Improve Posture Exercise #1

Improve Posture Exercise #1

In this video I am showing you an exercise that will help you improve your posture.

Here’s what you need for this exercise:

  1. Floor space to lie down

  2. Yoga mat or blanket

  3. Towel/Cushion for head support

  4. Your attention

Now let’s begin!

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How to Improve Your Posture

How to Improve Your Posture

Have you tried to change your posture consciously and tried some stretching/strengthening exercises to correct your posture yet you find yourself with the same posture? Why is it so hard to change posture? Here, I talk about posture from a different perspective.

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Paradigm Shift in "Fixing" Posture

Paradigm Shift in "Fixing" Posture

Have you tried to fix your posture by strengthening and stretching muscles or by adjusting the spine or by consciously trying to correct your posture but you still have the same posture as before?  And do you wonder why you can’t change your posture?

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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. 

Inflexible Bodies or Inflexible Brains?

My clients often tell me that their bodies are so stiff that they can't do certain activities well.

What is really stiff?  What is really limiting your abilities?  "Stiff" bodies?  Or  maybe "stiff" brains?  

Imagine that you believe that there is only one road to your home.  You drive the same road everyday to go to some places.  The road obviously gets used a lot as it's the only choice and starts to get worn out.  At some point, the road requires new paving or fix.  Once it's fixed,  you start driving the same road.  The road condition is improved, but wear and tear is a matter of time as it's the only road that you believe is available.  In this situation, you're stuck with this road and you don't have alternatives.  

Imagine that now several new roads added.  You now have several options.  You're no longer stuck with the the same old road to your home.  

How does this story apply to bodies and brains?  As we develop, we form habits. Habits allow us to do things automatically without thinking, which is a very good thing.  Without habits, it'd take a very long time to do even very simple daily tasks such as brushing teeth or getting dressed.  However, the fact habits "hide" from our consciousness eliminates different ways of acting (thinking, sensing, moving, and sensing).  In other words, habits can limit ourselves to narrow range of possibilities.  If there's only one road to your home, you won't have to think much to get home.  It's efficient, but very limiting.  When it comes to movement, we similarly create movement habits for the same reason.  We tend to use the same pathway or movements repeatedly because of our movement habits.  In a way, we (our brains) only see one road or a habitual movement path).

What really limits our abilities is "stiff" brains.  When our brains become "stiff", we limit ourselves/our abilities to only a small portion of our full potential or our habits, which in turn influences how we use our bodies so our bodies become "stiff".  Fixing bodies/structures is like paving the old road so we can get back on the same road again (the same old habitual pathway).  We still have only one choice.  We're still limited to what we already know or habits.  We can't truly overcome difficulties whether they are physical, intellectual, or psychological until we learn to make our brains more flexible, which would mean that we learn to expand our choices and act more freely without compulsion.

The Feldenkrais Method focuses on improving our awareness through movement to expand our options (thinking, sensing, moving, and feeling) and move beyond our habits, which means that our brains become more flexible.

 

"What I'm after isn't flexible bodies, but flexible brains."  - Moshe Feldenkrais

 

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:

 

 

Posture and Emotional State

In my previous blog "What is Good Posture?" I mentioned that posture is action, not a static position.  It constantly changes.  Posture is dynamic not only in a physical sense but also in an emotional sense.  Just as breathing reflects emotional state of individuals, posture also reflects emotional state of individuals. 

It's not that hard to tell whether people are happy, sad, or angry by their appearance without asking them how they are feeling, is it?  Our posture changes without any conscious effort from one moment to another moment.  Would your posture be the same when you are at a job interview versus when you are chatting with your friend?  How about when you are driving along the ocean on a sunny day on your vacation versus when you are driving in terrible traffic on a rainy day on your way to work?  Do you think your posture would look the same?  

With this point in your mind, what does it mean to "correct" posture?  If you were chronically stressed and anxious, how effective "correcting" your posture physically would be?  Suppose you "corrected" your posture physically.  The moment you encounter a stressful situation your posture reverts back to your usual posture often tied with stress.  If your idea about "correct posture" were to sit/stand erect, imagine you were at a job interview for all day, then you would subconsciously try to maintain erect posture all day.  Would that "correct posture" feel good??

Moshe Feldenkrais said "Correct posture is a matter of emotional growth and learning.  It is not acquired by simple exercising or by repetition of the desired act or attitude."  

Thus, posture is very dynamic, and to improve posture requires more than changing physical position of your body.  It requires dynamic relationships between emotional state and physical state.  Practicing Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons and Aikido is a way to improving such relationships for me.  Taking what I learn from Feldenkrais Method and Aikido further and applying to my daily life is my ultimate goal, and this is what I always try to share with my clients.  

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!

 

 

What does corrective exercise have to do with authentic movements?

Autenticity:  "The quality of being real or true" (www.dictionary.cambridge.org).

What do being authentic and acting authentically mean to you??  As I'm working with clients, they frequently ask me things like: "am I doing this movement correctly?  How am I doing?"  My response is usually this:  "what do you think?  Why don't you tell how you feel you are doing?" Then, many say "I don't know.  You tell me because you are an expert."  

Why do you care how you move?  How do you know you're moving or sitting incorrectly?  Is it because some experts told you so??  No one can feel your body except you.  No one can tell whether one movement is comfortable for you or not.  Just because one particular movement feels good for one person, that doesn't mean the same movement would feel great for everyone.  We are all different and unique.

"The general tendency toward social improvement in our day has led directly to a disregard, rising to neglect, for the human material of which society is built.  The fault lies not in the goal itself but in the fact that individuals, rightly or wrongly, tend to identify their self-images with their value to society.  Like a man trying to force a square peg into peculiarities by alienating himself from his inherent needs.  He strains to fit himself into the round hole that he now actively desires to fill, for if he fails in this, his value will be so diminished in his own eyes as to discourage further initiative." - Moshe Feldenkrais

We tend to act in accordance with our society and act to satisfy society's needs.  As we start to do that, we start to lose spontaneity and authenticity.  This is why we get so uncomfortable when someone doesn't us how we're doing, whether we're doing things correctly or not.  We become anxious because we tend to identify our self-images with our value to society.

This is one of the several reasons why I don't advocate a corrective exercise approach.  In my opinion, a corrective exercise approach only reinforces the same mindset and robs authenticity and spontaneity.  Next time you exercise or do any movement practice, pay attention to how you feel.  Play with movements.  Try to move a little differently each time and notice how a slight change in movement changes how your body feels.  You will know what feels good or bad.  If it feels good, then that's probably a correct movement for you.  When you start to move more authentically and naturally, you will start to express yourself more authentically as well.  It feels good to be authentic!

Kinesthetic Awareness: Road Map for Movement

Our brain has "maps" that represent parts of our body for movement and sensation.  These brain maps are constantly updated when we move our bodies.  The parts that tend to be used more frequently have a larger representation on the brain maps.  Maps are also unique for each individual.  For example, pianists have much larger representation of fingers than most people. Likewise the parts that are not often used have smaller representation.

So what does that mean?  It means that movement clarifies brain maps.  Updated and accurate body maps mean good kinesthetic awareness.  The body parts that have smaller representation on the maps tend to have less clear sensation.  It's hard to feel/sense those parts.  How clearly can you sense your low back one vertebrae by one vertebrae vs individual fingers, with your eyes closed?  For most people, sensation on low back is not that clear.  

Our brain relies on these maps for movement.  If your brain maps are outdated and inaccurate, what you're actually doing may be very different from what you think you're doing.  Every time I have my clients notice such mismatch between actuality and their thought, they are so amazed.  Most people cannot feel/sense the shape of their spine accurately.  Sometimes they sense the opposite of what they are actually doing.  For example, when I ask people whether their lumbar spine is arched or rounded, they tell me that it's rounded when it's actually arched.  Try this:  "Close your eyes and raise your shoulders out to side to shoulder height so your arms are parallel to the floor.  Open your eyes to confirm whether your perception was accurate or not."  

This is why I focus on improving client's kinesthetic awareness so movement becomes more precise.  Don't you want to have an accurate road map or updated GPS when you go on a road trip??  In both Awareness Through Movement classes and one-on on movement re-education sessions, I draw your attention to various parts of your body while you're engaged in movements.  This process clarifies your body maps so actuality and what you're doing become much much closer.  As Moshe Feldenkrais said, "If you know what you're doing, you can do what you want."  

Awareness Through Movement®

Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) consists of verbally directed movement sequences presented primarily to groups.  In ATM lessons, people engage in precisely structured movement exploration that involve, thinking, sensing, moving, and imagining.  Many are based on developmental movements and ordinary functional activities.  Some are based on more abstract explorations of joint, muscle, and postural relationships.  The lessons consist of comfortable, easy movements that gradually evolve into movements of greater range and complexity.  (www.feldenkrais.com)

One of many things the Feldenkrais Method emphasizes is to improve awareness by helping people become aware of their habits as well as new ways of moving, sensing, feeling, and thinking while you're engaged in various movements, thus the name Awareness Through Movement.  I will share one of my favorite quotes from my Feldenkrais trainer:

"Habits are bricks. Repetition is the cement between the bricks. The more repetition of habit, the more solid the wall.  If you keep repeating the habit, it becomes solidified causing pain, rigidity, depression, etc.  Awareness creates doors and windows in which you can move over, under or thru that blockage."

Awareness Through Movement lessons are designed to create those doors and windows and guide you discover and open them.  When you those doors and windows, whole new possibilities start emerging.  You will discover a lot more than more efficient movements, more comfort, reduced pain.  Words are just words, and can't give you such kinesthetic experience. The only way to truly understand the effects of this work is to actually experience it.  I encourage you to check out local Awareness Through Movement classes.  Please also check out my classes in Everett, WA.   

Self-image and Habits

What is Self-Image?  One of the main objectives in Feldenkrais Method is to improve one's self-image/awareness.  Moshe Feldenkrais said "we act in accordance with our self-image, which consists of sensing, feeling, thinking, and moving."  He thought these 4 aspects of self-image are interrelated, and a change in one aspect would influence the other 3.  He believed that it's necessary to improve self-image/awareness in order to improve human functioning, and the easiest way to do that is by working with movement.  Changes in movement can be easily observed unlike emotion, thought, or sensation.  You'll be asked to observe all 4 aspects of self-image while you're guided through a sequence of movements in Feldenkrais lessons. During this process, you will discover your habits and how movement habits and emotional/intellectual habits are closely related, and when you discover new movement patterns, you will also discover how that will influence your feeling, sensing, and thinking.  You will eventually experience how mind and body are really inseparable.  They are the two sides of the same coin.

 I grew up in Japan where a holistic approach is quite common.  Although western medicine is more common now there, eastern medicine is still practiced.  The idea of mind-body connection is very old.  Yoga, Tai Chi, Zen, Judo, Aikido, and many more share the same idea.  I always believed in this idea, but it was just the idea in my mind as it wasn't tangible.  In a way, mind and body were still separate because it was just the idea (mind) and missing physical experience (body) for me.  After my first experience with Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class, this idea immediately became real as it provided me kinesthetic experience of such relationship.  Trying to understand and appreciate this relationship without kinesthetic experience is like trying to learn how to ride a bicycle just by reading instructions or listening to someone's instructions without actually riding it.

SLOW DOWN

I have noticed that many people including myself have hard time moving 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 boring.  I used to prefer running to walking. In the last few 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.

What is Feldenkrais Method®?

 

Click HERE for the description of the method by Feldenkrais.com.

You probably still have no idea what Feldenkrais Method is about after reading the description.  Let me share my experience.   About 6 years ago I was getting a bit frustrated at work as patients kept returning to us for similar problems (e.g., shoulder impingement, low back pain, neck pain, patello-femoral knee syndrome, etc).  I thought we did a pretty good job of teaching our patients about how to strengthen/stretch some muscles to solve their problems, yet they returned to us after a year maybe 2 years. I thought I "fixed" the problems by strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight muscles to restore their imbalance, but they apparently didn't get "fixed."   This observation made me very curious as to what's really the root of their problems.   Upon my research I found Feldenkrais Method several times.  The first time I saw the name, I didn't pay much attention.  After having seen the name several times, I had to do more research about it.  I read his books and read some articles, but I still didn't know what it was.  The only thing I knew was it had something to do with changing habits.  I thought habitual way of moving/using ourselves was the root of many problems my patients had.  One day I saw a weekend Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement workshop, and I decided to attend to experience it for myself.  My first experience was "Wow!! I don't feel pain anywhere in my body!!"  I always had some pain but I was so used to having pain that I forgot I had pain until my pain was gone.  I felt much taller and my body felt so much lighter and felt as if the gravity decreased.  The effect after my very first Awareness Through Movement lesson was so profound.  During the lesson I discovered how one body part connected to another body part and how they could work together to decrease stress on one part and distribute it to the whole body.  As a result, it felt so much easier to move.  I also discovered my movement habits, which of course I wasn't aware of until then.  My movement habits just like the majority of other people were such that I wasn't distributing work very well throughout my whole body.  At this moment I knew I found what I have been searching for.  This really allows us to discover the root of many problems (physical as well as psychological) we may be having and also discover new options so we don't get stuck in our habits.  Habits are useful as long as you know they are.  However, habits can sometimes create problems when we are not aware of them.  As Moshe Feldenkrais (the creator of Feldenkrais Method) said, "if you know what you are doing, you can do what you want."