Do cats eat bats? Do bats eat cats?

I was just flipping through Thomas Hanna’s book, Bodies in Revolt, and couldn’t figure out what the title is playing on. I was thinking there might have been a popular book called Minds in Revolt, the mindset of the human race in the 1960ties and 70ties viewed from a philosophical angle, but I couldn’t find such a title.

Freud, Reich, Lorenz, Piaget, Nietzsche, Feldenkrais… as I was turning the pages of Thomas Hanna’s book I started to wonder, again, Why bother? Why bother in this world we’re living? Why bother with anything of any depth, when everybody else is hooked on scrolling Insta and Tik Tok? Why do people look for exercise programs when what they really are looking for is being heard, acknowledged, integrated in a community, loved? And maybe the one thing that would sooth their pain is the one thing they refuse to even look at?

Well for me it’s more difficult. I can’t seem to find deliverance and absolution in barbells and steamed chicken breasts. I slid down a rabbit hole of sorts and I can’t help but wonder how deep it goes. Might be this rabbit hole doesn’t end in a heap of sticks and dry leaves and another long passage, though. Might be it’s just a hole in the ground. A hole filled with trash, like most everything in nature that was once pure and pristine and stunningly beautiful.

The forgetting of the Asian Squat

Asian workers are strong. Stronger than anything the Western world of athleticism and fitness has to offer. At least that’s my opinion. And they sport far stronger, more natural looking bodies too, in my opinion. Asian workers work 7 days a week, only god knows how many hours per day, and most of the year round. They work hard manual labour with little help from large scale industrial machines. In the past few centuries they built thousands of miles of high-speed railroads in Asia, millions and millions of residential buildings, many of them 30 stories high or higher, a million miles of roads, hundreds of airports and large scale train stations, and they did put the cables in the ground as well.

Asian workers are the pinnacle of human strength and endurance. Yet they look nothing like the Western ideal of strength and fitness. Asian workers are slender and can wear shirts without filling the upper sleeves like bloated sausages. Despite their mind boggling strength and endurance they can stand tall and relaxed and they can squat. Indeed they can squat. They can work in a squatting position for hours. The squat is not a constraint, but a very flexible starting and resting position for moving into a large variety of demanding other postures. Asian workers are flexible, strong, well coordinated, and very creative in their movements.

Asian workers define the rules of Western Biomechanics that say, “The human spine can’t be flexible AND strong.” And yet here they are, flexible AND strong.

Meanwhile, there’s a flood of famous Youtube fitness trainers teaching How to squat. And in doing so—some of them—make more money in a month than the average Asian worker makes in a year, maybe even in a lifetime. When I look at these famous fitness Youtubers I can’t help but wonder, “Will the West finally forget how the Asian squat even looks like?”

In the light of this rather dramatic forgetting… I mean… why is this even happening? Is it the lockdowns? Do Western people not travel to Asia anymore? Do Asians living in Western countries not squat in public? Are Asians who work in Western countries as landscapers or contractors, do they not move like Asian people? Is nobody paying attention anymore? Or is nobody looking at each other anymore?

I thought I might go around here—in Vietnam—and film and shoot a little bit of local people squatting, make a video on that… but then I realised that my contribution will be naught in comparison to big fitness Youtubers. I would spend an entire week of work and then probably get a thousand views and that would be that. And it’s not like Western culture and society isn’t falling apart anyways. What is a woman? Why would anyone care about real Asian squats and manual labour and culture in Asia? Why should I bother?

Well, of course. Because I do care. And I love to share. And I love to think that someone is listening, someone who is compassionate, and understanding, and is not afraid to look at the world as it is. There is beauty. There are things that make sense.

Here’s a few photos I took in the past couple of weeks I would love to share with you. They are from my life, moments that I felt, that touched me. Maybe they might mean something to you too. Have a great day, my dear.

A fisherman on Phu Quy Island, Vietnam, “preparing” Sea urchins, and a tourist watching him work. It’s one of the most loved local-tourist attractions on this small island to wander the ocean floor at low tide and look for Sea urchins, collect them, and have them grilled for dinner. For us Westerners the fisherman might look to have a somewhat bent or broken middle back, but after 20 minutes of working in this position he stood up to stand tall and upright and relaxed just fine, showing no signs of fatigue or sourness.

A couple of kids running to go catch some Sea urchins. The beach is very busy during low tide. Even some stray dogs are out and about to forage on that strange ground.

Anne and Linh squatting, resting, looking at an interesting thing they have found, sharing findings.

Linh squatting down to get a better look at the Blue starfish we have found. Squatting is a good method to get the eyes a bit closer to the floor.

Two early birds sitting at the beach side at 5:30am, chatting, and watching their friends taking a bath. If you look closely, the woman on the left is sitting on a thin cushion.

Thư looking at tiny oysters. I too didn’t know that there are mini versions of oysters, but of course, small comes before big. I was shocked to learn that all of them have already been cracked open and collected by local fishermen.

Thư sitting on the floor for resting, then coming up to squatting and finally standing.

And last but not least me myself, with my stiff legs and all, I too enjoy a good squat, to the best of my abilities.

For most of human history walking was not a fitness exercise. Mankind walked and ran to get from one place to another. It was a means of transportation. Only recently walking and running was turned into fitness. 10,000 steps a day to keep you fit. Nordic walking. Jogging. Running. The Ultra Marathon. Walking became the means to its own end. All fair and good. In the same spirit I don’t think that the Asian Squat per se is a fitness exercise. I think it’s a posture of daily life, a posture for action, for doing something, even if that action is just looking at something, or resting and enjoying a breather. It’s a posture like any other, like standing, or side-lying, or kneeling. And is probably best maintained by including it in one’s active movement repertoire, and by not being stressed out over it, me guesses.

I caught a crashing cold

Doctors always told me that you can only get sick if you’ve been infected or in contact with a virus. I want to tell them that if you drive your motorbike along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean for 4 hours in a sweaty T-Shirt and a sunburn then you can get just as sick, virus or not.

Actually it started on the ferry (Phu Quy Island to Phan Thiet). The day was stormy and all ferry rides but one were cancelled due to the strong waves. Inside the ferry every passenger seemed to fill half a dozen small plastic bags, a smell I couldn’t bear and I didn’t want to contribute to. So I was sitting on the upper deck outside, my once windproof jacket getting soaked with sea water, my hoodie fluttering hard against my ears, and two dozen Vietnamese men struggling to keep their cigarettes alight.

Even after all that I did somewhat well. But of course, the next day I needed to catch the first sunlight at 5am and walk along the windy beach, sweaty all over again, here it’s always around 30°C (86°F). Also, here in Vietnam at 5am the beach is already very crowded, people of all ages are out and about doing exercise, chatting, bathing. I’m pretty amazed at how well seniors can move here, I would say most of them are stronger and more flexible in their hip and shoulder joints than I am. How could I miss to see that? Of course I went out to the beach, despite my beginning cold, and joined in with a bit of head and shoulder circles.

Finally, the 3rd day in a row of strong winds, strong sun, and wet clothes did me in. I haven’t been sick like that in a decade or more. I think the last time was food poisoning in China, in 2008.

Anyways, I was lying flat like an overcooked zucchini, with my eyes too painful to keep them open, but I had my feet hanging over the edge of the bed and did hours of movements with my ankles and toes. These movements were easily available to me and I enjoyed exploring.

I was thinking of a French guy I saw at the beach. For most of the day I seemed to be the only foreigner around, so he immediately drew my attention. I saw him from his back at first, and was thinking, “Well that’s unusually inflexible feet, the entire legs actually, like two wooden sticks. How could a Vietnamese have such stiff legs?” Vietnamese people in general are very flexible, and exercise their flexibility all day round. You hardly see a Vietnamese person in a stiff position like us Westerners for any length of time. Only when the guy turned around I though, “Oh,  french”. Not that I knew, but I knew that back home in central Europe we don’t squat much. The British high society considered squatting impolite. It would actually be interesting to read a historical record/account of why people in central Europe don’t squat, and why a certain aristocratic stiffness of all joints seems to be the more appropriate body posture than a flexible one.

Anyways, I found interesting questions concerning the bending of my knees (after the feet movements, in lying prone on my belly, I was playing with pressing one or both knees against the bed, to see how this relates to my hip joints, shoulders, and feet). I was still thinking about my previous post, and the lack of dreams and mystery. I was a bit unhappy of how that writing came out, and was looking for a positiv turn, light, hope, something uplifting, with joy.

There’s a way of moving that can lead us into the unknown, into the realm of mystery, into making great, unexpected, meaningful discoveries about movement and sensing and feeling and thinking. And I suspect that this path does not reveal itself with common instructing nor exercising. There’s more to movement than the feeling of victory when having aced an instruction or struck a new personal record. Concerning teaching, the fitness instructions I see on Youtube—by most influencers and fitness professionals—are like the sun: with the sun out it’s impossible to see the stars. On the other hand, to stick with that sun and stars metaphor, we need light to see things. Although, however, we can still think and feel and sense and move under the light of the stars, me thinks. Probably there’s a time and place for everything.

I have the feeling I’m getting better again. Yesterday I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to even read a single page, but now, look at me, I finished a blog post! Wish you a great day, or night, my dear.

Adjusting goals and dreams

So… I was browsing the winner’s list of the Hugo Award for Best Novel (an award given each year for science fiction or fantasy stories.) I first clicked on titles I’ve already heard of, like Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and then also peeked into the Wikipedia pages of titles I’ve never heard of before.

I looked at the dates, 1953 onwards, it seems to me that there was a theme—an air and dreaming—of the development of humankind. If we humans had evolved just a bit more, we would have developed telepathy, levitation, bilocation, telekinesis, precognition, instant and remote healing, eternal youth, freedom of the mind and body (and all that) and many psychic powers as listed so eloquently in, for example, various Indian religions that seemed to have influenced Western dreaming.

Fast forward to the year 2022. Nowadays people dream of being able to have a safe place to sleep without having to worry about next month’s rent, being able to afford electricity, food, medical services and their data plan. And as far as the development of humankind is concerned: being able to sit and walk without being crushed by pain, maybe even being able to perform some Insta-worthy acrobatic feats, and being somewhat free of common chronic diseases, including restlessness and restless legs—this sort of things—seem to be the height of all striving. What a harsh adjustment of dreams for society in general, me thinks. Where’s the mystery? Where’s the unknown? Where are our dreams? What is life without dreams and visions and goals for humankind?

A couple of things I needed to write up

Differences in Feldenkrais lessons that make a difference

In the original lesson #4 “Tilting Cross Legs” from the Esalen Workshop (1972) Moshé Feldenkrais said, verbatim:

And very slowly tilt both legs, both knees, in the direction of the floor to the right, of course, to the right.

However, in the Stransky Notes this same instruction reads:

And now very slowly tilt both legs towards the floor, to the right. The weight of the right leg will draw the legs down to the right.

Which might or might not make it a very different movement, a very different lesson even. I will have to listen to the full lesson first to report my final observations.

Feldenkrais-inspired lessons for beginners

I pulled out Thomas Hanna’s mp3 recordings of his workshop Somatic Exercises for the Legs and Hip Joints, eavesdropped into some recordings randomly, then started at the beginning and did not make it through the first 10 minutes. It’s very well presented and recorded and it’s a great beginners class and all, but I just don’t seem to have the nerves for it anymore. During the past 15 years I have been listening to literally thousands of hours of Feldenkrais-inspired movement instructions and maybe I did exhaust my patience. I guess I’ll have to step up my own movement practice. I think at this point I’m boring myself into exhaustion and what could be worse than that.

Observing fashion trends

Here in Vietnam every woman seems to have fresh eyebrow tattoos. Shading, microblading, micro-shading. It looks nice, for sure. Odd, maybe, that they all seem to have more or less the same shape and size. I think there’s more variety of eyebrow tattoos in the EU and US.

For myself I don’t care having my eyebrows done. Instead, I’m still waiting for wigs to make a come back. I think I’d don a yellow or bright green one, cut like I was 14yo Justin Bieber or som’thin.

Browsing Instagram: breaking free

Lots and lots of young people presenting their gymnastic exercises, getting in and out of hand-stands and back-bridges in thousands of variations, free from the rules and environment of Competitive Gymnastics. To me that’s nothing short of amazing.

It’s marvellous, monumental; in the sense of ownership of self. I agree with the great scholar and teacher-who-quit John Taylor-Gatto that it’s the nature of all bureaucracies to attract psychopaths (and sociopaths) who then will rise and govern their organisation’s members. “All large bureaucracies, public or private, are psychopathic to the degree they are well-managed.” (quote from The Underground History Of American Education) I applaud all young people who break free from that with any of their thinking, feeling, sensing, or moving.

I don’t think you could be part of a Competitive Gymnastics team without being part of that team or representative of the system, so that money’s gone. But it seems like people can do very well with Instagram and selling their own courses. Maybe even build their own little bureaucracies. History repeated, maybe. Wouldn’t be the first time. I hope not though, I hope they really roll and turn and twist themselves free. I can’t think of any other reason for handstands.

Browsing Instagram: gymnastics and child rearing

I see many parents pushing their 3-5 year olds into formal gymnastic exercises that are clearly above their ability. Hopeful and submissive glances towards the camera, pride and praise caught by the microphone. Do I need to comment? “Sad. I hope they will be fine, both parents and their children.”

Browsing Instagram: handstands—fashion trend or merely good manners?

The young people push themselves to ever more spectacular movement combinations. I often do a screen recording so I can scrub the video back and forth:

A guy lying supine, turning into a back-bridge, and turning further into a handstand. I pick a moment, the moment when he lifts his head away from the floor. It’s only a moment, half of a second. He struggles to lift his head, but he’s young and strong and pulls through with great vigour. I scrub back and forth… and think of a lesson that would make it easy for him to lift his head.

A girl is standing, lowering her pelvis downwards and backwards, tucking her left foot under, rolling backwards over her head, extending her left leg, planting her left foot while reaching up with her right foot high up in the air, giving the floor a push with the top of her head and… this went nowhere but looked cool… for a short moment her left foot was standing, her legs straight and single file with the right foot high up towards the ceiling, the torso standing out to the side of this pole of legs like a flag in the wind… and then she let herself fall forwards into a handstand. I scrub back and forth… I wish I could roll like that over my lower back. I never could, not even when I was 10. I recall it well, I never could, my back was broken from the start. I could sit and roll backwards over a shoulder, but my lower back always felt like I was driving over a speed bump. I wish I could roll backwards like she can so easily. I wish my back was never broken.

Moshé Feldenkrais’s original wording

I find the original recordings of Moshé Feldenkrais quite tedious to listen too, boring as well as overwhelming at times, but—generally speaking—also very interesting. Actual speaking conveys a lot of information: rhythm, pace, intonation, pronunciation, pauses, phrasing and re-phrasing, the latter especially interesting to me as a teacher, it’s all there in these voice recordings.

Furthermore, in some recordings Moshé Feldenkrais was teaching in the English language, therefore nothing is lost in translation. I transcribed the first 2 minutes of recording #4, titled “Tilting Cross Legs”, from his Esalen Workshop (1972):

Please lie on your back, spread your feet, slightly, bend them, bend, spread them, spread, your feet, your legs! Bend them, bend the knees, bend the knees and let the feet stand on the floor. Ok. Now. Some of you are having the feet much too close together. You see, when we say, spread your feet with no other indication, the distance between the feet should be at least the width of the pelvis. Otherwise, obviously that person uses his adductors in such an abnormal way that it’s … you should pay attention.

Now. Cross the right leg over the left, cross it over. The right leg over the left.

And very slowly tilt both legs, both knees, in the direction of the floor to the right, of course, to the right.

Now bring them back to standing position, and keep on tilting the legs like that. Right, always to the floor and back to the middle, back to the neutral position. Slowly.

And now just listen to your body. What happens to the right hip joint? Which part is lifted off the floor? Which parts in the back, in the chest are lifted off the floor?

And the soft part between the pelvis and the ribs on one side is being stretched, on the other one, is being compressed. The ribs on one side are pulled apart, on the other they are pulled toge… pushed together. Just keep on doing it.

Parallel to that exist the Judith Stransky Notes (held in private collection by the International Feldenkrais Guild, purchasable only by their members), a collection of transcript-like notes from the same Workshop (Esalen 1972). I find it interesting to compare the original audio recordings to the Stransky Notes. Even more so since for many years I only had access to the Stransky Notes, not the audio recordings.

In these Stransky Notes some parts seem to be written almost verbatim, while other parts are shortened. Furthermore, there are things added that Moshé Feldenkrais did not say at all, and which might change the movements, the student’s self-organisation and learning, say the lesson as a whole, considerably. Isn’t that interesting? Makes me wonder all the things my own students hear that I did not say, or do not hear even though I said it repeatedly. And, of course, makes me wonder just as much: how much do I myself hear, mis-hear, miss and make up—without me noticing? But compare for yourself:

Lie on your back. Spread your feet a little apart. Bend the knees so that the feet stand on the floor.

Cross the right leg over the left.

And now very slowly tilt both legs towards the floor, to the right. The weight of the right leg will draw the legs down to the right.

Bring them back to the standing position. Do this movement a number of times, tilting towards the floor and back to the middle. Do this slowly.

And now listen to your body. What happens to the right hip joint? Which part is lifted off the floor? Which parts of the back and the chest are lifted off the floor?

And the soft part between the pelvis and the ribs on one side is being stretched, while the other side is being compressed. The ribs on one side are pulled apart, and on the other side they are pushed together. Keep on doing the movement a few more times.

Fixing pain, a client story, Part 1

Client, 45f, wealthy looking of Asian descent, with a sharp pain running from the back of her neck down the outside of her left arm. She’d already seen a number of massage therapists, including chiropractic services. She seemed somewhat disoriented, besides herself. She donned a light and short summer dress of black silk despite having come in for a movement lesson – which is just as inappropriate as showing up in Scuba diving gear for a Gala dinner. 

She did not have prior experience with Somatic Education, or anything of the psychological realm. I allowed her two hours, even though she only paid for one hour. After 20 minutes of conversation I guided her through movement explorations and sensory awareness exercises for the better part of 90 minutes. At first she couldn’t lie comfortably on her back at all, so I asked her to assume her favoured sleeping position, which was in side-lying on her left side. 

Within the lesson the tight muscles in her neck and upper back, some of them at first hard like the tires of a bicycle, became soft like the flesh of a baby. Her range of motion in her neck and shoulders increased considerably, I would say in some parts by as much as 45 degrees. Step by step the isolated movements of her shoulders connected to the movements of her spine, chest, pelvis and knees. A strained, isolated movement of a shoulder became a movement supported by and presented in her whole self. “Can you feel the difference?” And last, but not least, her inability to let go of her shoulders was replaced with the ability to confide her shoulders to the pull of gravity. “Now hold your shoulder deliberately, and now let it go. Do you notice how well you can distinguish between the two now?”

However, what would have been an epic session with someone well embodied turned out to make no impression on her at all. The discoveries we made, the views that I shared, the difference the lesson made should have struck her as nothing less than monumental. Yet, she felt nothing special has happened, and perceived no differences.

“How would you describe what you sense right now?” I was sitting behind her, at the head end, like good old Sigmund Freud. She was lying comfortably on her back, with arms and legs spread, needing only half the cushioning she asked for at the start of the lesson. I had to rephrase my questions several times, until an answer came.

“The right arm feels normal, healthy, like it should. The left arm feels painful, not normal.” She was resting unwavering, her answer showing a surprising lack of compassion and sensitivity towards herself. I was not able to get any details, no description with adjectives, no sensory cues, nothing. The game of questions, storytelling and waiting for answers went on for a couple of minutes. I tried many different ways, but it all came down to “the right arm feels normal and the left arm feels not normal.” I asked her if she can sense anything at all, anything, to which she answered, “if someone would pour hot water on my right arm or pinch it, of course I would feel it”.

The situation occurred to me as if her body was some sort of device or machine, like a car with a faulty door she would drive in to a garage and have it fixed. All the while she was sitting in that car and waiting. She had no hurry to drive off. I wasn’t sure if she enjoyed my care, teachings and attention, or if she was merely waiting to finally get her money’s worth.

I’m not sure if she’s done her homework either. After the session I gave her a link to my video, “Good night shoulder circles”, and before the session I urged her to have a look at my Youtube series “Tight Neck? Here’s Help!”, which she did not. She did not look up anything about Feldenkrais or Somatic Education either. I’m still wondering how she found me on Facebook, and why she insisted on having a session with me.

This session made me realise, once again, how very different we humans are from each other. How far apart our ability to learn and differentiate can take us. It made me realise, once again, that we cannot assume anything about another person’s state or abilities. It made me think of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. We practitioners think of mindfulness and embodiment, of movement and culture, of meditation and dreaming and feeling and sensing, we say “people are like this, people are like that”, but are they?

She asked me if she will need another session. I said I leave that up to her. I was thinking, “I’m not going to sell you sessions like the chiropractor you were telling me about.” Besides, why should I tell a grown up person what to do or what to buy? “If you liked it, if you found it interesting or even slightly helpful, come again, why not?” Usually people who seek me know what they want, and have at least some knowledge of developmental psychology… or have read some of the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, FM Alexander, Ida Rolf… or at least have read some articles from the realm of psychotherapy… Freud, Reich, Jung… Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Elsa Gindler, Charlotte Selver, anything really.

A few hours after the session I was thinking: the way she was describing the pain in her left arm, at the beginning of the session, made it sound like a problem of tension and posture, or a nerve impingement from a lump in her neck (which was already ruled out via medical imaging.) But was it? Why could she not feel a difference after my session? My work as a movement teacher is as good as it gets, she will not find any better. Therefore I was thinking, “Maybe her way of sensing and describing her pain was inaccurate?” I recalled that at the very end of the session she lifted her left arm and said, “Stretching the left side eases the pain.” In light of this and her general disorientation I sent her a last message, and advised her to go get a proper cardiovascular checkup. “Or maybe she should get another X-ray or MRI and have it read by a doctor, not a chiropractor,” I was thinking.

Disengage your parking brake before you drive off the ramp, and drive carefully. I will post again if there’s new tidings.