Self Image As Self Care

Greetings and salutations Members,

I hope that each one of you is in good health and enjoying this mild Philadelphia summer. I’ve recently returned from another trip to NYC for training and I’m so toady I’m excited to share a part of what I’ve been learning with everyone.

As some of you may know, and many others may not, I am currently in year 2 of a 4-year program that will culminate with a GCFP, (that’s Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practioner). If you’ve never heard of Feldenkrais, and you’re thinking “Fel-den-what?”…I was in your shoes just a little more than 1 year ago.

So what is it, and what is it meant to do?

For many the first impression is that it’s basically a gentle and somewhat meditative movement practice, a bit like yoga, that emphasizes moving slowly, never using effort to accomplish, and asking questions of yourself about the quality of the feelings you have while you move with ease.  In practice it encompasses so much more than I could hope to fit into a short article. As for what it’s meant to do, I’ll let this wonderful quote sum that up:

The Feldenkrais Method is indicated to restore functions lost through accident or degenerative diseases, as well as to improve function in people who want to enhance high-level skills. It is used with all types of clinical disorders, from hemiplegia and cerebral palsy, to acute or chronic back problems, and other painful ailments. It is used by professional athletes, dancers and musicians who have recurring injuries or stress symptoms, and by coaches and physical education teachers in movement analysis and teaching technique. Other major areas of application include older adults with motor limitations, people with breathing disorders, and those suffering from chronic anxiety and psychosomatic disorders.” -Frank Wildman, Ph.D.
 & James Stephens, Ph.D., P.T.

I came to study this method upon searching for new tools to help my clients fell better and STAY better. You see, during my years spent helping people as a licensed massage therapist I came across a few cases a year where it was clear to me that the issue the client was trying to recover from was being caused not by something wrong with the structure of their body, but rather by the manner in which they were habitually using that structure. Without a way to aid in the proper development of new habitual patterns, I felt stuck in a cycle of helping people to recover only to have their issue very predictably recur weeks or months later. Now, through training in this method, I hope to equip myself (and via technique exchange, our entire team) with the tools needed to help people to find a more lasting relief from recurring pain.

I mention all of this to bring a bit of context to this month’s installment of helpful at-home tips: The Full Body Scan. I’ve selected this simple practice because it is fundamentally important in knowing one’s self; and therefore is a great help to anyone suffering from painful or limiting symptoms of an unknown origin.

For me, a good body scan uncovers new choices for moving in the direction of how I want to be. This idea is summed up beautifully by one of my favorite Feldenkrais maxims:

“First, you have to know what you are doing before you can do what you want.” –Moshe Feldenkrais

Body scanning is the process of conjuring within your mind’s eye the complete image of your body in 3-dimensional space by expanding and contracting your awareness. For instance, you can narrow your focus of attention by attending to one area of yourself; such as the way the heel of your foot makes contact with the ground. Then you can expand your attention to include how that connection relates to the way your leg is resting in the hip joint or to the position of your head.

In this way, you begin to train your mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next.

If you’ve ever tried a body scan before than you already know that scanning is a time-tested way of effectively developing skills such as embodied awareness (i.e. being able to sense yourself), concentration, and focused attention. Yes, one of the many advantages of this practice is that all that sensing/noticing/feeling done while you’re lying in the horizontal plane tends to help relax a busy mind. On the other hand, while scanning is often relaxing, the body scan is actually a form of meditation or mindfulness practice and not solely a relaxation technique.

While it may seem effortless or perhaps ‘boring’ to some, for others it may feel quite challenging or next to impossible. However, the fact remains that each and every one of us can do it, and with some practice we can all create images within our minds that are more detailed and accurate than the latest and greatest MRI scans. (really!)

So today I’d like to invite you to lie down and do next to nothing. We’re going to go through a short and basic exploration of the art of Full Body Scanning. All you have to do is listen this audio, or make up your own, and do it just as you get ready for bed. That simple.

My hope is that each one of you that tries this exercise gains a greater understanding of your body that you can begin to apply to how you move in your chosen sports/activities and how you move through life.