Journeys in Somatic Education: Tales of Delight and Healing

I love to read from my viewers and their experiences. Last week I received two comments that showcase in particular not only why I love my work, but what delights me about my work and my self-practice, again and again:

From Shayna Formity

Facebook just reminded me of a post I made in April 2020, it still applies, and I thought you might enjoy it: “In times of isolation, Alfons leads me on fascinating journeys of inner exploration. The landscape is ever-changing, bringing joy and delight, and relief from worry and stress.”

From Tracy

Feldenkrais. Is. Magic. I’m recovering from an ankle injury and most of my movement and exercise sessions these days focus on my ankle recovery, but today I just wanted to have nice movement experience focusing on something else. This seemed like the perfect lesson for today.

All my conscious thought was on my upper body – exploring different ways to use my hands to help lift my head, different ways to place my arms when lifting one shoulder toward the opposite knee to change how it felt to roll across my shoulder blade and upper back. As my torso became more and more pliable, I felt more and more relaxed and balanced as the lesson progressed.

But when we stood up?! Wait…what?! My weight was beautifully distributed between both feet. I don’t need to tell you after a long injury that my body has learned to compensate and I always find myself standing on my “good” leg. But there I was, standing evenly on both feet, feeling light and lifted, *with effortlessly perfect shin and ankle alignment*.

Thank you so much Alfons, for reminding me to trust my brain to place me in good alignment – I just need to get out of the way and allow that to happen. What a beautiful experience.

Learning the midline

Yesterday I started a class with the words, “My plan for today is to learn the midline”. I always loved this phrase, “To learn the midline.” To me it sounds perfectly odd, but at the same time kind of makes sense.

Becoming aware of the perceived midline… whatever that is

It’s for the student to become aware of the midline of the body—which probably isn’t the same as the symmetrical middle, mathematically speaking. It’s for the student to improve

  • proprioception, for example, “Where is your left shoulder blade in relation to the spine, compared to your right shoulder blade? And where do you sense the extreme of the kyphosis of your thoracic spine?”, and
  • the sense for inner tensions aka biotensegrity, and
  • gravitational pull, and

at the same time improve the alignment and position of the midline… whatever that is— the thing to be learned.

If it works out then learning the midline improves posture, the carriage of the head, ease of movement and elegance. It’s wonderful, a small miracle in itself. In my opinion. So I claim.

For the choice of movement sequence… I guess any works just as well as any other. The teaching goal here is learning the midline, and not the movements themselves. These movements are like auxiliary materials…

In factories the use of auxiliary materials are crucial to the manufacturing process but are either removed, consumed, or serve as supportive elements without becoming part of the final product; such as lubricants and oils, cleaning and solvent agents, packaging materials, etc.

In other words- whatever movements fit the class setup… my class was in sitting, therefore I used head and shoulder movements in combination with breathing. A twist of the chest, a glance to the ceiling.

The reason why I’m writing this: This morning I saw an ad on Instagram for a course to learn a movement commonly found in Capoeira, “The Macaco”. An athletic movement resembling a back handspring. You basically go from squatting through a handstand to standing on both feet. I thought the course is very well done and the teaching profound, empathic and passionate… but at the same time I was thinking: Teacher Aaron could have used the Macaco to teach the midline.”

I think teacher Aaron is one of the pioneers in softacrobatics (as he calls it) who blurs the line between having a) the athletic performance and b) a transcendent experience as the ultimate endpoint. Transcendent in the sense of learning something useful about ourselves, that can transcend into daily life and ultimately improve everything we do… from standing to walking to how we see the world, and everyone else.

I, for myself, I have a clear standpoint on the transcendent endpoint (if any.) I am certain that learning the midline is more valuable to more people than learning the Macaco. But I guess seeing someone doing a Macaco (or advertise to learn it) is more appealing than a blog post titled “Learning the midline.” That’s something for me to ponder.

Your immediate vs distant experience

Today I was finally trying to work on my introductory speech for my next video. “Trying to”, grammar point here. Can it get any more abstract?

ChatGPT says, “a grammar point is not an abstract concept in itself, but rather a concrete idea.” For sure, ChatGPT, for sure. But only for you, as someone who doesn’t have to brush his teeth and do a hundred other things to maintain basic physical health.

My intro speech. No progress. And obsolete nowadays, especially on social media. And what’s not counted as social media nowadays? I couldn’t phrase it. I was walking around, turning the sentences in my head. Sitting at the coffee shop, looking through the window at the nearby park, thinking up and down. I thought: first, I should write it down.

But the File > New… stayed empty. I can stare at the trees in a park, but I refuse to stare at a blank sheet of paper. I will turn it around then. I will START with the class right away. And THEN, after filming the class, while my experience is still running hot—through me neurons, bones and muscles—I’ll talk about the benefits and my reasoning. And put that in post in front of the movement sequence. In this way I will talk about my immediate experience, rather than my distant experience. So, let’s see how this will pan out. No last thoughts.

Thou shalt not be aware – traumatised and dissociated

A Somatics class. Position: Lie on your back, have your feet standing.

Instruction: Lift your head with the help of both hands.

Beginner’s reaction: Done. Too easy. What muscles does this exercise target? Can this help me lose weight? This is a good stretching exercise. Will this get me more views on Instagram? My neck is hurting. How can I make this exercise harder?

Solution: Let’s unpack this one movement, together. After about 45 minutes you will see the world with a pair of fresh eyes, and feel inspired, liberated, confident and at ease, like someone who has just embarked on the most marvellous journey. I’m here to help, to guide you, to give you ideas that are key, to invite you to move ever so gently. Let’s begin. Please rest on your back, with your legs extended [..]

Simple enough for everyone to understand

Since years now the views on my Youtube channel have been in steady decline, despite my best efforts. Therefore I recently started to look more seriously into what makes Youtube videos popular. In my research I found an excellent interview with the 18 year old Youtube star Jenny Hoyos. She has hundreds of millions of views on her Youtube Shorts.

One of her main points, something that she highlighted and emphasised strongly, is how important simple language is — so that everyone can understand her videos. She made it sound very positive. She wants to be accessible. Therefore she tightly controls her language to be Fifth Grade and below:

Fifth grade is the fifth year of compulsory education. In the United States, the fifth grade is typically the fifth and final year of primary school, though it may be the first year of middle school. Students in fifth grade are usually 10–11 years old.

This is still topped by, for example, Mr. Beast, one of the most popular Youtube channels with billions of views. As a rule Mr. Beast keeps their language so simple that it can be understood by First Graders.

First grade is the first year of compulsory education. It is the first year of elementary school, and the first school year after kindergarten. Children in first grade are usually 6-7 years old.

Jenny Hoyos said she uses a website called Readability Formulas to calculate readability and make sure that her language is below Fifth Grade requirements. So- I went ahead and checked the language I use here in my blog posts:

AUTOMATED READABILITY INDEX
Score: 17.06 [ = grade level ]
Reading Difficulty: Extremely Difficult
Grade Level: College Graduate
Age Range: 23+

Therefore- if you were able to read and finish this blog post apparently you are one of the smartest humans walking this earth, by Youtube standards. Thank you for reading and holding my hand in my emotional efforts to keep having faith in humanity. 🙏

However- I also had the transcript of my latest Youtube video analysed. After all I try to speak in a language that can be easily grasped and understood by everyone, including non-native English speakers from Germany, South-America, India, China, etc.

It turns out the readability of my Youtube video is graded like this:

AUTOMATED READABILITY INDEX
Score: 1 [ = grade level ]
Reading Difficulty: Extremely Easy
Grade Level: First Grade
Age Range: 6-7

Therefore- the language in my Youtube videos actually is First Grade level, who would have thought? Well, at least that’s settled. Now I can move on to research what point I’m missing, actually.

Beyond the Basics: Exploring Innovative Movement Strategies

In the many methods of physical therapy, but also in a large variety of fitness methods such as Yoga, Callisthenics or Primal Fitness, there’s mainly three strategies employed:

  • Strengthening
  • Stretching
  • Sequencing (postures, exercises, sets and reps)

These strategies, over the past 100 years (or so) have been developed to such great lengths, so thoroughly discussed and explored and diversified, that they now cover the needs of most movement-related methods.

However, there’s many more strategies. As inspired by the work of Moshé Feldenkrais, I too use a large variety of practical exercises, movement games and movement explorations to help my clients (and myself) to improve their physical abilities and general wellbeing. My approach, too, is experiential, emphasising self-awareness and self-discovery through movement. Here’s a list of additional, select strategies I make use of:

  • Differentiation (to move parts independently from each other)
  • Constraints (to inhibit or stop parts from participating so that movements and sensations can occur in other parts)
  • Harmonisation (the blending of movement of parts to harmoniously and proportionally contribute to an overall movement such as flexion, extension, reaching with a hand, pushing with a foot, or getting up from a chair, etc)
  • Orientational variability (to experience a movement in different positions and relations to gravity)
  • Pauses
  • Auxiliary movements (movements that at first to not seem to be related but turn out to improve the original movement and how we are able to think thereof)
  • Effort reduction (to move increasingly slowly and lightly so that superfluous effort can be detected, distinguished from essential work, and dropped)
  • Effort substitution (the use of props and postures to take over habitual effort and stiffness, so that it can be re-assessed and replaced by better options)
  • Movement variability (to provide a variety of trajectories, pathways, easing-functions and solutions to one and the same movement task)

Apart from “doing”, the “noticing” aka “perception” is equally important, or maybe even more important. Areas of perception I work with are, for example:

  • Proprioception (the ability to sense the position, orientation, and movement of one’s own body parts, to be able to notice where your body parts are in space without needing to look)
  • Mechanoreception (the ability to perceive mechanical stimuli such as short pressure, prolonged pressure, very light pressure or touch, vibration, sliding motion, tension (!), and so forth)
  • Equilibrioception (the sense of balance to maintain stability and posture, and to feel the pull of gravity and thus be able to work with it)

True or not?

Watch someone do the dishes, or a billion dollar robot (built on top of the work of tens of thousands of the most brilliant engineers) find and lift a wooden cube — and the skills used for everyday tasks become obvious.

Yet the ease with which we humans learn and carry out such tasks is generally taken for granted. Such everyday movement activities are viewed as unsophisticated, perhaps because academic training is not required to achieve them, or perhaps because people who do this kind of physical labour for a living occupy the lowest rung of society.

The bias against the view that physical action is cognitively sophisticated is so deeply rooted that psychology, the science of mental life and behaviour, has paid scant attention to it. If looked at at all, movement experiments in psychology are more often viewed as a window into perception and cognition than as a topic of interest in its own right. In fact, most professors of psychology themselves don’t seem to be too sophisticated in movement — if they exceed the bare minimum of movement skills required to get through their days at all.