The Feldenkrais Method
with Ralph Strauch

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Turning your head with ease.

A simple Awareness Through Movement Lesson

What follows is a simple Awareness Through Movement lesson, designed to teach you to turn your head more easily and fluidly, and to involve more of yourself in the process. The lesson should take about 15-20 minutes, and give you a new sense of the difference that greater self-awareness can make in how you feel and how you move.

To appreciate this process you must actually experience it, not just skim through it. You must take the time to sit with the lesson, follow the directions, and have the experience. If you don't have time to do that right now, either download the file for later use, or mark this URL in your bookmark list and come back to it when you have more time. You will find the experience worthwhile.

If you don't want to keep your net connection open while you do the lesson, you should be able to close your connection and still scroll through the lesson on your browser.

The lesson uses gentle movement and directed attention to enhance your self-awareness and expand the internal "self-image" upon which your movement is based. Your movement serves as a tool to retrain your mind and your nervous system, and in the process, your movement gets better as well.

The lesson consists of a series of gentle movements, which you repeat over and over while paying attention to what you feel in different parts of your body. As you notice your movement it changes, and the changes allow you to notice still more. I am intentionally using the word "lesson" to describe this process, rather than, say, the word "exercise." The purpose is learning, not mechanical repetition. The benefits come from what you notice, not from the movements themselves.

Be gentle with yourself, and if anything hurts or feels uncomfortable, do less. If even small movements are uncomfortable, just imagine movement. I can't be there with you to make sure you don't overdo, so you need to monitor yourself. Pain and discomfort lead you to shut down your awareness and learning can't take place. Attend to your comfort throughout this lesson.

Think of my instructions as helpful suggestions, rather than directions which must be mechanically followed. The lesson is a guided tour through a part of yourself, and I'm the tour guide pointing out the way. If you notice something I didn't point out, that's fine. Should you decide to come back and repeat the lesson later, don't try to do it exactly the same way the second time. You may repeat the same tour, but you can discover different things each time you take it.

The lesson consists of a sequence of directions about how to move and what to notice, given in boldface, with accompanying commentary in normal type. Each paragraph is a self-contained "chunk." (If you download the file as "text" you will lose the boldface, but the directions should still be readable and easy to follow.)

Read each paragraph one at a time, then close your eyes and follow the instructions in that paragraph. Repeat the movements as often as you feel necessary to get the experience being suggested. Generally, 5 to 10 times will be sufficient. If you wear glasses, remove them while you're doing the movements, then replace when you read the next directions.

Sit comfortably erect in your chair, without holding yourself stiff or rigid. Sit far enough forward so that your body has room to move without encountering the back of the chair.

Close your eyes. Turn your head slowly to the right, without effort, and allow it to stop of its own accord. Notice the quality of your movement as you do so. When your head stops, open your eyes and notice what you're looking at. This will give you a benchmark for how far your head turned easily at the beginning of the lesson. I'll refer to this as a "calibration movement" and we'll return to it throughout the lesson, and use it to measure change.

Close your eyes, and repeatedly turn your head to the right and back to the center. Don't go as far as you went in the calibration movement; go perhaps three quarters that far. Notice the quality of your movement as you turn.

Continue turning your head to the right and back to center, as before. As you turn, notice how far down your spine you feel movement. Is the turning confined to your neck, or can you feel it further down your spine? As you continue to pay attention, you may feel it further down than you did at first.

Repeat the calibration movement. Close your eyes and turn your head to the right without effort until it stops. Open your eyes and see how far you turned. Was it any further than you went the first time?

Sit quietly for a moment and register your feelings. Do you feel any different on the right than on the left?

Close your eyes, and repeatedly turn your head to the right and back to the center, as before. Notice what you feel in your shoulders.Is there a tendency in the left shoulder to move forward, and in the right to move back? Allow those movements to happen, so that your torso rotates slightly as you turn. Don't force it, but just allow it to happen naturally. Does this make the movement harder, or easier? Much of the effort you expend in movement goes into trying to hold part of yourself still that should be moving, so that as more of you becomes involved, movement gets easier.

Continue turning your head and eyes to the right and back to center, feeling the turn down your spine and allowing your shoulders to respond to the movement, as before. Notice what you're doing with your eyes. Begin to move your eyes to the right as you turn your head to the right, and them back to the center as your head returns to the center. Does this make the movement harder, or easier?

While you continue turning your head and eyes to the right and back to center, gradually shift your intention to your eyes. Let the movement of your eyes be primary, as if you are moving your eyes to look at something off to the right, and allow your head to follow. Allow the movement to flow down your spine, so that each vertebra responds to the one above it. Allow your torso and your shoulders to respond. Repeat this movement 5-10 times, and feel the flow of the movement through your body.

Repeat the calibration movement. Close your eyes and turn your head to the right without effort until it stops. Open your eyes and see how far you turned. Was it any further than you went the first time?

Turn your head slowly once or twice from left to right, and notice the differences between the two sides. Does your head go further on one side than on the other? Is the quality of movement different?

Sit quietly for a moment and register your feelings. What kinds of differences do you feel between the right and the left?

Many people feel significant differences between the two sides at this point. The head turns further and more easily to the right than to the left, and more easily than it did at the beginning. The right side of the body may feel lighter, more relaxed, more present. If you feel those differences, allow yourself to register that experience for a few minutes; don't be in a hurry to make things symmetrical.

If you don't feel those differences, notice and register that. Come back again in a few days and try the lesson again, and perhaps you will.

What created those changes? One answer might be that it was simply the movement, that the mechanical act of moving "loosened you up" by somehow stretching your muscles and lubricating your joints. I'd like to suggest a different answer -- that what changed was your awareness of your body and how it moves. As you watched yourself moving, you learned something about how you move, and that improved your movement.

To see that it really is the change in awareness that makes the difference, and not the movement itself, try the following. (As before, read each paragraph and follow the directions, then go on to the next paragraph.)

We'll go through the lesson, turning to the left instead of the right. But this time, do the lesson in your imagination rather than actually moving. Don't hold yourself rigid, or fight small movements if they occur, but for the most part, imagine movement rather than actually moving.

Imagine turning your head to the left, feeling how far down your spine the imaginary movement goes.

Imagine feeling the tendency to move in your shoulders, and imagine allowing your body to respond. Imagine feeling your left shoulder move back as you turn to the left, and move forward again as you turn back to center.

Imagine turning your head to the left and feeling your right shoulder move forward, then feeling it move back as your head moves back to center.

Sit for a moment and register your experience. Has the earlier difference you felt between the two sides diminished somewhat?

Imagine turning your head to the left and involving your eyes, so that they move to the left and back to the center with the movement of your head. Imagine letting your eyes lead the movement, looking to the left to see something on your left side, and allowing your neck and your shoulders and your torso to respond fluidly to that movement.

Sit quietly and register your experience. Then actually turn your head from left to right. Notice how far you go on each side. Notice the quality of the movement. How do the two sides feel now? Are they more symmetrical?

Many people find that this imaginary movement balances them out quite nicely -- that the earlier differences they felt between left and right have diminished considerably, if not entirely. Some people even find that the left side feels smoother and more fluid than the right.

If you did experience this change, then it's clear that the change didn't come from physical movement -- because there wasn't any. It had to come from something else, from the learning and change in awareness produced by imagining the movement. (Having just done the movements to the right, of course, gave you a model to copy in your imagination.)

If you didn't experience change from this imaginary movement, don't despair. The imagination is like any other muscle. It gets better the more you use it.

Here's another way of experiencing the difference in awareness that selective attention can create. While you're engaged in some symmetrical physical activity, such as running, swimming, or bicycling, pay attention to one side of your body. Spend a few minutes, for example, noticing how your right hip moves. Then stop for a minute, and just notice how you feel. You will probably experience the same kind of asymmetry that you did after just turning your head to the right. Even though the activity was symmetrical, your attention to it wasn't.

That's an important lesson to take away with you from this experience -- awareness matters. Whatever you do, in exercising, in your work, in all your activities -- awareness matters. If you act with awareness, with what Buddhists call "mindfulness," your experience is different than if you go through life with blinders on, just trying to get by and avoid the pain. Not just different, in fact, but better -- easier and more comfortable. An Awareness Through Movement class or workshop would follow a similar process, though involving a more complex series of movements. The teacher might begin by asking you to repeat a fairly simple movement. You start with a limited view of how to do the movement being asked of you, so your beginning movement is likely to be rough and inefficient. But as you watch yourself move, you become more aware of what you are doing and your movement improves. The teacher may ask you to change your movement, or just to notice a different part of your body while you continue the same movement. You become aware of more of yourself at once, and involve yourself more fully in what you are doing. Your awareness of how you use your body broadens, and your movement gets smoother and easier.

If you do this regularly over a period of time, with lessons focused on different functions and different parts of the body, you experience increasing ease and fluidity of movement. Back problems, stiffness, and other difficulties you have had for years may disappear. Even long term chronic pain may vanish, as you become aware of what you had been doing to yourself to cause the pain, and stop doing it. You increasingly move as an integrated system rather than a collection of separate pieces.

Self-awareness and awareness of the external world are not separate functions; they are aspects of a single generalized function of awareness. As self-awareness broadens, therefore, the skill of seeing with a broader softer focus generalizes and changes may occur in other areas of your life as well. Such a broad range of improvement may occur, in fact, that someone who doesn't understand the general change in awareness which underlies the other changes may find it difficult to believe.

If you would like to explore this process further, I offer a number of Awareness Through Movement Audiotapes available. ATM Tapes and RSI discusses the relevance of these tapes and some of the articles available on this website to people with repetitive stress injury.

If you would like to find a Feldenkrais Practitioner near you, please visit the Feldenkrais search page. You can search by city, state or province, country, or partial or complete zip or postal code.

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