  
The quickest solution, easiest and best, is to spend about 30 minutes a day (at least 15) blindfolded, while moving, standing, walking. Personally, I rarely miss my 15 minutes a day of doing exercises with eyes closed. After all blind folks spend 24 hours a day not seeing anything, so why can't I spend 15 minutes? 

Some other ways to get the same benefits:
  • As you take a walk, close your eyes for a few seconds, when the “coast is clear” and walk using your inner proprioceptive skills – remember where you are, sense your surroundings etc. 
  • When you get up in the morning, walk to the bathroom with eyes closed. Keep your hand along the wall if you need to do so. 
  • If you do regular exercises at home, do at least some of them with your eyes closed.
  • Wear moccasins at home or when hiking and walking. Learn to walk as Tom Brown teaches (the “Fox walk”) in his books. This way of walking means you first touch the ground with the ball of the foot, little toe side, and roll in as you take weight. The heel does not even touch, necessarily, as you walk or run. Personally, I run barefooted on concrete this way, in LA, regularly. I love it!
  • Do like I do, at age 62, I still do this. I put on my shoes while standing on one leg. It keeps my balance skills constantly updated. When you first try this you may be shaky, but keep trying. You’ll get it. 
  • Stand near a wall or door-frame. Close your eyes and fall into the wall. Catch yourself with your hands on the wall. Do this with hips twisted, with the body slightly turned, with variations of head looking up or down, left or right. This will teach your ankles to get smarter, and your feet will automatically have to be more relaxed. You body knows that intuitively, and it will happen automatically. 
  • If you go away to a mountain cabin, or on a retreat, spend some hours a day in the cabin blindfolded. This will do wonders for your balance, your memory, your brain function, your mood, and much more. You’ll be quite happily surprised. 
  • If you can’t do any of these, then spend some time every day using your ears deliberately instead of your eyes: turn your head to listen, not see. While talking to friends, listen to them more than you look at them. When walking, listen to objects, listen to your environment with more deliberate intent than looking. 
  • Take a yoga class where you do lots of standing-on-one-leg postures. 
  • When you wake up, make the alphabet with your big toes, but with a totally relaxed foot. Let the movement come from the ankle, not the foot. Remember, the intrinsic foot muscles cannot move the foot, only an outside force can move the foot. That outside force is the lower leg muscles, operating through the ankle. 
The Apache Indians had a game for children called “The Blind Drum Stalk”. I actually did this once. In the center of a large clearing is a man with a drum. Every sixty seconds he hits the drum once. All the participants are wearing moccasins or barefooted, and are scattered out around him, each of them at least 100 yards away. All are blindfolded. The winner of the game is the first person to touch the drummer. At the end of the game, I was farther way from the drummer than when I began. I was so frustrated.

For one thing, this game means you need to learn to walk in a straight line with eyes closed. Not many can do this. If you get lost in the woods, or you walk at night without landmarks, you will always come back to where you started from – you’ll make a big circle. The direction of the circle depends on which leg is dominant, since you will be taking slightly longer steps with your dominant leg.

For another, it cuts off visual dominance and makes you pay attention to other senses. You have to soften the bottom of your feet to sense what is there under you. It is not necessary to do that in a culture where you have shoes with hard soles, and are trained to be visually dominant (meaning you orient and stabilize balance primarily with your eyes).

Hammertoes are just one way the body is telling us we have something to learn, some changes to make. Plantar fasciitis is another way. Compromised balance is yet another. Fear of falling as we grow older is just another variation on that theme. Painful feet is another way.

You were not born visually dominant. You did it to yourself. Computers, TV, video games, books, college, using your eyes too much at work, etc – these are the causes. It is nearly impossible not to be susceptible to at least some of those influences. The solution is not so much to avoid them – as that may be impossible – but instead to take positive action in the opposite direction. Implement a few ideas from that list above. Just a little bit of intelligent counter-action will absolutely reverse all that damage and keep us on the right track. Your hammertoes won’t go away in a week or a month. But you’ll be reversing the trend that created them. Over some years, for sure they won’t be worse, and most likely will be much improved. To get quicker results you’d need to get actively involved in The Feldenkrais Method® by taking ATM classes and seeing an experienced practitioner privately every few months, to be sure you are on the right track. Guidance from a veteran somatic practitioner can save you years of wasted effort.

We were born with hearing dominant. It takes time for new-born to learn to use the eyes. It is in the context of hearing-dominance that we first leaned to sit, stand, take our first step, take easy and relaxed breaths, balance our heavy head on our neck, turn our head, run and play. And, we were pretty good at it! If any adult were given a head as heavy – relative to his body size – as a toddler, he could not manage it. He would instead have some kind of neck damage!

All of us adults, more or less, are visually dominant, it seems normal and accepted and nobody sees the damage that is going on because of that.

Again, in native shamanistic traditions, you will find in almost every case traditions of going blindfolded, often for prolonged periods of time. Why would that be so? I, for one, have learned that so-called primitive cultures, and what they did, was not so primitive. We “more civilized” folks, in fact, have a long way to go to even understand the wisdom behind many of their practices. At least, that has been true for me for many decades.

Another aspect to consider: visual dominance means being overly-attached and concerned about the material objects that surround us. One word for that is materialism. It is something to think about. Hearing is not so concerned with the materiality of physical object. It is more globally expansive.

What are some ways to reduce visual dominance?
  • Spend time listening more than looking at things. 
  • Minimize TV and video games, books and close vision work, if you can. 
  • Spend more time in Nature. 
  • Learn about wide angle vision, soft open focus, it is the natural way to use the eyes. Using the eyes to read print is not a primal, natural way to use the eyes. 
  • Learn how to change your focus from near to far and back, smoothly. TV and computers give us the illusion of depth perception, but we really never change focus. This teaches us to stare fixedly at one specific focal length. 
  • At work if you do not have a window to look into the distance, then you will immensely benefit by often using your imagination to look into the far distance, eyes open or closed. Little kids can all do this, if they are not “over TV’d”). Look through a wall, look through a picture and really “see” into the distance. 
  • When you do look at objects look softly. 
  • Spend time looking at thin air, after all quantum physics says everything is mostly empty space anyway. 
  • Learn to meditate. This will make you less materially-minded, less visual dominant, if it is done under the guidance of a competent teacher. If you try to meditate with close-focus, staring eyes in the context of frontal visual dominance and diminished global awareness,  all I can say is, good luck. Stock up on pain killers for all the headaches that you will be getting. 
  • Get involved in the Feldenkrais Method.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What is Feldenkrais?

Buddha said Whatever you think, it won't be that way. Feldenkrais is that way. Beginners and experienced teachers both agree, it has to be experienced to be understood - just reading about it is not enough. All I can do here is give you some history, a few hints and some of my own insights.  

Moshe Feldenkrais was born in 1904 in the Ukraine. He left home at age 14 to walk to Palestine (now known as Israel). After ten years there, he went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne –physics, mathematics, and electrical and mechanical engineering. He earned a Doctor of Science, and began working with Frederic Joliot-Curie, director or the Curie Institute. During this time he learned Judo from Jigoro Kano, the Japanese Minister of Education. After obtaining his black belt he taught in France and wrote books on Judo.

Kano had tried before to train other westerners for this work, with no success. Kano saw that Feldenkrais had a special quality, and he did, indeed, successfully teach martial arts to many Europeans before WW II. Feldenkrais was on one of the last boats from France to England at Dunkirk, at the start of WW II and he carried with him, in a suitcase, lab notes from Joliot-Curie regarding research on nuclear fission, plans for an incendiary bomb, and two quarts of heavy water that were later used in the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. (Later, however, for personal reasons he declined an invitation to work for the Manhattan Project in USA). He worked in England for the Admiralty during WWII, helping to develop and refine sonar.

During this time he because interested in human development – especially human movement – and he learned much from observing babies in the office of his wife, Yona Rubenstein, who was a pediatrician. Feldenkrais had a photographic memory, and he studied his wife’s medical books, and in addition became a self-taught neurologist. Because of an old knee injury, he applied his new skills to curing the knee, and he succeeded in learning to walk again and even resume his judo.

He began to work – hands on – with friends in need, and he called this work Functional Integration®. Later he developed a format for teaching these ideas to groups of people, and he called this Awareness Through Movement®.

In 1950 Feldenkrais returned to Israel and worked for their Defense Force, and was instrumental in starting Israel’s nuclear program. He taught in Israel and Europe through the 1950’s and first taught in America in 1971. He continued to teach often in America until his death in 1984 at age 80.

Today there are thousands of Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioners® worldwide, with many thousands of students who have gained significant benefits from Feldenkrais work. Why is the Feldenkrais work unique, different from all other kinds of body therapies?

1) Practitioners – to be certified – must spend hundreds of hours on the floor doing Awareness Through Movement® (ATM). Before teaching movement – we first thoroughly experience it in our own bodies - it takes at least four year in a training!  Then we can better help others with movement difficulties. We feel, as a matter of integrity, that we must embody the ideas we are attempting to teach. Also, as a practical matter, we cannot teach what we do not thoroughly understand ourselves.

2) We focus on human movement – not on manipulation, energy flows, tissue work, joint mechanics, massage or osteopathic protocols, etc. When movement is rightly approached, it can and does beneficially affect all those other things, but without focusing on them at all, consciously. That’s because our brain has evolved to let us move and accomplish things, without worrying about details like how tight a particular muscle is, or whether the soft tissue of the left knee is torqued. In a Feldenkrais context, for instance, we may do what looks like massage – but we’re thinking about facilitating your awareness of that area, we’re thinking about improving your movement by doing that. The focus is movement, not muscles. 

Our work includes the sensory-motor cortex (concerned with human sensing and movement) rather than only the lower brain functions. By contrast, many other types of body work focus on reflexes, releasing muscle tightness, aligning bones, stretching and aligning the soft tissue, nerve manipulations, energy work, clearing nerve pathways, releasing unconscious, deeply held muscles due to inability to express emotions, or past traumas, helping the blood to flow, etc. These are mostly low brain functions. The conscious mind of a normal person is not active in those arenas, ordinarily. I don't mean to be critical of other types of work. I just want to draw a distinction. A lot of improvement can be had with these types of interventions and manipulations. Often such work is exactly what is needed. If I have recently had a car accident, and all my bones are jarred out of place, I'd prefer to see a chiropractor or osteopath rather than a Feldenkrais practitioner! Although, there are Feldenkrais Practitioners who can work effectively in that kind of situation. 

Moshe Feldenkrais, however, was aware that the higher brain functions had a “supervisory capacity” over the lower brain functions. The question comes up – what does the “higher brain” or cortex, have to do with the lower brain functions? How can it “supervise”? The answer is movement. For instance, we can do “ordinary” movements either consciously, or automatically – unconsciously. We can breathe consciously, or unconsciously. When the understanding comes that the brain is mostly about movement, and movement includes all those lower brain functions, a whole new world of exploration and healing opens. We can reconfigure how we move – making it more elegant, with less tension and stress and compression – even though the low brain had formed a strong habit of moving you in a different way. The conscious mind can intervene – through the cortex, or higher brain – and that process is called Awareness Through Movement® or Functional Integration®.

Using movement as the primary focus, bones can come into better alignment, nerve function can be restored, soft tissue can be reconfigured back to normal, over-tight muscles can learn to soften and lengthen, blood circulation can be optimized, posture can be straightened, and much more. The wonderful thing about this, is that we are active participants, not helpless observers. That alone is unbelievably empowering and transformative. Every Feldenkrais Practitioner knows this, and wants to shout it from the rooftops, but we know people will think we are crazy. We smile and accept the compliment when people tell us "you have healing hands", yet we know the Work is so powerful, that anyone who does it will be accused of the same thing. Moshe Feldenkrais was also told the same thing, and he once responded (and I paraphrase) "Then why are my students told they have healing hands, when that was not the case before they learned this work?"

So with Feldenkrais we start a process of creative exploration of movement, with awareness as the focus. It seems so simple, so silly, or juvenile to think of doing a “movement lesson”. That’s for kids! I know how to move. That is how I used to think. Early in my Feldenkrais Training, I got regular doses of humility pills – discovering how wrong I was. It is a lifetime study, and even then you only scratch the surface. That’s no exaggeration. Scientists can spend their whole career, for example, on just one area of the brain. The study of human movement encompasses all areas of the brain. And, there is a whole lot more to it than just learning how the brain works!

3) The Feldenkrais touch is unique. Clients comment that you cannot get that “Feldenkrais Feeling....the melt down…that Feldenkrais zone” in any other place. They'll say things like "Feldenkrais is like the Cadillac of bodywork." We are sensing the whole body with our hands, we are listening for movement potentials, we are listening for learning opportunities, we are not imposing or doing something to you. Who else will touch you like that? It is a listening, “going with” touch, that is not invested in correcting, adjusting, or teaching – not directly. There is humor, trust, patience, allowing and profound acceptance in that kind of touch. It allows hidden resources, forgotten youthful hopes and dreams to surface – and these are potent healing forces. Such touch, all by itself, is potent - and combined with human movement, the results can be catalytic. In my opinion that’s why people experience “The Feldenkrais zone” during private sessions. And why, in one session, results can be obtained that were not forthcoming after many years of treatment with other modalities.

4) We’re working with the whole person – not just body parts. The common thread is a restoration and refinement of the organic ability to move with grace, intelligence, ease, power and poise – which is nearly always accompanied by decompression of all the joints, clarified awareness of skeletal support, better circulation, better sleep. Clients often are mystified: “How can something so gentle be so profound?” It's really not mysterious. When you help a person do more easily what they do most in life, and what the brain is mostly about - and which gets more difficult with aging -  certainly that will be a wonderful internal feeling. It is no small thing to help people move in a better way!  Many clients look forward to their hour on the Feldenkrais table as their “favorite time of the week”. Benefits come over time – some take less time, other more time. 

The neurological activity in the brain – and the rest of the body also – is concerned mostly (some physiologists put the figure at 95% others at 97% or higher) about movement. Logically, then, a modality must include some type of movement work to include "the whole person." Human movement includes proprioception, balance, self-image, muscular coordination, vision, hearing, touch, environmental mapping, and memory of movement patterns, release of extraneous tension, etc. 

5) Learning is a primary focus in The Feldenkrais Work. Movement is the very foundation of how we go about the process of learning anything new. That's not immediately obvious, is it? Yet, we spent prodigious amounts of time and energy as infants playfully learning new movements. Feldenkrais students spend many hours systematically studying that process both with ATM and Functional Integration (FI),  and we use those insights in working with people of all ages. What babies are doing is extremely sophisticated  and unbelievably intelligent; yet the fact that it appears playful, random and not guided by reason or will power leads many adults to dismiss it as of little significance. 

Those of us who do this work believe, beyond any doubt, that the kind of learning process we were engaged in during our early years can and should be continued throughout life. Instead, so many of us walk, reach, stand, sit, breathe, work, talk, think, feel or even sleep and  rest with "frozen" movement patterns, with predictable neurological circuits always being activated, predictable muscular configurations, an unchanging self-image. Why not make the whole thing dynamic? Life becomes something very different, more exciting, then. You can maneuver your way through life, then, with much greater finesse. It is kind of cool to learn to walk in new way - your friends will no longer recognize you by how you walk! This is a common event.

Feldenkrais is little like cold ocean water. You put your little toe in the water - to test it. You wonder whether you could get used to swimming in that cold water. A wave may wash over you; you may have one intriguing experience with Feldenkrais. You may decide it was a fluke, and ignore the whole thing, or you may jump in the water and swim - getting regularly involved in doing ATM (Awareness Through Movement) or seeing a practitioner privately for FI (Functional Integration) work once or twice a week for some time. Personally, I feel the reason many people do not get involved is not because they don't know about it's transformative power. They do. It's because they do know, but don't want to change. 

I usually tell my clients, "All I ask is that you have a little bit of an open mind. The way your "world is" may begin to shift, and that's part of your healing. Maybe the reason you are in this trouble is because Life wants you to grow and evolve, learn some important lessons."

When a person becomes aware that a certain  habit is tormenting him - perhaps he wants to stop smoking, or improve his posture, or change his diet - it  is a very common experience to encounter many difficulties and repeated failures in the process of trying to change. Yet, when The Feldenkrais Work enters the picture, the situation takes on a different aspect. We no longer have to work so hard to change a habit, to learn new ways of doing things. It can happen playfully, effortlessly, easily! 

Personal transformation and growth is inherent in The Feldenkrais Work.  One can become so engaged in the process that one does not even know he is changing so much! That's why it is said: "If you attend a Feldenkrais Training, be sure your spouse or partner attends with you." Otherwise - and it's a common event - you'll see a lot of relationship break-ups during a four-year training. One partner changed, the other did not. One of my colleagues, who attended the Amherst Feldenkrais training (the last training  that Moshe himself conducted) said that when she met some old friends after the training, at first they did even recognize her!

So, movement and awareness encompasses a very large playing field. So, why not work with them to enhance whatever else you are trying to accomplish, whether that is healing through tradition medicine, sports, excellence in a professional career, dance, theater, pain relief, or you-name-it? Why not include what the brain is mostly “about” instead of focusing on body parts as the problem, or on limited physiological concepts such as stretching, strengthening, coordination enhancement, fitness etc as a solution? That is what seems juvenile after one has had some years of intense Feldenkrais exposure. In fact, it is true that Feldenkrais practitioners work with physical therapy patients, dancers, athletes, children, adults and children with disabilities, healthy people with pain of some kind, and more.

We Feldenkrais Practitioners are sometimes accused of being arrogant, of rudely dismissing other types of bodywork as not as good or not as scientific as what others do. I apologize for that, and I hope I don't communicate that here. I love what I do, and how Feldenkrais  has packaged all these ideas and insights, and perhaps my enthusiasm gets the better of me.

In all humility I must admit that "all roads lead to Rome" and that other types of work do incorporate much of what we in the Feldenkrais community sometimes think  is our exclusive property. Some psychiatrists today, for example, actually work with breathing and posture as part of their treatment. Moshe would be very happy to know that. The human  body and mind is the teacher, and anyone who is dedicated to being effective as a healer or teacher or coach - will most certainly, sooner or later - have the same insights as I have described as perhaps being unique to Feldenkrais.  It's just that Moshe was one of the first to put it all together like this. It's an attractive package.  I've found, for example, that the average massage therapist knows far more about movement, posture, balance, breathing, learning and transformation than is commonly appreciated. 

Massage today cannot be dismissed as simply an unintelligent process of "muscle  rubbing" to release tension temporarily. Some massage therapists, in fact, know more practical procedures related to somatic healing than many Feldenkrais students! That is a fact I no longer question, after numerous rude awakenings. I used to think we had a corner on the market.  As one of my colleagues bluntly puts it "If I have trouble with my body, give me an experienced massage therapist any day, compared to  a brand new Feldenkrais student! Those veteran CMTs can work magic, they really know what they are doing. They have worked with so many people, for so many years, hands-on!"  

The fact that the work is called  "massage" is quite clever, since it is a concept that the average person can understand, appreciate - and will pay lots of money to have it done to him. That's meeting people where they are at. But what they actually do - and anyone who has seriously studied massage can tell you this - can often be far more sophisticated than simply rubbing muscles to release tension and make you feel good. Just pick up any massage magazine at a newsstand, and thumb through the articles, you'll get a clue. 

Thirty years of informal research, study and practice in the field of health, nutrition and personal growth helped me to recognize the power of the Feldenkrais Work. That was 16 years ago, and I have not looked back.

Finally, it has to be said: The Feldenkrais Method® requires participation. Little benefit accrues unless you start doing some kind of movement or awareness work, or regularly see a practitioner for private work. I recommend 6 private lessons a year, or 12 ATM lessons. This means an hour a week, or more. I have found that can keep you out of pain and trouble as you grow older. That is not much time to dedicate to correct a lifetime of habits that may be causing you pain and difficulty. In my blog,, I give many insights, movement “tricks,” practical suggestions. I hope you try out some of these.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Feldenkrais breathing ideas are opposite to what I used to believe. I was more than a little upset about that in my Feldenkrais Training - my world was turned upside down - because I had used so much effort, over so many years to breathe in what I thought was the correct way. 

Feldenkrais means back to basics, things we should have learned when younger, and the things we should not have learned. That means re-visiting developmental movements,  having a playful, exploratory attitude with many choices, and looking at our unnecessary holdings, wrong ideas etc before doing "more advanced" activities like standing, walking, breathing exercises. This is a common Feldenkrais theme.    

Because of my Feldenkrais involvement, after many years, I reluctantly faced the fact that all the meditation breathing techniques, my ordinary posture, sports activities (running,  hiking, Bikram Yoga, gym workouts), yoga breathing exercises etc, were skewed - away from what was natural, healthy and normal. That's hard, after 3 decades!  The bottom line? I did not get optimal results, that is all. I wasted a lot of time. I used lots of unnecessary effort.  I held so many mistaken ideas about breathing and posture - and those ideas hurt me emotionally and spiritually as well. I'm not alone; such ideas are pervasive today. I don't see many people who are free of them. 

Would you like to know what they are?  OK, but this will  be along post. 

For years I took breathing for granted, and assumed it was a pretty simple - inhale and exhale - and that what I understood was true, right and the only way to look at it. I knew about yoga, and relaxing to breathe easier. I thought that abdominal breathing - inhale and the belly expands, exhale and it goes it - was the best way to breathe, and that, really and truly, I should be breathing that way all the time. After all, babies breathe that way, and they are relaxed! They're natural, if anything is natural!   Anything else is an aberration. Abdominal breathing, after all, relaxes your belly, and if the belly is tense it means we are stressed. It seemed like good logic at the time. 

Also, I believed that a long pause after the exhale meant I was very relaxed - especially while meditating - and it was absolutely a good thing. Further, I thought that to "take a deep breath" of course meant to immediately inhale strongly, forcing air into the chest. I believed that was something everyone should do quite often, to get enough air. After all, so many people teach that, can they all be wrong? I thought that abdominal breathing meant that on the inhale, the belly should protrude mostly to the front. I now know I was mistaken, misinformed or under-educated on each of these points. 

I thought I understood about breathing in three parts, inhaling first to expand the abdomen, then the mid-torso and ribs, and then the upper chest. But, I was always confused as to what should happen next on the exhale. Does it go in reverse order? And was I supposed to breathe this way all the time? Is that really the correct way to breathe? That seemed to be the unspoken implication.

In my Feldenkrais Training, when these beliefs were turned upside down, I was confused, almost shocked, and emotionally blind-sided  - I wanted to be angry, but who could I be angry at? I could feel in my own body - while doing guided movement and breathing lessons - the truth of these new ideas about breathing.  All I could do was "go spinning" into a state of confusion, of knowing  that I did not know what I thought I knew, and hope that at some point I would land on solid ground. I've come to recognize that "spinning into the space of not knowing" as a rich learning and growth opportunity. Still, I don't quite like it, especially when I am taken unawares like that. 

What first "got" me was a thing called "reverse breathing."  When you exhale, you expand the abdomen  and belly (in 3 dimensions, not just to the front), and when you inhale, let whatever happens, happen. That's the general idea. It has many virtues, not least being that it creates a little space between the stomach and diaphragm, alleviating tendency toward hiatal hernia. It seems to be contrary to the physiology of breathing, yet this is how many martial artists breathe,  and in Japan and other countries, many people breathe in this fashion their entire lives, at least so I  have been told. In order to punch a punching bag, to open a heavy door, to push or lift heavy weights - we must have a strong core. No weight lifter in his right mind would do the heavy work on an inhalation! No, always on the exhale - and you can be sure they are not trying to do abdominal breathing, letting the belly soften and contract on the exhale. No! They'd collapse. 

If you are confused right now, join the club. It gets worse, or better, depending on how you look at it. I was confused for many years. I am still sorting things out. If  you let popular culture and casual inquiry mold your ideas about breathing, you might be in the same boat as I was. 

If  you can bring yourself to read the strange, dense prose that follows, it might give you some interesting things to think about and explore.  

If you experiment, you may see, as I did, that "reverse breathing' is a better way to do heavy work, than "abdominal breathing" where the belly and abdomen contract. Yes, with a contracted core, we can tense it and stabilize our core, but this is not as easy, compared to reverse breathing - with a "larger diameter" core. The larger diameter gives us more stability in our torso. When I observe weight lifters, they are not collapsing their abdomen, at least the ones who know what they are doing. Yes, they may pose for a photo shoot with a drawn up belly, expanded chest and tense biceps - but that is not how they lift weights! 

We cannot be collapsed and relaxed in our belly and abdomen, and do heavy work, as is the recommendation for traditional abdominal breathing. Can you argue with that? I could not. If you try this while doing heavy work - watch out, you could hurt yourself. Don't even try it. If you do try to try it, you body probably won't even allow it; your body will know better.  

To recommend abdominal breathing for everyone, all the time, is obviously incorrect. That's true even if it is disguised as "three part breathing." I  like to envision a world where every yoga teacher will understand this obvious truth, as would every MD or PhD who writes some book about the healing power of breathing. 

To make the point more strongly, Moshe points out that animals when they bark, moo, chirp or howl - always do this by expanding the abdomen/belly. They are exhaling, yes, but not collapsing their core as we do with abdominal breathing. One might think, logically, that as one coughs or talks or sings, because the diaphragm is going up to compress air out of the lungs, our belly and abdomen should get smaller in size. Well, it is not necessarily so. Voluntarily, you could do it either way. But instinctively - the abdomen expands! 

I should have learned from my friends who were trained singers. They always told me confusing things about breathing, that I did not want to hear. Such as "we need to keep a full belly and abdomen while singing". That contradicted what I thought I knew about abdominal breathing being the best way to breathe!

In my training they asked us to notice what happens during a  cough. Place a hand on the belly, and cough. My abdomen slightly, and ever-so-quickly, expanded. Just like any animal! Coughing is reflexive, and (I've learned from years of experience with clients) the only time a person will pull in the belly or abs while coughing is if he is thinking too much about it while doing the trial, or he has acquired a strange habit of keeping the belly way-too-tight while vocalizing in any way. The normal, relaxed, organic way to cough is to instantly, quickly, expand slightly the abdomen and/or the belly.  

I  have come to understand the damage I did to myself by spending 30 years of my life thinking that abdominal breathing was the only correct way to breathe. If you are a yoga teacher, and tell me this in your class,  I will want to walk out of your class. If  you are an author or a teacher, I will lose respect for the integrity of anything else you try to teach me. Recommending abdominal breathing - or any of its variations - as the one, only and best way to breathe shows you have not studied breathing, you have not thought about it except simplistically, your advice can damage people in many way, you don't even know how your own body works. Why should I listen to anything else you say?

That's hard-core, but it gives voice to my inner feelings. 

Yes, babies do abdominal breathing. Yes, that kind of breathing is congruent with less stress. Of course it is! Because they are resting doing no hard physical work! Yes, lying down in "corpse pose" in a yoga class with no stress, and a relaxed body, is an appropriate time to practice or experience abdominal breathing.  Likewise, during meditation. Of course, it is congruent with less stress. When you are on vacation, lying in a lounge chair in the sun by the beach - abdominal breathing is wonderful. But, are you sure you can logically conclude from all that "evidence" that therefore we should breathe that way all the time? That in order to reduce stress we should breathe abdominally all the time? That is quite a leap of logic. It is not clear thinking. 

Thirty years correcting myself - for not breathing abdominally - made me feel dis-empowered, wrong and even angry with myself.  WHY could I not do this very basic, best and spiritual kind of "wonderful, full easy" breathing I was supposed to do all the time? It dis-empowered me - physically for sure. How can you have personal power and assertiveness in daily life, when with every exhale you are trying to collapse your center and draw-in and relax your abdominal cavity? How? There was all kinds of crazy compensations I was making, over-tense and lifted shoulders, pulling them back, rock-hard back muscles holding me from slumping as I collapsed my center, and more.

OK, so I took this whole breathing thing too seriously, but that is how I was. That's why I am writing about this with such passion.  Maybe there are a few other people who may someday read this who can learn my lesson before 30 years go by.

Abdominal breathing  all the time is a prescription for molding the personality to be easily controlled, to be submissive, to be peaceful and non-violent and passive, to be overly-agreeable rather than appropriately assertive, even in those moments of life when strong action, strength and powerful assertiveness are urgently needed. Often I have wished I had had some kind of martial arts training as a young child, since in the martial arts, abdominal breathing is put into its proper perspective. I suspect, but don't know for sure, that abdominal breathing would be most enthusiastically taught by those persons who are somehow invested in maintaining some kind of control - keeping their students passively well-behaved. But that's a leap of logic I don't want to make. It is just a question.  

Moshe Feldenkrais did not teach that abdominal breathing is wrong, only that we need many choices to be fully human. That applies to breathing as much as anything else. That's the fundamentally appropriate way to look at everything related to breathing. It's a functional perspective - it fits with living life, meeting variety and challenges.  

There are many other ways to breathe as well, as you would soon discover if you got more involved in doing ATM classes. None of them are right or wrong, they are all human options. 

What I see in the media, and in many books, is an espousal of one particular kind of breathing, to solve all problems. It is not always abdominal breathing.  I am now so cautious about such claims. Really, we do need choices, and anybody who says one way is the only way, is certainly not seeing the big picture. There is nothing harmful in doing breathing exercises, say 10 sets three times a day, as some people do, or some books recommend.  If you have never learned abdominal breathing, such a practice can be life-transforming and healing for you. But, please, don't then go out preaching that abdominal breathing is the one and only best and perfect way to breathe, for everyone, always - as some persons do. 

True, abdominal breathing may be the best way to breathe while meditating. I agree. And, abdominal breathing is a wonderful way to breathe during much of the day, when we are not doing physical work, and are in a resting mode, more or less. Yes, as a person learns to relax and manage stress and improves their balance and movement skills, abdominal breathing can become more predominant. Yes, that is congruent with less stress. 

The fact remains that other types of breathing always need to be available; we need choices, it is how our brains are constructed: to learn, to discriminate, to understand and make good choices. To be open to respond freely, appropriately. To be self-constrained to only one way - in any aspect of movement and posture and breathing - can lead to dogmatic attitudes, constricted self-image, neurosis or worse, and unwillingness to explore other ideas. 

If, as indeed is true, the brain and nervous system is mostly about movement and posture - what will be the effect of dogmatic ideas related to breathing or posture? Certainly one's cognition will take on a similar flavoring. It is the same nervous system operating! If you want to change somebody's long held dogmatic belief about something - send them to a four year Feldenkrais Training. I am a living example. The body (as a "brain") has its own logic, and at the heart of  that "logic" is an organic-competent sense of intelligent freedom to do what is needed at the moment, to balance, move, speak and breathe appropriately.  

It's heavy interference to keep telling  ourselves that a particular way of holding our body, or a particular way of breathing is the only true or correct way to be. Our low brain (or our CNS - central nervous system, or however you choose to label the innate intelligence that runs the workings of the body), which orchestrates all the physiological functions of the body, has a huge job, and our little conscious minds cannot by any means understand the complexities involved. For instance, some scientists have spent their entire careers studying one or two minerals, and how the body interacts with them - they discover incredible complexity there! The low brain is keeping track of all the minerals, and much much more. All the many systems of the body are being coordinated simultaneously, including breathing as an integral part. We have no idea!

Because breathing can be controlled voluntarily, as well as instinctively, we may think our voluntary control is more intelligent. That's ego. We need to rethink this. Voluntary control usually involves too much tension and effort and habitual body-organization. How we live our life, how we move our bodies -  that is exactly how we will do any kind of deliberate breathing or breathing interventions or exercises - even just watching the breath, unless you are taking ATM classes or are doing those exercises under the personal guidance of a competent teacher. In India there is a saying "pranayama breathing techniques are best learned directly from a Guru." There is wisdom in that. That's the voice of thousands of years of cultural experience speaking.

Both voluntary breathing and instinctive breathing have their place It is certainly obvious that Nature did not intend for us to always be vigilantly attempting to breathe in a certain way - it is meant to be most-of-the-time on automatic pilot. Our main job ought to be to clear out the debris of excess tension, wrong ideas, bad habits etc that interfere with easy appropriate breathing. Voluntary breathing explorations certainly have a place in that arena. Then you can learn and practice all kinds of other breathing styles, meditation breathing practices, exercises, etc and truly benefit and keep it all in perspective. 

For instance, I once had a client who spent her entire life pulling her shoulders back forcefully, since she was taught as a little girl that was the way to have "good posture". She was about 70 years old, and a complete wreck - neurotic, loud spoken, always concerned and talking about her aches and pains and doctor appointments and medications - her mind was always buzzing out of control with all these things. In my heart, I knew it was related - or caused - by her preoccupation with the insane idea of pulling shoulders back constantly. But I could not find a way to change that habit with her. It was so deeply ingrained! If you want more insight on that, please read my posts on shoulders. 

Another example - early in my Feldenkrais training, there was an elderly man who loved to do yoga poses, especially the headstand and shoulder stand. Instead of practicing movement lessons, he would often be doing yoga poses. He was quite good, and proud of it, too, a little bit of smugness there, as if he knew better than the rest of us.  It was a bit of a disruption to the class. His idea - "you can't teach me anything, what I know is better than what you know". But it was obvious to everyone in the room, that was not so.   The Feldenkrais trainers spent much time in difficult conversation with him, but he would not bend. He was, in fact, holding lots of tension to keep his ribs and spine admirably, stiffly erect in standing and sitting. Only doing yoga, would he create some artificially imposed suppleness. The whole Feldenkrais thing was more than he could swallow.  He left the training about the middle of the first year. 

Before my Feldenkrais Training, I was like that with breathing - that I knew more good things, more true things than most other people. Yes, it was ego.  The Feldenkrais experience, the new perspectives, have been such an eye-opener. I am so grateful to Moshe Feldenkrais and the Feldenkrais Trainers for introducing me to this amazing new world - so rich and diverse and playfully engrossing - and it's all true! 

Here's a collection of more things I did not know before my training:
  1. Whatever it is I think I know about breathing is certainly incomplete, or even false. That's true for everything I have written here. It's got to be true even after many years of study - because the discovery process is never ending. I cannot deny that; staying involved in The Feldenkrais Method keeps bringing up new improvements, refinements, ideas, insights. Moshe himself said there is no end. I cannot see an end.  There's an essential mystery to breathing that any kind of intellectual arrogance will inevitably distort.  It's got to be true even after many years of study -  because the discovery process is never ending.  I did Feldenkrais hoping to discover the real, true, correct way to breathe and boy, was I frustrated - such a thing does not exist. I thought there was a conspiracy by  the Trainers to not tell anybody directly the correct way to breathe - better to let them discover it on their own! Well, it's not like that.  It's disconcerting, but also exciting. I know I have many amazing new insights and world-shaking discoveries (my world) about breathing yet to uncover. 
  2. To "take a deep breath", I now first exhale forcefully first, then inhale. The muscles of exhalation are more developed than those of inhalation. When my lungs are fully empty, the inhale comes easily, fully. If I inhale without first exhaling, it is strained. 
  3. I often remind myself that any effort or strain on the inhale means muscle contraction - less space in the torso for the lungs to expand. Paradoxically, the more heroic my effort to inhale quickly and  fully, the harder I work against myself. So I slow it down and give my ribs and belly and back a little time to soften and open. Otherwise, I am forcing air into a progresively getting-smaller-and-tighter container. I still have to watch what I do when someone tells me "take a deep breath". That crazy thing -immediately inhaling with force is such a deeply ingrained habit.  How did it every become that way? 
  4. Having spent a lifetime talking - using the voice with forceful exhalation of air - it is wonderfully refreshing to learn to use the voice without rushing, without forceful exhalation. This restores more natural, easy exhalations throughout my day. For sure it reduces my stress. The sound "ah" is very easy to make, and can be done almost sub-vocally, so I almost don't hear it. I make the "ah" sound only by waiting for the natural exhale - no forcing. In the Alexander Teaching, in fact, a variation of this is actually something people practice, and can spend many hours refining it. It also involves dropping the jaw slightly, letting it relax downward so the teeth are slightly separated. 
  5. For years I've done a meditation breathing practice where I am instructed to "not control" the breath. I can now see why I had been largely unsuccessful. Foolish use of will means control. Skill and strategy were needed more than will. Instead of "trying to not control the breath"  I now imagine unhurried, natural rhythm, light, easy, soft, full and  slow and appropriate breathing - just a hint of thinking like that at the start of my practice, that is all. I do less work, not more. But I use more awareness and skill.  I have done, and still do Feldenkrais work to move, sit and stand with minimal tension and better support, better balance. That's key. I make sure my awareness, my sensing ability, is free to travel to the low back, the floor of the pelvis, the upper back, and the side of the ribs - if I don't sense those areas, they won't move with the breath, they will be holding tense, and that is very clearly, heavy control of breathing. For too many years already, I have dong that! - especially holding up unconsciously the floor of the pelvis. I never had any breathing movement low-down in the abdomen near the pubic bone, I was so tense there. That should have been a clue.  I know if I chant a mantra or affirmation with the breath rhythm I may be forcing my exhale, since I have had had a lifetime of talking, forcing my exhale every time I vocalized a word. Awareness of this helps me moderate the tendency. I begin my practice by setting the intention "be free to take all the time I need to exhale - no rushing, no forcing the breath as in talking. Let the exhale float slowly down taking it's own time." What a difference!
  6. LESS or "light, easy, soft and slow" is a motto I now remember whenever I want to take a deep breath, or whenever I want to attend to my breathing. Fuller breathing, with no effort, will be the automatic result. This is like living in a much kinder, more gentle universe compared to instead thinking "take a deep breath" as I used to do! 
  7. Holding the belly continually uptight is heavy interference with natural breathing, and stress inducing, as well. Drawing up the gut momentarily is perhaps a good practice, yes, as a little exercise to firm the abdomen. But then, can you relax it completely? Becoming fit, watching the diet etc can create a trim belly, yes, but that is not the same as continually, stubbornly, vainly and also unconsciously sucking up the gut, as I used to do for so many years. My mother, when I was an infant and toddler  - should have let me keep my big little belly instead of telling me to suck it up, or toilet train me too early, so my entire lower torso became uptight  for a lifetime. It took me many months of telling myself "soft belly" or "let the belly hang"  and "relax downward the floor of the pelvis, let it all hang" in addition to Feldenkrais work involving the belly and pelvis to shed this noxious habit. I am still working on it! What helped me most was to look at ancient art and statuary - from any country, from any age - and notice the men and women (young or old) had ample bellies. Apparently their idea of beauty was different than ours. Consider the Venus De Milo statue. I've always felt ancient cultures have things to teach us - what ideas are really true, and "pan out" after thousands of years of cultural sifting. People in  ancient cultures, I think, had to struggle more to survive that we do, and any ideas or customs that were not helpful, were discarded. 
  8. Another basic breathing practice I use - in the meditative tradition - helps to  slow down my mind; it's simply watching the breath. I don't jump in with my hyperactive and vigilant mind and start telling my breath what to do. Thirty years of doing that was absolutely an exercise in frustration! Instead, I let the breath teach my mind to slow down, listen and settle. Buddha taught this.  Many meditation protocols teach this. I  have to take on a little attitude of humility and loosen my hold on my intellect, my busy mind. My mind can race all day, and my breath tries to keep up - so I never once, all day, take an unhurried breath. I even say "I have all the time I need to inhale, I have all the time I need to exhale". It often initially feels to me like a waste of time, too simple, etc to watch the breath - that 's just my ego. But the results can be profound. I like to check in with my natural breath rhythm at least once a day - I know I have lost so many of my other natural rhythms in this harried and hurried modern world. 
  9. The ancient Chinese script symbol for "breath" was actually two conjoined symbols: the first meant "exhale" and the second "inhale". In the West, we think of the breath cycle as first the inhale, then the exhale. I find if I turn this idea around, and instead cognize my breathing as consisting of cycles of exhaling followed by inhaling, my breathing automatically is softer, easier and without all my usual efforts. Just 30 seconds of trying out this idea, once or twice a month maybe, has a profound and ongoing effect on me. Whenever a somatic idea has that kind of staying power, I know there is truth there. 
  10. I often remind myself there is no correct way to breath. I say to myself "I can trust my natural breath to do the right thing". I have to remind myself, since I spent so many years doing the opposite! Every moment of life is unique - my body position, the biochemistry of my blood and body, my emotional state, my state of readiness, the environment. My body calculates all of that, and comes up with an appropriate breathing style for that moment - so why would I want to interfere with ideas about what is "correct"? Often, I need to breath much less than I think I do. Sedentary work, for example, means my breath can be very shallow and slow, and that is appropriate. I now know that does not mean tense and shallow and slow - that's a form of anxiety-driven chest breathing. It means deeply relaxed, with lots of hidden reserve capacity not being used at the moment. 
  11. We truly breathe with our whole bodies. Our bodies are a collection of little fluid filled cells - if you expand one area (as in breathing), the repercussions go everywhere. If you jiggle a box full of water balloons, all the balloons jiggle! Any tension anywhere means restricted breathing. I know that to refine, clarify, improve my breathing - I need to work with movement, posture, awareness and self-image, and I do that in the Feldenkrais Method. If I am always holding my right foot too tense when I sit and stand (I still do this), I know I am restricting my breathing space. If I hold my jaw too tight,  I am restricting the easy flow of my breathing. If my idea of sitting up in good posture means stiffening my chest and tightening  my back (like most people) - I'll never experience natural, relaxed breathing - at least not while sitting like that! Can a person learn to sit without slumping, with a fully relaxed torso? Yes - but that takes some doing. Read my posts on chairs and sitting posture. 
  12. My goal is not necessarily to take in more oxygen, but to make the breathing process organic, natural, easy, well-oiled with many choices, so my body can spontaneously choose what it needs unhindered. I want breathing like a 16 cylinder cruising car - lots of hidden power available even if it is only going 20 miles per hour. 
  13. If there is a long pause at the end of my exhalation - that most likely means too much tension in my belly and abdomen (not that I am so spiritually advanced that I am learning to live without breathing!). It means my body has to rest a moment and gather strength to breathe against unnatural resistance. It means perhaps that my style of over-forceful breathing, too fast and muscle driven against resistance - causes hyperventilation, reducing the necessary levels of carbon in my blood (for more on that, investigate The Buteyko Method). So then my body wants to slow me down - before inhaling again. While I still believe that a long pause after the exhale can be a sign of advanced spirituality, a prelude to going into the "breathless state of samadhi" - I know I am not there yet!  In my case I first suspect my usual incredible "hold-up-the-belly-keep-it-flat" tension there. 
  14. Conversely, if there is no pause at the top of my inhalation, that can mean too much tension in my torso. My body cannot easily keep the lungs fully open, even for a second; it is just plain too much work. So I begin to think, "how can I encourage my rib cage to be softer and your back and shoulder muscles to be more supple?  I ask myself, "is my sitting posture too muscle driven, and not skeletally supported with minimal fine-tuning muscular adjustments? Is my pelvis knowing how to balance my torso, and am I using a hard, flat-surfaced chair? If I find someone who can naturally, effortlessly pause their breath at the top of their inhale - I know I have found a special person. I know I can learn something from him or her. I'll try to make friends with them. I'll surreptitiously study how they sit or stand. 
  15. My self-image - I know this for sure, now - controls my breathing. What I am used to - my habits, good or bad are what seems normal to me. Anything I do - sports, breathing exercises etc - will be in that context. And the more I do those things, using mostly will power and not sensitively using my innate body skills - the more my self-image stays the same, the more I get  invested in what already is.  To change my self image,I know I need to "go down and slow down" to the more primitive brain functions, where the foundations of movement and self-image are created. That means early childhood developmental movements - I get a lot of that in Feldenkrais ATM. That means attending to and sensing areas that are not usually sensed. It means using the imagination in new ways.
  16. For example, I may imagine that I have "breathing spaces" in the air around my body. This can be as large as I can imagine.  I loosen the grip of my mind on the body-bound idea that breathing is just restricted to the space of my little body. I learned restricted breathing partly because I know too much about  the anatomy and physiology of breathing, and I began to think that was all there was to it. Well, I remind myself now, I am a sprit and a soul, not just a physical body,  so why can't I feel my breath as part of larger, more universal rhythms?  OK - so it is all in my imagination, perhaps, but I can definitely feel good results in how my breathing changes, in my improved mental state. I love to study The Mittendorf Method of breath work; it has many ideas like this.   
  17. Another example, when I take a breath (I often ask myself), do I sense pressure or expansion in my low back, the floor of my pelvis, the sides of my ribs, or my upper back? What about any other area of my body? No? Is that because it was not happening or because I am simply too used to the idea that breathing is all about the front of my body - the belly and chest and abdomen? If that is all I sense, that is all that will move (most people are like this).  Overly-frontal is a very common self-image - and for me it is still a habit I must contend with -  and it can lead to unnaturally large frontal distention of the belly in abdominal breathing. That's one reason why many persons don't like to do abdominal breathing - especially women. Who wants an expanded belly? Well - I tell myself -  abdominal breathing means the entire abdomen can expand equally, down, behind, left and right and also to the front. When I learned this in my body, I did not have such qualms about abdominal breathing.
  18. In idle moments, I may say to myself: "sense my left foot as I breathe. Can I feel the breath rhythm there?" Usually I can do this, if not, I know I am too uptight. It is a very subtle feeling, almost in the imagination. Choose any part of the body, and you can sense the breath there. It is as if you are "breathing through that body part". If you cannot do this, it is because you are too tense, and you have not spent time developing your sensitivity in this way. Once you learn this, you will never again be as tense as you used to be. That's because you cannot do both at once;  you cannot sense the breath rhythm in your little fingers and hold onto that kind of tension. 
  19. That is a very common Feldenkrais "trick": if you want to stop doing something, learn to do something else which makes it impossible to continue with the old habit. That is much more intelligent than trying to suppress the bad habit. So I direct my efforts to learning, exploring and playing with lots of new breathing styles - it is the Feldenkrais way - rather than trying to directly correct any breathing problems I may think I have. 
  20. Rather than trying to suppress the habit of excess tension (in breathing or movement) by relaxation practices - as some people do with soft music, comfortable chairs, self-hypnosis or guided relaxation tapes - the Feldenkrais approach is to explore, learn and play with ways of moving and sitting and standing and breathing that make unnecessary tension impossible. My goal is to learn to move with minimal effort; then I become competent to embody the idea of "relaxation" without always associating it with "disconnect from the environment and all duties and go to sleep, don't deal with anything and be lazy" which is something no wild animal would ever do, not for an instant - it would soon be dead. So many years I practiced that kind of thing. Now I know better, and the idea of "relaxation"  seems rather simple-minded, even stupid. If you were to ask your local Feldenkrais Practitioner their opinion about relaxation, you'd get a similar story, but more diplomatically phrased, I am sure. When the issue of "relaxation" came up for Moshe in a teaching situation, he was much more blunt - even colorful language was used. If only kids were taught Feldenkrais in grade school; all this writing would be unnecessary.  
  21. One trick to help open the breathing into the back is to imagine the nose is located directly behind the head, at the base of the neck. Imagine breathing in from there. I will play with this a few minutes now and then, and I am usually happily surprised at the nice results.
  22. Take a deep breath. Then hold your breath. Now, relax your shoulders down. Did your shoulders drop, even a little bit? If so you are lifting your shoulders with every breath. So often, I catch myself doing this! This means I am lifting the entire weight of my shoulder girdle with every inhalation. That is a lot of work to do, for an entire lifetime! No wonder I get tired! So then - for a few breaths - I'll practice breathing deliberately without lifting the shoulders - not even a tiny bit. I really like the feeling. Here is how I  do this: as I inhale I just sense and allow the breath-expansion in the upper torso to be fully dimensional (left, right, back, front and up), not just "up". Because there is a sense of breathing "up" during the inhale, I tend to lift my shoulders. 
  23. During the day I may tell myself "soft belly" many times. This helps my breathing, and reduces stress. For sure I have learned to hold my belly too tight. Whether that is  due to stress or habit or wrong belief I don't know. The amount of "bigger belly" I get by softening will be very little, in actuality. Maybe 3/4 inch at most! People won't notice that I have a bigger belly! I have to tell myself that, or my vanity will insure that I keep sucking up my gut, and staying uptight! Can you imagine? I tell myself people will notice that I appear to be more relaxed, less uptight. 
  24. Finally - in spite of all I said against abdominal breathing, I do practice this, while lying relaxed on my back. It relaxes my core, soothes and massages my internal organs, and restores my natural baby-like relaxed breathing. It helps me to feel my abdomen in three dimensions, not just to the front. It helps me meditate better, later.  I like it. But at least now, for sure, I know that all of that does not mean I should tell everyone that abdominal breathing is the one, best and only way to breathe!
Often I'll  hear about a new type of breathing exercise or practice, and I'll try it out. It's a little hobby.  Breathing can be deeply healing, relaxing and rejuvenating. Or it can be constricted, insipid, anxiety-driven, too slow or too fast, too deep or too shallow. How do we move between these breathing styles - without making any one of them a chronic habit? Shallow and fast breathing is sometimes appropriate. Slow and shallow, or slow and full breathing is also sometimes appropriate. How can we learn to expand our breathing options?  Surely there is more to it than just practicing a certain type of breathing exercise, 10 repetitions, three times a day!  Because breathing is so deeply rooted in how we move and posture ourselves, and our self-image, any type of mechanical repetition - no matter how ideal - won't give the deep satisfying regeneration of our organic sensibility to breathe apropriately  as will involvement in the Feldenkrais Method. 

Best of all would be to find an experienced, brilliant, inspired somatic teacher - like Moshe Feldenkrais was -  who can give you a custom designed "package" of somatic experiences and homework - breathing or movement or visualization or whatever. Progress can be so fast that way, it may be hard to even keep your bearings. 

One of my colleagues told me that after attending the Amherst Training (Moshe's last training program), she visited friends, and they did not even recognize her - so many changes! It's hard to appreciate, or even believe, that statement unless you yourself have attended a Feldenkrais Training. How did Moshe do that? Practically every graduate of that training (more than 200 people, I believe) that I know, feels like the training was custom made for them, they got exactly what they needed. They believe they were the one special student who really and truly understood the deeper meanings of what Moshe taught! What kind of magic is that?

I've come to believe that when breathing is combined with some peculiar mix of awareness, posture,  movement, visualization, sound, attitude, intention, anticipation and perspective, there is no end. It can be a lifetime of learning!  And each of these "mixes" might have something valuable to teach us.

And to think -- 

I once thought I knew everything important there was to know about breathing! 



Friday, August 1, 2008


My approach is multi-pronged.
First, I'll want you to have seen an MD or Chiropractor, so we can be sure your problem is within the realm of my practice. There is no sense in your seeing me, if the cause of your pain is a tumor, for instance. It is always a good idea to rule out serious pathology. True, the kind of work I do cannot cause any harm, but if another kind of treatment is indicated and urgently needed quickly - I would be remiss if I gave  you pain relief, and you continued to see me instead of doing the surgery, or whatever. There can be many causes for sciatica. Please don't ignore this. 

When  you come to me,  you come for Feldenkrais and Ortho-Bionomy, the two protocols in which I have been trained. And, that is what I do. However, over the years, I have picked up a lot of information and ideas, ways of working with sciatica that I may choose to share with you, not as a client, but as a friend, and only if you are interested or ask me. Many of these ideas I share with you below - please don't think that is what I do with all my sciatica clients. No, I do Feldenkrais and Ortho-Bionomy - and I do integrate some acupressure, stretching, isometrics etc that are completely in harmony with Ortho-Bionomy and Feldenkrais. In fact, I do not draw a distinction, I use certain massage ideas, acupressure point release, stretching, etc in the context of improving your awareness and enhancing your movement- and that is certainly Feldenkrais. 

Once you have done medical screening, we can be confident that if within a few weeks your pain is gone, as if it never existed (this is the result I expect, and usually get) - we have gotten to the root of your problem and you'll know what to do from then on to stay out of pain.  On the other hand, if all my strategies do nothing, that is a big red flag, and I'll advise you to seek medical help, and soon. 

I'll want to be sure you are sitting, walking, standing, bending down or reaching and sleeping in ways that do not aggravate the condition. We'll cover each of these. Yes, even while sleeping, there are strategies that will minimize your pain, and speed your healing. If you sit down for a living - many hours - I will ask you to read my posts on chairs and sitting, and I will encourage you to buy and use a hard, flat wooden stool both for work and for home use.  Every session I will cover some aspect of one of these; it is important that you learn not to continually create more trouble with the sciatic nerve. 

Eventually we will discuss how to sit using various props to keep the body from sitting too long in one position - this alone can give good relief. This presentation will take about 20 minutes. I'll ask you to tell me when your pain is worse, and when it improves. We'll theorize as to why this may be. 

We will work to put your pelvis and lumbar spine in good alignment, so that there is no leg length difference, or at least a very minimal difference. Often, this too - all by itself - can give good relief. We'll do this using the protocols I have gathered from Feldenkrais, Ortho-Bionomy, and the book (and related DVD's) titled The Malalignment Syndrome by Dr. Wolf Schamberger, a Canadian sports physiologist and University Professor. For more on the topic of alignment (including where to order instructional DVDs), see my post titled Running and Skeletal Alignment. These protocols are simple, safe, easy to do alone at home without assistance, and you can even clearly check yourself, to know whether you are "in" or "out" so you won't be hurting yourself if you do the exercises when you really don't need them. In conjunction with this, of course, I will be looking to see whether your malalignment is being caused by your movement and postural habits, or perhaps whether it is being caused by, say, an old injury to a shoulder, hip, skull or leg - whatever. 

I'll ask you to use castor oil topically and to read my posts about castor oil. This will take the pain down to half, speed the  healing and help you move through your day without difficulty. 

I will use acupressure, reflexology and Ortho-Bionomy osteopathic techniques to calm the pain, release and align the lumbar spine and pelvis, and often in one session this will entirely remove the sciatica pain, and enable you to walk without pain. Whether it holds or not is another story.

Then, we'll move the leg slowly, gently, using Feldenkrais protocols to encourage the leg and the sciatic nerve to "move into length";  in other words, to move the leg without the nerve grabbing painfully. Yes, nerves can "grab"; they are not like muscles, but they do have a cell wall that can expand or contract. Anticipation or fear of incipient pain will definitely cause the nerve to contract, which in itself can be a source of more pain. It can be a cycle. Slow, comfortable, clever and gentle Feldenkrais movement it the key here. All the other work is just a preparation. 

A central issue that is handled by the Feldenkrais work concerns the pelvis. We want to wake up the innate intelligence of the pelvis to help us balance and move, in sitting, standing, walking and at all other times in life. We'll usually start with pelvis rolls.  Waking up the pelvis to organic movement takes time, and may not give instant results for your sciatica. But if your pelvis has been just a "dead weight" while sitting or standing, your poor lumbar spine has had to do double work to compensate. Often the lumbar spine will get kinked and compressed because of that (a prime cause of sciatica) - and while alignment work, osteopathic based work, and acupressure interventions can relive the pain, long term it is the pelvis and tailbone that must eventually come into play, for success to be certain and permanent. That's a job for intensive, regular, and most likely, rather prolonged Feldenkrais work.

I'll remind you, if it seems appropriate, that holding the belly too tight will freeze down the coordination of the belly and low back, and this contributes to compression of the lumbar spine. That alone might be the prime cause of your sciatica. In this vein we might even work with your breathing in a Feldenkrais context, or with ATM moves involving the pelvis and belly, such as the pelvic clock. Practice of abdominal breathing, or other types of breathing may be recommended. We'll probably spend at least one session, eventually, on breathing.

As well, we do whatever comes to mind. I let my natural wandering instincts come into play. Perhaps  you need to learn to sense and release your body weight more easily into your skeleton, while sitting or standing. Or, maybe I'll feel that you need lots of slow, gently mobilization of your arms and legs, to give you a real-time mentoring in what it means to move your body with minimal effort, without compression. Perhaps I see that the carriage of your head is not optimal - so we'll work with that, since, believe it or not- such a thing can definitely be a cause for such things as sciatica. And, very often, I may do intensive and regular Feldenkrais foot and ankle work, since everything begins  there, in a very real sense. Nobody complains about this, because it feels so good! This "wandering instinct" has served me well in the past - great discoveries are made, unsuspected causes of pain are uncovered. This type of work is part of the magic of Feldenkrais - and you can't get it anyplace else, as far as I know. Having a general plan, as I do here, calms my mind and gives some structure to our work, but often the real results come from unexpected angles.  

And definitely, I'll be doing Feldenkrais work to help you learn to globally decompress all your joints, including especially your hip joints and lumbar spine. This perhaps is my central focus, since it is what most reliably gives total relief. 

If your pain continues in spite of all this, I'll ask that you read all my posts, since there might be one piece of information that can make a big difference.  

I'll ask you to take Vitamin B-12 sublingually, and a multi-B complex vitamin once or twice a day. That's because whenever nerves are involved, it is good, and usually helpful to be sure there are enough B vitamins, especially B-12. If nutrition seems to be an issue, I'll recommend you see a nutritionist. 

I'll explain - if the topic comes up and you are interested in my opinions -  my belief/opinion that "we die from the feet up" meaning that problems with  blood circulation, accumulation of heavy metals, etc is likely to show up first in the feet. So the feet and legs can be considered as an "early warning system" of the body. Don't ignore it (you can't ignore sciatica, anyway!) and make changes! The sciatic nerve - very long, heavily used and most subject to being compressed and compromised for other reasons (compared to other nerves in the body) can warn us to make necessary changes, to avoid trouble with the brain, say, many years later. That can mean many things,  but in my experience (I myself have had sciatica), it is primarily about the items in this long list.  All this is mostly about me, even though I do write it down as client recommendations, it is what I do personally. If you do any of these things, it is your choice, and I can take no responsibility for any possible adverse effects

So here are my common sense guidelines to taking care of the feet, legs  and nerves of the lower extremities, in order to prevent further trouble and possibly enhance the healing process for sciatica. It has taken me many years to learn, embody and practice all these thing, so don't think you need to try them all! It can't be done, not unless you take several years to do it:

a) Manage stress

b) Learning to breath more easily, not holding the belly and floor of the pelvis uptight at all since this will crimp blood vessels to the lower extremities as they pass through the diaphragm - which is over-tensed. That means learning to get comfortable letting the belly hang free during the day. This is a large topic, and soon I will have a post that goes into more detail on this subject. 

c) Learning to move into length, not compression, and getting smarter about how you move, and the body positions, chairs, etc and situations that you allow yourself to get into. That means continuing involvement with The Feldenkrais Method. There is a lifetime of pleasant learning,  personal growth and transformation there. It is wonderful to include it in your normal lifestyle, just like a yoga class every week. 

d) Modifying and improving  dietary and supplementation strategies. Eat more greens! Learn about green drinks! Buy the book Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko! Up your percentage of raw food. Eat more organics, buy your produce locally at a farmer's Market. Stop eating fast food, processed food, grains and simple carbos. This is not rocket science. 
e) Dr. Jonathan Wright, the well-known alternative medicine pioneer, has written that he routinely cures sciatica by IV or injections of vitamin B12 with Vitamin  B1. That should be a hint for us.  At least supplement with B vitamins and sublingual B12. B12 - the latest research shows we all need to supplement, even beef eaters! B-vitamins are water soluble, so take them twice a day. There are many ways that B12 may become a problem - more than any other vitamin it is subject to stress, pollution, poor diet, low stomach acid -  any of these can cause us to be depleted. Shortage of B12, all by itself, can be the 100% cause of sciatica. It makes sense to deal with this aspect. And, the latest research does show that daily ingestion of one sublingual B12 can do the job. Shots are not really necessary (although I myself give myself  shots) and the past belief, by MDs, that shots etc were not needed, was faulty. The  test they used was not accurate. For more on  this, visit, Dr. Gabriel Cousens's website. He is a raw foodist, and has had more clinical experience with vegans, raw foodists, and vegetarians than anybody else  on the planet. He is a voice of common sense and wisdom, backed up by many years experience and a stunningly diverse education (he has many degrees).
f) Do detox protocols, especially to remove heavy metals from the lower extremities, where they do seem to accumulate. When clients are doing chemotherapy, I can feel by touching their feet, the hot, itchy, uncomfortable feeling caused by the accumulation of heavy metals and poison-drug residues there. I told one client "I cannot work on your feet while you do chemo, unless you do foot baths three times a week. She did this, and I could then work with her feet without aching hands).
g) A foot bath twice a week is a good idea for you, too. The pores at the bottom of the feet are the largest in the body - a hint that large, heavy metals can best be eliminated there through the skin. Maybe that's why  the body allows gravity to send heavy metals down to the feet, instead of just going to the liver (probably both happen, or the liver may be overloaded or the colon congested and elimination is faulty). How to do a foot-bath?  Use a dishwashing plastic tub, big enough for both feet, fill it with hot water (as hot as you can stand) and then add a little soap (to break the surface tension) and some other items to bind to the heavy metals as you sweat them out - such as clay, epsom salts, sea salt, 3T of unscented regular Clorox Bleach, essential oils, Willard Water, etc. You can Google "foot baths" and get much good information. Be sure to leave you feet in the bath until the water turns slightly cool, because some believe that is when the greatest transfer of toxic waste from the feet (now warmer than the water) goes to the water

h) Again, do some kind of detox! Salt baths are a wonderful idea. Clay baths are wonderful. Buy and  read the book Live Longer Better, by Joseph Dispenza for the very best information on taking salt baths, baking soda baths, Clorox bleach baths (1 cup per bathtub of water - it is great, I have actually done this). This book is available at for very little money. Visit a spa where you can do mud baths, clay sun bathing. If you live in Southern California, be sure to visit Glen Ivy Spa, just south of the highway 10 in the 15. Wonderful detox! Even if you do everything else in I recommend, without some kind of detox protocol you may get poor results.

i) See a nutritionist or other experienced professional, who has had many years experience in your locality in detox protocols. It is extremely individual - what is most suitable for you - and it can be actually dangerous if not done sensibly. As well, different  localities have different kinds of pollution, hence it is best to see a local person, experienced in detox methods. This may be an acupuncturist, naturopath, herbalist, MD,  chiropractor, dentist, or a nutritionist.
j) Personally, I use salt baths, clay baths (up to 2-3 hours per bath),  a high-end zeolite spray twice a day, castor oil topically now and then, dry skin brushing, Dr. Schulze colon and liver cleansing protocols (I often do liver flushes as he recommends), and periodic juice fasting, using protocols. I have paid Dennis, the director,  many times to guide me through 30-40 and even once an 87 day juice/broth liquid fast. It is safe, the appetite goes away after a few days, and one loses maybe 1/3 pound a day - but energy is good, and I can always keep working. Supervision is necessary for any kind of fasting - there are many hidden pitfalls and dangers if you do it alone, without sufficient knowledge. There is a lot to learn and know about fasting, of any kind.  Often my clients don't know I am fasting until day 30 or so, when they may say - "Steve - are you fasting again? You look so skinny.") 

k) Another detox strategy I use, very powerful, is a 100% raw food diet - with lots of greens and green drinks - combined with aerobic exercise and Bikram Yoga (lots of sweating).  I once went 2 years 100% raw, and now I eat 80% to 90% raw, and often go for weeks mostly raw. Nearly always breakfast and lunch is all raw, but supper may be cooked. Any trouble or pain in my body - I do more raw food, it goes away. What could be more simple? But not easy! And, you have to know how to do it. Read books, take classes. You absolutely must not do too many fruits and protein-anemic salads as most people do when they go vegan and "raw". That will only make you sick. You need green drinks, super-foods in abundance, protein smoothies, you need to soak your nuts and seeds, and sea vegetables. There is lots to learn! I do workshops on raw food. I have a website, RawFoodandMore.Com and I have a book on raw food that you may purchase  (not yet available online - but soon). Ask me about the book.  Perhaps I am too preoccupied with raw food and detox, but I live in LA smog, and that does accumulate in the lungs and colon, don't ask me how I know this, you don't want to hear me tell you! so periodic clean up periods are a must, for me. Also while I was in the US Army, processing to got to Vietnam, I was forcefully (we had little choice but to obey direct orders) given over 30 injections, all of them loaded with mercury (we now know that many years after the fact). My arms still ache!! After nearly 40 years. Were 30 injections necessary? For what? Or was it that the drug companies lobbied the US Government to give that many shots, more money for them, you know? (pardon my rant) 

l) Use a shower filter to minimize your exposure to chlorine. Personally, I no longer take showers since they have recently increased (by 3x, I am told) the fluoride in the LA water supply. I don't drink LA water,  either. I buy my water from stores specializing in water using reverse osmosis, and then I use a gravity drop Nikken  filter as my second line of defense. THEN I use the water. Really, I am pretty extreme, so don't try to imitate me. I clean my body using dry skin brushing, sponge baths using filtered water, sweating. I use PCV plastic pipe to conduit the water from my shower filter into the bathtub (so as not to lose heat) when I want to take a bath. I am currently experimenting as to what I need to add to the bath water to clean up the fluoride. Certain kinds of high-end clays seem promising. 
m) Last, but not least - see good dentist (I prefer holistically oriented dentists experienced in removing mercury fillings), get a Panorex X-ray to be sure you don't have "cavitations" (bone infections  of the jaw) or teeth or root canals that have "gone bad". If an infected tooth or root canal is along the same energy/acupuncture meridian as your sciatic nerve, all your pain may be coming from your tooth!  I don't believe in root canals, and had all of mine pulled out. The ancient, proven method? Pull the tooth. I felt SO much better. A root canal is a dead bone rotting  in your jaw - the blunt truth. I don't believe ancient cultures ever did such a thing as root canals - and that's not because they did not have the technology or ability to do it. They were smarter than us - I contend - if for no other reason than that they did  not attempt to destroy the planet, as we seem to be doing. I have lots of other reasons to believe that, as well, too much to discuss here. Ask me sometime. All this is no joke, and it is something to definitely rule out, or deal with, if nothing else works. I myself have experienced this - and I can't tell you how relieved I was, instantly, when the dentist finally extracted the root canal that was giving  me all that trouble! Of course, I now have a little trouble chewing, but sometimes we have to choose which kind of misery we want to endure. And of course, get all your mercury fillings removed - mercury is a very potent nerve toxin - it literally eats away nerve endings. It has been estimated to be 100 times or more, more poisonous than lead, for example. 

As well, I'll ask  you to stop eating gluten for at least two weeks - to see what happens. Please read my post titled Gluten - The Two Week Challenge for a comprehensive explanation of why this may help you - a lot!

Since sciatica can be such a strong motivator - for people to change their ways and launch into an adventuresome exploration of new things - I may recommend a book (if I am impressed by their enthusiasm), or loan a book, on Feldenkrais, that has ATM movements you can do at home. I might recommend you acquire ATM tapes or listen to online sources such as The Open ATM Project

This is pretty much what you'll get - but not all of it! Only some of it! Usually only a small percentage of it! -  if you come to see me for sciatica. There are a lot of things to consider, and never do we do all of these things. Usually, a client gets relief with just a selected few  of these items. I let my common sense and experience guide me as to what is most important in each particular case.  

Only if results are poor or too slow, will I start to talk about doing more, with more intensity. I do get good results, and have many success stories, more than I can remember. I want results, I want them quick, and I want them to be permanent, just like you do. In the past, when I worked only with Feldenkrais ideas, my results were good, but too slow. So now I still use Feldenkrais, which is something you can't get anywhere else, but I combine it with these other simple, safe, harmless recommendations and easy protocols and I get much quicker results. However, as you might expect, to cover all these bases, so that you can fully integrate them, may take more than just 5 or 6 sessions. At times, up to 3 or 4 months of work is needed to fully resolve sciatica.