walking on air
Six Easy Lessons with Sondra Fraleigh
Feldenkrais®, Professor of Dance, Founder of Shin Somatics®
Six Easy Lessons, for joy and confidence in movement
Six Easy Lessons in Six Days: including rest periods. These lessons take from about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Students should wear soft clothes for movement and have available two medium sized bath towels for rolling into small bolsters.
These lessons are best done with partners, who can read the instructions to one another, and assist in movement at certain points. They are designed especially for those who want to improve the quality of their lives and enhance healing through walking. Walking can both energize and relax. Releasing time-tensions, we learn how to be present to the moment in this everyday activity. Sondra uses walking as therapy for adults of all ages, and also those in recovery, with 8-week post surgery and doctor's approval for mild exercise. We all walk at our own pace, and movement can be modified to suit each persons needs.
You don't have to try to walk in any particular way. Lighter, easier, smoother, more grounded walking results from these six related somatic movement lessons. There is no one ideal way to walk, just the pleasure of finding your own upright ease in motion.
The beginning sequence for Rooting the Head, Neck, and Limbs Through the Spine
prepares you for walking with the whole body, arms and legs learning how to move from the core support of the spine, with the neck and head balanced easily on top of the spine to guide the walk. Where the eyes go, the body goes.
Enhanced body ease
Spaciousness in the joints
Graceful distribution of movement along the spine
Walking naturally through movement integration
Core support for standing and sitting
Dynamic alignment with gravity
Ease and equilibrium through breathwork
Balance through attention to the bones
Length and joy in the muscles
Management of back pain through conscious use of the psoas
Management of sciatic pain through attention to hip rotators
Release from time-tensions -- being behind or ahead of oneself
The power of stillness
The aimless wonder in rolling
Water logic -- from radiant flow to bilateral balance in walking
Roman Morris, Eastwest Teacher
In Walking On Air
Rooting the Arms & Legs through the Spine
Supported Bridge Pattern, Supporting the Sacrum
Nesting the Chin, Releasing the Neck and Head
Moving Somatically through Yoga, Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
Finding Your Horizon: Balancing the Head from the Neck Root
Meditation in Motion: Shin Somatics "Moving Mountain"
Rooting the Arms and Legs
Getting Started: Lie over a length of two 3-inch rolls, placing one in the middle of the scapulae lengthwise from below the neck toward the waist, and the other under the sacrum, knees bent, and feet on the floor, head resting back on the floor. Pushing gently with your feet, slide back over the roll. This brings your scapulas down your back and keeps them wide apart. Gradually let your head rest into the floor where you can find the best support for it, near the top, since your back is arched up over the roll. With your hands, lift the base of your occiput away from the back of your neck. Bring your hands to the sternum to discover the top, the manubrium, just below the depression at the base of the throat, and the xiphoid process at the lower end of the sternum. Elevate the manubrium and drop the xiphoid process toward the navel, then rest your arms out to the side.
Mental Imagery: Imagine your neck through the extension of the spine beginning at the root in the sacrum and coccyx, and then bring your attention to the lower tips of the scapulae. Feel the neck gently pushing up into the head and rooting downward in the spine behind the heart center, where you will also find the root of the arms. Let the energy of the heart radiate down to the coccyx and up into the top of the head.
A Short Pattern: Push gently with the feet to activate the legs. Alternate legs, then use both legs together, and take rests after each approximation of the pushing pattern.
END BY REMOVING THE TOWELS AND RESTING ON YOUR BACK TO ALLOW THE NERVOUS SYSTEM TO ASSIMILATE THE MOVEMENT. REST FOR AT LEAST 3 MINUTES.
WALKING LESSON: ATTENTION TO THE USE OF THE FOOT AND WHOLE BODY WALKING
Roll the foot from the heel, by taking a step, letting the heel touch the ground first, feeling an easy push from the back foot, then rolling the weight of the walk forward into the front foot.
The front foot takes weight from the heel into the toes. Yes, you are moving forward as the feet roll under you - heel toe, heel toe.The toes act as small propellers, and become strong through this action.
Let the head float upward as you walk, and focus on the horizon in front of you. Keep your vision wide to welcome the world.
Walk outdoors where there are trees. Oxygen heals.
Supported Bridge Pattern
Photo: Philip Barr, Eastwest Student. Imagine that Philip could lower the weight of his pelvis onto a rolled towel for a lifted support.
Getting Started: Using a 6-inch roll (two bath towels, folded in half lengthwise, then rolled together), set the back of your pelvis (sacrum) on the roll and support your shoulders on another folded towel. Lay your arms out beside your torso, palms up. Let the head rest gently with the neck in flexion. Don't force the shoulders away from the ears or squeeze the scapulas together. Lift the top of your shoulders slightly toward the head to soften your neck and spread the shoulder blades apart. Lift both the chin and the sternum gently while keeping the neck long even while in flexion. Rest the body on the roll, but keep the dynamic rooting of the neck alive in the torso.
Pattern: Initiate a slow gentle movement pattern that lifts the pelvis from the roll with attention to the legs, arms, neck, and head, noticing the consequence of the movement. Do the pattern that you find satisfying several times, keep it simple and smooth; then rest.
FINISH BY RESTING ON YOUR BACK WITH THE ROLLER UNDER YOUR KNEES.
WALKING LESSON: ATTENTION TO DYNAMIC RELATIONSHIP TO GRAVITY
Chin-Sternum Awareness (can be done with a partner)
Sit in a comfortable position with your head in a neutral position. Your partner will help you find this place where the chin is parallel to the floor. Lift your manubrium from the neck root to provide a nesting place for your chin as you lover it over a small rolled up portion of a towel. (You will find the manubrium by nesting your chin into the collar bone, but now you have a towel intervening.) Flex your neck and head forward over the deep, soft throat hollow you are creating. Partners can assist by gently touching the base of the occiput at the back of the skull, moving under the ridge, and guiding it up and over. Just the intention of the touch is enough. Do this incrementally and a few times. Remove the towel and do the same thing, now letting the chin fit into the notch of the manubrium. Do this a few times. Never force your chin to the manubrium. If the two don't easily touch, just stay in a comfortable relationship, imaging the meeting points.
FINISH BY RESTING ON THE FRONT OF YOUR BODY, REST THE HEAD TO ONE SIDE FOR A WHILE AND THEN THE OTHER, NOTICING WHICH SIDE IS EASIER.
Switch roles to work with the other partner.
WALKING LESSON: ATTENTION TO THE BREATH
Photo: Eastwest Graduate and Police Chief, Richard Biehl in Warrior 1. Red Rock Hills above St. George.
Note: The Warrior is normally done on a flat surface, with one leg lunged in front of the other.
Moving Somatically through Virabhadrasana 1, Warrior 1 Pose
This sequence engages the psoas muscle to provide more power and ease in walking. It is inspired by Shin Somatics Yoga. The psoas connection through the spine and pelvis into the lesser trochanter of the leg can be brought to awareness in the lesson on the warrior pose below.
I use this lesson to get the feeling of the power and freedom of the neck and back in extension, and the origin of the psoas in the spine through the curve of the back. At the same time the front of the body feels its relationship to the whole movement and does not sag forward. It is not that the abdomen is held. It is engaged naturally.
Move gradually into the warrior pose through a repetitive, gentle pattern that moves the legs wide apart, back to front. Turn the back toes toward the outside of the pose with the heel also turned out, but slightly less than the toes. Front foot points straight forward. Look forward over the front foot. You are just getting used to the position for the legs, incrementally. Take your time, and do this on both sides of the body, getting familiar with the difference between right and left. Rest in standing with the feet more or less parallel. Then go back to the wide apart warrior base feeling the strong grounding through the outside edge of the back foot and the front foot pointed forward with the gaze also forward. Soon you will look up.
Further instructions to complete the Warrior
Bend the knee over the front foot (with slow repetition) and finally keep it over the ankle. Extend the arms with hands palms up out to the sides at shoulder level (use gentle repetition without force.) Feel the arms root through the heart center. Turn the torso to face the front knee. Do this a few times in a gentle repetitive pattern. REST by taking a short walk. Then reconstitute the shape. Extend the arms to touch the palms of the hands overhead. Let the neck extend as you activate the root and extend your upper torso. Let the head back between the extended arms as you reach up. (Do this movement gently, and a few times.) TAKE A REST IN STANDING. VISUALIZE THE ENTIRE POSTURE WHILE RESTING. Emphasize the reach of the little finger as you look up at your thumbs in your imagination. NOW DO THE MOVEMENT. Allow the posture to find its own dynamic integration, and don't let the head fall back. Take the pose back from the root through the arch of the entire spine.
Relax the pose and walk feeling the power of your legs since the psoas has been challenged in the form of the movement. Feel the strength of the arms as they swing from their root in the spine. Feel how easily the scapulae slide over the ribs in the swing. Walk with your partner, matching the feeling and form of the movement between you.
Photo: Marybeth and Sara match in walking
Finding Your Horizon: Balancing the Head from the Neck Root
Stand in an easy position. Incline the head forward, bringing the chin in, and flex the back through the upper vertebrae very gently. Return. Do this a few times. Have a partner observe you from the side to get the feeling for the difference between a forward head (chin jutting out, neck strained ahead of the torso) and a Neutral Balance of the Head on the return. The neutral balance grows directly upward from the root of the neck in the heart center. The ear is in tune witeh the center of the shoulder joint, not tilted back (from a lifted chin) or forward, (from dropping the chin). Breathe into the heart center to see how this helps to balance the head. Let it grow easily upward and be on your horizon. Your partner might lift a tuft of hair from your crown upward to give you a further feeling for "up." When you walk, really see what is in front of you, then turn your head to take in the environment around you. Being on your horizon is not about getting stuck there, simply about having a home base that balances the head through core support.
TAKE A REST PERIOD.
WALKING LESSON: SENSE YOUR HEAD ON ITS HORIZON.
Photo: Willa lifts a tuft of Brooke's hair.
Awareness in Standing (Brief Standing Meditation)
Stand quietly contemplating the body's rootedness at the base of the spine and pubis down through the legs. Let the attention rise through the spine into the primary breathing diaphragm, and into the heart behind the sternum. Let your attention continue to move upward through the neck and head while you move the breath easily. Ask yourself where you feel the breath, just letting it move, as it will. Let your mind clear through the gentle movement of your breath.
Moving Mountain, from Shin Somatics® Land to Water Yoga
developed and taught by Sondra Fraleigh and Associates - at the Eastwest Somatics Institute for Dance and Movement Studies)
Standing firm and tall, the mountain moves.
Stretching the backs of the legs and associating balance with the natural curve of the low back. Finding full height in relation to ones natural horizon. Rolling through the foot to practice the natural articulation of the foot in walking.
Traditional Yoga Mountain Pose: Stand with feet together, heels and toes touching and stretch arms overhead. Cross the right thumb over the left as you stretch the middle finger upward, and bring your arms back next to the ears.
In the second phase of the Mountain Pose, open your arms apart with the palms facing upward, and gradually lower them to your sides, feeling the lower arm differentiate from the upper and come to rest near the widest part of the pelvis – the greater trochanter. Now let the hands face in toward the body and hang freely.You will naturally come to your full height. Shift your balance from right to left very gently, then settle in the middle.
Shin Somatics Mountain Stride: Stride forward one small step, keeping the height and horizon of the Mountain. Shift your weight to the forward foot, then to the back foot as you lift the toes of the back foot and look down, bending at the hips. Keep the knees soft and don't bend them. Remember this is the tall mountain.
Fell the stretch up the back of the leg as you bend forward slightly and look down at the toes. Now rock the weight to the forward foot and lift the heel of the back foot.
Find a balance point, and then look around your shoulder spiraling the torso slightly to look toward the lifted heel on the same side. (Turn toward the side of the back foot.) Keep your balance as you turn to look at the lifted heel from around the other shoulder. This is a further turning distance for the glance, requiring a greater spiral of the torso and easy flexion of the spine.
Now take another stride and repeat the process with the other foot forward.
Keeping your balance by spreading your feet easily into the floor. Looking out on your horizon, keeping the chin level as you learned in "Nesting and Releasing the Chin." Standing in an easy vertical relationship to gravity. Making friends with gravity, as you stand on one leg then the other without slouching into the hip joint. How does it feel to find your full height while balancing on one leg then the other? Keep this playful, and don't worry if you can't see the lifted heel of the back foot when you turn to look at it. This spiral simply indicates a direction. It is better to maintain an easy flowing spine than to stress to see the heel.
USE WALING TO REST BETWEEN PHASES OF THIS PROCESS. WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN STANDING FOR A WHILE, WALKING IS RESTFUL.
Walking on Air
Experience yourself in walking, now with the core support of the spine, and the freedom that comes from having accessed the power of the psoas as it integrates the torso with the legs, arms swinging freely in contra-lateral relation to the legs. The head sits easily on the spine without stress because of the six lessons -- and thus the eyes, as they look out, can easily guide the path of walking. It is significant that you don't have to try to walk any particular way. Lighter, easier, smoother, more grounded walking results from these six related somatic movement lessons. There is no one ideal way to walk, just the pleasure of finding your own upright ease in motion.
Sondra has published several books on dance and movement; the last one Dancing Identity: Metaphysics in Motion (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004) contains some of her stories of working with people in somatic movement therapy, and includes poetry on walking, as below:
I love to walk
When the sun is high and hot,
And there is just enough breeze
To ruffle my coiled sarong,
Soft against my legs.
Just enough to stir the chartreuse leaves
In metallic music against the sky.
Walking arouses gratitude in me,
For the kid practicing his saxophone
As I walk by,
For those whose radiance
I have never doubted.
I will walk till stillness overcomes me,
And I am awake.