Allowing In Action – Discover Your Internal Pulses, Undulations & Oscillations*

When we think about the way we move as an indicator of good health, we might picture a younger, more lively version of ourselves, perhaps running up the stairs two at a time like a teenager; facing a steep hill without trepidation; happily sitting on the floor when there are no spare chairs available – perhaps you picture yourself with mobile hip joints that swing easily as you walk, elastic knees that come to standing without requiring special attention, a neck that twists around easily in both directions (do try this out, pretty much everyone can turn further in one direction than the other). Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement was developed as a process for achieving and maintaining this youthful level of mobility. Ruthy Alon – one of my trainers and one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ original 13 trainees – is a great example of how we can move when we retain our agility and vigour into old age…

…and here you can see this sort of grace developing in a regular Feldenkrais class.

However, many of the muscles we rely on for daily survival are smaller, more internal, and function in an automatic or only partially-controllable manner – precisely because they are vital for keeping all our inter-related self-maintenance systems in continuous working order. These sphincter muscles are also fundamental to the ways we communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, and are thus important in too many ways to describe fully here, and the systems they manage – breathing, vocalising, blood and lymph circulation, digestion and elimination – are fundamental to our overall sense of health and well-being.  Tuning in to their internal pulses, ripples, undulations, and oscillations can help us gain access to our own individual natural rhythms, becoming more spontaneous and self-expressive in the process. Modern filming techniques help us gain access to these patterns in the natural world: flowers opening and closing their petals in a diurnal rhythm so slow we can only perceived it using time lapse photography…

 

…and yet I am confident you can see the similarity to this opening and closing in the graceful undulations of underwater creatures as they travel through the water…

Expanding and contracting, opening and closing, ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning – these are the rhythms embedded into every aspect of life – a constant shifting between two interdependent states, achieving equilibrium via continuous motion.

Movement is all important. From cardiovascular health, bone density, joint functioning to central nervous system optimisation. For the health of each and every cell in your organism, to your mental wellbeing and overall happiness. Movement is life. And life is movement!

Rodolfo R. Llinás, MD, PhD

This constant undulation is so much a part of all life that the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang is still a useful metaphor today.

These internal oscillations may seem hard to detect and even harder to influence, but thanks to years of practical clinical experiments by Paula Garbourg – author of The Secrets Of The Ring Muscles – we know that sphincters that are not so easy to control are linked to others that we have much more conscious awareness of. This means that if one vital sphincter is losing strength and becoming less reliable, another more accessible sphincter on the same “circuit” can be activated in a way that will bring the whole system into better functioning synergistically.

For example the sphincters that squeeze our eyes shut are linked to the urethra, and the ring muscles that ‘purse’ our lips connect to our anal sphincter.

Try this mini Awareness experiment: squeeze your eyes closed, and then relax them again, without opening them, and repeat many times, stopping when you feel tired. Sit on a chair in such a way that you are balancing on your sitting bones and have both feet on the floor, as this will make the experiment clearer, and after a while see if you can sense any connection to the ring muscle at the entrance to your urethra (the one that controls urination). Obviously this sort of experiment is easier to do in a class when someone else is giving you instructions and you do not have to manage your own expectations – just remember that you cannot really go wrong when you pay close attention to your own experience, and that any breathing patterns that emerge are always interesting!**  This is part of my workshop on the healthy functioning of the ring muscles and the four diaphragms (yes, I know, I’ll get to that in a minute) and the goal is to heighten awareness so that we can feel these internal connections and activate them with ease.

Just as the ring muscles work in synergy with each other, they also work in coordination with the thoracic diaphragm, which is itself linked to the contraction and relaxation of the soft palate, the tongue root, and the pelvic floor. Several sources also connect the arches of the feet to these other diaphragms, and while this may seem a somewhat poetic idea, in fact it is interesting to compare the sensations you experience in your thoracic diaphragm and your pelvic floor as you intentionally lift the arches of both feet away from the floor. Try it, sitting in the same position as before, and find a way to keep the rest of the soles of your feet in contact with the floor – I find it pretty convincing!

I have recently begun to investigate Polyvagal Theory, and I have come to understand that – very much in the way the different diaphragms link up to form a coherent system – my workshops on BodyMindfulness, the Embodied Voice, and Hearing And Sounding all link up to form a whole system for physical and emotional health, so I am ‘whole-heartedly’ recommend this workshop for:

Improving the functioning of the sphincters of elimination, and the pelvic floor, plus all the other sphincters of the body.

Releasing full whole self breathing via all your diaphragms.

Improving coordination and rhythm throughout the whole self.

Improving the functioning of the torso muscles and the spine and thus your posture.

Improving the swallow reflex and functioning of the larynx, tongue, jaw and soft palate.

Calming a hypertensive or over-stimulated nervous system.

 

Feldenkrais & The Freedom Of Allowing:

Integrating the Sphincters – Pulsations & Oscillations

September 17th, 2017

Sunflower Centre, Brockley, SE4, 2 – 6pm, £60 / £50

Our pelvic floor is the meeting point for many important muscular systems whose condition contributes to the health of our whole system. Our “ring” muscles are more fundamental still – their coordinated rhythmic patterns of contraction and relaxation are vital for digestion; free, full breathing; and healthy circulation throughout our muscles and our organs. In this workshop we will develop these rhythmic movements, using wave-like motion, and pulsating and oscillating rhythmic movements, to relax and energise the whole self…in this way you will be learning how to improve your posture from the inside out!

Practice notes will be provided – regular practice is the best way to help yourself to reverse the effects of ageing and stress on your internal and your muscular fitness.

If you have missed this workshop, contact me to find out when the next workshop will be:

maggy.burrowes@virgin.net

**Some of you may find that you begin to exhale in time with your squeezing as this triggers a subtle flexing in the torso.

There isn’t much about Paula Garbourg on the net,  but I notice her daughter Haya is preparing to launch a remote online therapeutic service, so maybe there will be more on YouTube in the future: in the meantime, here is a short film demonstrating some of the exercises that my workshop explores in a more Feldenkrais-y way!

 

*This is an update of a blog from 2014, edited to reflect the updated nature of the sphincter workshop it was originally written to introduce.

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Feldenkrais And The Art Of Allowing

What do I mean by the concept of “allowing” as applied to The Feldenkrais Method?  An Awareness Through Movement class is the ideal place to learn to sense directly all those parts of us that are clenching, and bracing, and straining, and pushing – physical sensations so unpleasant that most of us simply train ourselves to ignore what we are doing, and begin to accept persistent discomfort as the norm.

In class we lie on the floor, gently surrendering to gravity, and begin instead to remember and relearn the art of softening, and freeing, and releasing, and letting go, re-awakening our awareness to all the bio- and neuro-feedback* that comes to us constantly from our various internal and external senses, but that we have been unconsciously been tuning out, or may even have switched off completely. As our ability to move into unfamiliar patterns and sequences develops, we are also learning to shed our muscular corsets, and access new ways of moving in everyday life that are fluid, and rhythmic, and pleasurable to experience; an outer, visible expression of our expanding sense of equilibrium. In time we become more responsive to what is going on, tuning in to the vibrant world around us, fully resonating with life, easily integrating all the different parts of ourselves into a natural whole, so that we can be fully present and fully ourselves, even when we are surrounded and buffeted by the other strong personalities in our lives…

Thanks to Jonathan Thrift and The Feldenkrais Guild UK for the use of this image

Allowing in this context is a kind of physical and mental surrender, a way to accept what is: to give up fighting for breath and simply breathe; to give up striving for achievement and discover what you really would like to be doing instead; to rediscover that life is supposed to be enjoyable; to let go of constant haste, and embrace slowness and unforced patience; to free ourselves from a state of constant yet pointless anticipation, and instead approach the future in a state of easy readiness – knowing that we will have all our resources to hand whenever we need them, and that we do not need to spend our lives walking around encased in muscular armour.  Dr Moshe Feldenkrais was a physicist and engineer, but he was also a life-long teacher of Judo who embodied the physical and mental readiness and potency of the highly skilled martial artist. It is this fully potent state of being – truly human being – that he aspired to produce with his teaching method, the method he continued to expand and hone throughout his life.

Moshe Feldenkrais teaching Functional Integration to a trainee at Amherst

 

“What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I’m after is to restore each person to their human dignity. ”
- Moshe Feldenkrais

One of his original students, Ruthy Alon – now in her 80s and still teaching Feldenkrais around the world – coined the term “Mindful Spontaneity” (long before mindfulness became so fashionable) for this return to the state of Integrated functioning that we accessed while we were learning to move and coordinate ourselves in our early years.

She is another Feldenkrais practitioner who embodies the Method wonderfully; here she is in her sixties, revealing her very individual take on The Feldenkrais Method:

 

 

“Through human motion we can challenge the non-supportive habits that reside in our subconscious minds. In such a way we can awaken in the nervous system that innate primal wisdom which enables it to correct its own actions. This is a process of reeducating adults neuromotor functioning towards restoring innocent grace, efficiency and ease.

The process of updating habits is inherently rejuvenating. Limitations, degeneration and pain give way to an organic knowledge of coordination in an ever progressive path of self development.”

Mindful Spontaneity – Ruthy Alon (1996)

 

Many of us are so used to living in a state of compulsive muscular resistance that we cannot remember what moving with ease feels like. In these Art Of Allowing Workshops you will be learning to stop bracing yourself against the unpredictabilities of life, to stop holding yourself down, like a cork held underwater, and instead to let yourself bob up to the surface and enjoy the sensation of floating effortlessly, carried along easily by a skeleton that can move freely, unimpeded by unconscious constraints. With the adaptable strategies of Feldenkrais we unravel these unconscious muscular tensions using carefully designed movement sequences – not exercises, much more like the explorations and playful discoveries of the developing toddler – as a very natural way to lower muscular effort throughout the whole self, but the long-term aim is greater ease in every aspect of life. Every time you can catch yourself in the act of tensing back up again, you learn a little more about yourself, your true feelings, and your suppressed desires. Once you start to get a handle on what is making you so resistant and wary and armoured against those around you, then it becomes possible to begin to truly renew yourself.

Workshops in London

As you can tell “The Art of Allowing” is my current favourite way to describe the fluid, playful, alternative way of being that Feldenkrais is designed to help you master. Of course mastery is a slow business, and we all know that the most valuable skills repay the commitment we make to explore and develop them: these workshops will include simple-to-follow practice notes, and ongoing support from me, so there will be no reason not to get the maximum benefit possible from the new way of being you are learning to embody.

Click on the links for more information about each workshop and venue. Contact information here.

Venue: The Sunflower Centre, Brockley, SE4

All Workshops: 2.00 – 6.00,   £60 / £50

UnDoing Tension & Stress – BodyMindfulness & The Art Of Allowing

November 5th

Awareness Through Movement & The Joy Of Allowing

December 10th

Enliven & Liberate Your Self – The Freedom Of Allowing

January 21st

I am in the mood to explore some specific themes this Summer – hands and feet in July, Eyes and Spine in August, Sphincters – Pulsation and Oscillation in September. In each of these workshops I will continue to explore the overall strategies of releasing resistance, and enhancing physical freedom and flow.

I am using the concept of the Art of Allowing, to describe the ability to achieve the fluid, playful, spontaneous way of being that Feldenkrais is designed to help you master. Of course mastery is a slow business, and we all know that the most valuable skills repay the commitment we make to explore and develop them: these workshops will include simple-to-follow practice notes, and ongoing support from me, so there will be no reason not to get the maximum benefit possible from the new way of being you are learning to embody.

*I tried, but could not find a useful link explaining that neuro-feedback is what we are all constantly receiving from our nervous systems constantly – apparently if it can’t be copyrighted it isn’t worth describing – I will keep looking and update!

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