Reintegrating Your Brain

We are born with a limited number of “hardwired” reflexes – our abilities to move, speak, and think come from a learning process.  When we are born most of our nervous system is unpatterned, not yet connected, so that each of us can learn to function to meet the demands of our surroundings.  We are imminently adaptable, thus must learn to do almost everything that we do.

We have a great freedom, a potential for adaptability, and with that comes the responsibility to learn to function well.  To a large extent, we create ourselves.

This is one of the core principles of the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. Feldenkrais is a subtle method of  rewiring the neural structure of the entire human being to be functionally well integrated, which means being able to do what you want to do and do it well.  This ‘rewiring’ takes place through moving with awareness – awareness of the feeling and the result of the movement.  It is a learning process.  We can continue learning, and thus rewiring our brains, our entire lives.

As we grow we learn particular patterns of functioning, many of them work well, some do not.  With age and injury, these patterns of functioning fall into dis-use.  It is now becoming well known that when we don’t use the neural pathways that control particular functions we lose those neural pathways.  Some injuries, such as stroke, can destroy entire networks.  It is our great good fortune that just as we learned to ‘wire’ our brains as children, we can wire them again.  There is plenty of brain matter available to take over for damaged areas and there is a growing body of research findings that show we can generate new neurons when needed through a process called ‘neurogenesis’.

Neurogenesis and creating new neural networks using existing brain matter both come from moving to fulfill an intention while experiencing the feeling of the movement.  That is all it takes, moving with ever more finely differentiated awareness.  Feldenkrais Functional Integration® and Felkenkrais Awareness Through Movement® Lessons are highly evolved methods for doing that.

Copyright© May 2015 Jeff Bickford, All Rights Reserved, Unfettered Movement

This post draws upon “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Norman Doidge, MD.  I highly recommend it!

Moving with Awareness

Rarely do we bring our attention to the actual experience of what we are doing.  Most of the time we are thinking about something else when we are moving, most of the time what we are thinking is something we’ve thought before, probably many times, and more often than not, the act if thinking about it is increasing the stress we feel.

Once we have set an intention and begun to act there is really nothing else to think about other than noticing what we do and adjusting – but that requires little actual thinking.  At the same time, if we don’t put our awareness somewhere, it will probably fall back into these old patterns of thinking.

The best use of awareness is to experience what we are actually doing.  Right now, do something simple, like pick up a cup and take a sip, or scratch your head, or walk over and turn on a light.  Notice your experience of moving – release any thoughts that intrude, don’t follow them.  Let your attention be with your experience of moving – your feet changing pressure on the floor, your hips and legs, how your abdomen moves or is carried along, the pressure on what you are sitting on, your arms and chest and back, how your head subtly moves as you do whatever you are doing.

My guess is that was different than your normal experience.  What is it like to notice what you are doing?  Many find it intriguing, if not enjoyable.  The blizzard of thoughts may not have subsided yet, but they will the more you practice this.

This is basically what all the current hoo-hah about Mindfulness is about – bringing your attention to your actual sensory experience of doing whatever you are doing.  The reason there is so much hoo-hah is that it really does, oddly, calm you down, decrease stress and pain, and you do whatever you are doing better.

Doing whatever you do with awareness makes you happier.  Pretty weird idea, but it’s relatively easy so you may as well try it out.

There are many forms that teach bringing awareness to what we do – meditation, yoga, pilates, tai chi, and Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons are a few.  But the best place to practice moving with awareness is Whatever You are Doing.

Whatever you do, when you’ve done all that can be done with thinking about it (which most often isn’t much more than deciding where and how to start), bring your attention to your experience of doing it, to the feeling of moving.  While picking up the cup and taking a sip, scratching your head, walking over to turn on a light, working out, driving to work, turning on the computer, answering text’s and emails, talking to a friend or someone where you work – whatever you do, experience the movement of it, in detail.

You will not only find that you move better and do whatever you do more skillfully, but that you enjoy the doing of it, and the respite from the mostly fruitless, and constant, thinking.  It’s really simple, just experience what you do as you do it.

Emotional Vitality

My clients in perimenopause talk of two primary issues: vitality is weakened & stress has increased.  What can they do?

Most of us agree that chronic stress is not conducive to long term health.  It can cause increased heart rate & blood pressure, digestive issues, headaches, adrenal fatigue, depression and anxiety.  There is a lot of information out there on how to reduce stress.

What about vitality?  A 2007 study found out that emotional vitality reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.  Emotional Vitality was defined as: a sense of energy, a sense of positive well being, a connection to life & the ability to be emotionally balanced in life situations.  There is NOT a lot of information on how to cultivate & increase vitality.

Emotional Vitality cannot be easily measured.  It is an experience, a view and a way of living.  Due to this, it is hard to sell.  It is not happiness, even though some cola companies would like us to believe that.  It is not about getting new apps, even though most tech corporations would like us to think that.  It is not conventional success, even though most of us crave that.  Emotional Vitality is much more than any of these.  It is something that we actually need, to support our hearts and to embody long term health.

Most perimenopause clients have a vague idea that to reduce stress & increase vitality they need to get stronger .  They see the problem as something wrong with their body (a separate entity from their mind).  They want me to fix their body, so they can get on with life.  The fundamental problem is that even if I could ‘fix’ their body it would have no long term effect, unless it was balanced with an equal ‘fix’ of emotion and mind.  Emotional Vitality is completely dependent on disengaging from the stressful effort of separating our mind, emotions and body.

What I see as a doorway to disengaging from this outdated & ill-fated notion of mind-body separation, is the cultivation of  movement awareness & mindfulness.  This doorway unfailingly leadsto vitality, buoyancy, resiliency.

Jan had six automobile accidents over a five year period of time.  After seeking the help of many professionals, she was referred to me after her 7th accident.  Jan was defeated, discouraged and in chronic pain.  She passively dragged her body into the room as if her body was an old moldy sleeping bag.  She slumped in the chair & spoke in a gasping monotone voice.  She was completely unaware of her body, emotional tone & dark view.  Jan had no sense of her feet, her pelvis or even her hands as they limply attempted to gesture.  She was as far from emotional vitality as one could imagine.

In an intake, I gather body-mind & movement history, while observing the emotional-movement patterns of my clients’ responses.  I often hear: “I don’t know how to answer that”.  Gently I encouraged Jan to reflect quietly on each question, while I taught her how to be aware of her breathe, showed her how to listen to her view internally and helped her sense her feet & hands.  I do not encourage or deny pain, instead I use movement to help each client discover something within the pain itself.  This initial mindfulness & awareness of movement is a step toward to Emotional Vitality.

As Jan reflected, she began to breathe into her pelvis, find rhythm in her hands & discovered how to allow air to move for speech.   After a few minutes, she became lighter and freer in her mind-body.  Jan even remarked that she was “having fun”,  that she had ‘delightful curiosity’ like a toddler being introduced to a new skill.  We barely completed the intake when the session was completed.  “Why has no one asked me these questions or taught me this before? That was the most interesting and uplifting hour I have ever spent.  I feel alive.  Why did no one do this in the past?”  

This was the birth of Emotional Vitality for Jan – one hour, simple questions, deep reflection, while being taught how to include and be present in her body.  Over the next month, she continued to develop skill in movement awareness & body-mindfulness.  The way she walked, worked, drove and moved in all of her life became buoyant.  Through this her pain decreased, and she became physically and mentally more resilient.  All of this confused her pain specialist and primary care physician, as we were not doing something clearly measurable.  Vitality cannot be measured, yet it can be cultivated.

What can you do to increase emotional vitality?

1.  Learn how and take the time daily to listen from within

2.  Learn how to become aware of your breathe & the quality of your voice

3.  Find out what you enjoy and engage it in some manner daily

4.  Do not push

5.  Reconnect to movement without form – like a child, move for the love of moving

6.  Every day, take joy in something you experience

7.  Do not isolate – find people who can guide, laugh and “walk beside you”

8.  Study how mind and body are one & practice a movement form for harmony and balance

©Copyright June 20, 2013  Gail Gustafson