Skip navigation

I’ve been going through the Robert Sussuma videos that I haven’t done and it’s been great and interesting and beneficial. One surprising thing was the last lesson I did, “AJUSTANDO EL SISTEMA VOCAL”, which used the tiny cough/click I wrote about in a previous article but in a different manner and sphere. I was going through all the variations in order to map the vocal folds in more and more detail, whereas Robert relates the cough more globally, specifically to variations of paradoxical breathing (inhaling – expand chest, exhaling – expand tummy). His video was posted before I wrote my article but I only went through the video today so it’s funny how I arrived at the use of the tiny click semi-independently.

One of the main nuances he had that I didn’t was the difference between left and right. As you do the tiny click, one side will be louder than the other due to tonus differences between the side. The side that’s more active will be quieter due to higher tonus/tension, despite the vocal folds being in the centre. Related to this, he had two variations – clicking while turning the head, clicking while scanning the horizon with the eyes. The eye variation was, hehe, eye opening for me because it was way more difficult than the head turning one. After I did the variations on the floor and came back to the eye variation, it was much easier.

The best ideas come from when you’re not actively thinking about them so as I was vacuuming the house and doing a few of these tiny coughs it occurred to me that I was probably coughing in chest voice and that it may be possible to do it in falsetto. This is impossible for me to tell though as the tiny clicks are done without tone. If I do add tone then I definitely can cough throughout my range. This is more difficult to do inhaling as it starts to resemble one of the ways I laugh. I dunno what benefit this falsetto variation might be, but it’s another variation to play around with and explore.

Unrelated to the tiny cough but related to Robert, I’ve also done the Untying the Tongue, Expanding what we think of as the tongue, the jaw bone’s connected to the whole self, your voice your self lessons too. The jaw one I have to be more careful with as my left jaw joint has a tendency to pop out of its socket. I want to revisit the nose lesson because of my hyponasality issues and see if there is anything of use there because I’ve forgotten what the lesson is about. The tongue lessons were pretty interesting and something I should explore more.

I’ve been hard at work recording, editing and mixing my song, “Don’t Get the Madness” and unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that I will have to rerecord the lead vocals. The main issue is the congested, blocked nose sound, especially the last third of the song. I didn’t hear it at the time, but I was ill and decided to power through because sometimes you have to and things can’t wait. In hindsight, I should’ve stopped recording and waited until things cleared up. The blocked nose sound is also present in my voice in general, particularly when anxious, nervous or excited. In other words, tension. I’m not fully acquainted on all the research and current solutions to this issue so this article just presents my initial findings.

The first thing is to name the thing. Searching for “nasal” solutions inevitable comes up with the more whiny type of nasality, which I now know is called hypernasality. The congested sound is its opposite, hyponasality, which returns fewer results and solutions.

The muscles that open and close the nostrils appear to be the ones contributing to the sound: the nasalis muscle. That muscle itself is also separated into the closing (compressor nasalis) and opening (dilator naris) functions.

One principle used in Feldenkrais is to exaggerate what you are doing even more. Completely closing the nostrils results in a strong, obvious sound, and more importantly, sensation in the nostrils. As I explored this more, I found there was a continuum from neutral to completely closed, and you can refine your control in this area by using percentages (e.g. 75% closed) or numbers (1-10). I did this silently at first, then with voice (more difficult to do with voice).

Then I did the opposite of moving from neutral to hyper-opening of the nostrils. The sensations moving in this direction is far more subtle and thus difficult to find accurate percentages. Again, voice can be added.

One benefit of doing this closing and opening exploration is that your bodymap in this area will become clearer and more detailed in addition to the extra control and co-ordination you have found. It’s kind of like made being aware of the sensations of clothes on your skin – it was always (partially) there, but you had to focus your attention in the right way to become aware of it.

Breathing through the nose in various ways (fast/slow, loud/quiet) can also highlight the condition of the nostrils, and related is making hypernasal sounds, letting most of the airflow go through the nose. Making a breathy sound through the nose provides the most obvious sensation, but is difficult to maintain due to the high amounts of air required. Steadily reducing the airflow or going from lots of air to little air whilst maintaining awareness of the constriction/opening in the nostrils allows us to apply the exploration closer to actual use. Shifting resonance from nose to mouth can also help when you’re not sure if you’re making a nasal sound.

In a particular section of the song where I sing “I don’t get the madness,” I conjectured that the consonants and the way I was hitting them was making the hyponasal sound. I tested this and sure enough I was correct. I explored various strengths of hitting the consonants with and without voice, doing it both hyper and hyponasally. I also explored doing the consonant hyponasally but as it transitioned into the vowel, releasing the nostrils e.g. “d” closed, “-on’t” open. Again, you can vary the percentage of hypo/hypernasality.

Applying it in context was more difficult and is still something I have to explore more. The issue is that it is in my high chest range, a part of the voice that is more likely to get tension, thus unsurprising that hyponasality occurs.

Feldenkrais also has a focus of working one side at a time but I’m not too sure how it would apply here. One way is to do a hyperfocus on one nostril in any particular variation, take a short break and then compare the sensations between the two nostrils. My conjecture is the one that was focused on will feel slightly different than the other but I will have to test this.

A weird and interesting thing you can do is that you can combine both nasalities. Hyponasality is characterised by the closing of the nostrils and hypernasality is airflow through the nose and its resonance. Closing the nostrils less than 100% while maintaining most of the airflow through the nose as you vocalise will result in a combination of both. My first impressions is that it’s uncomfortable to do but an interesting and unusual co-ordination.

One more thing that needs more exploration. There’s a Howcast video on nasality and the solution she gave in the video but did no elaboration on was to learn how to breathe. This makes sense because tense breathing happens during tense and anxious situations, thus creating a more relaxed and efficient breathing situation would contribute to the solution. I’ve noticed after see-sawing breathing sessions or shoulder freeing sessions my breathing does become deeper, so there is a possibility that it will help solve the hyponasal situation.

I’m gonna run through here what I’ve been experimenting on myself to map the size and location and shape of the vocal folds. For the uninitiated, bodymapping was developed by Alexander Technique teachers Barbara and William Conable, both of whom are musicians (I think). Bodymapping is basically the process of rendering and refining the map in your brain so that it is truer to reality. The concept has parallels with the older Feldenkrais term of “self image”, and Feldenkrais liked to demonstrate how inaccurate people’s conception of themselves were by making them guess the width of their lips with one finger of each hand, and some people were off by 300%. Simon Thakur describes the bodymap in much simpler and better detail than I could, so read his article.

Why would you want to bodymap? Because the action you want to improve in will, erm, improve. The information you get from calibration (zeroing in on something via many trials and errors) will be better and you can calibrate better. For instance, if the map of your arm and shoulder is smaller/larger than what it actually is, your calibration to throw a ball to a particular point will be made much more difficult due to the fundamental information and sensations you are receiving being inaccurate. A better analogy perhaps would be wearing magnifying glasses while throwing the ball, instead of glasses that will provide accurate vision. You will be able to adjust, but it will be a maladjustment.

Many moons ago when I was taking voice lessons with Michael Mayer, we used a light cough to feel where the vocal folds were, and then I was instructed to speak/sing the vowel from where I felt that location was. This light cough will be the basis of our exploration.

The following is best done lying in a bed or on the floor.

You can make the cough so light that it just becomes a click. (It is important that it is a click otherwise you may hurt your voice a bit if you do cough for an extended period of time.) Then you sense, feel and perceive. You can do variations of speed, strength of the click, rhythm, in order to gain better and different information as to the shape, size and location of the vocal folds. If you’re anything like me, the front of the vocal folds will become clearer and clearer but the back of the vocal folds won’t, so you have to make a special effort to sense and infer from the sensations you receive the whole length of the vocal fold. Asking yourself questions can help you better interpret the sensations you receive: where are my vocal folds? How long are they? How thick? What does the front, middle and back of the vocal fold feel like when compared to each other? How high/low in the throat are my vocal folds?

This process of questioning oneself and interpreting the sensations will be used for all subsequent variations. It’s handy, possibly critical to have in mind various diagrams of the vocal tract and larynx so that you can better interpret the sensations you receive. One of the issues of mapping the voice is that much of it is invisible, thus we have to rely on inference and visualisation in order to improve the accuracy of our bodymap. Here are a couple of informative links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_tract https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhP31dXi7dUrfWZqAwov91y2tUcKARfDu

Variation 1: inhale cough/click. Air can go both ways, so the inhale click is a nice variation. Again, same questions of location, length, size, shape, high/low in the throat. The sensations will be slightly different, helping to round out the picture more.

Variation 2: high, middle, low click. By doing a whiny cough or a dopey/yawny cough, you are changing the height of the larynx and subsequently the location of the vocal folds. Whiny is high in the throat, dopey low/deep in the throat. Middle/neutral is what we’ve been doing so far. You can also do the inhaling click with the high, middle, low larynx.

Variation 3: Vowels with the click. No vibration is being made, you are just clicking with the mouth, tongue and throat shapes of the vowels Ah-Eh-Ee-Oh-Oo. You can do this inhaling and also with high, middle, low larynx. One thing to note is that the vowels will naturally change the height of the larynx due to their requirements, and changing the height of the larynx on purpose will change the whinyness or dopeyness of the vowels.

Variation 4: Alphabet, nursery rhymes, a song you are working on. Similar to variation 3, but this time with more real world application. Again, those questions of location, size, length of the vocal folds, but this time with the combination of consonants and vowels. You can also do the inhalation and high, middle, low larynx variations too.

Variation 5: shifting the larynx to one side and clicking. You can actually grab the larynx by the thyroid cartilage, shift it to one side (gently, doesn’t have to be far), and do the clicking. This will move the vocal folds slightly left/right. You can also do another variation where you can shift your larynx to one side and either turn your whole head to the same side or turn your head to the opposite side e.g. shift larynx left with your hand, turn your head to the right. When you do the opposite version, it’s weird because your larynx and vocal folds remain in the middle but not the middle relative to your head.

Variation 6: head position. This time no larynx grabbing but simply turning, or head up/down, or tilting the head. The larynx and vocal folds remain in its usual position relative to the head but move in absolute space. You can explore using positions e.g. turning left and staying left or movements e.g head up and down, left and right, tilting left and right, circles, figure 8. The location of the folds both simultaneously changes and remains the same.

Variation 7: tongue variations. If you find the height variations a bit difficult to realise, the tongue can help. Sticking out the tongue forward and up to touch the top lip can help you find the high larynx, sticking the tongue down and in the throat will help you find the low larynx. You can also do the tongue variations of left/right corner of the mouth, although I’m not sure of the benefit aside from maybe increased independence of tongue and larynx.

Variation 8: using the voice. This time we are actually saying/singing something and again asking ourselves the questions of location, size, length, front/middle/back. If things become unclear, we can go back to clicking. Then say/sing the same thing and see if things become clearer in our perception.

Phew.

Once you’ve done all this you will ascend to vocal heaven and the angels will be jealous of your vocal prowess and purity.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I rarely go to live events where it’s standing only because my back aches after a while. About a month ago this situation was unavoidable as I found myself packed like a sardine during Balabam’s farewell party. After standing for an hour and a half or so, my back was uncomfortable. My hypothesis was that it was tight hip flexors causing my back to overwork itself and changing the tonus of the hip flexors would solve my issue. The question was how to change the tonus. The only way I knew and had discovered for myself was to do knee circles but that wasn’t possible in this situation. I tried flexing my glutes to change the angle of the lower vertebrae and pelvis to the femurs and doing that repeatedly in various ways but it didn’t work. I tried a few other approaches that I don’t remember but they didn’t work either. Then there were some “bangers” that were played by Don Kipper. My legs were kinda tired from the standing but fuck it I’m gonna use even more energy. I found a compromise where both my feet were flat on the floor and bent at the knees and hips and sometimes side to side so at its apex, my torso was at an angle around twenty to forty degrees from verticle. I did this repeatedly in time to the music and after a while I noticed my back ache had reduced. So I did this some more and more and a few songs later my back ache was gone.

The “traditional” way to change the tonus of hip flexors is to go the opposite way by stretching them. Stretching appears to change the tonus (when done well) and also affects the ligaments and fascia too. What I’d done with the mini-squats was a more Feldenkrais way where you exaggerate what is already happening. In this case, making the hip flexors work even more. For some magical reason I haven’t been able to discern, the brain gets the message to change the tonus of the hip flexors. Maybe it’s due to heightened demand and bloodflow to the area. Maybe it’s due to better clarification of the bodymap of the area. In any case, it removed my back ache at that time during that situation. Needless to say a hip flexor stretch was not possible in that situation and I’m not sure if it would’ve helped.

My vision has been getting worse and worse. I have never needed glasses and still don’t but things are trending towards that direction. Too much time in small spaces in front of a computer and phone and poor sleep contribute to the problem most likely. The scientific consensus is that eye exercises like the ones by Bates do not work. However, with my empirical and biased sample size of one, I am finding some minor improvements to my vision. My current guess is due to the low severity of my dysfunction is that what mostly needs to happen is less of a physical change but more of a neurological change. You can think of it as improving my eye technique.

The primary principles and experiences I’m drawing upon is Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais created a bunch of lessons on vision, likely inspired by Bates. In Feldenkrais’s lessons, they tend to be a more sophisticated expansion of Bates’s exercises (at least what I’ve come across with Bates). They are largely done eyes closed with the imagination being the primary movements. Lessons where the movements are done with the imagination rather than being actually done are on the lower ratio to real movements in Feldenkrais, but they produce a similar effect. My personal problem is that these imagination lessons are difficult and I feel that I am doing the imagined movements with far less precision despite the improvement by the end of the lesson. Thus the excursions I have done recently are all actual movements rather than imagined.

My primary focus has been my, erm, focus. The other eye movements I’ve come across involve moving the eyes in various ways, left, right, up, down and circles, but I’ve been playing around with my focus. Feldenkrais is primarily starting with what you can do rather than what you can’t, and in my case my eyes, especially my right eye has difficulty focusing on things that are far away. So, I usually use a piece of text that my right eye can focus or almost focus on, and I play around with adjusting my focus like using the focus ring on a camera lens. Currently I find it much easier to adjust my focus closer to me, but find it quite difficult to focus further than the piece of text. When I use both eyes, I can focus further fairly easily. What I’ve discovered as I change my focus back and forth is that my default focusing for the piece of text is incorrect. The default focus is a particular kind of feeling and that feeling is wrong for the purposes of a sharp image. When I do get the text sharp, it is somewhat difficult to keep it sharp as my eye wavers from the new sharp image back to the default slightly blurred image.

The two main Feldenkrais things I do during these explorations are to take lots of breaks and to play with variations on the focusing. Feldenkrais is often about smooth controlled movement, so each time I go through the process of refocusing I aim to get the focusing more smooth and less jerky. With vision, a lot of things tend to be bumpy in movement because it has to be quick to do things like changing your vision from gathering potatoes to seeing the bear charging at you from a distance. So another variation is to make the refocusing as quick as possible and in the words of Feldenkrais, “without hurrying”.

That’s mainly it. An important point is that when I’m doing single eye work I’m covering the other eye with my hand rather than keeping one eye closed unaided as the latter tends to result in strain for me. Further improvements to my vision require more research, especially with the anatomy of the eyes, but also the relation of the facial muscles, the tongue and throat, and the neck with vision, as there are Feldenkrais lessons that connect these.

For an unknown reason, I decided to do a web search on “spiral movement” again recently, and came across Simon Thakur’s excellent article and demonstrations of spiral movement.

My initial contact with spiral movement was mentioned by one of my Feldenkrais teachers in passing, who said something to the effect of, “You know, there’s a whole movement system that’s based on spiraling,” after having taught me about the double helix or wringing of the human foot.

In Simon’s article, he speaks about the head and eyes following the mouth, and this intention to feed leads to particular types of movements and how it plays out in a human being, leading to this fun and interesting video series.  Simon presents it well, beginning from the basic principles leading to the more complex, and how you can transition from any position to any other position, which leads to a gorgeous improvisatory and fun movement exploration.  When you combine this with rolling it becomes even more gorgeous.

The rolling part links it to what I’ve been exploring since attending the Feldenkrais London training. The day I visited was the apex of a 6 day series exploring the intricacies of rolling. The particular lesson I witnessed was a backward rolling lesson and watching the lesson I realised I did a version of this from The Potent Self book. In the subsequent days, having some discussion with my friend in training where she sent a couple of videos of her demonstrating the roll, I realised there are a few things in which I am inadequate. She could do the roll without pushing her arms on the floor, whereas I couldn’t. My current guess is that I lack the range of spinal flexion to allow this to happen. In basic physics, the further away a weight or force is from the pivot/fulcrum, the heavier it will be, and this weight/force is multiplied. Thus if I am unable to curl as much as her in my body, the heavier it will be and the more force I would have to use. Also we have different body proportions and so she may have some mechanical advantages.

In any case, it has awakened a desire to learn to roll well. Unfortunately at home I do not have much space to experiment with this fully and I also don’t have enough space to do all those spiral variations in the videos above. I also have to be careful not to break any collarbones in the pursuit of rolling. In primary school, I recall us doing rolling but I could never do it well. I also recall some of the fear involved in rolling. As I’ve been experimenting and exploring, I sense the fear again, this time round being a much bigger human and less flexible. On the other hand, the rotations are safe to explore and are fun and also physically demanding after a while. My current favourite is going from supine to prone and back again. I find after these explorations my movement improves and I find myself rotating and doing certain things more smoothly than before. I do these explorations with a slight Feldenkrais perspective on refining smoothness, reversibility and reducing effort. In particular, no falling or momentum based movement. All the rotational movements can be done without momentum and any falling implies a loss of control somewhere along the movement. I do wonder about this desire to roll a little bit. Feldenkrais said once his definition of health was “to realise one’s unavowed dreams.” I wonder if rolling is one of my unavowed dreams?

These explorations are fun in a way Feldenkrais lessons usually aren’t. Occasionally Feldenkrais lessons are fun, but generally they’re more interesting and intriguing. There is probably a niche for fun, playful Feldenkrais lessons. These explorations are also a workout and I find there are muscles aching that haven’t ached in a while.

As I write this, there are like several text files of first drafts of blog posts laying around in my documents folder waiting to be uploaded but probably might never make the light of day. Upon reflection, it’s something about the emotional urgency of that moment as I create the article that leads it to being published and when I’m no longer in the same space, it feels weird to reconsider them being uploaded. Instead I want to do a new article instead. Also as I write this, I’m writing straight into the wordpress editor as opposed to my usual darkroom thing. So, here it goes.

After the subtle but powerful Feldenkrais lesson my friend Helena gave us, our host Pix wanted to do a breathing lesson for next week. Helena suggested I could teach the lesson so now my brain is going into overdrive as to what to do. Part of this overdrive meant I revisited lesson 4 from the “Awareness Through Movement” book, “Differentiation of Parts and Functions in Breathing.”

This revisit was way overdue. I was fairly familiar with the action of see-saw breathing but doing the lesson again, some years later with lots more experience, was almost an entirely different experience. I recall last time I did it it was difficult and again I found it somewhat strenuous physically and emotionally. I rushed through it a little again, really wanting to experience all the variations, but I think this lesson could be stretched to maybe 1 hour 15 mins.

This time I also went into the lesson having read a rather long article by a Feldenkrais teacher discussing the differences between abdominal/belly breathing and this see-saw breathing, as well as his whole paradigm shifting journey towards finding better breathing. The first instruction of Feldenkrais’s lesson is to observe while lying down the movement of the breastbone away from the spine (towards the ceiling) as you breath in. As a result of learning and habit, my default breath has almost no movement in the breastbone. In a way, there was nothing to observe with the breastbone! When one moves the breastbone as one inhales, the movement is similar to a slow hiccough, something which I learned from Robert Sussuma.

Its opposite, exhaling and expanding the abdomen was interesting. Here was a nuance I missed the first time round and now I paid close attention. The instruction is to aim to expand the stomach evenly on all sides, especially towards the back (floor) and the sides. I played with this many times attempting to get this movement more and more even. This movement is similar to a slow cough.

These movements are then done holding the breath. Inhale without breathing, exhale without breathing. Then when you inhale and exhale alternately in this way, you begin to do see-saw breath. You can do the see-saw movements while breathing, so you separate the function of breathing from the see-saw. Then in order to breathe you have to move in a way that is likely non-habitual. The instruction by Feldenkrais is to breathe normally while see-sawing but you can also have several see-saws to one inhale-exhale cycle. You can also do the opposite where you have several inhale-exhale cycles to one see-saw.

The subsequent variations can be fun. I found the variations on the front to be most difficult, especially when attempting to exhale while doing the see-saw movements. There’s something about the restriction of the ribcage in the front due to the floor that makes it more difficult for me, whereas I find this easy when lying on my back.

The side lying variation is not clear where the legs should be placed. So I alternated with knees bent (more stable) and legs long. In any case, the way the ribcage moves in this variation is weird and fabulous.

(Skipping the forearm variation here)

The kneeling head on ground variation I find to be genius. Reversing gravity’s effect on the lungs makes the way the torso reacts to the see-saw breathing reverse in a few ways. You could extrapolate this principle to a headstand, handstand, or standing and folding at the hips, head and neck and arms dangling down and see-sawing.

It’s an intense lesson at times. If you’re not careful, the see-sawing can be tiring. I find it takes some careful practise in order to make the see-sawing smooth and less effortful, particularly near and at the apex of the movements. Changing direction often happens quickly so I have to pay special attention to make it graceful and smooth. There’s a lot of breath holding too and forgetting to breathe sometimes makes it emotionally disturbing. Then there’s the upside down variations and the blood flowing to one’s head can be an unpleasant sensation.

As for the lesson I will teach, there is little point for me to teach the lesson as is. I will use the see-saw as a starting point but from there I will incorporate voice – speech and singing. Though the see-saw lesson can have profound effects on the voice, incorporating voice directly with the see-saw can make the connection between voice and breath clearer rather than something that will sort itself out. One interesting thing to note is that each half of the see-saw can be related to (apparent) schools of operatic breathing technique. The inhale/hiccough half is the Italian school and the exhale/cough half is the German school, as demonstrated and caricatured by Salvatore Fisichella here.

[a bunch of sleep cycles later]

In that video, Fisichella describes maintaining the elevation of the ribcage and having the action of the diaphragm go up and underneath (at least according to the translation and gestures of Jack Livigni). It occurred to me on the loo that in this elevated ribcage posture, you can do the exhale/coughing movement. I tried it and it was fairly clear and not that difficult to do. Its opposite, maintaining the exhale/cough position and doing the inhale/hiccough movement is more difficult. The movement is not as clear. Then you can initiate both inhale/hiccough and exhale/cough movements at the same time. Then you can do these movements in the variations listed above. Fascinating.

I’m not sure where this is leading because I lack the anatomical and biomechanical knowledge. I’m also not certain my intentions to do certain movements are actually creating those movements or something else. In any case they are unusual patterns of movements and worth further investigation. Hmmm…

Sometimes you get something better than what you thought you wanted.

The other week I was a guinea pig for my friend who is training in Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais is done in two ways: group lessons and individual lessons. This was an individual lesson, also known as FI (functional integration). The difference between the group lessons and the individual lessons is that in the group lessons you are using your own muscles to move your own body whereas in the individual lessons the work of moving is largely done by the teacher. This results in an interesting sensation of feeling the effects of moving without any of the conscious effort. If you are new to the work you are told to relax and let go and to let the teacher do the moving. But even if you do that consciously, there will often be areas where you will unconsciously contract. Part of the skill of the teacher is to enable the student to feel safe both consciously and unconsciously. Thus there is usually a period of “warming up” to do as both student and teacher become gradually used to the experience and the new and the surprising is no longer feels like a threat. The more familiar the student and teacher are with the work and with each other, the faster this warming up period will resolve.

My initial requests as to what the lesson would focus on were on my right knee and acquiring the flexibility to be able to sit crossed legged without feeling pressure and achiness in the knee. This changed somewhat as I arrived at her flat and I started to talk about my left lower back and standing. As of writing the left lower back feels almost fine but during the time of the lesson it had been achy for some days.

I did a few catwalk walks and some other actions I couldn’t remember so she could observe me visually as to where the lesson could go. She admitted her visual observation skill was one of her weak points. Having done several individual lessons before, I had no idea until that point that this was a skill to be developed. Thinking now, I have done this many a time in the other realms of running gait and piano technique.

We then moved to me sitting in a chair and Helena gradually, very slowly moved one of my knees left and right. It was weird, in an interesting way. We all move the way we do and so if I were to do the same movement she was doing to me it would feel normal to me. But her doing the movement, at the slow and gentle pace she was doing it was something I would be unlikely to stumble upon. Plus it was the first time both of us were engaging each other in this way so it was new and strange. This is one of the reasons why we need teachers because it’s very very difficult to surprise oneself. You have your own perspective and you can attempt to imagine what others would do or say about a particular problem of yours but it’s very different when someone else can see the obvious solution easily and you can’t. Often these solutions come out from a completely different paradigm and/or the lack of investment in the situation compared to your own. My current opinion is that real learning occurs when we don’t know what we are going to learn. Hence the need for surprise. More about that later.

There was some other sitting stuff that happened later but I’ll write it now. She lifted my leg so my knee came closer to my chest and as this was happening she asked me to round my back at the same time. With my left leg it was fine but it was more difficult with my right because I felt like I was going to fall. This is where the skill of the teacher comes in and keeping the student feeling safe is part of the equation. I’m not sure what she could’ve done to make me feel more safe in this situation.

Then there was some floor stuff, which constituted the bulk of the lesson. Three cool things happened for me. One: left leg rotating inwards and the pelvis rotates in an opposite direction. Two: while side lying, shoulder and pelvis can be independent of each other. And the main thing I learned that was a problem that I didn’t know was a problem Three: jaw tension and neck tension intimately related.

Number three was just part of the beginning diagnostic part of the lesson. There was this shoulder lifting thing that my other Feldenkrais teacher has done to me many a time, and then there was this head and neck stuff. Helena made my head turn left and right and showed me how easily my head turned to the right compared to the left. She paused, and then she told me as she was tilting my head (to nod upwards as it were) to open my jaw at the same time. We did this a few times and she returned to turning my head and oh my goodness the difference was astounding. What is relevant is that I had been having some neck ache that I hadn’t quite consciously acknowledged. I’d gone into the lesson expecting to learn and improve standing, lower back and hip and knee stuff but came out with a solution to improve my neck and jaw situation.

Since the lesson I have been playing and exploring this neck and jaw situation over and over again. I’ve essentially attempted to replicate what it would be like in an individual lesson but with myself. Lying down, instead of using my neck muscles to turn my head, I place one or two hands on my forehead and push/pull with my heads. This means there is little to no effort in the neck muscles but the movement of turning the head is done with my hands. Unfortunately I cannot exactly replicate the situation as I will still have to make an effort overall rather than being completely passive. In addition, the turning of the head is affected by which arm is used or if both arms are used. Still, it’s pretty good.

My current process is to turn the head very slightly and rest and hold and breathe with the head slightly off centre. Then I do a few things, sometimes simultaneously. The first thing to notice is if there is any activity in the neck muscles as I push/pull with my hand. Upon noticing any contraction, I consciously will myself to let go. The breathing helps with this. I return to the centre, turn the head with the hand again. Again, let go. I do this again and again until I can feel that there is no activity in the neck muscles as I turn the head. During each repetition I also visualise and feel the neck vertebrae turning as well as the points of the nose and the back of the head moving. Variation and interest is important so I also change the speed and range of movement to keep things fresh. If I have been doing this with one hand for a while I will switch to the other hand and notice any differences. Once I have done this for both sides, I then move to tilting the head. A similar process of letting go applies but the equation of opening the jaw at the same time changes things too. Tilting the head is easier with both hands but it can be done with a single hand. There’s also the variation of keeping the head tilted and opening and closing the jaw in this position.

The result of this exploration is not only the easier turning of the head and a softer jaw, but also changes in breathing and increased mobility in the thoracic spine. There are also changes in the shoulder. With the voice, it becomes more resonant and the vibrations can be felt in the bones more easily. Related to the voice, the previous paragraph can be done using the hyoid bone i.e. moving the hyoid bone with the hand to turn the head and neck, which will result in a more complete picture of how the head and neck relate to the voice.

There isn’t a way to wrap up this blog post except to wonder in what other ways I can apply this. Happy exploring!

I first read about Feldenkrais via that legendary Piano Forum/Piano Street contributor Bernhard. Just an off handed remark saying that the people with the best posture he had ever seen were Alexander Technique people and Feldenkrais people. At the time I had a little bit of an idea of what Alexander Technique was but no idea what Feldenkrais was. However, I didn’t pursue either as my obsession was with learning the piano. At a later point due to some wrist issues I did have one lesson in the Alexander Technique (a cheap £25 back then!) but unfortunately it wasn’t useful. Despite having the INTERNET at my beck and call I didn’t look into Feldenkrais.

Years later, the next encounter with Feldenkrais was with Alan Fraser. On his website he had a few text lessons that were interesting and useful but again I didn’t pursue further. But when RSI in my right hand tendons became increasingly worse I came across OpenATM.org and subsequently Lynette Reid’s lessons at Kinesophics. A bit before Kinesophics I was led through at least two ATMs (Awareness Through Movement lesson) designed by my impro teacher Remy of Imprology. During those ATMs the focus was very much about the tiniest and smallest effort one could do and subsequently I gained the impression that all Feldenkrais lessons were about tiny tiny movements and tiny tiny effort but this changed when I did Lynette’s lessons in earnest.

I was doing a lesson a day during this time, sometimes two a day. In the end it didn’t help me that much with my piano issues. My guess is that there was a lack of integration and translation of the lessons learned on the floor to the piano. But the process and pacing and teaching and learning of that time is something I take for granted now, and continues to benefit me as my learning and practise of Feldenkrais improves.

The next significant encounter with Feldenkrais was that my back ache/pain I’d been having for some years was preventing me from walking. In that time I’d walk for about half an hour and get significant back ache. The only way I knew how to resolve it was to lie down on the floor for about an hour. Stretching wasn’t helping. I decided to bite the financial bullet and take one to one sessions with Victoria Worsley, a friend of Remy’s and a friend of Pixie’s, the latter having received lots of lessons from Victoria. It’s dramatic but the back ache problem from walking was resolved in the first lesson. Looking back (hehe), I think the bulk of the back ache was fear of rotation, particularly in the pelvis and lower spine, and the session taught me that it was okay to move my body in this way. Subsequent lessons expanded upon this and translated it to walking.

That was in early 2018. More recently was the application of Feldenkrais to singing. Victoria mentioned Richard Corbeil and Robert Sussuma after one of her lessons. I had a little gander but again didn’t pursue it. Then I was interested in singing again and decided to have a proper look. Previously my explorations with singing and Feldenkrais wasn’t fruitful. Although I had gone in some depth with the book “Singing with Your Whole Self” I felt that it didn’t improve my singing or speaking much. Looking back, again I think the issue was the translation and integration from the lessons in that book to the action of singing and speaking. With the Robert Sussuma videos it really was a eureka moment as I began to understand how to integrate the whole process of Feldenkrais with voice. As I explored, re-explored and refined, my voice improved and felt more resilient. Previously I felt my voice was slightly deteriorating and was becoming more easily fatigued and those fears disappeared fairly quickly. A month after this I joined a jazz choir and felt a pressing need for more learning. Coincidentally Robert was hosting a 2 day workshop in London about a month and a half after I joined the choir. After humming and hawing I finally decided to attend. There was also a shorter three hour session in Guillermo’s house the day before the workshop.

Looking back on those three days I’m not sure what I learned. The two most interesting lessons were the unvoiced velar fricative lesson and what I call the Mission Impossible face lesson. The voiceless velar fricative lesson gave a very clear sensation and image of the back of the mouth/beginning of the throat without the need to stick a vibrator there to stimulate that part of the mouth/throat. The Mission Impossible lesson left everyone with droopy faces. There was also a lesson where I held Chris’s head stable while the rest of his body moved which reminded me of a car advert featuring a chicken. One reason why what I learned is hazy was because on the first day of the workshop I was going in with about 2 hours of sleep due to anxiety-caused insomnia. Also it was way way more Feldenkrais than I had ever done before in one day so there was an endurance aspect in terms of my attention span. My voice did improve and singing in tune was easier and remains easier since the workshop. My burning question about high notes wasn’t answered. I asked Robert after the workshop and he said there were clues there so I had to work it out for myself.

I wasn’t successful in working it out for myself so I ended up having a lesson with Robert. The answer? Swallowing. He guided me through lots of swallowing variations and high notes became easier. Swallowing became easier too. The reasoning is this: if you can improve lower functions, higher functions will tend to improve with it. All the structures and movements and muscles of swallowing are either the same or similar to that of singing and speaking. In Feldenkrais one of the aims of lessons is to allow the student to be able to find more options for movement and variations allows for this to happen. Through those swallowing variations, my nervous system found more options and more possibilities where there previously were few and found ways that helped me fulfill my intentions with more ease.

My current and continued enthusiasm with Feldenkrais is also due to having weekly lessons with my friend Helena who is in a Feldenkrais training and with my friend Pix who usually hosts the lessons. Doing lessons with other people is different compared to doing it alone, especially doing it with someone like Pix who has a great time during the lessons. Having some people to share my enthusiasm and nerdiness about Feldenkrais also helps. One of my more recent obsessions was how to solve the problem of an achy knee when sitting for meditation which led me to Charlie Murdach’s channel and finally going through Alfons’s feet lessons. I haven’t quite solved it but I’ve stopped meditating for now for other reasons.

As I am writing this I feel the effects of an online group lesson with Robert Sussuma. A large part of it was sensing the torso and how breathing occurred. Splitting the torso into three: lower, diaphragm, upper. Then splitting the torso into six. Then doing hiccoughing and coughing movements with awareness of the six segments. Sensing is my least favourite part of Feldenkrais lessons, I’m too eager to move and change shit. I find I have to take a breath and calm down in order to do the sensing part sincerely.

I feel conflicted sometimes when I see or hear others in pain and I know and have experienced the benefits of Feldenkrais. When I do speak and interact with such people, they appear not to be ready for it or never will be ready for it, at least in a group lesson setting. It requires an openess and a paradigm shift. When the dominant narrative is to stretch, strengthen, force, push through with a large separation of what one considers to be the body and mind, then it’s a huge chasm to be overcome to experience something that is the antithesis. If you’re the type of person who ignores bodily sensations particularly when exercising in order to push through the pain so you can acquire extra minutes/reps/distance, to go into a process where it’s about sensing details of the body and frequent resting at the slightest sign of strain will make it seem from the outside that the lesson will be of no use whatsoever. Bridging that gap may be the primary marketing problem of Feldenkrais. The name “Feldenkrais” doesn’t help either. The Alexander technique is more marketable because of this.

I’ve thought about and challenged myself to describe Feldenkrais in one sentence or in ten seconds or less. Let’s try:

“Feldenkrais or the Feldenkrais Method is like learning the technique of a sport but instead you apply it to things you do everyday such as walking, standing, sitting, breathing, posture, etc.”

“Feldenkrais is a modality in which you learn to co-ordinate your body so that all the things you do in your life become easier, smoother, lighter and more efficient.”

“Feldenkrais is a way to learn to move so that your movements don’t cause you chronic pain down the road and you can still move well and do the things you need to do well into your nineties.”

With the last attempt I am reminded of the thoughts I have when I see the elderly. To be able to walk unaided, not have a fear of falling, to be able to stand up from a bed or a chair easily, to have a bath without fear, to be able to pull and push heavy doors…all these things I take for granted but as I do more Feldenkrais I appreciate how important such “simple” things are. As we age we lose muscle so the options we always used for standing up from a chair may be ones that required a lot of strength. Use those same options in a body with less strength may result in failure or great difficulty. One option is to maintain as much muscle as one can as one ages and the other is to find more efficient ways that works with a weaker body. It’s best to have and do both.

I’m strongly considering training in Feldenkrais. The main obstacle is financial. Hmm…