Stuck shoulders may be predictors of back pain

For quite a few years now I had the suspicion that tight shoulders, and a lack of mobility in the upper chest may lead to a specific type back pain. I always wondered if this is set into motion (or lack thereof) in young age already, through coercing children into carrying hard back packs to school, and have them sit on chairs; motionless to useless tasks for 6+ hours a day for 12+ years. My argument is this:

When the upper back is stiffer than the lower back, then the lower back starts to compete with the upper back in terms of stiffness. The lower back always tries to be stiffer than the upper back. However, when the lower back is overly tight for extensive periods of time then this can lead to pain as well as injury and disability. Likewise, if the lower back is forced into being less stiff than the upper back, for example by way of mobility drills and exercises, then the lower back might be at risk for injury and disability.

That’s why I think that my shoulder mobility exercises are so important in addressing this type of lower back pain, where the lower back competes with the upper back in terms of stiffness. I write “my” because my exercises are inspired by some of the movement sequences by Moshé Feldenkrais, and these kind of exercises are entirely different to what a fitness influencer or classically trained therapist would consider to be mobility drills and exercises for the shoulders and upper/mid back.

Note: I put some of my neck mobility exercises in my Youtube video series, also available as a paid download here “Tight neck? Here’s help!” [link]

Today I wondered what I could find with Google and Brave in this regard. Turns out, I didn’t find anything. Therefore I looked at the two science books about Back Pain that I own, and leastways found some hints. Here’s the quotes:

Finally, detailed examination of the fascial connections reveals force transmission among the shoulder musculature, the spine, and the abdominal muscles, justifying exercises incorporating larger movement patterns [..] (Page 59, LBD)

Studies of weightlifters have shown those with more flexibility tend to be the better performers but this is specific to the shoulders and hips – not the back. (Page 24, UBFAP)

Olympic weightlifters have proven they are functional using minimal spine motion when setting world records! However, they have wonderful range of motion ability in the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles which they can control with incredible strength. (Page 25, UBFAP)

Our data shows that walking results in very tolerable spine loads, and gentle disc motion which they thrive upon. The data also shows how swinging the arms from the shoulders (not the elbows) also reduces spine loading (Callaghan et aI., 1999). In fact, we have observed up to 10% reduction in spine loads from arm swinging in some individuals. (Page 102, UBFAP)

LBD: Low Back Disorders, 2nd edition UBFAP: Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, 4th edition, both by S. McGill.

I learned to disagree

“When asked the question, what is consciousness? we become conscious of consciousness.” Says the first sentence of chapter one of the book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.

I disagree. Now that’s fun. I reclaimed my ability to say «No» and «I disagree». This is something I have learned, consciously so. I saw it, copied the technique, refined it, calibrated it. I saw it in my accounting class teacher I was coerced to listen to, in one of the schools I had to attend all the way back when I was a teenager. That old, grumpy, bolding teacher with his overly bushy, black eyebrows and deeply sun-tanned, leathery skin always disagreed with everyone and never showed any signs of excitement towards anything. I didn’t learn accounting in his class, not even accountability, but I learned to look at things with scepticism.

“This book is a mirror. When a monkey looks in, no apostle looks out.” Says a paragraph in the book The Principia Discordia by Greg Hill. Now- who’s the monkey, Julian? Who is the monkey?

Not conscious of the presence of monkeys, Julian Jaynes continued to build his argument. On page 33 he wrote: “In the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do. Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached. But from then on, it is as if the learning is done for you. Let the learning go on without your being too conscious of it, and it is all done more smoothly and efficiently.”

Julian Jaynes really seemed to like his point, and where he was about to locate (store) his attempt of a definition of consciousness. Thousands of years have passed, and humans have not nailed down a definition of consciousness just yet. Julian Jaynes wrote his book in the 1970ties, therefore the argument he hammered down next must have been considered a big one (back then):

“The Zen exercise of learning archery is extremely explicit on this, advising the archer not to think of himself as drawing the bow and releasing the arrow, but releasing himself from the consciousness of what he is doing by letting the bow stretch itself and the arrow release itself from the fingers at the proper time.”

I disagree! I disagree! I argue that the Zen archers would have made more progress, faster progress, all and everything would have been better for them, if they had applied the principles of learning consciously, in the way Moshé Feldenkrais has found. But then again, Zen archery is a complex topic, and money, politics, paying the rent and bills are part of that complexity. So- maybe it was indeed better for them to release themselves from consciousness in order to have good social standing, food, a bed, and a roof over their heads.

What I did learn from chapter one of Julian Jaynes’s book though, is that learning can be done two ways:

  1. through rote drills, by releasing oneself from consciousness,
  2. through becoming more conscious, by improving ability in the way Moshé Feldenkrais demonstrated through teaching movement sequences.

But what are those movement sequences? Is it enough to say that they are the movement-based counterpart to essays in writing? Do we need to define the principles, tactics, techniques, sentiments? I might end this blog post by stepping in line with all humanity (so far) and by saying, “I haven’t nailed down a definition just yet.” But I think I’m not too far from one, I have a feeling that I’m holding the cat by its scruff. Would you agree?

Whatever rocks your boat

For a week now, every time I opened Youtube, a video titled “Could MrBeast Be the First YouTuber Billionaire? | Forbes” was shoved into my face. I clicked on “Not interested” on my MacBook, but the video stuck to my Youtube feed on Apple TV and iPhone. “Like that stain on my white sneakers that I can’t wipe off” thought I.

During the interview MrBeast was sitting on a chair. To me, he looked quite genuine and likeable. He talked about how he is obsessed with growing his Youtube channel, how he’s always been. How he spends every waking minute thinking about how to grow even more. How to find what people like to watch and get them to watch more. How he re-invests all of his hundreds of millions of dollars he earns through Youtube and related businesses, in order to grow his Youtube channel even more. He said that the Youtube algorithm can’t be tricked, and shows you exactly the videos you’re going to like and watch.

After having watched this video, as suggested by Youtube, finally that stain’s gone. Now my Youtube feed, once again, is mostly filled with random videos I don’t care about and don’t want to watch. Nothing sticks out. MrBeast and his 100+ million people audience seem to live in a parallel universe next to mine.

This morning, while taking the elevator down to G floor, to walk over to the coffee shop to write this blog post, I was thinking “I was also obsessed. Have always been. For almost two decades now I’ve been obsessed with how to teach Feldenkrais lessons. How to structure them, phrase them, present them.” I was obsessed with turning and optimising every detail, so that my students can have the most benefit from every word spoken, every move, every lesson. I spent most of my waking minutes pondering how I can improve my language, my teaching, my presentations.

But when I look at my Youtube stats, there’s no millions and billions. I survive just fine with a little bit more than what the Austrian government considers minimum wage. Instead of millions and billions, Rutger Hauer comes to mind. “Tears in the rain,” a 42-word monologue. The last words of the character Roy Batty, portrayed by Rutger Hauer, in the 1982 Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.” I imagine these words are the equivalent to seeing my students learn and improve. What a sight! It’s like looking straight into the elusive eyes of the magnificent universe. The stars, the planets, the vast space in between.

One of the main reasons I make Youtube videos is to preserve my work, to document my perseverance, to make sure my work is in the public domain, something Moshé Feldenkrais failed to do. Most of his life’s work is lost, hidden from the public in private collections. Contrariwise, mine will live on as long as there’s electricity. All those moments will be lost in time, for sure. But not now.

Now you can experience the beauty of yourself, your physicality and learning, with a step as simple as clicking on one of my Youtube videos and listening to my voice, rolling about a little bit, your head left and right, and your shoulders… of the Orion…

There’s no substitute for human conversation

Sometime earlier this week I’ve been in a three hour video chat with a native English speaker. It was about work and a possible cooperation. It quite drained my brain’s battery. At some point I was wondering “Why is this so exhausting?” A host of missing words bothered me, those darn soldiers of mind escaped my command. Why are there empty lots instead of words, when in German language, my native tongue, talking is as easy as water is flowing down the mountainside?

I’ve just completed 4,400 pages of reading in English language. Extensive reading practice, as recommended by researcher and neurolinguist Stephen Krashen. While it improved my reading speed and listening comprehension, this massive effort seems to have left my speaking skills untouched.

I wonder, is it because I’ve never lived in an English speaking country? For most of my life most people around me—if they spoke English at all—they spoke English as a second language. Germans, Swiss, Italians, South Americans, Chinese, Hongkongese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese. It’s fun to listen to the French pressing English vocabulary into French grammatical structures and metaphors. And I enjoy the efficiency of Asians when they remove articles and tenses. They seem to be so confident with their shortcuts and adaptions. But when I open my mouth… it feels like walking on a cane. It’s ok, but it hardly feels quick or smooth. More often than not, it feels far from being on top of my thoughts.

“You speak slowly but are actually highly intelligent,” the native English speaker shared his observation at about two hours into the video chat. I was not sure if I should have an emotional reaction to that. My mind drifted off and for a brief moment I recalled a scene from a movie where a kid grew up in isolation, but always had a thesaurus with him. That kid was able to recite definitions and synonyms for any word thrown at him. I wondered if this approach could help me become more fluent. Effortless like water dripping down the needle-like leaves of fir trees in the Canadian Cascades.

The next day, when I browsed the latest in body work and fitness trends on Instagram, I saw a professional footballer doing leg drills. Super fit guy. I guessed that he trains 6+ hours per day. “He’s that good for a reason” I thought. I glanced at the app icon of the thesaurus I have on my phone. Would that it were so simple.

What’s an essay?

I’m tryin’ to nail down a definition of what’s an essay. I click the first link on Google, Wikipedia. The beginning of the first sentence reads:

An essay is a piece of writing that gives the author’s own argument [..]

This raises more questions than it answers: (1) What is an argument? (2) Why does it say “the author’s own” argument—is an essay strictly one’s own, personal point of view? And (3), does an essay need to be a piece of writing, or could it be a piece of music as well?

Probably my own mistake, I shot in my own foot so-to-speak, why do I even use Wikipedia to look things up?

“An argument is a statement or group of statements called »premises« intended to determine the degree of truth or acceptability of another statement called conclusion,” says Wikipedia.

“PHRASE. Shoot yourself in the foot. INFORMAL. Cause yourself trouble by being stupid,” says Macmillan thesaurus dotcom.

Yesterday—all day long—I complained to my informal girlfriend how tired I am, and that I should go to bed earlier. She told me that I’m going to go to bed early today. She came into my bedroom at midnight, to check on my sleeping.

“It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked them. A huckleberry never reaches Boston; they have not been known there since they grew on her three hills. The ambrosial and essential part of the fruit is lost with the bloom which is rubbed off in the market cart, and they become mere provender. As long as Eternal Justice reigns, not one innocent huckleberry can be transported thither from the country’s hills.”

She pulled away the blanket I was hiding under. “Why!” she exclaimed. “You’re still playing with your phone! Sleep now!” she commanded. I put my phone with my copy of Walden, a series of 18 essays by Henry David Thoreau, into airplane mode, set it down on the floor. How I would like to taste such huckleberries! What an essay!

“Essays can be formal—serious purpose, logical organisation—and informal—the personal element, humour, graceful style,” says Wikipedia. I notice the “and”, formal AND informal, so it can be both, I guess.

Wikipedia lists non-literary types of essays: Film, Music, Photography, Visual Arts. I would call The Moldau by Bedřich Smetana an essay in music. However, the Encyclopædia Britannica classifies it as symphonic poem. “The characteristic single-movement symphonic poem evolved from the concert-overture, an overture not attached to an opera or play yet suggestive of a literary or natural sequence of events,” says Encyclopædia Britannica. And then there’s this big pop-up on their website, right in my face, “TRUST THE FACTS” it says. Well, if it says so, who am I to question this great institution of definitional truth?

What’s an essay? What’s not an essay? What’s a good essay? Good for what? Good in doing what, good for serving what purpose? Ah yes, I recall Wikipedia, “to give my own argument”. Ah yes, the argument, supposedly a statement or group of statements that make my own conclusion more “acceptable”, more palatable, according to whoever edited Wikipedia last.

I need to work. I want to upload a second version of my latest video, the one titled “MOVE and THINK: An Essay in Movement”, circles with the lower arms, but with a different introduction. I need to film the introduction. And I need to write—to write an essay for my patrons. Been looking forward to this all month. So- let’s get to the filming first.

Critical thinking – critical moving

I just found the angle I want to take my next video from. I was thinking the research into Consciousness would be an interesting angle, the development and improvement of Consciousness through bringing attention to various parts of self in movement. A fusion of Julian Jaynes‘s and Sigmund Freud‘s theories. But it seems too complicated, too fringe, too controversial, too vague. Discarded the Consciousness angle, found something better.

I think I will write a post on to give my patrons a heads-up. See you there!

Finding emotional security

There’s a sentence I’ve tried to wrap my head around and understand for well over a decade now. It puzzled me until the day before yesterday. This sentence is in Moshé Feldenkrais’s book The Potent Self and goes like this:

“In fact, an unrestrained expression of aggression does have a relieving effect. This is due, to my mind, not to the reduction of the pressure of accumulated aggressiveness, but to the amount of confidence the person has gained through exercising the function in which she is impotent.”

There’s three items inside this quote, and two of them I can safely dispose of, or say they’ve been up for discussion for decades now:

Firstly, the question of the accumulation—or build-up—of libido, as defined by Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis. And more general, can all emotions build-up? Where are they stored? How does the accumulation work? And secondly, the release of built-up »emotional energy«, how does this work? And all that. I guess there’s been written entire libraries on that. However, I don’t find them to be that helpful questions.

It’s the third item that kept grinding my gears: “the amount of confidence the person has gained through exercising the function in which she is impotent.”

Moshé Feldenkrais added “it is a great mistake to think that it is dammed-up aggression that produces the neurotic behavior. If that were true, then letting off steam, shadow boxing, screaming, shouting, and beating up an imaginary object [..] should completely release the dammed-up aggressiveness and produce a new person.”

For the longest time I did not understand this part. Until the day before yesterday, when I saw a young man on Youtube talking in rage about the people who refuse to take the Covid vaccines. He was talking to the camera of a News outlet (Good morning Britain), and the longer he was talking the more in rage he came. He was letting off steam by insulting and shouting at imaginary people who refuse the vaccines, by trying to get sympathy from imaginary fellow people who took the vaccines, and by trying to explain the situation to an imaginary person of authority. Quite the show actually.

However, did his public display of aggression help him find inner security? Did it solve his original problem—that he feels unsafe, at great danger and that he’s impotent in the function to make himself feel safe? Did he become able in this function he’s impotent in? Probably not.

On the other hand, did his speech further his confidence in speaking in public and exercise open aggression? It certainly did. The longer he spoke the more confident he seemed to be, and to have the right of it.

To conclude, I think this sentence in Moshé Feldenkrais’s book is not a general remark, but a specific one that applies to specific situations. What do you need to make yourself feel safe, in a situation where you cannot rely on your environment to make you feel safe?