Weakness vs. Strength, no, Efficiency!


People often come into my office saying, "I'm weak, my muscles aren't firing, I need to strengthen my core, my glutes, my shoulder, my back..."

In fact, when we feel weak, it can often be because our muscles are constantly firing, that is, they are engaged and contracted with a "do not disturb" sign on the door, and hence unavailable for movement. We feel weak because we don't have access to the most efficient distribution of work, so we over-effort and exhaust ourselves.

After doing some Feldenkrais, my clients report feeling powerful and strong, not because the muscles have been worked, but because a new pattern of movement has been awakened and the system has become more efficient.

These are all just words. Until you've experienced it, it's easy to revert to the "I'm weak, I must strengthen" paradigm because that's what we have in our toolbox. It's what we know. Unfortunately, it can be the case that when we strengthen, we simply barrel through the ruts of our patterns, making them even more rigid! It's like a river cutting a canyon out of rock.

I am constantly amazed by Moshe Feldenkrais's ability to logically and systematically invite our poor musculoskeletal systems, our brains, and our whole being, to figure out something new. It all goes back to Judo: If you're stuck in some bizarre hold, in which direction can you wiggle, leverage, slide, turn, flip, or roll to get out of it? Without injuring yourself? This is the learning, very much like life: how many strategies do you have for any given situation? Do you choose the same one all the time? In Judo, it's obvious that you use different strategies because you're never in the same situation---like life.

Yet, we do love our patterns. We love our neuroses! We often resort to what we "know," like strengthening when what we need is creativity, or yelling when what we need is communication. This is like movement: Why yell at yourself and push harder when what you need is a more compassionate approach with more options?

Try this:
Put your hands on your desk, the left one on top of the right one. Place your right ear on your left hand, facing the left elbow. (Or do the other side if that's more comfortable.) Lift and lower the left elbow a few times. Feel how your back muscles work to hoist the elbow up. Feel what happens in your chest, your jaw, and your throat. Most people at this point will say, "My back is weak. I must strengthen all those muscles so that this is easier." You feel weak because it's bloody hard to lift the elbow like this!

Why not work smarter, not harder? On the other end of the elbow-lifting continuum we have levering instead of hoisting. Come back to the same position and this time press the left hand into the right hand to lift the elbow. And, just for kicks and giggles, feel what happens in the chest, the spine, the trunk. Can the chest turn? Can the spine rotate? Can the weight shift? How is it now to lift the elbow? Did you get stronger?