Flow of life

My pose, my thoughts, my actions too,
Each glance at things, a little new.

Custom, beliefs, might be the glue,
I didn’t think this fully through.

Not one breath can be the same,
Embrace the change, don’t try to tame.

Just one breath ago

In handwriting, not one of my characters looks exactly the same as the others; even if I draw a row of the same character, even if I intend them to look exactly the same. Which means that every movement of my highly trained and dextrous hand is different.

Which in turn means, and I can only assume, that not a single of any of my movements is exactly the same; not a single breath is exactly the same as the previous; and neither is any single thought running through my head, even if it was the same thought as just before.

Which in turn means, and I can only assume, that every time I look at something my looking as well must be slightly different than the previous one, even if the thing that I’m looking at hasn’t changed at all. Or has it?

I feel my feet, the floor, my shoes, my legs, my trousers against my skin, my behind and the chair I’m sitting on. I feel grounded and safe. My birth certificate is still the same. The name on my passport hasn’t changed at all. And yet I must assume that I’m already a slightly different person compared to just one breath ago.

Why is Feldenkrais® not better known?

Oh- look! There’s a new Pilates Academy just next door. It opened last week. It’s trending here in Vietnam right now, with new places opening, well, every week. Also, there’s equally many new Yoga, Fitness, Primal Movement, Functional Workout, … places. Movement learning is trending right now.

But why is there no new Feldenkrais Academy opening next door, you may ask? Given that Feldenkrais lessons are so marvellous, unique, wonderful, intelligent, helpful, relevant, amazing and necessary? Simple! Because the trademark owners made pretty well sure that this is not happening.

Firstly, most of Moshé Feldenkrais’s original teachings are not in public domain, and the trademark owners are set to prevent Moshé Feldenkrais’s legacy to become public domain—they don’t want it to be accessible by the general public. Furthermore, the few who are allowed to purchase copies of original materials need to enter strict license agreements:

Secondly, people who have graduated from the trademark associate’s so called “Feldenkrais Professional Training Programs” are not allowed to sub-license the Feldenkrais trademarks, service marks and certification marks, such as

  • Feldenkrais,
  • Feldenkrais Method,
  • Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher,
  • Functional Integration or FI,
  • Awareness Through Movement or ATM, …

That is they are not allowed to design and run their own “Feldenkrais” teacher trainings and are not allowed to grant their aspiring graduates the right to use the trademarks for their own teaching businesses. People can freely use nouns like Music, Rock Climbing, Yoga, Dance, Tai Chi and Pilates, but not Feldenkrais.

For business growth these are significant limitations. These kind of teaching businesses depend on teacher trainings for growth. But this is restricted by design and thus there cannot be significant growth for businesses that use the trademarks for Feldenkrais, or rely on Moshé Feldenkrais’s original materials as their study content. And if things don’t change then this is why it’s highly unlikely that you will ever see yet another new Feldenkrais Academy pop up in your neighbourhood.

Now- I’ve just returned from teaching a wonderful two days workshop. And I have once again refreshed my memory on how marvellous, unique, wonderful, intelligent, helpful, relevant, amazing and necessary my work is. And once again some of my students asked me, “Where can I learn more? Where can I study this to become certified?” I often receive emails and DMs asking the same questions. And my answer is always the same, “I don’t know. There’s no good answer.”

First of all, what I teach might somewhat be inspired by the work of Moshé Feldenkrais from 50, 60, 70 years ago… but what I teach is my own work, my own discoveries, my own thinking and my own style. As for teacher training, I have not created my own, yet.

Secondly, as this answer hardly satisfies, I might add to my reply, “There’s a Guild accredited Feldenkrais Professional Training Program in Shanghai that uses the trademarks.” I know the organising personell in Shanghai, they are great, I like them very much. And there’s some trainings in Europe, too. But you need to look them up yourself. Maybe you want to contact the organisers and see if this is something that you might like to pursue. I might add, “Think of why you want to study this. If it’s for personal reasons, you might find less restrictive courses, that will not process you to fit into a hierarchy, and yet satisfy your needs. And if it’s for professional reasons, you might want to think about how you will make money in the future with the tight license agreements, not being allowed to sub-license the trademarks for your own teacher trainings, and not being allowed to share original teachings.”

The legacy of Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais seems to have spawned two distinct pathways:

A. The trademarks and original materials path

This is a very restrictive path with a well defined, almost ridiculously steep hierarchy that allows students to purchase and privately study the original materials, and use the trademarks within the tight End User License Agreements and Ethical Guidelines. In case of grave violations you will be sued.

Almost 20 years ago I myself stepped onto this path so that I had access to a systematic presentation of Moshé Feldenkrais’s work, and was able to learn from people who already had decades of experience teaching Moshé Feldenkrais’s original materials. However, I have the impression that Feldenkrais today has little to do with how it was 50, 60, 70 years ago. The way of teaching nowadays seems to be very different, the students look very different, and the hands-on work looks very different as well.

I would even go so far as to say that “Functional Integration” is not a fitting term anymore. It’s not the highly creative, lively, assertive movement interaction you can see in original videos of Moshé Feldenkrais— but it’s a well defined, to large extends standardised, very quiet, soothing, Gamma-brainwave inducing slow moving and caressing that helps us to deal with the overwhelming problems we face in today’s world. I would suggest the term “Hypnotic Muscle Rebalancing” instead of “Functional Integration”… and let clients choose for themselves which expression of Feldenkrais they want to work with… but that’s not something that could be discussed within the trademarked system.

B. The matured path

Some of Moshé Feldenkrais’s most talented students decided that they are mature and strong enough to create their own pathways, businesses and teacher trainings. They didn’t want (or couldn’t bring themselves) to fit into the steep hierarchy of the Feldenkrais Guild with its many and strict restrictions. They wanted to grow, probably out of necessity… they outgrew their old shell.

Unfortunately, when they went on their own paths they all created their own brand-names and trademarks. The names of their businesses have nothing in common with each other. So, again, here too, nothing that could ever be as recognisable as a Pilates Academy or Yoga Academy.

But well, if you (for example) see a studio with a brand name like Vertical Academy and inside of it a climbing wall, and bunch of fit looking people with ropes around their waists, you can almost instantly guess what is done and taught in that place.

Maybe, one day that might be the same for studios and academies that teach their own teacher training, courses, lessons and movement sequences… which might have been—to some extend—inspired by the pioneering genius of Moshé Feldenkrais. If you see a studio with a sign saying, for example, Somatics Academy or Ability Acquisition Academy and inside of it you see plenty of floor space with loosely placed, comfortable looking wide mats, some wooden stools and a bunch of books, maybe you can almost instantly guess what is done and taught in that place.

How to tell a therapist what you need at the beginning of your first session?

If we hesitate to act because
we want to know more
than we need for our next step,
we miss the chance to grow.
We accept small change in place of riches
and mistake living trees for firewood.
— Bert Hellinger

When I opened my first studio for movement learning, early on I noticed that most of my clients were women. Men came to see me, too, of course, but just not as many. Also, most men- on their first visit they would look around quite casually, take their time, and then say, “My wife sent me. She said I should try this.”  No kidding. I heard that exact same phrase over and over again.

Usually, with them I wouldn’t ask too many questions at the start of a first session. And usually they would keep their answers very short anyways. They would willingly hop onto my treatment table, but wouldn’t say much of what bothers them or what they would like to learn or improve.

However, a few minutes into a hands-on session I would discover something… like a knee that wouldn’t bend much, or a few ribs that went missing, or the top of a neck that wouldn’t bend, and then they would go, “Oh this! That’s from a sports/traffic/work accident a few years/decades ago. I went to so many unsuccessful therapies already, I basically learned to live with it!” Something like this. And then—the client and me—we would go on making their lives better, sometimes restoring function completely, sometimes even improving it to be better than it was before the accident.

And I need to stick up for these men:

Firstly, for example the male senior client with a couple of ribs gone missing. He lost those ribs almost two decades ago when a boat crashed into him from behind, with that long bowsprit some sailboats sport, looks like a spear. I mean, how would you explain that? And how would you even know that there are people that could help you with such an old injury?

Secondly, why would you open up to a complete stranger at first sight? Isn’t it just healthy behaviour to first observe a new situation, or at least get to know the style and ways of a therapist/teacher/practitioner, to build trust and comfort before revealing personal stories and details?

One day there stood a guy in my door, immobile. He was about 60 years old, slightly overweight, he leaned on a cane, he had cold sweat all over him, his soaked shirt sticked to his chest. He merely said, “My wife sent me.” I mean, I could literally SEE that he was in intense pain.

While leading him from my studio’s door all the way to my treatment table he stopped plenty of times and I got some important details. A decade of back pain, then a spinal fusion back surgery gone wrong. Another surgery out of question, as the surgeon said it’s a very complicated surgery and would most likely permanently tie him to a wheelchair. His wife booked 5 sessions with me for him. Some more details, but how much do I need to know? With plenty of supportive, well chosen and well placed padding we found a position in which he could rest without experiencing pain. “Oh my! That’s the first time I feel pain-free in months!” He said, almost in disbelieve over this simple intervention (finding a resting position he could tolerate.)

However, any ever so small movement would cause him shooting pain. Even just moving his lower leg would feel like a knife twisting in his lower back. That’s why the overworked, overly busy, insurance-backed therapists stopped working with him. They gave up on him. Every movement hurts? Water therapy out of question, too? Sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you.

We started exploring. Eye movements. Tiny head lifts. This lead to a first core stabilisation. He booked another 5 sessions. 100 meters of pain free walking. We found exercises he could do at home that were safe for him and don’t hurt.

How much do we need to tell a practitioner at the beginning of a movement session? Isn’t it an exploration? A getting to know each other? A story of discovery, calibration and adaption? And, maybe that’s the real question here, are we in the hands of a practitioner who’s suitable for us?

Not all journeys can be fully planned and defined ahead. Sometimes we just need to make that first step.

Prompting Feldenkrais® hands-on Functional Integration® lessons

In 2005, seemingly a long time ago, one of the iconic Feldenkrais trainer drama queens declared that if students do not state clearly their request (wish, problem, concern) before a hands-on session then he will not work with them, even if they’ve already paid their session.

That he said in the Feldenkrais Professional Training Program I’ve attended in Munich, Germany. That and a few more of such incidents from various so called “Senior Feldenkrais Trainers” led me to take a 6 months hiatus because I felt that I didn’t need to put up with such nonsense, thank you very much. I finally graduated in 2008, completed my make-up days in 2009, and finished almost one year behind schedule.

I guess, sometimes we all do and say things that make others feel uncomfortable, and I believe most of us do improve and change for the better over time, so no hard feelings there (and I hope neither from you towards me).

I keep thinking about it because prompting (or not) is such an important topic. For 18 years I’ve been thinking about this “I won’t work with you if you don’t state clearly what you want waa waa, cry me a river” incident, and I’ve worked with thousands of clients with that incident in mind. Not in resentment, but as a question: Is this a good way to start a client session?

And it’s only since I started using ChatGPT that I’ve become aware of that there’s a word for it. “Prompting”- or “proompting” as the computer geeks on Youtube say. So- I will use this blog post and writing to think about the topic of prompting:

Proompting vs prompting

“Proompt. A magical word that engineers use to summon the power of ChatGPT, Midjourney or other AI systems to complete any task imaginable. It is often used in memes to represent the infinite possibilities of artificial intelligence and to poke fun at the sometimes-unpredictable nature of prompt-based learning.”—Urbandictionary

“Prompting is a strategic approach used to increase the likelihood that your child will give the targeted response. It is provided when an ordinary antecedent is ineffective, and is extensively used in behavior shaping and skill acquisition. Prompting procedures rely on reinforcing correct responses that are both prompted and not prompted so that the learner begins to perform skills independently.”—Brave AI summariser

As of now it’s still considered crucial to phrase your prompt clearly and in the right way in order to get the best answer from ChatGPT and other AI systems. Telling an AI what it is you want from it is called prompting. You deliver a prompt and get a response accordingly. The better your prompt the better AI’s response, is the name of the game, at least for now.

But is this the right way to think about Feldenkrais-style hands-on lessons? When do students have the time and opportunity to learn prompting? Is learning to be able to express ourselves clearly and tell others what we feel and need, is this already part of a hands-on Feldenkrais-inspired session?

Would students have to exercise prompting, that is to ask and calibrate the same prompt over and over again until they finally get a satisfying answer from their Feldenkrais practitioner (or “Senior Feldenkrais Trainer“)? So- whether you call it “Stating your concern”, “Asking your question” or “Prompting”—do students even know that there is such a skill and that it should be learned and improved? And on the other side, why should or would a practitioner’s work be determined by—or limited to—the prompting skills of their clients/students?

I might add that in the service industry I kind-of expect good service. When I go to a good hair saloon I expect to be able to say “Do whatever you think will suit me best” and walk out with a great haircut, tailor-made. I also expect to be allowed to make a rather complex, lengthy and unusual request and then too, walk out with a great haircut, tailor-made.

On the other hand, when we go to see a doctor we better make real sure and double check and triple check, and think hard about our request, and then check again if what we said is clear and that the doctor understood correctly, accounting to the fact that doctors are officially the second most common leading cause of death (in the US). Luckily- Feldenkrais practitioners are no doctors, they are private education teachers. And I would expect a good teacher to be even more percipient, discerning and accommodating than a hairdresser, wouldn’t you?

How do we enlarge movement repertoire?

Two quotes. First quote by Eric Franklin, from his book Dynamic alignment through imagery:

Your head floats up and your body dangles easily from your head. If you prefer to use a metaphor, you can think of your head as a balloon and your body as the string hanging down from it.

If you imagine this vividly enough, if you really feel it, sense it, it might (quite immediately) free your neck from some tension. You might sit up or stand up easier, maybe you stand taller with more ease. You might walk easier, breath easier. Do you? Don’t you?

Second quote by Julian Jaynes, from his book The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind:

It is by metaphor that language grows. The common reply to the question “what is it?” is, when the reply is difficult or the experience unique, “well, it is like —.”

Is it by metaphor that movement repertoire grows? Or is it by experimentation with movements, such as play? Or by introducing movement context? Or by introducing auxiliary movements? Or by breaking down a larger movement into smaller parts and practicing the smaller parts, replace broken parts with better ones, and then putting everything together again? Like cleaning the engine of a motorbike?

Example: Say you want to improve the turning the head, in standing. You would then observe that movement in a different position, for example while lying on the back instead of in standing. Or you add arm and shoulder movements to it. Or you restrict the head from moving and turn the body instead. In this way you would turn, for example, your shoulder girdle or your pelvis instead of your head. Or you would turn only your eyes instead of your head, and free your brain from some of that compulsory relationship between your eyes and your head (if any), thus freeing up your head movements, and possibly improving your breathing as well.

How do we incrementally and permanently improve movement quality? How do we enlarge movement repertoire? How is it that we replace bad movement habits with even worse ones? How would we replace them with better ones instead?

And why would we enlarge our movement repertoire? Obviously, after a stroke, when the movement repertoire has shrunken down considerably and many movements have to be learned again, almost as if from scratch. Or after an accident. Or after decades of sedentary lifestyle when we suddenly discover that we are stiff like a stick and can’t even sit down on the floor anymore. Improving one’s movement repertoire might also be something that might interest top performers, such as athletes or musicians. Or parents who would like their children to keep improving, instead of them becoming movement illiterate cellphone zombies.

I might argue that the way to improve one’s movement repertoire is through movement, as I described above. Imagery might be nice as well, so might be metaphors, as long as we come up with the images ourselves, I would imagine. Our own images, created from within, for our own movements, to act in this world.

Finding meaning through movement

A few days ago I listened to an interview between Dwarkesh Patel and Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI Chief Scientist, about ChatGPT and Artificial Intelligence. The following snippet got me thinking:

DP: Robotics. Was it the right step for OpenAI to leave robotics behind? 

IS: Yeah, it was. Back then it really wasn’t possible to continue working in robotics because there was so little data. There was no path to data on robotics. You really need to build many thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of robots, and somehow collect data from them and find a gradual path where the robots are doing something slightly more useful. 

You could imagine it’s this gradual path of improvement, where you build more robots, they do more things, you collect more data, and so on. You need to be really willing to solve all the physical and logistical problems of dealing with them. It’s not the same as software at all.  Link: youtu.be/Yf1o0TQzry8?t=771

I was thinking, “Right. If you screw some pieces of metal together, add some DC motors and an electronic brain, there’s not much to learn of it. Where should the data come from?”

On the other hand, take any organic animal, for example a human. Take our unique, first-person perspective. Our bodies have been going through millions of years of evolution; and from a phylogenetic perspective through billions of individuals lives and trillions and trillions of experiences and stories. We have been diversifying, branching and pruning. Just like all organic beings on this planet we have been pretty busy. The results of these millions of years of development are right there, at our fingertips, literally. I could touch my pointer finger to my nose, and go, “Oh, that’s my nose. It’s quite pointed I have to say.” I could look at a cat and tell her, “You’re so fine, but your nose is much smaller than mine.” And the cat would be quite bored of my tittle-tattle and turn her cute little head away.

Our bodies, which resulted from millions of years of data processing, are right there, at our disposal for learning. When we move a hand, an arm, the head, when we do something useful, or even when we’re just fooling around, it can be a rich experience. But whatever we make of it, it takes a well functioning brain to perform any movement well, and to perceive it well as well. We can spend thousands of hours to learn ourselves and still, who can’t improve further in playing the piano, or in singing, or in cooking? Or even in chewing without biting one’s cheek once in a while. There’s no limit to learning and improvement and failure, it’s our nature.

And then society! Oh so much to learn. How we interact with others, how we learn to become part of a community with our work, but also in thinking, believing, in speaking the same language with the same accent. There’s so much to do, to experience in play, in work, in sink or swim, in life or death; there’s so much data generated.

And lastly, our self-directed learning. It’s our dignity, our starting point of new adventures, our lever, saviour and maybe even our downfall.

I just listed three aspects of learning, or data processing, or token generation, if we would call it that. Which reminds me of the very beginning of Moshé Feldenkrais’s 1972 book Awareness Through Movement. It goes like this:

We act in accordance with our self-image. This self-image—which, in turn, governs our every act—is conditioned in varying degree by three factors: heritage, education, and self-education.

In this first paragraph Moshé Feldenkrais also mentions three things that define and shape who we are and how we do things: heritage, education and self-education. For ChatGPT those three things probably would be the model, the pre-training, and fine-tuning.

It certainly could be a worthwhile exercise to re-read Moshé Feldenkrais’s book from this angle, a fresh look at how and why we learn, and what makes us feel that we’re doing something slightly more useful.