Integrating Feldenkrais into our Lives: Bringing Moshe into the Apiary
posted on November 23, 2020
As I write this, 100,000 bees are clustered in our hives trying to keep their queens warm through the long winter. In my short tenure as a beekeeper, I am constantly amazed by these creatures. The work of keeping bees is also physically demanding and I have found many moments of connection to my Feldenkrais practice and recognize opportunities for integration.
Dr. Feldenkrais was interested in people learning and developing the capacities within themselves to live their “unavowed dreams,” to live with less compulsion and more spontaneity. The Feldenkrais Method does not provide a set sequence of movements to repeat and master, but rather the Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement lessons provide an environment in which one can learn something about oneself in order to improve the quality of one’s life.
In the apiary, I have found a few lessons very useful. The first being a very practical one. We keep our bees in stacked, “Langstroth” style boxes. Each box holds 10 frames, and a box of frames full of honey can weigh 80-90 pounds! During the season, we spend approximately 5-7 hours weekly or biweekly inspecting the hives to check for disease and pests and make sure they have enough room and food. This means lifting heavy boxes off each hive in order to get to each box for inspection. Utilizing support from the ground, efficient organization, and my breath helps me to protect my back and shoulders from wear and tear when lifting very heavy boxes full of bees and honey.
Another lesson for sure is being present to the moment. You learn quickly to attend to how you hold the frames… careful not to accidentally squish a bee and end up with yet another bee sting. Ouch! And there is so much to pay attention to… Where is the queen? Is she laying? Can you see eggs? How much honey are they putting up? Is there pollen coming in to the hives? How much brood is there? Are there signs of disease? Do they have enough room? Each frame in the hive tells a detailed story about what is going on in the hive, the health of the bees, and what is currently available in the environment. Inspecting a hive takes your full and present attention.
Spontaneity comes in handy as well. There are plenty of times when we have a plan for what we are going to look for and do during an inspection just to be thrown into a new plan as soon as we open a hive. For example, last summer, just a couple months after embarking on this new endeavor of beekeeping, we were gearing up to do a standard hive inspection just in time to notice that all of a sudden the sound of bees got really loud…. Thousands of bees were emptying out of one of our hives into the air… the bees had decided it was time for part of the colony to leave with the queen to make a new home! Change of plans. Fortunately for us they landed on a structure in our yard and we were able to capture the swarm and make them a nice new home in our apiary… this added a few hours and much excitement to our expected inspection.
Integrating the lessons I’ve learned through Feldenkrais – practicing efficient organization, presence in the moment, embracing spontaneity – all enrich and support my enjoyment of so many aspects of my life, including working with bees. What we hope to gain from engaging in the work of the Feldenkrais Method is not just the enjoyment and curiosity in the moment of exploring a new lesson but that we can take what we learn and find ways to make our lives better. To be able to respond with resilience and flexibility, and to live more in line with our authentic selves. What do you love to do and how do you integrate your Feldenkrais practice into your day to day life to bring more ease and joy?
Aging with Grace requires Strength
posted on January 1, 2020
A Feldenkrais® colleague of mine suggested Body by Science to me many months ago. She told me that following this particular strength training protocol was making a huge difference for her. She felt significant improvements in strength and loved that she only has to spend 15 minutes a week at the gym.
After reading the book myself, I wanted to share what I’d learned with you immediately! Instead, I decided to pause, take a breath, and try this “Big-Five” workout (high-intensity training) myself for few months first.
As a former professional dancer, I have spent many hundreds of hours in the dance studio and otherwise training my body for strength, flexibility, accuracy and artistry. I never had to think so much about ‘strength training’ per se. I was always training. Exercise was built into my life. Implicit in my daily routine.
However, over the past 6 or 7 years as I have transitioned to focusing on my Feldenkrais® practice, I’ve recognized that, while I remain active with walking, biking, hiking, etc., my daily routine is much more sedentary than it used to be.
Feldenkrais® lessons have provided me with a structure and place in which to find ease and pleasure in movement and an authentic expression of myself, transferring force efficiently through my skeleton, reducing tension, learning how to move in accordance with my skeleton in relationship to gravity…
…and yet I am also recognizing the need to maintain and build strength and muscle mass in order to sustain my health and ability to continue the activities I need and want to do – stacking wood, shoveling snow, gardening, dancing…
The Feldenkrais Method® so beautifully offers us the opportunity to learn how to use ourselves well – to find power with ease, to follow curiosity and playfulness, to expand our self-image…
And the next step is to integrate this learning into our lives in a meaningful way.
This brings me to my interest in taking these improvements into challenging my body for strength and power.
After experiencing a back injury, I found that pain and the fear of recurring injury created limitations – and fear around moving and challenging my body. I find this is true for a lot of people, and we could have another whole discussion on pain and the brain. But for this discussion, I will stick to the topic at hand.
I have loved focusing on ease and pleasure in movement, but to remain strong, we must ask our muscles to work hard. The old adage “use it or lose it” definitely applies here!
So I was excited to try the “Big-Five” workout laid out in Body by Science and have been doing so weekly since August. The short of it is: you perform 5 specific exercises, preferably on machines, which engage all the major muscle groups of the body. The amount of weight you lift for each exercise is determined by how much weight it takes to bring your muscles to complete failure within as close to 90 seconds as you can. You go slowly enough to prevent the use of momentum. And that’s it. You are in and out of the gym in 15 minutes. Once a week. (Just like Feldenkrais®, rest is essential.) The reasoning for this type of workout is not only to build muscle strength, but to improve various physiological processes in the body.
If you’re interested in learning more about the physiological processes this sets in motion, as well as the details on how to properly carry out this type of workout, I recommend reading the book. Not only are you doing work that generates muscle growth, you are improving your cardiovascular health, insulin-sensitivity, metabolism, and many other processes that contribute to healthy functioning of all the systems in the body.
While I don’t know if my cholesterol levels have improved, or if my brain health is better – I do know that I always feel better and more clear-minded after exercise. And I have experienced improvements in my strength. In part, I know this because I can lift more weight for 90 seconds, and I also found that carrying a heavy shelving until from the car into the basement the other day felt much more manageable. While it felt heavy and difficult to do, I felt my structure and musculature could meet the demand without feeling in danger of injury.
Which brings me back to my point about the value of Feldenkrais®. When I first started the “Big-Five” workout, I just dove right in to each exercise. One of the goals is to completely fatigue your muscles, so it’s helpful not to rest in between each exercise.
However, about a month ago I started taking time at the beginning of each exercise to lift a very small amount of weight first and do so with a Feldenkrais® mind – slowly, noticing the very first moment of the movement… where am I using effort I don’t need? Where do I feel compressed? Am I lengthening my spine? Where is my support?
Particularly useful is paying attention to my breath and the expansion of my abdomen. I can approach this like a martial artist. Pay attention to sensation and finding lightness. Feeling ease and the support of my skeleton so that my muscles an function efficiently even when challenged by a heavy load.
Then I increase the weight to the load I think will fatigue my muscles in 90 seconds and do my best to integrate.
Because the tactic is to continue slowly (as slow as 10 seconds to lift and 10 seconds to lower), it’s easier to maintain attention on my sensation and clarity of form.
And… because of the way the muscle fibers are recruited (again, the book explains!), by the time my large motor units that can produce a lot of power are recruited, my muscles are close to fatigue and weak, limiting the possibility of injury from using too much force.
I have very much been enjoying the process of exploring the challenge of lifting heavy weights in a safe context. Practicing my Feldenkrais principles has helped a lot. In addition to feeling stronger, I love the feeling in my tissues after finishing a workout and in the hours and days afterwards – everything feels more flexible and open. My tissues feel malleable and nourished.
I see many folks at the gym using momentum to lift weights or, for example, using their back to do a hamstring exercise – causing forces to shear across their joints and tissues, creating wear and tear. Learning to use ourselves well, pay attention to sensation, and trust in our own abilities can be essential tools in strengthening our bodies and maintaining health while limiting wear and tear and the possibility of injury.
Back to the topic of this post… Efficient movement is graceful. And grace and efficiency are dependent upon learning to move with more ease and less tension, to move in ways that drive forces through our skeleton longitudinally, not shear across us, and to move in accordance with our particular structure and personality.
And, finding and sustaining a sense of grace is dependent upon maintaining our strength. Our ability to walk gracefully depends on balance and steadiness. This is dependent upon being well-organized and efficient, and it is also dependent upon having powerful and responsive musculature. Being quick and in tune with our bodies helps us fall well. Muscle mass also protects us when we fall.
Responsiveness is key.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to tune in to your own intelligence in the pursuit of grace and power, send me an e-mail! Book a session! Try out a class! I’d be happy to talk with you.
Happy New Year!
A wonderful article about the Feldenkrais Method featuring my friend and colleague Chrish Kresge who has a practice in Washington DC.
Is 6 hours of sleep is enough?
posted on August 30, 2018
If you’re interested in learning more about the profound importance of sleep for our overall health, I recommend this fascinating book. Walker references an impressive body of research (including his own) and his writing is fluid and easy to follow. Learn about the processes that occur while we sleep and why a “non-negotiable 8 hour sleep opportunity” every night is essential for pretty much all functions including memory, cardiovascular health, learning, emotional health, weight control, and much, much more!
If you’re having trouble getting comfortable while sleeping, wake up with discomfort, or struggle to breathe deeply an relax in the evening as you prepare to sleep, see if Feldenkrais can help! Schedule a private lesson with Fritha.
*I encourage you to visit your local bookstore or library if you’re interested in reading this book!
This book is a fascinating dive into understanding how talent, or skill, is developed and what is happening in the brain when we learn. The profound importance of the role of myelin in learning gives us a deeper understanding of what Moshé Feldenkrais knew about how we learn – years before neuroscientists had the technology to understand what was happening in the brain – and helps us to clarify our understanding of the process we engage in during Feldenkrais® lessons.
The way we learn and develop skill (or talent) is through practice. In his book “The Talent Code” Daniel Coyle describes in depth the important elements of ‘deep practice,’ motivation, and masterful coaching in developing skill, and coherently describes the neuroscience behind learning.
And if you’d like to experience deep practice through the Feldenkrais Method for improving ease and comfort in your every day living, contact Fritha to set up an initial session.
“Trying the Feldenkrais Method for Chronic Pain”
The process of engaging in Feldenkrais lessons can lead us into unexpected terrain. Learning about ourselves through awareness in movement can result in profound and deep change. We can learn to find clearer support and an ease in movement that help us feel lighter and reduce pain and difficulty, and these changes resonate with deeper layers within our personality. The Boston Feldenkrais Training Blog interviewed Feldenkrais Collective members Fritha Pengelly and Sarah Young about their experiences with Feldenkrais in relationship to dancing. Read the interview here: http://www.bostonfeldenkraistraining.com/blog/the-feldenkrais-method-a-partner-in-dance-and-self-discovery