An investment in education

For a while now I struggled with my reading practice from screens. I’ve found myself reading shorter and shorter stories, texts, paragraphs, sentences. But I believe to have maintained my ability to know trouble when I see it coming for me.

So I took my chances and went to a bookstore I’ve been visiting unsuccessfully twice already. Not too many bookstores with books in English language here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. And for sure I am a very picky reader. This time I came out victoriously, with the first volume of A Song Of Ice And Fire, A Game Of Thrones.

I wasn’t aware of how many words I didn’t know. But I shouldn’t worry, because I’m reading for volume. Extensive reading, as psycholinguist Stephen Krashen recommended it for improving ones command of a language. Nevertheless I found myself the Collins English Dictionary on the app store, for € 6,99 as a one time payment. What a great find! Here’s to the old days where you could buy a dictionary and own it, rather than having to pay a subscription to be allowed to keep it on your shelves. Another victory.

It took a couple of hundred pages – but reading was pleasant – for my ability to imagine and to picture scenes to start to come back. I noticed, quite surprised. It’s not as vivid yet as I recall from my childhood, decades past, but scenes started to come alive, and some of the character’s features started to take form in my imagination, and the book’s text started to disappear. It’s getting better with every day, with every page and every chapter. In turn, I haven’t opened the Netflix app in a fortnight, and my Youtube Screen Time on my iPhone plummeted down to a measly 7 minutes per day.

When I was two thirds into the book I went back to the bookstore for more. The shelves had been rearranged. I gasped. I hurried trough the foreign language section. Eyes left, right, almost frantically. At last a sigh of relief. However, A Clash Of Kings had dirt marks on all sides of the textblock (the top-edge, bottom-edge, and fore-edge) from having been pushed around on the shelves. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground”, Queen Cersei said to Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Hand of the King. I spotted a whole, unopened box with the complete series on the top of a shelf, and decided to buy it, even though I already owned the first volume. Let’s see what adventures their adventures will hold for me, let’s see through those thousand lives.

Short videos – curse or key?

I have to revise my verdict. It takes me almost half a day to do a simple 2-3 minutes video, just for the editing, and even longer if I create one from scratch. Short videos totally disrupt my life and make me chase my tail like a cartoon dog. They clutter  up my productivity schedule on which I’m always behind to begin with.

In turn, Youtube does not seem too care to deeply about my efforts. After an initial Hooray comes a Meh, a drop in views and earnings. I sympathise with my fellow Youtubers who have been doing short videos consistently for years, and yet they only get a couple of dozens of views on their videos. I guess I may count myself lucky to get a couple of thousands of views in total on any of my newer videos.

View counts. What a curse. I’m a teacher and creative first, and then I’m not a marketeer, not a SEO specialist and not a business guy. “Hire your weakness”, they say. As if I was a business guy.

On the upside creating a 2-3 minutes video is a bit like writing a blog post: it seems to help me think, find and solve problems of thinking, teaching, naming, categorising. It’s like a spotlight that draws my attention and improves my … well I guess it must be good for at least something. Maybe short videos are a key to unlock some hidden potential? Making me a better teacher? Nah, Hm, Njiah, maybe?

Short videos vs long videos

Short videos. Less time to make, less time to watch. I can produce a video in less than two days and it can be watched in less than 4 minutes. The best this, the best that. How to fix the back for good, the neck in seconds. Worst exercise for this, instant relief for that. “Attention span is down below 3 minutes,” concluded my mother after she has read some main stream media’s article that praised short cooking videos on Tik Tok. Learn how to cook mussels in tomato and wine broth in less than 2 minutes.

In an attempt to bring my Youtube stats back to where they were five years ago I created a row of short videos myself, throughout the month of April. Two kinds: trailers to longer videos, and select movement combinations that can create perceivable differences. Youtube’s artificial intelligence noticed and sent me a message: “Your hard work has paid off! Publishing more videos contributed to your channel getting more views than usual.”

Youtube AI even estimated my April’s revenue to be almost double the usual 150something USD I make per month from Youtube.

I’ll have to continue to make short videos. I need to adapt to the times that are changing. This is what I teach, the ability to adapt to an ever changing environment. To thrive, whatever the initial conditions. The ability to do well, whatever hand we have been served. I need to adapt to Youtube’s algorithm in order to reach more viewers, in order to gain more patrons, in order to be able to do more, to be able to start more ambitious and resource intense projects, and develop as a teacher.

This morning I practiced to one of my longer videos, 25 minutes. Title: Tremendously helpful shoulder movements. I felt like the pauses could have been a tad bit longer. I didn’t look at the time when I clicked, but would I have clicked on a 25 minutes video? I was surprised how fast it was over though. I had to giggle at my own comments sometimes. I felt good. I felt alive and well. Three more minutes would have been nice.

I noticed stronger improvements above the 20 minutes mark, something I don’t get from 1 to 3 minutes videos of “The best this”, “The perfect that”, “A fix for whatever”. I think somatic education is like sports, or art. Dance, painting, playing an instrument, singing, crochet. Good things take time. For sure I will continue to make longer videos for myself and for my patrons. We’re worth it. Thank you for watching, and sharing.

Mindfulness and body numbness: The floor is flat

My apartment’s door snapped shut behind me, I strolled down the hallway, reached out to press the button to call the elevator to floor number 22 and noticed: this is all without obstacles. The floor is flat. I took the elevator down to Basement, drove my motor scooter for 10 minutes on level streets through easy traffic. There was one step to climb from parking to the entrance of the coffee shop, and one semi-heavy glass door to push open.

I noticed that I’m constantly required to do hand-eye coordination and thousands of manipulations with my hands, like handling a tube of tooth-paste and a tooth-brush, turning keys, fishing out my wallet from my laptop bag, separating notes of paper money, unwrapping and sticking a straw into my iced tea and fishing out peach slices with a spoon, typing on a keyboard.

Contrariwise, there’s no such challenges for the whole self. No walls no trees no ropes to climb, no stairs up stairs down, the spiral staircases property to historical locations long past, like Hampstead and Covent Garden underground station in London, no ducking under low arched ceilings, no creeping no crawling, no swimming no jumping. The body, the whole self, held useless, unchallenged, nothing to learn here, numb and dumb.

Burdened yes, with endless sitting, walking on level ground, sprinkled with intense, short sprints of sports, and then some more sitting. Topped off with sleeping like a bronze statue cast into a mattress of Memory Foam.

Oops, that came out sounding pretty negative, wasn’t my intention at all. Maybe I’ll order another Trà Đào, peach iced tea. I wonder if I have to get up and walk all the way to the nearby counter for ordering, or if I can use the coffee shop’s app to do in-house ordering. I sit at table number 3.

By doing stretching exercises you might be betting on the wrong horse

The girl I’m dating at the moment is extremely flexible – in some movements. Like neck flexibility, she can turn much farther than I can, in the hip joints too, she can squat to perfection. She can sit comfortably in W-sitting and lie back onto her back, with her legs bent in W, and find that comfortable for extended periods of time. She can touch her palms together with the fingers pointed up – behind her back. Her hamstrings, however, as I tested them via the 90/90 hamstring test, are almost as short as with most everyone else… who doesn’t stretch. This girl doesn’t do any sports, she doesn’t do Yoga, nor does she do stretching exercises. Apart from a couple of hours of dance class she’s visited years ago she hasn’t done any stretching exercises in decades. But how come she’s so flexible overall?

I have observed her for almost 2 years now. What I can say is this: she’s using unusual postures. When “normal” people would sit straight on a chair, she’s sitting crossed legged on the chair, with both feet up on the seat. Or at least she will have one foot standing on the seat with her knee drawn up to her chest. Here in Vietnam I’ve seen women sit crossed-legged on their motor scooters while driving, but who on earth sits crossed-legged in the bathroom? And she sleeps in the most twisted ways as well. I’ve never seen anyone sleep in such bent and twisted positions as her. For a while I snapped pictures of her sleep positions, so I could wrap my head around what’s going on there. Some of her frequent sleep positions would put some of the more advanced Yoga postures to shame. She’s the opposite of what mattress sales people are promoting when they advertise that their 7-zones mattresses can put the spine to rest in a neutral position. And yet, she can stand upright and symmetrical like any other “normal” person.

So what’s the secret to her flexibility?

Last week I was throwing myself on a couch and all of a sudden went into a stretch, a cat stretch. The kind of extension movement that comes over you and you just can’t help but go with it. My back arched, my arms lifted overhead, I may have even yawned. It felt nice. “The cat stretch”, I thought after the stretch has run its course. I thought of cats and dogs. They tend to do that, but is that their secret to flexibility?

Yesterday afternoon I was standing at a lake in a nature resort and watched a goose clean her feathers. Her neck bent. I stared. She looked up, looked at me. I said, “Good job, Mr or Mrs Goose”. The goose continued her job by wiggling her tail and then working her back feathers with her beak. Left side, right side, she bent her long neck all the way to her behind from either side. She even managed to pick on the feathers of her upper back.

“I think you sleep with your nose under your wing”, I said to the goose. In the distance, just across the lake, I saw two horses. And a third one, a baby horse, which was lying flat down in the lawn wiggling its tail. I was thinking, “Do horses ever lie down?” Was this a horse or a dog? I was thinking about cats and dogs. They never sleep in a straight position. They are most always bent in a curve when they sleep. In the distance I saw the baby horse jump up when her mother moved a step away to find some more fresh grass to chew on.

Cats and dogs clean themselves too, I guess most animals do. They require and make use of their flexibility and full range of motion multiple times per day to reach around themselves with their mouth.

Even I clean myself every day, I do take a shower a day, where I reach every spot on my body with my hands. Maybe I should use my mouth instead? In Feldenkrais we have a lesson called, “painting the floor”, where we slide the foot over the floor. And there’s a lesson where we slide the hands over the body and try to imaging it’s a brush and we paint every bit of the chest, for example.

In fact, I just played with a few movements like this, in a strongly constrained position… lying prone, head turned to the left, left hand standing in a push up position, left knee drawn up to meet the forehead, head bent towards the knee under the bridge that was formed by my left arm… is there no name for this position? I did the brushing with my right hand, and then with my left, I tried to reach as many places as possible. I painted my head, parts of my back, my left inner thigh, my left foot, my right outer thigh… and felt more flexible, more nimble and more complete, afterwards.

Also, if cats and dogs sleep with their spine in a curved position, a strongly curved position I might add… maybe that’s the secret to maintain flexibility.

The cat stretch. Maybe stretching experts have gotten it all wrong. Maybe they’ve put all their eggs in the basket with the loose handle, maybe they were betting on the wrong horse all along. Maybe they should have invested in the cat clean and the cat nap instead.

Who knows? Who cares?

Why focus only on one thing at time?

“Hi Alfons, just wonder if we can practice with both hands at the same time?” – Youtube comment by Florencia Djoe, video link

A good and frequently asked question. It could be phrased to be more general: Why do we often focus only on one part or one side at a time in Somatic Education (or in The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education)? But let’s stay with this good question about the hands.

My answer: You certainly can perform the movements with both hands simultaneously, but… can you also observe the many details and sensory feedback of each hand (and its parts and connections to your whole self) at the same time? For example, maybe your right hand connects to the lower ribs of your right side very differently than your left hand to the lower ribs of your left side. Would you be able to sense that and work with that when you do both hands at the same time?

Practicing with both hands would almost be like listening to two people talk at the same time, or having an intimate conversation with two people at the same time… not saying that it’s impossible, it might be possible and might have its place, time, purpose, and method, but certainly most people will perceive this as more stressful than listening to only one person – or one hand – at a time. What do you think?

Neck roll exercises from 1960ties gymnastics or QiGong

“Oh wow! My daughter & I were just discussing the neck roll we do in the warm-up portion of our Monday evening QiGong class. I was suggesting that she try it this way because it’s less stressful to the neck! (I had a yoga teacher tell us many years ago not to perform the standard neck roll as it can strain the muscles.) Anyway it can feel a little weird to not follow exactly what the teacher is showing but it’s better than hurting one’s head!!” – Youtube comment by Helen Johnson, video link

My answer: I’ve heard that many of these traditional East Asian exercises were invented 5000 years ago… presumably by some monks living solitary lives in remote places up some mountains. In the meanwhile, in the West, we discovered Penicillin, Anatomy, Physiology, Functional Anatomy, Sports and Performance Training, Somatic Education, developed the Microchip and the Internet and we have millions of very brilliant and dedicated minds in academic and interdisciplinary sharing… I like to think that it’s ok to update some of the old, traditional exercises – especially if a teacher is not able to defend (or explain) his teachings in an academic sense, but instead needs to rely on Appeal to authority only.