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„Sometimes nerves get stuck to the walls of their tubes, like microscopic velcro. You don’t want this happening to your nerves any more than your cat wants tape on its paws.” – from Quite a Stretch, by Paul Ingraham

You might have noticed that I don’t talk much about functional anatomy, biomechanics, and sports science. This is a blog about movement learning, and yet, where is the talk about strength, about flexibility, and about safe ways to achieve more of these two?

Also, consider this: in the 17th century René Descartes, the French born Philosopher, addressed the mind-body problem stating that the mental can exist outside of the body, and the body cannot think. A lot of money has been made ever since. Just yesterday I received a text from a fellow Youtuber who was happy to share that he ranks first on Google with the keyword „nondual” and that as of recently his numbers have been skyrocketing. Good for him. Good for them.

Viewed from on outside perspective, by law as a private teacher, I’m doing this: I’m skilfully leading clients through carefully crafted movement sequences. There’s no stretching, no adjustments, no cracking. But there’s learning goals, understanding, and meaning. First at a physical level, and then at an intellectual level, if you care to make this distinction. You first see the clouds, smell the rain, and then learn they are made from water and how all that works. As a side effect, and not necessarily part of my job, clients will resolve chronic pain problems that nobody else could help them with. Scary problems that threatened them to lose their jobs, their lives, their minds (in alphabetical order apparently). I help them feel themselves again. I’m a pretty clear cut diamond, in between sessions I read and think about movement, learning and teaching, all day. I neither think nor talk about meditation, not about mindfulness, and certainly not about the mind-body problem.

There’s a story of Moshé Feldenkrais that goes like this: „Moshé Feldenkrais was once seated opposite a man on a train who was reading from a book held upside down. After a few moments of bewilderment, wondering if the man was crazy, joking, or only pretending to be literate, Moshé Feldenkrais asked him why his book was upside down. »Upside down?« the man replied. »How can a book be upside down?« It turns out the man had gone to a school in a small village where there was only one book to a class. The children sat each day in a small circle reading their book from all directions.”

Maybe I have learned to read the book from all directions, too. Maybe when I was in class all the good seats have already been taken. Or maybe I just didn’t have the elbows. Now, with Internet, Google, Skype, Zoom, and eBooks everyone gets the front-row centre seat anyways. And you get to choose what you read. To some degree you even get to choose what you want to wear, what you want to eat, drink, which language you speak, which thoughts and emotions you have, who you interact with, how you feel, who you want to be. And at the same time, while you do all that just mentioned: how you rest, sit, stand, walk, how you transition between all of those. Btw, you know that, right? Are you making those choices? Or do you go with the default settings instead?

What would you speak of if someone would listen to you every day?

When I was 27 years old I was travelling the West Coast of the U.S. for six months. You would probably not recognise me on photos. I had long, almost full, blonde hair, tanned skin, I was into sports, I was young, I drove a third hand wreck of a car like the surfers in California did, in the movies. 2001 was the year. Yes, that year. That last summer when you still could check into an airport without being treated like a potential criminal, and the main topic in every newspaper was still something related to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Somewhere in Arizona, in Sedona near Flagstaff, for a brief two weeks I’ve had a girlfriend. She wasn’t my first girlfriend ever, I’ve held hands and kissed with a girl before. And it’s not that I was a late bloomer, up to that time I just never had much luck with girls. She was older than me, and more experienced than me. This I knew. Even though back then I didn’t know what that meant.

She brought me to the most interesting places, and events, introduced me to the nicest people, bought me the most tasty food, compliant with my diet, she went out of her way to take very good care of me. I didn’t know why, but somehow she knew what I loved and enjoyed most. One of the most remarkable things about her was this: she listened to me. It was the first time in my life that I had the feeling that someone was listening to me. Like really listen to me. We would sit at wonderful places outside and we would just talk. Hour after hour. Or maybe I would talk, and we would laugh. We would share our stories, our dreams, our beliefs, and the words just kept pouring out of me. I’ve never experienced something like this before. I loved it, I loved how I talked when she was with me, I loved my jokes she made me come up with, I loved my clever remarks on our conversations, she opened myself up to me, I loved myself. I loved myself so much. 

Anyone who knows anything about love can probably guess that this relationship didn’t hold. After two weeks she had to go back to her real life, to her real job. We promised to stay in contact. She never put up a fight. She was sad already days before we parted. She said, „I cannot feel you.” She said that I felt so light. She said that even when we were walking hand-in-hand she felt as if I wasn’t there.

I was though. But I was with me. 

All this I remembered today. 

It’s not the first time that the memory of her came back to me. I sometimes do think of her.  But it’s the first time that I’m able to see it like this. I spare myself the self-criticism. I’ve suffered enough. What I want to say is this:

Here’s a post to life. To friendship. To relationships. To going out of our ways to connect in a world of lockdowns, face masks, diverging beliefs, being in different stages in our development, and a failing biosphere. 

Here’s to daily blogging. An uninterrupted, free flowing narrative that continues and advances further every day. I type. I speak. I speak. I type. My good text editor accepts every single word, it’s always there for me, listens unconditionally. Without judgment it remembers every letter typed. Every single detail. The worst criticism comes in form of red, wavy underlines. For my kind consideration.

But the love and companionship of a text editor can only carry us so far. The seemingly safe harbour of disengagement, of writing privately, a secret diary, without feedback and without another soul to rub against, can only make a difference when we then take to the world through other pathways.

Spoken words cannot be taken back – neither can be published posts that have already been read. And yet, sometimes, I make changes after I pressed „Publish”. And yet, sometimes, we would like to make changes after everything was said. Can I trust myself to say even one more word?

We need to engage, have courage, compassion, speak, type, dance, sing, paint, love to make ourselves real. Where else other than in this world could we test our thoughts and ideas, how would we otherwise be able to assess weight and meaning? Conscience is the indicating feeling whether we strengthened the bonds to our peer group or weakened them. Once we’re here there’s no opt-out. Remaining silent still says something.

Can you master nonsense as well as you have already learned to master sense?

„If someone asks you about your day, you don’t say, »Well, first I opened my eyes. Then I blinked and rubbed them. Then I placed my left leg on the floor, and then my right.« You would bore them to death. Instead, you eliminate the extra detail, and concentrate on communicating what is important. That is exactly what you are supposed to be doing [..]” – Jordan B. Peterson’s Essay Writing Guide.

The „I opened my eyes” bit stood out most from Jordan B. Peterson’s Essay Writing Guide. A chance to let my imagination run free. Maybe even a test for a mutual sense of humour and love for the unconventional. Especially since he did not talk about strict academic writing but daily essay writing (up to three hours) for personal practice and development. Surprisingly, he dissed his „I opened my eyes” bit sharply, set it as an example of digression and inability to identify what’s important. Nevertheless I kept thinking about it, „Why would anyone rub perfectly rested eyes?”, „What is his technique of getting out of bed, how does he sit up so that he can place his left leg first?”

„People’s brains function better in the morning”, I agree now that I’m 46 years old. I would have begged to differ when I was 17. I tried for his „rule of thumb, a paragraph should be made up of at least 10 sentences or 100 words,” but fell short. „A paragraph should present a single idea, using multiple sentences,” dares me to put multiple ideas in a single sentence. Furthermore I applied three of his other tips on this post:

  1. I wrote 25 % too much and then cut it down again. „Aim at producing a first draft that is 25% longer than the final draft.” I used to think of this surplus of words as wasted energy, but now I’m thinking: scaffolding, consumable supplies and materiel in building construction.
  2. I re-wrote sentences that seemed fine, I did it as an exercise, and chose the best version.
  3. I re-arranged sentence order to see what flows better, is more precise and meaningful.

All solid tips. „Read each sentence aloud, and listen to how it sounds. If it’s awkward, see if you can say it a different, better way. Listen to what you said, and then write it down”, challenging. Speak first, then write. I like that. Usually I write first, then speak. One sentence stains the next. Monkeys laugh more than lions. Bananas are more fun than meat. Humour, especially good humour, is the last resort, the place we find when we’ve made it through the worst. Jumping to it conscientiously is better than drowning.

I myself I too I am disobedient

I sat down, I listened, and I recognised: I refuse to partake in other teacher’s classes. I stop recordings after 10 minutes, and I start to practice on my own. I review, I develop my own ideas. I do my own explorations. I refuse to listen to other teachers. I am bored with other teachers. I am bored senseless with other teachers. I don’t have the nerves to listen to them. I don’t want to follow their movement commands. I want to spend my time with my own discoveries, integrate the movements with my own thinking, do the things that are relevant to me, to my own life, relevant to my work, to my clients. I investigate, I learn, I learn more, I learn more, I learn more. I need the context. I need my context.

Boots on the table, chocolate on the walls

„The primary reason to write an essay is so that the writer can formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.” – Jordan B. Peterson

I don’t have children myself, but two of my close friends have two girls, one is six, one is eight. I usually get along with children just fine, but in the past year the younger one challenged me repeatedly, worried me, left me speechless. Usually I’m quick to withdraw myself from conflict. Nonviolent Communication or highway. But when you agreed to babysit for two hours there’s no way to exit. So that was the last straw, three weeks ago. Her kind of attacks and disobedience were completely new to me. I might even say: Shocking.

My first step to find back to my own psychological high ground was to talk to a friend who has a degree in Social Sciences and works as a counsellor in a school. This helped. Furthermore I decided to dig up some supporting background knowledge. I knew that we have that somewhere in the Internet, I just never looked it up before. As I found out, we have that since 1980, since the publication of Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

After an hour of googling and watching random videos on Youtube, testimonials from wide-eyed parents (or parents with tired faces and black rings under their eyes), I finally found some great clues in a mini-debate between Ross W. Greene and Jordan B. Peterson, the title was „Oppositional Defiant Disorder”.

Jordan B. Peterson used the following as his opening statement: „I think it’s a form of dominance display. Human beings are social animals and they’re interested in climbing up dominance hierarchies. That is partly why children test and kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are more dominant and more aggressive and often more emotional and so they show increased rates of defiant behaviour. They are testing limits more constantly and they tend also to be more explosive in their aim so it’s harder for them to control it.”

In contrast Ross W. Greene had a very different view and opened like this: „I don’t view it as an issue of dominance at all. I find that these kids are lacking skills in some very crucial domains such as flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, problem-solving. So it’s a very different point of view. Challenging behaviour is the byproduct of lacking in crucial cognitive skills, not an attempt to be dominant.”

I found Ross W. Greene’s explanation highly humane, and a good explanation. And I found Jordan B. Peterson’s view made sense when regarded as the symptom, not a byproduct. A symptom of lacking in crucial cognitive skills and the inability to handle the stress and pressure that comes with it.

For my friends’ child, the six year old girl, I’ve seen her lacking in cognitive and motor skills even much earlier: when she was two years old she already presented with poor skills in balance, walking, proprioception, object handling and manipulation, and with difficulties to understand simple requests. I’ve never seen a child fall and cry that often. Run at speeds much too high for her abilities and then twist her ankle or stumble and fall despite the floor being perfectly flat. And only after that came delays in language development, and only after that lack in the skills Ross W. Greene mentioned, and the boxes she would tick in an ODD assessment. To me her challenges in early childhood were obvious, but she always looked very healthy and strong, and one could easily overlook and discard all that as „All children test limits”, and „All children learn at their own speed”, and „Development milestones are not in a fixed order.” The final wake up call was when her parents were called to a teacher-parents conversation at her school last week. Again, I guess. But this time they started to make plans to support her Special Education Needs. From what I’ve seen already, I think things are going to get better now. I’m very happy to see that.

To me the whole story is helpful for my own learning and understanding the world. Also, it helps me to locate my own professional expertise in the greater scheme of things. Also, I added six books to my reading list: three from Ross W. Greene, and three from Jordan B. Peterson.  Not that I have time to read them all, but putting items on my reading list is very reassuring, emotionally satisfying. Oh, and I found one more gem: Jordan B. Peterson’s Essay Writing Guide. 24 pages. Free Download. Smart.

Reading aloud again

„What are we going to do with him?” the kid said. „I don’t know.” I said. „I guess I caught him,” I said. „We both did. Besides, I saw him first.” „That’s true,” I said. – from Raymond Carver, „Nobody said anything”

With the overwhelming task of daily writing, in the last six weeks (or so) my daily reading fell a bit short. Not that I totally skipped it, but maybe I only read aloud an hour or two every week. I noticed when recording my reading out loud of my Good Night Shoulder Circles.

Or maybe it is because I’ve up’d my listening practice. I now can watch Netflix in English language without subtitles. I only achieved this level of listening comprehension this year. And maybe it’s because I became better at listening that I feel that my reading is… think Arnold Schwarzenegger, but without the punch.

So besides my work on Good Night Shoulder Circles today, and besides having watched three hours of lectures and interviews on Youtube, I completed 100 minutes of reading out loud today. In fact, I’m going to read some more in a minute. I’m not even hoarse. I really do enjoy it.

Good Night Shoulder Circles And Coffee

I stopped telling my friends that I had Dalgona coffee at the Zeroism Vegan Café, because instead of an adoring „Oh, that sounds wonderful, how was it?” I would always get a reproachful, „Oh, you could have done this easily yourself, at home.” Of course they didn’t mean „I Alfons could have“ but what my friend was really saying was, „She herself knows how to make the best Dalgona coffee, very likely the best on the planet.“ TikTok turned the entire category of iced instant coffee drinks into a Film-It-Yourself while you Do-It-Yourself challenge. Rule #1 of Dalgona coffee: Tell everyone how easy it is to make Dalgona coffee.

Anyways, it took me the length of drinking two Dalgona coffees to spell out a first version of my own Shoulder Circles lesson. And what you should know is this: Dalgona coffee is a beverage made by whipping equal proportions of instant coffee powder, sugar, and hot water until it becomes creamy, and then scooping that on top of a slightly less sweet mélange that‘s one part coconut milk and one part cashew milk that‘s poured over ice-cubes in a stemless wine glass.

There you go, I just described to you how Dalgona coffee is made. What is wrong with me.

Anyways, where was I… it took me two hours to drip out a first draft of this lesson. And I brewed another half hour wondering why it turned out to sound so thin. It seems to be lacking something. What is missing? Salt? Sugar? More instant coffee powder?

Without teaching to someone in person, without not even moving myself, the text seems stale, out of rhythm, timed to the movements of no one. Adjusted to the needs of no one.

I will read it out loud, again, record audio, again, and rewrite it, again. I need to listen to it, move to it. Turn the words into movements. Without having to clean the entire kitchen afterwards. By the time I will be done, it’s time to sleep again. In this way this lesson will also make a wonderful Good Night story for my shoulders, for them to have a good night’s rest.

Good Night Shoulder Circles

  • first edit: I turned statements with „notice” and „observe” into questions
  • second edit: any words that don’t advance the lesson obfuscate it: I removed filler words, tried to sound more vivid, removed parts that look good in writing, but wouldn’t in speaking
  • third-to-fifth edit: recorded it, listened to it, moved to it, slept over it, listened to it again, smoothed out the text even more, recorded it again, again, again, made it simpler, easier, lighter, I need to settle for „good enough”.

Would you please come to lie on your left side. Put your legs together, one on top of the other, bend them comfortably. Support your head, there shouldn’t be any strain on your neck, you should be comfortable. Place your right hand on the floor (or on your bed) somewhere in front of you. Make yourself as comfortable as possible.

And now bring your attention to your right shoulder, move it forwards. Move your right shoulder forwards, a little bit. And then allow it to return again, to where you started. That’s the home position for your right shoulder. Move your right shoulder forwards and let it come back home again.

Move your right shoulder forwards, and allow your head and shoulders to turn a tiny little bit to the left, together with your right shoulder. Allow your head and your chest to roll. A little bit.

Does your right shoulder move together with your head and chest, equally much, or does your right shoulder move much more than your head and your chest? 

Move your right shoulder forwards and at the same time pay attention to your right hand. Do you lean a bit more onto your right hand? Do you shift weight onto your right hand?

Can you feel your shoulder-blade sliding around your chest? How much does it slide? Are your shoulder-blade and your chest walking like hand-in-hand, with your shoulder-blade leading your chest? Or do your shoulder and your chest move together – as if they were one piece?

How do you feel about your movements? Simplify your movements, simplify everything that moves in this movement. There’s no point in me ordering the movements to feel easier, simpler, lighter. Instead, find a quality, find a way of moving yourself, that will make you say „Oh, that‘s delightful”.

And stop it. Where’s the home position of your right shoulder now? 

And now move your right shoulder backwards – into the opposite direction of forwards. Move your right shoulder backwards. And let it return home again. Do this many times.

Moving it backwards might work-and-feel different than forwards. Do you still allow your chest and head to roll together with your right shoulder? How much do they roll? Do you feel as if all separate parts are moving, or do you move at once, all together? How far does your right shoulder move backwards slowly, easily, comfortably, effortlessly? Is it the same distance as forwards?

Combine forwards and backwards. Combine these two directions to draw a line. Is it a line? Or is it a curve? It could be.

Now stop it and change the position of your right arm. Place your right arm onto your right side, your right hand somewhere close to your pelvis. 

This shall be the new home position for your right arm and your right shoulder. Make yourself comfortable.

Then, move your right shoulder forwards, home, backwards, home again. A couple of times. Did the movements change because your right arm has a new home position? What would you say has changed?

Notice if your jaw is relaxed. If the movements affect our breathing. Don’t let them.

Stop for a moment. And now move your right shoulder upwards, towards your right ear, and return home again. Upwards, and then let it return home again.

And now pay attention: while you move your right shoulder upwards, lift your head. Bring your right ear closer to your right shoulder. Do not turn your head to touch your nose to your shoulder. Lift your head to bring your right ear towards your right shoulder. Move them towards each other. Simply. They meet each other. Do this a couple of times.

Now rest your head again. Reverse the direction of your shoulder movements. Move your right shoulder downwards, and return home again. Downwards, and let it return.

And now combine upwards and downwards. 

Think of drawing a line with your right shoulder which is perpendicular to the previous one. 

Before it was forwards and backwards. In fact, move your right shoulder forwards and backwards for a couple of times, and then upwards and downwards again. Find a clear image for these two lines of movement which meet at a right angle. 

Move slowly enough, carefully enough, so that your chest and head have time to respond to the movements of your shoulder.

Now stand your right hand in front of you again. On the floor (or on your bed). 

Feel, sense, where would your hand like to stand? In which direction would you point your fingers? Is this a different location than before? 

Forwards and backwards, upwards and downwards. Feel how the movements are different when your hand is standing in front of you, compared to your hand when it was resting on your side.

And now combine the four directions into circles. Forwards, downwards, backwards, upwards, forwards, downwards, backwards, upwards…  connect the endpoints of the lines. Draw circles.

Do not force your movements, don’t try to get perfect circles. Instead focus on making the movements effortless, smooth, flowing, pleasant. „Sensing” the movements is as important as „creating” them.

And now counter-clockwise circles. Change directions. If you moved in clockwise circles before, now move in counter-clockwise circles. How is this different?

Place your arm on your right side again, casually, your right hand somewhere close to your pelvis. Again, draw circles with your right shoulder. Does this particular arm position change the shape of your circles? The center point of your circles? What else has changed? Did you hold your breath for a moment? Did you tighten your jaw? Don’t allow these movements and observations to cause you to tense up.

And then stop it, roll onto your back and rest. 

Compare your right shoulder to your left. Which one feels better? Which one feels more like you would like it to be? The right one or the left one? Resting on your back like that, which shoulder-blade touches down better? 

And by the way, can you feel any difference in your face? Can you feel any difference between your right side and left side? In general. Any difference in how you’re breathing? Any difference between your right leg and your left leg? Between how you felt before the lesson, and… How do you feel now?