By Annie Thoe, GCFP CM
Sensing my bones continues to be one of the most profound experiences I have with the Feldenkrais Method®. This 3-D experience of the human skeleton can be healing and life changing. How can my clients sense their bones? Throughout my career, I’ve explored how to use nature to deepen this 3-D skeletal experience to a greater awareness of self and connection to life.
My very first private lesson from decades ago is still embedded in my memory. The moment I stood up from the Feldenkrais table I sensed my leg bones connect all the way down to the floor and beyond! I remember looking around the room as if I had just landed from the birth canal— a gentle “welcome to earth.” My body felt solid like a living tree rooted in gravity and standing without effort.
Muscles, skin and joints glided along as I walked. My head floated in a much friendlier, kinder state of attention with a new horizon of possibilities. This delightful sensation of being contained with skeletal support felt so magical. From that moment I knew I wanted to study this power of awareness as my career path and take this experience further and deeper. During my Feldenkrais training I also studied with Wilderness Tracker/Survival Teacher Tom Brown, Jr. and researched the Kalahari bush people. I spent the next decades learning nature awareness and survival training to tune up my nervous system to align to a larger “baseline” awareness beyond my own body. The more I immersed myself in nature, my understanding of functional movement, creativity and harmony within myself and my environment deepened.
My burning desire to connect with indigenous people who still lived as close to nature as possible was realized in 2014. I had a golden opportunity to visit a small Hadzabe hunting and gathering tribe in east Africa whose ancestors had lived in the same region of the Serengeti for 10,000 years. I was curious to learn from these people who were so rooted into the same location on the earth. These people were grounded! Even though I believed I was advanced with Feldenkrais and naturalist/survival training, the comparison of my mental chatter and body awareness with these quiet, calm people was humbling. They transmitted an intelligence and grace I hadn’t experienced before. They moved through the landscape with maximum awareness, efficiency and flow.
After spending three days with them in their daily activities of hunting, making arrows, climbing baobab trees, gathering roots and honey, I felt I had nothing to offer other than a few songs, stories and gratitude for experiencing their graceful way of moving through life. I returned home with even greater passion to connect more simply and deeply with nature. Learning to move lightly in mind and body as well as adapt to change is one of the lessons from that trip. While western culture may not have access to a way of life like the Hadzabe, we have nature all around us as well as our bones to mentor us to remember and connect with the wisdom of our roots. Stones in particular have been an accessible mentor with their transmission of weight, gravity and time.
Working with “Elders”
Being a white person who did not grow up with a tribe like the Hadzabe, I gravitated to stones for grounding and all kinds of creative play since I was a child. My work today continues to be devoted to this connection I feel with my bones, stones and the earth.
Early in my own Feldenkrais practice I discovered how to use rocks to enhance a greater connection of my skeleton to the forces of gravity and nature. Early in my practice I intuitively used a big stone (10-15 pounds) with my clients to help them sense the weight of their body and possibly resonate with their own minerals contained in their bones. I placed the stone above the pubic bone (bladder permitting) to help them sense the contact of their pelvis and vertebrae. My clients felt an immediate response and reported a solidness— a calm grounded feeling and an aliveness. Since that time, I continue to work with stones of all sizes and explore the mystery of their tutelage. I often play a “connect the dot” game with bones and stones with my clients, especially with kids to help them feel their bones more clearly. The stones help add a little weight to the skeletal sensations they feel in their body— this neutral force is especially helpful for people with cerebral palsy, stroke, trauma or anxiety. Some clients have found they sleep better with their “rock.”
How are bones related to stones? Is there some awareness that is activated in us when holding a rock? Bone is mostly made of the flexible protein collagen and the hard mineral apatite. The mineral in your bones is actually called hydroxyapatite with the chemical formula Ca5(PO4)3(OH). We build this mineral for our bones from breathing and eating the right food and water to absorb calcium, phosphorus, oxygen and hydrogen. And while we have this one mineral that is found in rocks in our bones, there are approximately 200 minerals which make up the bulk of most rocks.The mineral family of feldspar is the most abundant mineral for rocks. Other common minerals for rocks include quartz, amphiboles, micas, olivine, grenade, calcite and pyroxenes.
So our bodies do share a mineral component with stones!
In addition to this connection with rocks, our bodies have been hard-wired for millions of years to respond to nature. When the air is heavy with impending rain or a cold wind shifts from the north, we feel the shift consciously or unconsciously. We can distract our minds and train ourselves to numb out on social media, Netflix or podcasts, but nature and our bodies can be insistent. Our joints tell us of barometric changes.
There is a point when the body bows to the earth and forces greater than our human minds. Rocks can calm and quiet the mind. Rocks are harder and older than our young human tissues. Perhaps our DNA or the minerals in our bones can recognize an elder within rocks or respond to the vibrations from a giant mountain or majestic Grand Canyon. The mass of rock emits a force we recognize. For example the moon is a big rock in our atmosphere that wields tremendous gravity and pulls on the earth. This pull of the moon not only affects our tides, seasons and weather patterns, but makes the center of the earth bulge more like an orbiting dance partner!
I have simulated the moon’s effect in my Awareness Through Movement® classes and lessons. Throughout my series, we explore how a rock held in your hand influences the pull of movement on your body. In my series “Moon Wisdom-Align Your Head,” we explore the effect of a rock’s mass on one’s head alignment while doing movements holding a rock that is 1-4 lbs. These lessons focus on replicating the pull of the moon as well as studying the latest science on the moon. The results are fascinating and immediate! Using a rock helps sense one’s bones easier as well as sensing orientation in space. The nature of gravity itself can be a homing device to find ourselves in relation to an object larger than ourselves. We can go further to align ourselves to the center of the earth and the sun. But why stop there? Humans can keep going to align to a larger cosmic position which our astronomers continue to discover.
My new workshop at the 2022 Feldenkrais Conference will continue to explore the pull of gravity working with the orbit of a rock and the effects of bringing us into the moment.
In the meantime keep going with sensing your bones and other people’s bones. See where the forces of gravity take you: hold a rock, touch a tree and feel the pull from another person’s body. Sense the forces of the moon, the sun and how your body aligns with everything around you. How far can you sense this connection of your bones with the natural world?
References on Bones and Stones
“Moon Wisdom-Align Your Head” Feldenkrais & Nature series, Annie Thoe
“Earth Wisdom 1-Find Your Seat” Feldenkrais & Nature Series, Annie Thoe
“Earth Wisdom 2-Pelvis Power” Feldenkrais & Nature Series, Annie Thoe
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2168058-your-bones-contain-crystals-shaped-like-fingers-and-hands/#ixzz7WVLybq78 (Image above)
“Bone is mostly made of mineral crystals and the protein collagen. While the structure of collagen is well understood, how the minerals in bone – made of hydroxyapatite – are organized is less clear. ….The crystals at each level of the mineral architecture features twisting, helical shapes. It was already known that collagen – itself a helical protein – forms twisted fibres in bone”. Sam Wong, The New Scientist – 3 May 2018, “Your bones contain crystals shaped like fingers and hands”
Annie Thoe is an Assistant Trainer with a practice in Seattle and teaches online classes and workshops combining Feldenkrais and Nature Awareness. She has a background in healing modalities, naturalist studies, tracking and survival, meditation and martial arts. Her nature-themed classes help connect one’s awareness with the wisdom of the natural world to deepen the connection to one’s body for inner guidance, creativity and healing. She has an extensive video and audio library and articles on her Patreon site and Youtube Channel: Sensing Vitality. Her website is www.sensingvitality.com.