by Anna Haltrecht, GCFP CM
In these past two years of limited physical connection with other people, our own touch became a really important tool. Now we can continue to explore the deep benefits of this touch. We can find the closed feedback loop of self-touch: the kinesthetic sensation of touching and being touched. We can heighten the focus on the quality of our touch.
When I think of reaching to the future, the way we use our hands as witness in the present is of the utmost importance. Placing our hands on our belly is a well-known strategy to follow our breath: noticing without disturbance, maintaining the rhythm and volume of our breath as we do other movements, for example, flexing and extending the ankle and toes in various configurations, while attending to the breath.
We can call it self-FI (Functional Integration®) – use our hands as observers – touch places on our body to directly feel what is moving. We can also use our hands as initiators – giving feedback to places that could move a little more, or with more ease, better organization. We can apply these strategies in other activities we do (as long as our hands are not already engaged, or use one hand) while walking, or an activity where you find some difficulty. If you can’t reach the area, you can come from a different direction, for example, if you can’t directly put your hands on a part of your back body, use your hands on your front body.
Self-touch is an important component in Ruthy Alon’s Movement Intelligence programs. Ruthy Alon, one of Moshe Feldenkrais’ first students, was my first Feldenkrais ® Trainer in 1983 and I continued my studies with her becoming a Senior Movement Intelligence Trainer in 2014. Many of the processes that Ruthy created use hands as a way of finding more optimal alignment such as in the lumbar and cervical spine. The lumbar chain needs to be a reliable bridge that can successfully transmit pressure without deviating or collapsing. Self-touch of our hand is quietly directive and supportive. The cervical area needs to carry the weight of the head and be a vertical continuation of the spine without creating compression in the neck. Our hand helps gain control of our neck that often is a blind spot in our self-image.
A process in Bones for Life® has us first explore the curve of the lumbar spine with our hand:
- Place the back of your hand on your lumbar spine, the little finger to the sacrum and the thumb to a vertebra above the waistline. The hand serves as a stabilizing agent for the lumbar spine.
- Gently open and spread your hand to allow the lumbar spine to follow, getting longer and reducing the in-curve.
- Explore the possibility of your vertebrae withdrawing lightly backward into the touch of your hand; your vertebrae lean into your hand. Your pelvis simply hangs down with the tail suspending towards the earth. You do this in an upright posture.
- You may also consider another enhancement, when you can place one hand on your belly, with the little finger toward the pubic bone and the thumb higher than the belly button, gently pinching or squeezing the muscle tissue to shorten the front; pulling the fingers closer to each other.
- Do it several times and feel the response in your back. Maybe you can sense the elongation in your lower back, erasing its in-curve. Acknowledge the mechanical effect in which shortening the anterior of the vertebrae allows their posterior processes to elongate straightening the line of the lumbar spine in a long curve.
- You can walk around like this and then slowly alternate between using and not using the indication of your hand in order to patiently train yourself to autonomously perceive this new pattern.
- You can do a similar process for aligning the neck.
After an exploration of the back of your neck with your hand, place the palm of your hand in the curve of your neck. Let your fingers arrange themselves softly according to the structure of your neck so they reflect its shape.
- Reach with your little finger and create some contact with the base of the skull. With your index finger, touch the protruding cervical 7th vertebra at the base of the neck, marking both borders of the neck as a bridge between the skull and the back. Rest your thumb on the shoulder for stability.
- The rest of the fingers can lean on the other vertebrae in between. In this way, your hand serves as a support which accurately reflects your neck’s shape. The touch is light, but each finger stays in contact with the surface it is touching.
- Lift and lower your head slightly, allowing your hand to be a witness, following the curve of your neck. Your fingers alternating between closing and opening. Notice how your neck in-curves on lifting, your fingers closing, and straightens on lowering, your fingers opening.
- Lower your head once more and while keeping your fingers open, return to stay with your head and eyes looking forward at the horizon. Create elongation in your neck with fingers open but without lowering your head and without losing the vertical alignment of your head.
- Your fingers are passive, they are simply supportive, your neck is quietly active, making a very small adjustment. Rest your hand as you wish.
- Other parts of yourself need to co-operate as well to allow the transformation to be accepted. With your hand on your neck, put your other hand on your chest.
- \Every time you intend to elongate your neck, spreading your fingers away from each other, initiate the elongation by raising your chest, just a small amount. Let the lifted chest create the alignment of your neck.
- Repeat it several times until you establish this relationship. Add walking in place or around in space to help confirm the new pattern.
- You can also add Bouncing on the Heels, one of Ruthy Alon’s signature processes:
In standing, raise both heels a little and bounce them on the floor in double beats as in the rhythm of your heart, then a short pause, to continue again a few times. The lifting of the heels is very small, just enough so a piece of paper could be put under your heels. Add a sound: “pum-pum, pum-pum.”
- Notice what you experience now. Do you feel you have more proportional distribution of labour in all your joints? Are you more prepared to transmit the pressure of force from the ground for dynamic weight bearing activities? Do you have a clearer sense of your skeletal structure?
Like Moshe Feldenkrais, Ruthy Alon was a prolific inventor, creating an abundance of processes using ingenious concepts for us to tap into our innate capacity to recognize and utilize the sweet spots of optimal coordination, fine-tuning the process that transforms intention into action.
In my upcoming workshop at the Feldenkrais conference titled “Embracing Our Present Self to Reach Toward Our Future Self” on Sunday October 2, 11 am PDT, you will learn many more self-touch processes and strategies created by Ruthy Alon.
Please see below for another process in Ruthy’s repertoire of Movement Intelligence.
In doing these processes, you will find more optimal organization through breath, movement, and imagery. By refining your own sense of touch while doing these movements, you will heighten your experience of connecting with yourself which also helps you better connect with others in both Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration lessons.
We honor the past by keeping the legacy of our great masters and mentors alive.
Anna Haltrecht, GCFP (1986) and FGNA Assistant Trainer with over 40 years of experience as a somatic educator, dance teacher and performer. Anna is a long standing FGNA member, serving on the Board from 2001-2005 as the Canadian Director and Secretary. Anna inspires and motivates people to live fully by finding their true authentic expression. She is continually studying and practicing the art of mindful movement. She also enjoys gardening, cooking, hiking and kayaking. Anna is a Senior Movement Intelligence Trainer offering teacher and trainer certification trainings online and maintains a Feldenkrais® professional practice on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada and online. Her website is www.bonesforever.com.