Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: Move Into Life

Many people ask me about the differences between Hellerwork Structural Integration and The Feldenkrais Method. My short answer is that structural integration approaches a change of movement patterns by addressing the body’s connective tissue, which then affects the rest of the body including the nervous system. The Feldenkrais approach seeks to reeducate the brain and nervous system for improved movement patterns that affect the rest of the body. Several new books use the Feldenkrais approach and one of the best is Move Into Life: The Nine Essentials for Lifelong Vitality written by Anat Baniel.

It’s easy to see why people find it difficult to differentiate the modalities without having experienced them. Baniel’s nine essentials are oh-so-compatible with structural integration and especially with undulation. Here’s a brief summary of the essentials for vitality, but I encourage you to explore more for yourself.

  1. Attention – Awareness is the first step in any change (please see my previous blog post) and Baniel explains why. Awareness increases brain activity, which makes new patterns possible.
  2. The Learning Switch – Fight or flight and freezing caused by stress have turned off the learning switch for many of us. Regaining beginner’s mind can turn it back on.

  3. Subtlety – We’ve been conditioned to force being the path to accomplishment, but it blocks the intelligence of intuition. Subtlety is needed to find all movement between the extremes.
  4. Variation – Up to this point in the book, I’ve been nodding my head in agreement, but here is where I start to say out loud, “Yes, YES.” Variation in movement increases brain synapses, decreases rigidity and allows for dramatic transformation.
  5. Slow – When we move fast, there is no room for new experiences, railroading us into unproductive patterns. Moving slowly is counterintuitive, but better for harder tasks.
  6. Enthusiasm – Although it seems as though enthusiasm is something that comes from without, Baniel asserts that it is a skill we develop from within. In Hellerwork, we call this inspiration and maintain that it is fundamental to wellness.
  7. Flexible Goals – We’re back to undulation here. Baniel suggests that we try three different ways to accomplish a goal. “Getting off course” is often just what we need to expand our capabilities.
  8. Imagination and Dreams – Brain patterns are equivalent when imagining and doing things in real life. Playfulness creates a more flexible brain. It’s strange that we use less imagination and have fewer dreams when we get older, when we need them the most.
  9. Awareness – This feels like an extension and deepening of the first essential, attention. After adding subtlety, variation, enthusiasm, flexibility and imagination, the reader is able to be more aware, bringing all nine essentials together.

    Baniel includes a couple of useful movement exercises in each chapter and dozens of examples that make the reading easy. If you get this book, please let me know how it affected you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Change for the Better -- In 3 Steps

Change happens to us. Sometimes change happens through us. Occasionally, we stop in the midst of change and direct it for our own purposes. Many of my clients are frustrated with changes that are happening to them. While most people hope the cause of their affliction will stop, life doesn't always work that way. What does work is to follow a process for transformation. I recently learned that this process has a name, Maslow's Four Stages of Learning.

Everyone stands dozens of times a day with little or no awareness of their posture. When we do an assessment in a structural integration session, most people are surprised to find that their toes and knees don't face forward, their pelvis is not level and, most commonly, the hips are forward of the ankles so the low back sways to counterbalance. That is an opportunity to move from the first stage of learning, Unconscious Incompetence, to the second, Conscious Incompetence.

Being aware of the problem is the first step toward having control over change and leads naturally to the third step. Conscious Competence is the ability, with awareness and concentration, to put a new skill into place, such as lining up feet and knees, dropping the pelvis to level, and bringing the hips back and chest forward. People are pleased to gain tools that give them some control over their symptoms, such as standing or sitting in alignment, using the core to protect the low back, or adding fluid movements to counteract repetitive motions. But these new behaviors take time to develop and the body-mind reverts easily to the unconscious pattern that created the problem in the first place. A client told me of a conversation overhead in her physical therapist's office of another patient who was discussing his shoulder problem. He was frustrated when he frequently fell back into old movement patterns that exacerbated his shoulder injury. This is true for everyone in this stage.

After the elation of the first couple of sessions, most clients want to know, "When will my new posture become automatic?" It takes much practice in the Conscious Competence phase to get to the fourth, Unconscious Competence. Repetition is necessary and reminders are helpful, one reason why I give the little movement homework handouts at the end of most sessions. For myself, I also use sticky notes, like "Sit Bones" on the computer or "Balance" on the bathroom mirror.

Most powerful of all is to demonstrate and explain the new skill to someone else. I implore clients to teach their children how to sit in alignment, to help their kids and to strengthen their own kids and to strengthen their own competence. Eventually, one will notice that they are in alignment without any effort - a cause for celebration! Then it happens more often. The old patterns return sometimes and that's OK, because we have the tools to bring about change for the better.