Thursday, July 31, 2008

If You Are Teacher

It is a tremendously stressful and underpaid job you have, and under-appreciated both by parents, kids, administrators and society. Every year it gets more that way. I have total sympathy.  It involves so much writing, correcting papers, and usage of the eyes. Your day is spent disciplining the kids and filling out all kinds of paperwork, rather than directly facilitating the learning of your students. It seem that kids in society are not getting better, as the years pass, is that not so?

You do not want to add to your troubles by not attending to your body intelligently. It is not that I am asking you here to do more work, God forbid. I already know you take home papers to correct, you stay after work supervising  kids without pay, you really are on-the-job much more than 8 hours a day. You are grossly underpaid. No, but I am  suggesting - no I beg  you - to take one hour out of your week and either pay to see an experienced Feldenkrais Practitioner for private work, or go to The Open ATM Project.

There, you will find free downloads of ATM lessons that you can do  anytime, alone  or with family members at home. It would be better to go to a class locally, you'd learn more quickly. 
When you see a practitioner privately, you'd lie down on the table, fully clothed, and what you'd experience would be pure bliss, like manna to your soul. It would quickly become your favorite time of the week. Eventually you could not imagine life without it. You might try massage or other kinds of work, as a variety, and be surprised that you don't get that nice "Feldenkrais feeling".

In my opinion, teachers need regular weekly (or more) FI, Feldenkrais Functional Integration, and involvement in a once-a-week  ATM (Feldenkrais Awareness  Through Movement) class more than any other major segment of society. You have no idea how you will benefit you - it is because you don't know what you don't know. As a teacher, you know a lot, that is for sure. You know a lot more about many things than I do, for sure.  

I used to be a substitute teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District - for just a couple years while I was still building my practice. Plus, I graduated with a degree in math/education in 1968, and taught junior high for one year, before being drafted, and going to Vietnam. Vietnam was a picnic by comparison. So, I know about teaching - my mother was a teacher, both my sisters are teachers, and I was married for 3 years to a teacher. And, my father was a preacher (can you tell?) which is like a teacher in some ways. 

Walking into a room full of teachers - what was that like for my Feldenkrais persona? I felt like standing  up and screaming, ranting - nobody is breathing here!!  You all look like pale-faced corpses - all brain and no body! It's like a room full of corpses here! Why do you let yourselves be like this!  The older you are, as a teacher, the more you are like that! The energy here is so dead. Do you think intellect is what life is all about? You have a choice! Don't  you know that? 

If I were not verbally assaulted or ushered out of the room - and if they wanted to get more details, I would continue like this: OK, calm down. Everybody - relax, sit comfortably, and breathe  - take  a long, slow, easy full breath - as you inhale RELAX the torso, go slow, don't force it. When you think of breathing, from now on, think LESS or light, easy, soft and slow. Make no effort on the inhale! Maybe for the first time in your life you will take in a real breath of air, and actually expand your lungs and tight ribs and relax your uptight belly. 

You people are all so mentally vigilant and physically tense, it is amazing. Your breathing is so shallow and tense! Yet on your faces is written "my knowledge, my intellect is  very highly developed. I am proud of it.  I am a superior creation of God, for that reason. The proof is that I teach children. My knowledge is really good. " Well, I am here to tell you, your knowledge of your body is not good.

It is a funny thing about breathing. How the teacher in a room breathes is how all the students will breathe. Those kids who are not so obedient, who live life more fully than that, may become your discipline problems. 

Another funny thing: we misunderstand what it means to inhale. To inhale - obviously - means to expand the lungs and take in air. Obviously, this means to soften all the  muscles of the torso, the belly and chest, the upper and lower back the sides of the torso. Obviously, any tension in any of those areas means that breathing will not be optimal. Tense muscles always shorten and contract - meaning less space to breathe, not more.  If I asked you to take a deep breath right now, you'd make a huge effort and take a dramatically strained inhalation, and you'd be proud of it.  A  Feldenkrais-trained person instead would have instead fully relaxed, taken a full but easy exhalation, and then allowed the inhale to proceed effortlessly, fully. You'd relax just watching such a person take a "deep breath".

The natural, relaxed breath rhythm is lost when the breath tries to follow -  all day long - the gyrations of the intellect, which can move faster than the speed of light, from one end of the universe to the other. The body has it's own rhythm, and that is not the rhythm of the intellect. Do you spend any time each day watching your natural breath? You'd benefit even by 3 minutes a day of that. You could say to yourself any of the following things (preferably in this order): 

1) My mind has nothing else to do now  except to watch my breathing. As I inhale I will say to myself "now I am inhaling" and as I  exhale I  will say to myself  "now I am exhaling".  I will endeavor to slow my mind down to the breath rhythm, instead of my mind always trying to keep up with my over-busy mind. It is the first thing Lord Buddha taught his monks to do concerning breathing. 
2) I will tell myself that I have all the time I need to inhale, I have all the time to exhale that I want.
3) I do not have to breathe in any special way, however I breathe is OK. I accept it. 
4) I let myself relax and expand on the inhale.
5) If I want to breathe more fully, I slightly emphasize the exhale. 

Did  you know that in ancient china, the symbol for "breath" was actually two symbols attached to each other? The first one meant exhale, the second one meant inhale. To them, "take a breath" meant something much more intelligent than it does to most of us - they would first exhale, then inhale. That was a breath cycle. 

Because you've forgotten how easy breathing can be, you may get into the strange, and stressful, yet culturally accepted habit of using at least 10 times more effort than  you need to "take a deep breath".  Or, more likely, you simply won't ever do it - unless your life is at stake. You become a shallow, tense, chest breather. That's congruent with vigilance and anxiety, which might pretty much describe the life of many teachers. That should not become your only choice for breathing.

If all that is too blunt, I apologize. (Here, I am allowed to speak bluntly). Of course, many teachers are not at all like this, many are highly athletic and, as well, very body intelligent. But most long-time teachers, when they fill  up a room, would make me feel like that. Of  course, I would never talk like that. I am much more patient and diplomatic. But here, I enjoy giving the unvarnished truth about my way of thinking. 

Feldenkrais work will help you dramatically with your breathing and hence, your 24/7 level of stress. If you breath is stress-inducing, your life becomes that way too.  In Feldenkrais work, as opposed to athletic endeavor, you learn many choices - relaxed and fun choices - about how to breathe. And that does not just mean abdominal breathing, although that has its place. You'd experience many new things, and out of all those choices you'd be free to breathe in new and better ways while teaching.  It could come like that naturally. Your face would not be so ashen, the kids will think you somehow "came to life" and your happiness and well-being would skyrocket. It is not about some kind of breathing exercises, where you'd do 10 repetitions three times a day. No, as a teacher, especially, you don't need that kind of nonsense in your life. You don't have time anyway.   

How how else can Feldenkrais help me,  you may ask?   

Well, you do NOT want to go into your retirement years with a body tense and vigilant, with staring tired eyes, stooped posture, tense right hand and thumb and shallow breathing.  Do you imagine all that will go away just because you retire? No, habits you have practiced for 40 or more years are deeply ingrained. Most of them are no longer even conscious. Start now to change them, and see somebody who has training and experience in this kind of transformational learning. You'll need to dedicate many months a year, just one hour a week, but the investment will have a huge payoff.  It is really an exciting and joy filled process. 

Teaching, as stressful as it is, at least keeps you moving, keeps you younger by contact with kids, who naturally have better breathing and movement than most adults. When you retire, and "take it easy", most likely that will mean just more of the same old same old body stuff - with no real incentive to change it (instead you'd go to the doctor complaining about your aches and pains, and probably get pain killers) , and with an aging body, it would get more difficult to do so with each passing year. You'd need lots of outside intervention to move you into a better space. Now, if  you really start now, you can do most of it alone. 

I've worked with lots of seniors, and it is exciting, and entirely possible to bring about huge improvements and transformations. They look so  much younger and happier. Any Feldenkrais teacher can tell stories like that. But, regular, patient work is absolutely essential. Most seniors don't understand the need to for that, or think they cannot afford it, or think it would be a foolish indulgence. That has been a great disappointment to me, and my early hopes and dreams of working with many seniors has not come to pass - instead most of my clients are ordinary working folks in trouble with some kind of pain. 

For many seniors, it is really too late for transformation. Maintenance - yes. Don't wait that long. I have seniors who keep  coming every week for year after year - and all I can  do is keep them from getting worse. They feel much better after every session, of course. One senior client, now age 78, surprised me. After 11  years of weekly work, her life suddenly improved. She is sleeping better, she is off sleeping pills, she is doing productive work as never before, her family and friends now depend on her for doing  things. All her other friends of that age, require someone else to help them.  

The tension and stress you'd take into vacation or retirement would pretty much scuttle any hopes you may have had of real enjoyment during those time periods. 

Feldenkrais can intervene and prevent all that - seriously, you have no idea. 

1) With just a little time each week you can greatly reduce eyestrain. There is a whole lot to learn here. See below for specific hints and ideas.

2) With some minor interventions, you can minimize stress caused by prolonged sitting,which means over-tight psoas muscles, a belly held too tight, and back muscles like rock. You'd learn to sit more dynamically, not so stiffly, and you'd understand how to better encourage your kids to have better posture, naturally, as well (for more on this see my articles on chairs and sitting posture). 
3) You'd learn to soften the muscles of your right forearm, arm, shoulder and ribs. You'd learn to reach and write and grade papers with a right arm that was more fully integrated with your ribs, spine and pelvis. That means that naturally you would not  be sitting holding up the floor of your pelvis, with a stiff spine and tight ribs, while grading huge stacks of papers. You'd learn to reach and write without whole-body compressions.  You probably have not been aware what gripping a pen or pencil and grading all those papers and all that blackboard chalk writing has done to you - all the while knowing all those kids were looking at you. Did you know you carry incredible tension and vigilance your right thumb, your right wrist  (or your left if you are left-handed)? You'd become aware of many such behaviors, and awareness is needed before you can change anything. 

4) You'll learn to relax more fully when you are not working, instead of unconsciously carrying  the "work  habits" with you. By learning what those habits are, you can deal with them.

5) You would not be so prone to shoulder pain or wrist pain or back pain.  

Of all the clients I have ever had, I contend - without no doubt in my mind at all - that school teachers need regular, private Feldenkrais Functional Integration (FI) work more than almost anybody else in society. Everybody needs it, but teachers really really need it. I am not talking about one, one hour session a week for maybe 3 or 4 weeks. That is usually what it takes to fully resolve any chronic or acute pain; I am talking about an hour a week for at least 6 to 8 months for several years, until you get the hang of it. There is a lot more to this Feldenkrais thing than just pain relief, and knowing how to not get in trouble again. Some people learn much quicker than others. 

I cannot leave you like this, feeling like a tense wreck or pale-faced corpse with collapsed chest or a non-breathing person. I admit it, I do exaggerate and dramatize here, but I am trying to stir an interest and understanding of what you stand to gain  by Feldenkrais involvement - beyond  just back pain relief, or shoulder pain relief, which are common reasons that teachers see Feldenkrais practitioners. 

Already I have given you hints about breathing. 

So what about the eyes? Well many years ago, working with a population of retired seniors - giving group classes to them - I devised a class to help their eyes. Many of them were retired teachers, and I saw eyes that were tired, eyes that tended to stare, eyes that did not have the joy of life in them. They could pretend to be interested, but it was not like a healthy, happy young person with enthusiasm for life. It looked sadly artificial. They were trying so hard to be like a young  person. I wondered if there was a way to give them younger eyes, with enthusiasm, with that attractive natural sparkle and joy in them. 

I came up with a one hour class, and after that class was over, YES, I could see amazing changes in all of their eyes. I wrote down everything I did in that class (and more) and I called it "Happy, Sparkling Relaxed Eyes".  You can find that as a blog post for the date August 1, 2008. I'd recommend you spend an hour or two, try all that stuff, and see  how you feel. You'd come away with a new perspective and it would, for sure, change how your eyes would be when you retired. You'll discover little things to do during the day that will make a huge difference in your eyestrain level. They would not be so dead and sad looking.

As far as sitting posture, shoulders, wrist pain - I have written extensively on these topics. Just search my blog for a title that applies to your situation. Or read it all.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great site. I am a teacher and I have been experimenting with both Feldenkrais and Alexander recently, and I am grateful for all of your helpful suggestions for my neck and shoulder. One of my main issues is eyestrain, and I would also love to see your "happy, sparkling relaxed eyes" exercises that you mention in the teacher post, but this does not seem to exist on your site--am I missing something? In any case, there is great information here--thanks so much!

NYC teacher