The reversal of proximal and distal

There’s this shoulder lesson, the one that has proven to help people with injured shoulders who seemed to be beyond help, and has proven to help them in record time too. Hands-on, you could say, miracle healing. The kind of lesson that makes people travel for half a day – for a one hour session.

I was teaching a verbal-instructions-only version of the shoulder lesson, in standing, in a One-On-One via Skype, when suddenly the generality of the strategy became apparent to me.

Usually we move our arms, and stabilise our torsos, and this lesson works because we stabilise the arm, and move the torso instead. It’s a bit like ordering food instead of going to the restaurant. While the result seems to be the same – we get food into our stomachs – it’s a very different experience. Especially if you ordered-in during the entirety of the past six months and find yourself in a wonderful restaurant for the first time since the first lockdown.

But even without the anticipation, even if your shoulders are just fine, these kind of movements can make you feel better. They might be worth trying just for the learning experience, the deeper understanding of connections and inner workings.

I’ve seen clearly how the „reversal of proximal and distal”, or whatever you want to call it, can be applied to the hip joints, and how we could include or exclude everything above the pelvis.

I’m trying to get a feeling of how it might be applied to every joint, coming from every side, and to include and exclude any number of joints. What does work, what doesn’t? What does make sense, what doesn’t? What does have meaning, what has not?

The things we take

„After a few months in my parents’ basement, I took an apartment near the state university, where I discovered both crystal methamphetamine and conceptual art. Either one of these things is dangerous, but in combination they have the potential to destroy entire civilizations. The moment I took my first burning snootful, I understood that this was the drug for me. Speed eliminates all doubt. Am I smart enough? Will people like me? Do I really look all right in this plastic jumpsuit? These are questions for insecure potheads. A speed enthusiast knows that everything he says or does is brilliant.” – from David Sedaris, „Me Talk Pretty One Day”

Coffee, the psychoactive drug and neurotoxin, will hardly be called for what it is, by anyone: a drug. Even though coffee has its dangers, it’s cheap, widely accepted, and purchasable by just about anyone who is willing to drink it.

Contrariwise, my favourite drug is not even a drug, it’s a sports supplement. And contrary to coffee, hardly anyone talks about it. You have probably never heard anyone say „I’m taking Creatine Monohydrate.” If you have ever heard anyone talk about it, they’d probably said something along the lines of „Quite some time ago [decades] I’ve tried it [for a short period of time] but didn’t feel anything. It’s just not for me.”

And yet, Creatine Monohydrate is the single best-selling workout supplement of all time. It has more published human studies than any other supplement in history. It costs around USD 20 per pound (half kilogram). If you take a standard dose of 3–5 grams per day, it will last you around three to four months. It is the most popular nutritional supplement in the United States with approximate annual sales of USD 400 million.

And yet, you have probably not heard of anyone bragging about that scoop of Creapure they had with breakfast yesterday.

I understand that people have different reasons for taking the things they take.  We have surprisingly specific, emotional profiles for purchasing, usage, usage effects, and long term consequences. For some people alcohol is the perfect match, for some it’s weed, for some it’s fat, for some it’s sugar, for some it’s cocaine, for others it’s pain killers.

I’m a low risk person who doesn’t like to waste money, easily worries, and is concerned about his health. Creatine Monohydrate fits me like a glove.

Quality Creatine Monohydrate is very stable and almost tasteless. It does not work as a stimulant, and it does neither heighten nor numb my senses. Judging from my feeling alone I wouldn’t know that I have taken any. It just sits there, somewhat chemically transformed, in my skeletal muscle tissue, silently, waiting patiently, doing nothing.

But good heavens. When I choose to do muscular work, just a little bit more than what’s easy, it will kick in. It has that certain punch to it. It’s like a good friend, a guardian angel, „Oh, you just got into a strenuous movement, but don’t worry, I will flatten that out for you.” It makes me able to sit for hours at a time, hunched over my laptop, without feeling sore or tired.  It brings a smile to my face every time I squat up from a chair, or when I push open a heavy door as if it was made from air. Or when I step up a stair. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying up stairs. Or I feel like I could be pushing the watts in the gym like Chris Froome (for 10 seconds at least). It brings my lower back safely through the night and helps me get up in the morning without feeling tight in the back, as if I had never had any lower back troubles. It fuels my muscles like electricity fuels a Tesla Model S when going from 0 to 60 in less than 2 seconds.

We humans like to share our happiness and good experiences. But if you talk about sports supplements, especially Creatine Monohydrate, you will quickly learn that people do not respond friendly, and thus hardly anyone talks about it.

The first rule about Creatine Monohydrate? You don’t talk about Creatine Monohydrate.

Lesson 2: The ability to observe

In human biology, handedness refers to the faster, more capable, more precise, and preferred hand – also known as the dominant hand. 

The other hand didn’t get a name. It’s simply called the non-dominant hand. Maybe a political choice. If they would call it something like „the underdog”, or „the hand that’s not on the original flag of Saruman the White of Isengard”, questions would arise, and hands would go up. Studies suggest that approximately 90 percent of people are right-handed.

Ocular dominance, sometimes called eye preference or eyedness, is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye over the other. Studies suggest that approximately 70 percent of people are right-eye dominant. 

I didn’t do a thorough reading of sufficiently many of those studies. I don’t know which country or culture they are talking about. I don’t know the people they looked at.

For the ears it’s called „left ear dominant”, „right ear dominant”, or „no distinct ear preference”. Ear dominance is tightly related to which task it is used for. One study showed that for pitch perception 75 percent of people questioned were left ear dominant. However, „for general listening most people prefer the right ear”, that’s what another study said.

For the legs it’s called footedness or limb dominance. Several studies have shown that humans are typically right dominant for activities requiring mobilization and left dominant for activities requiring postural stabilization and strength. 

We short-hand that to „the moving leg” and „the standing leg”.

Leg preference in babies can be detected from the beginning. One study examined babies’ leg preferences. 78 percent of the babies showed a clear leg preference when standing up from a half-crawl position or from asymmetric four-point kneeling. Moreover, some babies preferred the same lead leg in all pulling-to-stand movements within a few months of acquiring these capabilities. The researchers noted that the preferred leg at this stage may not necessarily be the dominant leg at a later stage. One of the researchers, Dr. Atun-Einy, called to attention: „No effort should be made to influence or intervene in this preference.”

For the following explorations you will need another person. 

Find someone to lie down onto the floor for you. Flat on their backs, for example on a Yoga mat or cozy blanket, with their limbs casually extended.

There might be ways to guess which is their standing leg, the leg they use for activities that require postural stabilization and strength. Paul Newton, Feldenkrais Trainer, in a workshop, summarised the characteristics of a standing leg as follows:

  1. The standing leg is more turned-in towards the midline.
    The toes (and the knee) of the standing leg are pointing more towards the ceiling, than the toes (and the knee) of the moving leg.
  2. The head is carried more over the standing leg.
    If you look at the imaginary midline, which divides the body into a left and a right side, in lying supine the head is found resting not in the exact middle of the shoulder girdle, but more towards one side. That’s the side of the standing leg.
  3. The pelvis tilts easier towards the standing leg.
    Gently place your hands onto the right and left Ilium, the Iliac crest, and with the lightest pressure, in each direction at a time, observe to which side the pelvis is more inclined to roll with ease. That would be towards the hip joint of the standing leg.
  4. A push through the foot travels up to head.
    A gentle, little push against the sole of the foot, to travel up through the foot, up through the ankle, up through the lower leg, up through the knee and the upper leg, into the hip joint. You would observe the response of the rib cage. For the side of the standing leg there would be less side-bending in the rib cage. The push would travel up straight to roll the head and extend the neck.
  5. In standing, the shoulder that is shorter and higher. Often times that’s the side of the standing-leg.

Then change roles. Next it’s you to lie down on the floor – if you haven’t already. We need to play in both rolls, to know thyself.

Then, as a next exploration, or observation, stand in front of each other.

If you’re home alone you might stand in front of a mirror, or a window that’s blackened out by the night. Close your eyes and lift your arms overhead. 

Obviously read the instructions first, then go ahead. 

Close your eyes and lift your arms overhead. Lift your arms as if you would like to reach up with both hands towards the ceiling. But keep your face facing forwards.

Hold that position. With your arms up, up. Freeze like this. Don’t move anymore. We want to see a snapshot of the reaching-up position. We want to see the raw data, how you do it. Not how you correct yourself, not how you think you should do it. To quote Dr. Atun-Einy again: „No effort should be made to influence or intervene in this preference.” We need the truth. At least here, in this lesson. 

Then open your eyes again. Look at the person in front of you.

  1. Is one arm closer to the head than the other?
    If you would eyeball the distance, measure the space between each upper arm and the cheek next to it, the space in between the head and each upper arm, on which side is it wider?
  2. Is one arm further up towards the ceiling?
    One hand, the tip of one middle finger, higher up than the other? And if it is, can you find why? Is it the entire side that’s longer, starting at its foot? Or is it because something in the middle of the body seems to be longer on that side? And does the other side seem to be a little bit contracted, pulled together, like dried fruit? Or is it because there’s some obvious side-bending involved?
  3. Is the head in the exact middle of the shoulders?
    Maybe the head is not in the exact middle. Maybe the head is closer to one side than the other?
  4. Is one shoulder higher up than the other?
  5. Are both arms rotated equally much?
    In which directions are the palms facing? Are they turned inwards, towards the midline, facing each other, or forwards, or somewhere else? Where are the elbows turned to? The shoulders? The shoulder-blades? 

Do you see differences? You should see differences. If not, ask another person to raise their arms for you. Do this with as many people as it takes to see some differences. See how they raise their arms, see how they hold their arms. Don’t correct, don’t intervene, don’t influence. See who they are. See who you are. 

And, while extending your own arms upwards, maybe you can also feel some of the differences.

Then bring the arms down again.

„There are two quite different ways of talking about language. On the one hand, you can talk about its physical aspect, about characteristics that can be measured, this may be called surface structure. On the other hand, there is a part of language that can neither be directly observed nor measured, and that is meaning. We can say that someone is talking loudly or softly, or fast or slowly, without reference to what is being said. We can say that a line of print is five inches wide, without fear that someone will contradict us by saying that we haven’t understood the meaning of the text.” – Frank Smith, Understanding Reading

This lesson might seem to be about actual differences between the left and right side of the body, lateralisation, about which side of the chest, or which leg, is better at what kind of activity. But that’s not the point of this lesson.

This lesson is about improving the ability to observe, more than skilful observing. The ability to observe ourselves (and others) without being triggered, without trying to change or correct what is observed. Without jumping to premature conclusions, and without being tricked to believe in shallow conclusions that exclude meaning.

I see this as an entry point to improving everything else.

Saturday

I can’t keep up with all the things I scheduled myself to do. I still haven’t had a successful filming of my shoulder video yet. I’m way behind my writing out movement lessons. I’m late with two books. I would love to do a new video series, something like my „Getting better day by day” video series on Youtube. But I’m hopelessly behind schedule. I’m like a dog chasing its tail.

James Nestor advertised his workshop for the Feldenkrais Summit 2021 like this: „The most surprising data point I learned while researching my book is that humans are the worst breathers in the animal kingdom.

I had a good sleep. After waking up I added two hours in bed, worked on improving my breathing. I found back to the very smooth and noise-less way of breathing I had decades ago. Human breathing is very complex and has a lot of options, and thus also a lot of possibilities for error. Do other animals not make mistakes? For a moment I was trying to find out what’s bothering me about Andrew Huberman. Then I added the five or so breathing lessons titled „Glueing in the lungs” from Moshé Feldenkrais to my imaginary reading list. The one that never gets done. I was thinking about my neighbour, whose last two dogs, very cute pugs, both died early because of breathing problems. One of my childhood friends came to my mind. His bulldog had a lifetime of strong breathing problems and contributed more to their apartment’s indoor air pollution than the Chinese burning coal to drive their economy. Somewhere I’ve read that when you stop a songbird’s breath for more than a few seconds it will die.

„Mechanical constraints require that locomotion and breathing be synchronized in running mammals. Quadrupedal species normally synchronize the locomotor and respiratory cycles at a constant ratio of 1:1 (strides per breath) in both the trot and gallop. Human runners differ from quadrupeds in that while running they employ several phase-locked patterns (4:1, 3:1, 2:1, 1:1, 5:2, and 3:2), although a 2:1 coupling ratio appears to be favored.” – Running and breathing in mammals, Science Magazine

I had an espresso in my favourite coffee shop. I consider this a success. Read the chapters „Comprehension Through Prediction” and  „Surface Structure and Deep Structure” from psycholinguist Frank Smith’s excellent book on Understanding Reading. Then I deleted all three of James Nestor’s books I owned. „How’s that for a high, James Nestor?”, and worried: „Am I allowed to do this?” And worse, may I write about what I just did? Or will this shine a bad light on me? Maybe I will look him up on Youtube later, see if he can speak. Speaking, producing spoken language, vastly independent from the demands of breathing, is the ultimate control of breathing, something quite unique to us humans. Maybe I’m just tired of clickbait. Who isn’t, nowadays?

Then I compared the original ending of Raymond Carver’s essay „Why Don’t You Dance?” to the one edited by Gordon Lish:

  • „She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more, she knew that, but she couldn’t get it into words. After a time, she quit talking about it.” (Carver)
  • „She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.” (Lish)

This made me think about the story of the very healthy looking man I have seen in the subway, 20 years ago, the one I quit talking about.

I still haven’t written anything related to my work today, apart from the above paragraphs. The daily blog post is my hobby, and does not pay for my next espresso. However, it does give me a daily feeling of having achieved something. I click on „Publish”. I might allow myself to order another espresso.

Military Metaphors for Mental Mastery

I’m on a mission. The objective: to improve my speaking and my writing.

Tactical next step: memorise all first paragraphs from all essays out of David Sedaris’s book „The Best Of Me”, and from the book „Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” by Raymond Carver. No pun intended with the title of the latter one. Gordon Lish (the editor) went to work mercilessly on those essays, attrition warfare style, last word standing. These paragraphs are worthy candidates, honourable guests to my to-be-built memory palace.

My first course of action would have been to copy all essay titles together with their first paragraphs into one document. Get everything neatly arranged. Set myself up to highlight, underline, group and ungroup, make notes, analyse, track my progress, and to produce statistics.

But then I figured I’m not in school anymore. No time for busy work. I should just… get the job done. I will start with one essay, the one that’s already open on my desk, from the middle of the book. Do that one first, then take it from there.

The difference between speaking and writing is bigger in speaking than in writing

For some strange reason – I have not fully figured out yet – producing well formed sentences works a lot smoother in writing than in speaking. At least for me, in my second language, English.

Today I was trying to film a short video – the one for the shoulder, the one I mentioned yesterday. I couldn’t get the sentences to sound quite like I wanted them to. I recorded the introduction more than seven times, and still, the sentences didn’t sound right. They didn’t flow to my liking. Furthermore, my face was all over the screen, like, when you take the lid off a pot of popcorn that’s just popping. Why do I move that much when I’m talking to the camera?

I do edit my blog posts 30 to 60 times over. This I have to mention to my defence. But still. Why is the difference between writing and speaking so conspicuous?

That last word, conspicuous, I chose it from a range of words that Google suggested when I just now looked for a word more descriptive than „big”. Could have picked „pronounced” instead, which would have been in my active vocabulary. Would have saved me some time. Would have been easier to pronounce.

Is it my memory? I probably would struggle to reproduce the last five sentences I’ve just made up, if you would hold me to it. I mean, down to the very last minute detail. Is it? It might be. I don’t want this to be the problem, though. Trying to improve memorisation power is no walk in the park. Or maybe it is? Literally. I’ve heard that walking helps with memorising stuff. I will keep thinking about it. Maybe I’ll start with… repeating myself more often. Maybe I’ll start with repeating myself more often.

Or maybe I shouldn’t compare myself to great movie actors, and other really talented and well trained folks. Maybe that would be a good start. Maybe that would be a good start.

The Fool And The Choachman

„A fool, a jester, a simpleton full of wisdom, a laughing stock who in the end wins big, a character of traditional folklore stories that are passed through generations by word of mouth.” – Wikipedia

Once upon a time, a fool was walking from one town to the next. Suddenly, noises, hoofs of horses, approaching quickly from behind. Loudly, a carriage came to stop next to him.

The coachman, in great hurry, called out sharply: „Behold! How long to the next town? Answer, quick!” The fool replied: „Sir, you’re almost there. Driving slowly, it will barely take you five more minutes. But if you hurry, it might just take you half the day.”

„You fool!”, yelled the coachman, buckled the whip to urge his horses, and hurried away in fast gallop.

The fool continued his stroll, leisurely, down the long stretch of the road. Then came around the next bent, where the road had many potholes. He spotted the carriage stuck in the ditch at the side of the road, the front wheel broken, the coachman cursing, busy repairing, throwing an angry, reproachful look as the fool passed by.

The fool, grinned, winked, said: „Told you. It’s five minutes, if you drive slowly…”

I put this story together in English language, inspired by Middle Saxon folklore. I want to use it in my next Youtube video, a short routine to improve range of motion in the shoulders. A great, little short routine to deal with chronic shoulder pain or frozen shoulder, problems that do not easily respond to traditional therapy.

The key strategy of the lesson is the reversal of proximal and distal: instead of walking the hand (of the painful arm) up a wall, the client keeps the hand in place and squats down. Both motions result in an extension of the shoulder joint, but the reversed motion is usually much better tolerated, as it does not trigger pain; or at least not in the same way, thus instantly providing more range of motion, and a successful movement experience. Often times the results are quite spectacular, miraculous even, big improvements happening in a short time.

The essential movement quality in this lesson is to move slowly. And stop before pain occurs. Before the carriage derails into the ditch and breaks its front wheel, so to speak.

Hold my attention

The most important metric on Youtube: „Click and watch.” The longer people keep watching a video, the higher its monetary value.

The same goes for publishing houses and their quest for best selling books: „Open and read”. The more people read, the more they invest themselves, „I couldn’t put this book down”, the deeper they fall in love, the higher the monetary value. Margaret Atwood, for MasterClass, tongue in cheek, boiled all theories on writing successful novels down to one phrase: „Hold my attention.”

For the music industry it’s „Click, listen, repeat”, for restaurants „Order, eat, come again”, for Youtube „Click, watch, click again”, for publishing houses, ”Open, read, buy one more book.”

The things people come up with in order to make other people hold their attention, the crimes they commit.

„Is there any thing that cannot hold attention?”, she cries out loud. Is there a single thing, a single motion, void of the ability to capture and hold attention?

It’s a serious question, „What on Earth” cannot be used to hold attention? There’s people who sit down to stare at the space in front of empty walls, pioneers of holding attention, some of them, forcing even formlessness into dropping some coin.

Single source

When you buy one package of cow’s milk you don’t get to drink the milk of one cow only. It’s not as if you went through the factory hall and noticed, „Oh, this cow has beautiful eye-lashes, I want to drink her milk!” or „Hey, I found one without udder infection, can I have milk from this one?” That’s not how it works. You always get to drink the mix of dozens, if not hundreds of cows.

That was an odd start for this blog post. I wonder if the following story would have made a better choice:

When I was in my single digit years my father’s career looked pretty good. We moved to a better neighbourhood. The type of housing development where every family has their own two-story house with a big garden, next to hills with forests, yet close enough to the city. 

All of the neighbours were doing well. One row above us lived the guy who wrote our Austrian president’s presidential speeches, and he did the same for some of our ministers. My mom said that’s his job. For two decades I didn’t know what that meant, but this man was for sure dressed very well, better than everyone else. Later, when I first heard Obama on Youtube, I was like, „Wow, Obama can read pretty well”. I thought Jon Favreau did a splendid job matching his writing to Obama’s natural style of speaking. And when I read some of Trump’s tweets on Twitter, I imagined his Twitter account manager and tweet-writer must have been a character like F. Tony Scarapiducci from Netflix’s Space Force.

„A congressman randomly hugs General Naird before a budget meeting and F. Tony urges him to just go with it. General Naird goes on to awkwardly hug a congresswoman he had never met before and she’s not comfortable with it at all. General Naird and Dr. Mallory get mad at F. Tony for his suggestion and F. Tony mumbles to himself: Why Am I In Trouble Because Boomers Are Weird Around Women?”– from Space Force Fandom Wiki

Wow, that was even worse. 

I shouldn’t touch on politics. A friend once advised me, strongly: „Never write about religion or politics, especially with your views.” Maybe the following paragraph would have been a better choice? Whom can I ask, who will choose for me? Ok, I chose. Here it is:

We don’t know which words in Raymond Carver’s essays have actually been written by Raymond Carver, the famous American short-story writer and poet. 

Sometimes „Gordon Lish’s edits improve minimally, give shape to what’s there, or alter a phrase. But at other times the feeling is very different – the characters can be more brutal, for instance, and less is made of the women. Many stories are cut by 50% to 70%.” writes The Guardian, and goes on by reporting, „Tess Gallagher has written by hand her suggestion for the last paragraph [of the essay „Errand”]. If you compare this page to the story as it was eventually published, you’ll find that the very last words of Carver’s very last story were Gallagher’s.”

The Guardian’s continues (I quote loosely): „More than 20 years after Raymond Carver’s death, Tess Gallagher, with the help of the Carver scholars William L Stull and Maureen P Carroll, is bringing out the manuscript of Beginners. She describes the process as a restoration, and says it has taken 12 years for Carver’s words to be exhumed from under Lish’s hand, so extensive were his marks. In this sense she is offering up Beginners as an item of interest rather than a finished piece of work – a bootleg if you will.”

My Feldenkrais Book also underwent the taming – as well as inspiring – choices and suggestions of a human editor (the talented Heidi Woehrle). However, in this blog all posts are original, single sourced, „bootlegged” if you will. You can witness me changing, from blog post to blog post. My learning process becomes more obvious than with edited, published writing. More „authentic”, in the sense of „unaltered”, „unedited”, „not shaped to match a certain personality, spirit, or character”. And maybe, nowadays, this is something people are interesting in seeing.

It’s also one of my favourite things in my movement classes. I can see the process of learning and exploration and development in students. Their authentic selves become visible. And it’s ok. I love that.

Hip joints

Some scientists say that there’s as many causes for back pain as there are people. But in my experience there’s patterns and similarities, people make similar mistakes. Bending the lower back when you could have used your hip joints instead, is such a mistake. Give it enough time and repetitions, and there’s your lower back troubles.