How to Move Your Arm


In school it is what we learn that's important. The quicker we can produce information, the smarter we appear. However, we can train ourselves in anything we can imagine! It's like swinging your arm. Perhaps you can swing your arm to throw a ball, but can you throw a lasso, a golf club, a frisbee, a dance partner, or a custard pie?

Dr. Feldenkrais says over and over that the learning we do in this method involves separating the goal from the process. It sounds outrageous, but think for a moment: Settling for a single, correct endpoint is like limiting yourself to a single food the rest of your life. Who wants to eat boiled potatoes forever? Why not get many ingredients so you can make anything, go anywhere, be anyone? Doing Feldenkrais lessons is like going grocery shopping and packing your cart to the brim with new ingredients.

Once you sense how you use your whole self in relation to the arm, you can make anything. It sounds obvious in writing, yet, we always want to be told the correct way to move in a given situation: How do I swing a tennis racket? How do I clean the house? How do I pick up a grandchild? How do I shovel snow?

Just Move Your Leg!

When I had chronic pain in New York, I spent tons of money on private yoga, pilates, and dance classes trying to figure out how to move. A teacher would say, "Lift your leg and do this movement." Well, I barely knew I had a leg, much less how to lift it, and even less how to do this precise movement with it. I was lost, and the poor teacher would just repeat the instruction again, slower or louder, like talking to a foreigner who doesn't comprehend.

What they did not know how was how to help me with sensorimotor perception, how to break down the stages of locating myself in space and feel weight shifts through the bones. The first Feldenkrais workshop I took showed me I was neither stupid nor uncoordinated, just disconnected. It gave me hope.

We all get disconnected at times, whether due to stress, injury, trauma, or long-term assumpitons that something will hurt. We shut down and move in smaller and smaller ways to avoid pain. I think we actually become smaller, and the loss of our bigger, joyful, functional selves brings a lot of grief.

Move Smarter, Not Harder

We often assume that to move differently, we must change the intensity by strengthening and pushing harder. Like starting a car on a hill, we push ever more forcefully to get it going. Force, however, is only one variable of movement. There's also direction, orientation, speed, and timing, plus our state of being: our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings.

We are not mechanical beings, but a vast system of emotional, psychological, and physiological factors. And no two people with the same injury will respond the same way because we all have a unique sense of who we are: I am strong, I am small, I can't use my arms, I walk funny, I can't turn to the left, I am a dancer, a climber, a cyclist, a singer.

I can't tell you how to move your arm. I can, however, help you discover what's possible in your whole self in relation to your arm. I can help you become whole instead of a bunch of dysfunctional problems or mechanical pieces cobbled together. I can help you know how it is that you are you, how you know yourself from the inside. Once you refine your ability to sense your arm in your ribs, your neck, your spine, or your feet, with that knowledge you can do your own grocery shopping.

It's funny, but once you turn the car around and start it going downhill, or sideways, or let it roll backwards, or do anything other than the hardest, most difficult thing that seems like the only correct way, many more options open up. And once you get moving, you can go anywhere.