Listening as a Powerful Therapy Tool

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In my Feldenkrais training, my trainers have told us many times that it's very important for us to meet our students/clients where they are at.  At first, I didn't really understand the significance of that. 

Over the last few years, I've come across situations where my "difficult" clients suddenly became very cooperative and started to actively participate in sessions.  It's taken me a while to figure out what it was that shifted my clients' behavior and attitude.  As I started to pay attention to the moment of "shifting" in my clients' behavior, I've come to realize that I was meeting them where they were at instead of approaching them as an "expert" who knows everything and tells them what to do.  What I was mostly doing was actively listening to them and asking them questions to learn about them.  Actively listening to their stories somehow allowed us to arrive at the same place at the same time.  Once we arrived at the same place at the same time, I started to ask more questions to keep two way street conversations going.  Then, finally my voice started to reach to them. 

This realization was a very powerful learning moment.  This experience has taught me that therapy is like dancing with a partner (by the way, I'm not a dancer) where two persons constantly feedforward and feedback.  If one person is moving without "listening" to his/her partner, it would not be a pleasant dancing experience for him/her.  As my Feldenkrais trainers have taught me, I now know meeting people where they are at is crucial not only for therapy sessions but also for any relationships.  I've found that listening can bring us to that place.  From there, things somehow seem to unfold themselves. 

Why I don't give specific instructions during Awareness Through Movement lessons

When you go to exercise/fitness classes, you would expect your instructor to show you how to do each exercise/movement correctly step by step, right?  What if your instructor wouldn't show you how to do exercises correctly?  In Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes, teachers guide students only verbally through a sequence of movements in a way that they are encouraged to explore and experiment many options of movements instead of being instructed to move only specific ways.  We also don't tell our students that they SHOULD move this way or that way, or this is the CORRECT way of moving.  Instead, we invite our students to pay attention to sensations in their bodies to notice the way they use their bodies habitually and non-habitually. In other words, we help our students to focus on their own kinesthetic experiences, which is subjective.

So, what are the benefits of avoiding specific instructions and encouraging exploration/experimentation?

One size won't fit all.  If we observe 10 different people's body and movements (e.g., walking), we will have 10 different body structures and 10 different movements.  A movement that feels good for one person may not feel good for another person.  If we assume there's only one correct movement that fits everyone, then we try to force ourselves to fit the idea, which may not work for you.  But, if you start to pay attention to your own kinesthetic sensation while exploring movements, you can probably find what works and what doesn't.

Your kinesthetic experience from one exercise/movement is different from others.  If I as an instructor/teacher showed an exercise to my students step by step and told them exactly how they should move, I'm imposing my idea on my students.  What would happen is that they would only focus on trying to make their movement look exactly like my movement.  At that moment, they disengage themselves from their kinesthetic experience.  In my experience, this is when people get hurt in many exercise/fitness classes because they are busy forcing their body to move like someone else's, which may not be right and not paying attention to their own sensation.

After one class (Feldenkrais pelvic clock lesson) I taught to a group of people, I asked them to share what they experienced from the lesson.  One student said that he noticed how he was using his hips and why he felt off balance when he squatted.  Another person said that she noticed how she liked using back instead of hips.  I really don't know what people will experience from each lesson.  I can't expect everyone will have the same experience as I did from the same lesson.  But, if I showed people how to do each movement specifically and asked them to repeat what I did, I could potentially take away all kinds of different experiences and learning they would otherwise get.  

It may be difficult and uncomfortable at first not to have someone show you exercises/movements step by step, but if you let go of that idea and start to "play" with movements and pay attention to how you feel, I can guarantee that exercise/movement will become a lot more enjoyable and fun.  And, you can find more comfortable movements.

To learn about Awareness Through Movement class:

 

 

Using Mistakes to Facilitate Learning

There's a saying "practice makes perfect."  What's involved in practice that leads to "perfect?"  

When we start learning any skill, we don't really know what's perfect as we haven't had any kinesthetic experience that we can make comparison to, though we may have a rough idea where we want to go.  As we try once, and twice, and three times, we start to accumulate experience and constantly receive feedback and make adjustments to refine our skills.  When our movements didn't feel quite right, we would know based on our previous experience.  

Mistakes provide feedback we need in order to make adjustments for the following attempt so we can get closer to our goal, ONLY IF we pay attention to the mistakes we just made. Otherwise, we're more likely to make the same mistakes without much improvements.  This is why some people say "perfect practice makes perfect."  Just simply repeating movements isn't necessarily going to guarantee improvements.  In fact, you may become good at unwanted skills, which now become your new habit.  

Fundamentals of motor learning can always be found when observing babies and kids.  My 9 month old son recently learned to pull himself up to stand.  He was very excited to check out completely different views from standing.  He, however, didn't know how to get back down to the floor.  He lost his balance and fell backwards and hit his head on the floor.  That was a very hard and painful lesson for him.  He was still curious about standing up so he stood up while holding onto the couch.  After a few minutes, he quickly recalled the painful event and was trying to figure out a way to get down to the floor without hitting his head against floor.  He slowly reached one hand towards the floor with the other hand on the couch.  Finally he was able to put one hand on the floor and lowered himself down without falling!  He's learned how to get down to the floor from standing from his mistake.

Mistakes are necessary for improvements.  The word "mistake" is often perceived as having a negative meaning, but if it weren't for mistakes, we wouldn't even know what is "right."  When I work with my clients, I always encourage people to make mistakes and help them recognize what makes certain movements/postures a mistake and what makes them a correct one for them.  We all make lots of mistakes, but mistakes are what get us closer to our goal!  If we make mistakes, we might as well make it fun!  Come join my weekly Awareness Through Movement classes to make mistakes in a playful environment!  

Moving with Attention and Intention

Whether you're training movement for rehab or athletic performance, moving with "attention" and "intention" makes a huge difference in terms of motor learning.  For example, doing an shoulder raise exercise with a weight or elastic tubing will help strengthen shoulder muscles as resistance and gravity place physiological demands on the muscles.  However, strength gain may not carry over to actual functional tasks such as reaching arm overhead to put a dish on a top shelf, changing a light bulb, or any overhead throwing, which means there's no motor learning.  

Exercising just for the sake of strengthening or stretching muscles will not require much attention of the brain.  There won't be much learning without the engagement of the brain. Adding an "intention" for movement/exercise will add a meaning and purpose to movement, and this will grab the brain's attention.  Here are examples.  When boxers do shadow boxing, they have clear intention of every movement, that is fighting against an imaginary person. During Aikido practice, an attacker has a clear intention when he/she is grabbing the opponent's wrist, that is to keep him/her from reaching for their weapon.  This intention organizes the bodies to create movement.  

You wouldn't exercise for no reason, would you?  You probably exercise to improve your functions.  So, think about what specific function you're trying to improve with each exercise. Once you know that, you visualize a specific function while performing each movement.

In order to make real improvements that will last for a  long time we will need to change how we move.  When we change how we move, we'll start to place demands on our bodies differently so we'll start to use muscles that we didn't used to, which then over time will become stronger and more flexible.  When you move with intention, you will pay more attention to your movement, and  your movement becomes much more purposeful and meaningful, which will make your exercise much more effective. Strength gain is given when you place demands on your bodies, but motor learning (changing movement habits) isn't without attention.  Next time you work out or practice movements, think about what specific function you are trying to improve with each exercise and practice moving with attention and intention.

Are You Taking Care of Yourself?

I have been fortunate enough to have met and known many wonderful people in my life.  There are many kind people who always care about others.  As I have worked with many clients, I have noticed that so many people are too busy to pay attention to their bodies while they take care of others.  Our bodies are very honest.  When we're stressed, tension in our muscles changes.  Even if we are not aware of stress, stress manifests itself as muscular tension.

Although I'm a movement educator/therapist and help people move better, I'm indirectly influencing clients' mind.  Mind and Body are two sides of the same coin.  They constantly influence each other.  Our body is a mirror that shows the state of our mind, or a container for our mind, sort of.  If we start to pay close attention to our bodies, which is ourselves, we can begin to notice how hard some parts of ourselves are working and discover some parts of ourselves that we didn't know that they existed.  

It's wonderful if you're a kind person who cares about other people.  But, are you paying attention to yourself with the same kindness?  If you haven't, please make some time to get to know yourself better and take care of yourself.  Awareness Through Movement classes will give you the opportunity to observe and learn about yourself deeply.  You will learn where you carry tension and how you use habitually your bodies, and will learn new ways of using yourself to carry day to day activities.  

Creativity and Movement Habits

What does creativity have to do with movement habits?

Before I start discussing this topic, let's look at definition of the words "creativity" and "habit"

Creativity: "The ability to make new things or think of new ideas."  (merriam-webster.com)

Habit:  "A usual way of behaving; something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way."  (merriam-webster.com)

Do you see any relationships between two words?  I define creativity as the ability to do something you already know in a different way.  When it comes to movement, there are infinite ways of moving and many ways to get to the same point.  Movement habits "hide" all other possibilities and make them invisible as if such movement options don't exist.  Therefore, we repeat the same movement patterns over and over, which could potentially create some problems.  Creativity in relation to movement habits is about finding all those "hidden" movement options.  The process of finding new ways of moving will require you to get out of your habitual way of moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking, or you will not find them.  

Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons are precisely structured to help you discover new ways of moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking.  As a result of this process, you will become more creative and will be ably to act more freely.

Check out my Awareness Through Movement Class to enhance your creativity!

 

 

Power of Imagination on Rehabilitation and Performance Training

Now imagine yourself on a peaceful beach, relaxing and enjoying a drink.  Next imagine yourself being chased by a police car for whatever reasons.  

Have you noticed any changes in muscle tone and breathing?  Imagining actions involves the brain activities  which will produce physiological changes such as changes in heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, etc.  Try this:  Close your eyes and imagine moving your right big toe up and down without actually moving your big toe.  Notice whether you moved your eyes toward your right big toe.  Even though you didn't move your right big toe, your brain planned a motor action the same was it would to actually move it.  In a way, imagining to doing movements is not that much different from actually doing the movements as far as brain activities are concerned.  

The power of imagination has practical applications.  People with chronic pain typically have sensitized nervous system, which means it has a lower threshold for pain, and more easily produce pain.  In those people, pain is often associated with movement.  The brain can produce pain experience regardless of any actual tissue damage, which is commonly the case for people with chronic pain.  In fact, in more serious cases just imagining to do certain movements associated with pain can actually produce pain even without any movements. However, imagining to do those movements can be used therapeutically to desensitize the nervous system and start to dissociate pain with those particular movements.  Over time as the nervous system becomes less sensitized, a pain threshold will increase, allowing them to move more.  This is one strategy used to get people out of chronic pain cycle.  Very useful.  

The power of imagination is also helpful to improve physical skills.  In fact, many performance artists, martial artists, and athletes utilize this strategy.  I also use this strategy quite often to practice Aikido or sports.  It's also used in the Feldenkrais Method to enhance learning.  From my own experience, I must tell you that it really works.  It's sometimes more effective than actually doing movements.  Next time you practice some skills, try doing whatever movements you're practicing just in your imagination.  See if it helps you learn faster.

Learning takes time

As a  movement educator/therapist, I would like to learn new movement patterns quickly and would like my clients to achieve that quickly as well.  However, watching my 6 month old son grow and change everyday always reminds me that learning takes a lot of time.  Learning involves lots of trials and errors.  I never knew that newborn babies have to learn how to latch onto mother's breast.  I thought they are born with that skill wired in.  I was wrong.  My son struggled to do that for about a month.  We all got so frustrated because we were doing out best (although I wasn't much help).  We saw lactation specialists several times, read books, watched DVDs, asked friends, and tried everything people suggested.  Still no luck..  My wife almost gave up after a month of struggles.  However, one day a miracle happened.  My son successfully latched on and he had a full meal for the first time.  That was a big day for all of us.  Ever since he had no trouble.  I don't know exactly what happened to my son that one day, but everything must have come together at the right moment.  Maybe he just learned to organize the movements of mouth, jaw, and tongue.  Maybe he found a perfect position. Maybe it was just the right time for him.  Whatever it was, I learned that learning is unpredictable, non-linear, and needs a plenty of time and experimentation.  This was a really good lesson for me as a parent as well as a movement educator.  It's good to encourage my clients to explore lots of movements and make mistakes and learn.  And it's important to remind people that it's okay to make mistakes and sometimes take a step back because that's how learning takes place.  

Awareness Through Movement classes are designed to provide such learning opportunities.  

SLOW DOWN

I have noticed that many people including myself have hard time going slowly when we exercise. I so often have to remind my clients to slow their movement down many times.  I must admit that I had very very hard time to do that.  It took me a long time to learn that.  I used to hate walking because it was too slow and took too long.  I always preferred sprinting to jogging; jogging to walking.  In the last 5 years I've learned the benefits of moving more slowly.  When we move fast, we access movement patterns that have been used many times, called habitual movement patterns.  We use the sub-conscious part of our brain, which responds very fast.  This is useful when we have to move quickly during emergency situations. However, when we're learning new movement patterns, we have to rely on different parts of our brain, conscious part of the brain, which acts much more slowly.  In order to allow us to access this part of the brain, we need to move much much more slowly.  If we move slowly, we won't bypass our sub-conscious part of the brain and inhibit habitual patterns.  This is one of the key principles in my movement re-education.  When someone keeps hurting because of their habitual movement patterns, they need to learn how to move differently.  If they try to move fast when learning to move in a different way, their habitual movement patterns keep interfering.  This is why it's a common practice for Tai Chi and Feldenkrais Method to move very slowly so they can pay attention to how they are moving and they can adjust their movements continuously.  I must tell you that this practice has completely changed the way I move and the way I work with my clients.  I've learned so much about how I move and definitely improved my movement quality.  By the way, the same mechanism applies to thinking, feeling, and sensing.  How we emotionally or intellectually react works much like our movements.  To break your habits, you'll need to SLOW DOWN.

Less is More

Effort is generally encouraged in our culture.  No pain no gain mindset is still prevalent in health/fitness industry.  More effort doesn't necessarily result in more gains when it comes to rehab.  The reason for this is that trying harder will only exaggerate your habitual movement patterns.  If habitual movement patterns are contributing to repetitive stress injuries because of lack of movement variability, then increasing effort by increasing resistance or speed probably won't solve their problem(s).  Instead, when you reduce effort, you'll have a much better chance of improving in your movement ability as less effort allows the nervous system to recognize patterns of movement and learn more efficient movements.  This is why Feldenkrais Method, Tai Chi, Aikido all emphasize reduction of effort.  

Product vs Process

In Feldenkrais Method, we learn how to create optimal learning conditions for our clients or create safe conditions for the nervous system so learning can take place organically.  We focus on creating a process that leads to their learning as opposed to giving them end products.  I believe learning occurs in the "process" of doing something instead of trying to achieve a "goal.".  Learning is not in the end products.  For example, a child works on a jigsaw puzzle for the first time, and h/she is given the final picture beforehand.  H/she knows exactly what h/she is going to get while putting together all pieces.  Another child doesn't know the end product and works on the same puzzle.  It may take a longer time for the second person to finish the puzzle, but what h/she will gain in terms of problem solving skills is much more than just finishing the puzzle. This analogy also applies to motor learning.  In typical exercise classes an instructor shows the end product then students will mimic the instructor.  Another example is that I have no sense of direction and so often I get lost, and also discovery new cool places by accident.  If I had known how to get to my destination precisely, I would not have found those cool places. In Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement classes, a teacher purposefully hide a destination (this sounds kind of mean, but we're not) to create a process where students will explore and discover something that they wouldn't if they knew the destination ahead of the time.

Let's get lost in Awareness Through Movement classes to discover something!

Motor Performance vs Motor Learning

In fitness and rehab settings, it’s very common for trainers/practitioners to demonstrate exercises and have their clients repeat the exercise  and give them visual/tactile feedback to “correct” their movements before they give their clients a chance to feel/sense how they are moving. While showing them “correct” form of the exercise first and providing them external feedback would allow them to perform the specific motor task quickly, the motor task may not carry over to other functional tasks.
We often confuse motor performance with motor learning. Motor performance is the ability to perform a motor task. Motor learning is to have a carryover between one movement pattern and other functional movement patterns.

I think many people often use external feedback (visual/tactile/auditory) too much and don’t teach clients how to access their internal senses (proprioceptive-kinesthetic sense) to learn how they’re moving. The problem is that clients often don’t know how they are moving and can’t tell when they are moving “wrong.” When they are “corrected” and learn to copy the exact same movement, they still haven’t recognized the pattern of movement. Therefore, they just learned to perform that specific movement well, but they will probably go back to their old habitual patterns when doing functional tasks. I suggest we start directing clients’ attention to certain body parts and helping them become aware of how they are moving in space by asking them questions, before we jump in to put our hands and “correct” their movements. Let them explore movements and make some mistakes and let them make a choice. If we don’t allow them to make any mistake, how would they know what mistakes are? Learning always involves lots of trials and errors. We can help them recognize their mistakes so they can learn from the mistakes. We can become a movement tour guide for them so they don’t get lost.

© Taro Iwamoto 2015. Please do not reproduce without the express written consent of Taro Iwamoto.

 

Changing Habits

In the previous post, I talked about our habits as obstacles for improving our abilities (physical, emotional, and intellectual). If we want to improve our movement abilities, we’ll need to expand our motor habits. We all know that it’s not as simple as it sounds. Let me share my thoughts on this.

In order to change our habits we need to recognize our habits first. What makes it difficult is that habits are for the most part unconscious, so they are invisible. We somehow need to make invisible habits become visible or make them become conscious.

Awareness/proprioceptive-kinesthetic sense is our sixth sense. It allows us to sense and feel our bodies and movements accurately. Without sharp sixth sense we’ll not be able to perceive what we’re doing. This allows our habits to come to the surface and allows us to “see” our habits. This opens the door to new motor habits.

Mindfulness and paying attention to how we’re moving and relationships between body parts, sensations in our bodies and with movements, are ways to sharpen our sixth sense. As we pay close attention to our body and movements, we will start to notice how we use our bodies habitually with each movement. There’s many tricks to improve our awareness, which I will discuss in another blog.
Unfortunately there’s no shortcut to improving our abilities. But, if we can acknowledge this idea and become more aware and mindful of how we move, I’m very confident that we will continue to improve the quality of movement and the quality of life.

© Taro Iwamoto 2015. Please do not reproduce without the express written consent of Taro Iwamoto.

What is limiting our abilities?

Over the past years, I’ve come to realize that we are often limited by our habits. Limitations can be physical, emotional, and intellectual. As a movement educator, I often witness my clients beating their body when they run into physical challenges. What most people tend to do in that situation is that they try to force themselves to overcome the obstacle by will power with their “no pain no gain” mindset. Their mindset is such that if they can’t overcome the obstacle, they’re not trying hard enough; therefore, they will try harder. They may achieve their goal but not without a cost. Or they may fail and give up. This mindset is very common in many cultures. Truth is that “obstacle” is created by our habits. We can ignore this fact and keep driving ourselves with will power and keep exercising our habits until our body can’t keep up anymore. I think it’s our habits that make us move, feel, and think in very limited ways and that make us feel old. We can also make the obstacle disappear by recognizing our habits and creating new habits. This is where movement intelligence comes into play. Learning to create new movement patterns/habits isn’t something we (adults) often do when facing what I call “movement puzzle” or daily situations that challenge us physically.  Instead, we usually try to exercise our old habits and hope to break through the obstacle with strengthened old patterns. This works to some extent, but soon we’ll hit the wall again because we still haven’t realized that our habit keeps creating obstacles.
I’m not saying that habit is devil. Habits are very useful. In fact, if it weren’t for habits, it’d take us too long to do simple daily activities such as brushing teeth, or getting dressed. However, many habits are not serving us well anymore, yet we hold onto them because we’re not even aware of most habits.  I think habit can become our enemy when it’s invisible (we’re not aware) like silent cancer because we cannot recognize what is happening.  If we cannot recognize, we won’t be able to take any actions.