Make it a conversation

With 17 I had a skiing accident. My first session at the Physical Therapist took barely 20 minutes. The therapist was cute. That’s the best I can say about the whole thing. She was neatly dressed in white, had great skin, a scent of vanilla. The session itself felt like I’m being processed in a factory. Afterwards the receptionist gave me a sheet of paper with exercises on it. Black and white Xerox. Hardly recognisable photos. 6 of them. Only one of the exercises was something the therapist did with me. Barely any text. Gladly. Because the text was not helpful at all.

My thoughts back then: „So here we have exercises so dumb that it only requires a few badly xeroxed fotos to explain them.

A conversation-based therapy session is different. In a conversation one human guides another human through a series of movements, concepts, ideas. Asks questions. Responds, thinks, suggests, replies. At times broad, at times specific. At times vague, at times direct. A good conversation respects both viewpoints, the therapist’s and the client’s. A therapy session can be a conversation. A text can lead to a conversation.

Everyone has their own rhythm

„In the performance arts, rhythm is the timing of events on a human scale; of musical sounds and silences that occur over time, of the steps of a dance, or the meter of spoken language and poetry. ” – from Wikipedia

Youtube is run by Google. Google knows who is watching my videos. And Google tells me this: 0 % of my viewers are 17 years of age or younger. Google tells me that my viewers are distributed evenly over five age groups: 18-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+, and they are mainly from these countries: US, UK, Germany, Canada, India, Australia, Netherlands.

Some of my viewers run big companies. Some of my viewers have run big companies. Some of my viewers are dancers and artists. Others are happy when they can enjoy peace and seclusion in their homes, unburdened by any duties.

Some have an urge to move, and have a difficult time sitting still. For them an hour long lesson is a problem. Others have no urge to move, and a difficult time running around. For them a five minute lesson is a problem.

Some lie down on the floor and immediately spontaneous patterns and movements start to emerge, from deep within. Others can lie down on the floor for half an hour, and it’s still, quiet, like you put the trunk of a tree flat on the ground.

That’s why I serve a buffet, with all dishes and condiments produced to the best of my knowledge (at time of production). I encourage you to study ad libitum.

In music „ad libitum” means to play the passage in free time rather than in strict or “metronomic” tempo, to improvise a melodic line fitting the general structure, to omit an instrument part (such as a nonessential accompaniment), to play a passage an arbitrary number of times. In nutritional studies, it denotes providing an animal free access to feed or water, thereby allowing the animal to self-regulate intake according to its biological needs. In drama and performance arts it is used to describe individual moments during live theatre when an actor speaks through their character using words not found in the play’s text. In film, the term usually refers to the interpolation of unscripted material in an otherwise scripted performance.” – from Wikipedia

 

What is the movement sequence for?

I do think that it’s possible to condense a 50 minutes Feldenkrais lesson down to a 5 minute refresher sequence. Just like a 2 hour long feature film can be condensed down to a 2 minute trailer (approved for all audiences). And clearly: both formats have the right to exist.

We just need to be clear about this one question: What is the movement sequence for?

Then we can answer accordingly.

Noticing & Naming

One of my earliest reading experiences was with the book „Pony, Bear, and Apple Tree”. For me this was a scary, strange looking book. Most notably it was missing a whole lot of words. However, my mother was able to read it just fine, as if all the words were all there. I completely failed to wrap my head around how she did it.

(I recommend you read the following paragraph out loud)

In a big garden there was a big 🌳. On the tree lived a 🐛.  The 🐛 liked to eat 🍃 and 🍎🍎. One day the 🐛 turned into a beautiful 🦋.

This kind of story. However, in Sigrid Heuck’s children book the drawings were not emoticons that fit in snuggly. Instead, the drawings were big, colourful blobs, out of text flow. For me, they just did not look part of the text. Took me years to figure it out.

An important part of language acquisition is the ability to identify and name things: „Look! A tree!”, „Look! A bird!”, „Look! A motorcycle with four people on it!”

Soon the good student will not only identify the obvious, but start to notice the elusive: „You’re wrong, it’s not the stork that delivers babies, it’s the midwife.” With experience the symbols, concepts, and discoveries become more and more complex, and soon we’ll have self-adaptive mRNA vaccines.

In sports we also noticed and named a whole lot of things. The 14 parts of a tennis racket are these: the beam, the bumper guard, the butt, the butt cap, the dampeners, the grip, the grommet, the handle, the head, the rim, the rubber collar, the shaft, the strings, and the throat.

Also in Tennis, we have the Serve, the Forehand, the Backhand, the Volley, the Lob and the Slice, and a few more that are all well defined. Given the right trainer this can be taught seriously enough to turn pleasure into nightmare.

In Skateboarding we have the Ollie, the Kick-flip, the Pop-Shuvit, the Heel-Flip, the Manual, and … in this sport every list of tricks is officially incomplete. It’s in the nature of this sport that players invent new tricks all the time. And their own style.

It is said that Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais didn’t want his moves to be named at all. To stop students from doing so, so it is said,

  1. he didn’t allow note-taking during his classes,
  2. he never announced what he is going to teach next, and
  3. he came up with new lessons all the time.

Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais wanted students to fully engage in the process, the movements, the experience, rather than them trying to move according to a pre-defined image. 

Plenty of Feldenkrais practitioners made a doctrine out of these three points. I beg to differ.

Closing the word gap

“The evidence shows that the difference between children who get bedtime stories and those who don’t, the difference in their life chances, is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.” – from the book The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon.

There’s several studies about this topic. And they come to the conclusion that there’s a difference in the amount of words different children are exposed to. And that that difference makes a significant difference in their life chances. Some studies put that „word gap” at 3 million words, others at 30 million. And their predictions in life chances sound equally dramatic.

I can’t say how many million (or billion) words I’m behind. When I was two years old my parents had to give me to my aunt for a couple of months. She had a big house with a big garden. It was a safe place. But there was not much time to attend to me. Therefore there were not many words to be collected there. For me the environment was strange, I didn’t know the people. At that time the world moved away from me like I was floating in double-walled bubble. Nobody thought anything of it. Later, as a teenager, I simply was the one who didn’t speak much. And later, as an adult, I became a Software Engineer and finally wasn’t blamed anymore for being socially distant.

For me this bubble started to disappear in the year 2000, at that time I was 26 years old. There was a series of cathartic events, seminars, journeys, encounters. Over a period of 12+ years I learned to connect with people. “But that’s another story and shall be told another time”, to quote Michael Ende.

I discovered the book The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon in mid December 2020. It was referenced in a blog post somewhere. The title of the book seemed strange to me at first, but after having read the first couple of chapters I understood. The Enchanted Hour. It’s the time of story telling and conversations between parents and children. It made sense. A time of magic, the enchanted hour.

After having finished the first chapter of the book I switched from reading in silence to reading out loud.

After a week of reading out loud for one to two hours per day I started to be able to question our compulsory schooling system on a whole new level. Common practices like studying seated, motionless, and in silence, as well as „Speed Reading”, that is priding oneself of „reading” several dozens of books per month, suddenly turned from being a display of supreme accomplishment and intellectual superiority into a sign of being at least partially traumatised and indoctrinated.

After a month of reading aloud non-fiction in the English language I decided to improve my own native tongue, the German language. I read aloud the recent  autobiography of the famous German entertainer Thomas Gottschalk. I enjoyed it wildly at first. I even purchased his audio recording to compare my reading to his. Much to my shame I have to admit, because here we have someone with billions of words under his belt.

Close to the end of his book, after about 8 hours of reading aloud, I discovered its „german-ness”. My original plan was to continue with his previous autobiography, but found something better: my own language, Austrian German. I found a fabulous author, Wolf Haas, and read out loud through his first novel Die Auferstehung der Toten. I felt more grounded, more filled with meaning and purpose, and „having arrived at something” with my new reading practice.

On a side-note: I’m Screen Mirroring my iPhone’s Apple Books onto my living room’s TV. This means less strain on my eyes, I don’t have to hold a device in front of my face,  and I can walk up and down gesturing wildly while articulating the more dramatic passages.

I was trying to read Watching the English by Kate Fox for years already, but had problems with focusing and understanding her humorous and well versed phrasing. In merely two months of reading aloud I went from stuttering from sentence to sentence to being able to read her chapters fluently. Of course not in the correct English English, but fluently nonetheless.

I did some math: All volumes of Harry Potter add up to 1,084,170 words. At the moment I’m giving Steven Fry the honour to read them to me. „We” are already at the last chapter of The Philosophers Stone. Looking forward to hear what happens next, and who „The man with two faces” really is.

Wikipedia says: ”the average child in a professional family hears 2,153 words per waking hour, the average child in a working-class family hears 1,251 words per hour, and an average child in a welfare family only 616 words per hour. In four years an average child in a professional family would accumulate experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family 13 million words.”

45 million words in 4 years, that’s 11+ million words per year.

I’m still trying to figure out how to arrive at a staggering 2,153 words per waking hour. It almost seems like looking at Elon Musk’s wealth, and trying to figure out how to get there.

Reading this blog post, you have read 1,021 words.

Hopefully not in total silence.

Who would chose to do cardio?

How does rice make people fat? I don’t know. A normal person with a normal energy burn of 2000 kcal per day, would have to eat a minimum of 1,5 kg (3.3 lbs) of steamed rice per day to gain weight from rice alone. That’s 10 bowls of steamed rice. That’s a whole lot of rice. One bowl of steamed rice has more calories than two bananas, but less than one donut.

But of course nobody is asking, „How does rice make people fat?”. It’s a silly question.

Here’s another question nobody is asking: „How does Feldenkrais make people fit?” I don’t know either. A normal person burns approximately 80 kcal at rest, and 220 kcal when walking. And I would put Feldenkrais somewhere in between resting and walking. More on the resting side probably.

Not all movement is fitness.

However, Feldenkrais does improve ability. It can take a person from being unable to do cardio all the way to be able to do cardio (as appropriate).

The downside of the Feldenkrais approach might be that it provides people with choices. If suddenly on the menu, who would chose to do cardio?

I would.

Where do you look up things?

Growing up, from baby to toddler to child, one day there comes this question: „Where do you look up things?” Because clearly at some point parents and uncles and aunts have outlived their usefulness. And vice versa, anyone who figured out how to pay for their mortgages and juggle family, job, hobbies and friends successfully, has not much room left to answer a constant stream of „Why?”, „What is this?”, „What if?”.

I grew up without the Internet. However, at the time we had books, and my father’s book shelves did nicely. We had a big medical book with two foldable maps of the body and its organs, which could explain all diseases and their remedies. We had one big book for civil law, where I looked up whether or not I am allowed to use my shortcut across our neighbour’s garden (law books are a disappointment, really). And we had a big Encyclopedia printed in sans-serif, with color pictures. I liked the sheer size of the thing, and the smooth white coating. Next to this modern Encyclopedia we had the 24 volume edition of Der Brockhaus. Not as fun, and far less pleasant to flip through, but a must have for any educated middle class family. And then there were hundreds of books on psychology, philosophy, self-improvement, self-help, cooking, and history.

Growing up, from child to young adult, one day there comes this question: „Who decides what goes into an Encyclopedia? Because clearly it can’t contain everything. And why are some people put into a more favourable light than others?”

The Internet answered these questions. I just wish I could say that I spend more time reading Wikipedia than Facebook.

I’m more exposed than ever

Ali Abdaal pulls his biggest smile and tells me straight to my face: „I’ve become a millionaire! In just two years and with as little as a few hours of work per week!” He swears blind that he knows how crazy that sounds, but promises over and over again: „if you keep watching my videos and if you buy my online courses you can do the same!”

Ali is probably not even lying about his wealth and stellar success. I hear people „making it” left and right. With social distancing and increased screen time I am hard exposed every day to the cheerful faces of marketeers with off the charts diet-success, creme de la creme drawing skills, and soul-crushing Bitcoin/Gamestop/Stock market earnings.

The forever-young avatars on my screens, with their perfect hair and perfect teeth and perfect smiles and perfect tits keep promising all sorts of things: health, wealth, strength, fame, art-skills, houses with great architecture, or even: plain happiness. If only I keep watching their videos, and keep buying their ebooks and online courses. I would be able to make it too. With just a few hours of work per week. I too could have it all, they bark from my screens.

And the longer I let them bark at me, the fainter my spirit becomes. They suck my trust and hope in humanity right out of my eyes. I’m more exposed than ever. I need to chose well whom I allow to touch my soul.

Interactive, responsive, proactive

It wasn’t my first choice to move to the remote countryside. To be more precise, it wasn’t my choice at all. Even less so since it was the kind of countryside that could only be described as far-right and anti-outsider. My father moved us there because he was hoping to make more business contacts and further his career. The company he used to work for had their headquarters there, in one of the small towns. And from there you could drive into near-by Germany or Switzerland. A good location for a company that produces packaging materials. In summary, my father spent most of his work life behind the steering wheel of company cars. And it did buy him his dream: a remote standing mansion on the foot of a mountain with a great view onto a lake.

Unfortunately, his career move had the opposite effect for me: isolation, social as well as educational disadvantage. But at that time, as a pre-teenager back in the 1980s I didn’t know that yet. Instead, I thought I’m already doing pretty well as a lone anthropologist – spending my afternoons strolling through nature, and in the mornings I was watching the peculiar behaviour of what is probably one of the most self-oppressed and fearful citizenry in central Europe.

Oh. Why am I writing this?

It was there, in the countryside, that I witnessed a few new words popping up. Before that, I thought words just existed. Much like the forest and the bees just existed. But the occurrence of new words made it clear to me that words are not given, they are created. These were words I had nobody heard using before, and I observed people trying them out.

Here’s two examples:

a. In my school, which was a slab of concrete and had empty tunnels as hallways, which could have been the inspiration for the computer game Doom, I suddenly heard some kids call each other „ego”. This went on over the course of a week. Everyone was using the word „ego” up and down all day. „You’re an ego.”, ”You’re the bigger ego.”, „You don’t even know what that means!”, „You don’t even know yourself!” (which was, actually, the truth). By the end of the week the buzz died down, and even though nobody gave (or was given, for that matter) a proper definition of the word „ego”, everyone seemed to have settled with the opinion that „ego” means something like „selfish”. But it was the much smarter sounding word, and the cool kids carried it over into our pop cultural heritage.

b. One of my first computer games I got was from Activision, and on the package it said in big letters: INTERACTIVE. It was like one of the main features of this game. I didn’t understand that word, and I couldn’t find a person to explain it to me either. I can’t blame my parents for their lack of English language skills, but my school’s English teachers clearly were useless. All of them. Therefore I went to the local library. I had to flip through dozens of books and magazines before I found the answer. The thing was this: before the advent of Radio and Television everything was interactive. But nobody knew that everything was interactive, because EVERYTHING was.

At that time, in the 1980s, I couldn’t share these observation with anyone. Nobody cared to listen to me. And if someone did, the best response I would get was „You are strange”, but what I usually got was „You’re not from around here, are you?” I was not upset that nobody liked to be interactive with me. I was not sad. Not even disappointed. Yet.

But isn’t that interesting? Words like „reactive”, „responsive”, „proactive” are greatly useful words nowadays, and people really appreciate them and the concepts behind them.

We lost international travel, again, but … God bless the Internet. Nobody is „strange”, nobody is „from around here” anymore.

There’s more to it

There’s more to the color green, than green just being green. The same can be said about… maybe everything?

When we look at a seemingly simple thing, for example, standing on both feet, we can see it as something simple and self-explanatory. Or we could use it to enter a limitless field of research, play, content creation, discovering beauty, happiness even.