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:
**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.