Commentary on Jeff Haller's FI with Dick: ACL injury...

I want to thank Jeff for sharing this lesson on youtube.  It is inspiring to watch Functional Integration® lessons that are this rich, detailed and connected to the client, where explicit knowledge is so skillfully woven into the experience. In my time with Jeff over the last few years I've watched him teach, explain and demonstrate his approach in several settings. I imagine that even if these were the first FIs I had seen him give, I would still be lit up by their clarity and focus. I had that experience when I first met him in 2008, and the glow remains.   In the spirit of sparking some new discussion, I'd like to offer the following comments on Jeff's FI with Dick.
And I welcome your comments as well. 

What I like watching in this lesson is Jeff's clarity,  patience, directness and creativity in working with Dick's emerging abilities. The resources Jeff brings to the lesson are also emergent: questions, orientations, movement situations, touch, presence, listening, resistance, ATM processes, the understanding of the skeleton and support.  He sets the stage for an exploration to help Dick untie a knot around which he's organized his life. The lesson is certainly about helping Dick with his problem, yet the whole structure, tone and content of the lesson engage Dick's skill. Jeff really knows how to enter into partnership with his client.

There are no canned Feldenkrais techniques here. No "pulling of the leg", no "lifting the head", no pseudo-physical therapy (meaning "we apply techniques to people and hope that they change."  See "further thoughts" below.)

I have heard Jeff say on a few occasions that, though he's been doing this work for 30 years, he still consider's himself a beginner. I find this more a statement about a useful attitude he cultivates in his work than self-effacement.

Working through several orientations

One of the inspiring aspects of Jeff’s teaching is how fluidly he’s able to take the functional theme of the lesson from the horizontal orientations into upright, active movement.  On several occasions I've heard Jeff speak of how he sees a client as "always being in transition"—whether they're moving or not. 
At the start of the video (which begins a few minutes into the session) Jeff sees the pattern as Dick lifts his foot:  the way Dick finds support in his hip joint and how this burdens his knee. Dick's injury, a torn ACL in his right knee, provides the basis for an exploration and questions: how does Dick straighten his leg? Is there a relationship between the inward rotation in his femur and the support he gets from his hip joint? For those who may have been taught to "always work with the client's good side first", what do you think of the fact that Jeff is constantly working with Dick's injured right leg?

Throughout the lesson he keeps expanding on the question of support through Dick's hip, knee and ankle in a number of different orientations:  lying with legs straight, legs bent & feet standing, kneeling, sitting & leaning on the hands, standing and walking. He refines the pattern in his hip joint in every orientation.  It's the seed out of which the lesson unfolds.


Useful talk

Talking is no indication that useful information is being transferred. But while silence may be golden, silence is also perfectly compatible with ignorance.  While many trainees are warned against talking during their FIs, talking from awareness and with a clear purpose can foster an image of what's happening in the lesson and help the client better understand their role in it.  
Jeff talks to Dick during much of the lesson: about his injury, about the details that emerge as he moves, about the skeleton and how to distribute the space around his hip joint. What's important is not that Jeff is talking, but how he's talking and what's being said. Jeff verbally guides Dick through the various ways of testing and sorting through his experience, encouraging him when he does better, and stopping him and letting him sense what goes wrong when he does worse. The back and forth helps Dick define for himself not only what feels better, but also the criteria he's meeting that engender the good sensation.  


Working with Resistance

Jeff uses resistance with Dick, getting him to organize the support in his hip joint first more accurately, then more and more quickly. (At the 40:05 mark:  "don't let me push, pull, don't let me push down, don't let me lift…")   One of the students I mentor has asked me: why so fast?  I would suggest the following: when Dick is walking from his car through a parking lot, how fast do you think the weight of his torso and pelvis shear across his hip joint and for that to burden his knee?  It's a millisecond. The weight shears across the joint and it immediately becomes necessary to recruit of the soft tissue in his lower back, around the knee, etc. Shouldn't Dick learn to access the proper support quickly and immediately? Wouldn't that be a useful timing to have access to as he walks around?  As for the resistance being applied in so many directions: doesn't Dick step left, step right, step backwards, step up, step down? He likely needs to be able to find the support in all those directions. 
Walk around a bit and contemplate how quickly you shear across your own hip joint as you walk. 


ATMS as a resource

For Jeff, ATMs are a resource, not a recipe. The ATMs in his repertoire emerge and recede in the moment as they are useful to the exploration with the client.  

How many ATM's can you find that serve the questions in this exploration with Dick?
I can spot a few:  

  1. Fundamental properties of movement:  (ATM book)
  2. Lifting the leg and Hiding the foot: (AY 63)
  3. More Flexible feet: (SF Evening Classes)
  4. What is Good Posture? (ATM Book)
  5. Edges of the Feet : (AY 433)
  6. Finding the high Point of the Hip Joint (AY ?)
  7. Sitting Indian Fashion: (AY 4)

The anxiety that we feel giving lessons—the anxiety of "success" in the lesson, of "being of help" to your client, of "what to do next?", of being "a good Feldenkrais teacher", etc.—often stems from turning an ATM into an FI.  For some this seems to allay the fear of "not knowing" and gives us the security to simply forge ahead, firm (but still anxious) in the assumption that the ATM contains some efficacy that is ours to apply. But it is exactly this misunderstanding that fails us over and over and over.  There is a story Jeff tells of watching Gaby Yaron give almost the exact same lesson to a series of four or five clients. After the first few experienced middling success, the last one experienced a good result. "Finally, it works", Gaby said.  
The "turn an ATM into FI" idea is a cookie-cutter teaching, and becomes the very psuedo-therapization of the method Jeff speaks about—the parasitic thinking that relies on a formulae, a recipe, a protocol for a particular injury or problem.  
There is an important workshop Jeff gave at a FGNA conference called "Overcoming Obstacles:  The Metaphoric Headstand" (audio available through, Item #FGNA04-007). In his opening remarks he speaks about this kind of "pseudo physical therapy we often see in this work, where we apply techniques to people and hope that they improve." 


Walk the Straight & Narrow Path

(Video below will start at 53:00)

One of Feldenkrais' phrases to which Jeff often refers is "we return to our habit like a dog to it's own vomit."  At 53:29 Dick falls back into his old pattern. Jeff is there to catch him, tell him he's junked it and put him back on the path.  "You don't get to fall in this lesson at that point. Get your ass back up", he tells him. "You don't get to lose the lesson that fast…Tomorrow before class starts, after you get to class I want to you to be able to get down and up without falling." 

I think it's worth noting how good natured his admonishment is.

This is the kind of expertise, specificity and discipline clients should be happy to pay for. 

Some memorable moments

(Video below will start at the 41:00 mark)

Dick: "You're killin' me here, Jeff."

Jeff: "Well you asked about it, you wanted the legs, the hips, the…"
Dick: "The whole shootin' match…the whole enchilada."
Jeff: "I know, you wanted as much as you could get out the session."

Dick: "That's as foreign as most things to me there, Jeff."

rotation of the femurs in kneeling:  watch his sacrum. 

Jeff: "we're going to be doing the exact same thing with your skeleton, only in a different position."

Jeff: "That's right! Now if you pay really close attention, you're ready to spring out of it...that's right!". 

"You're cocking aren't you…?"

"now go the other way…the way you used to go."
Dick: "that's weird". 
Jeff: "And you try to get up in a hurry out of that..."
Dick: "yeah…so much strain through here…"

Jeff: "Now go back to the old way."
Dick: "The old way..."
Jeff: "Yeah. See how hard you're having to work?"
Dick: "Yeah. Quite a bit."
Jeff: "And you're having to use muscular work to do it, not organization."
Dick: "Oh yeah, that's a lot of pressure through the knees."
Jeff: "Good now go back to other way. That's right. Now come back and do that." 
Dick: "Yeah. Huge."
Jeff: "Huge. You just made your squat. For you to understand this for your squatting, or with deadlifting, you just significantly became more efficient."

Two significant looks Dick gives Jeff, on two moments of arrival:  
53:10 up to standing from sitting. 
55:17 Down to sitting from standing. 


Further Thoughts

There is a post Jeff wrote to FeldyForum that's worth reading entitled "Working with Labels and Problems" (reprinted below).  He writes about the difficulty of working with clients' problems and how different our work is from that approach.  Jeff mentions a conversation with Jim Lesear, then head of a local hospital and a consultant to the Guild, who said,

"Here in the hospital we work with people’s problems, the field of health is in the hands of the educators."  

What do you think of the educational value of this lesson? How is the teaching geared toward what Dick needs and can handle?  How would you say the learning experience is different from other therapeutic experiences you've watched or experienced? 

This kind of teaching is but one facet of the resource Jeff brings to his clients: it's a resource he's continued to refine through feedback.  In 2010 I brought my father, Boyd, out to Jeff in Seattle for lessons. An avid hunter and fisherman, my dad was past 73 and having knee trouble and was considering surgery, pending an MRI. I had the pleasure of watching many of the lessons. It was my father's first experience with Feldenkrais.

One night, over sushi, Jeff asked me, "so how do you think I'm doing with your Dad?"   When I thought about what I could offer, I said, "When you encourage my dad, saying 'that's it', or 'that's nice', he knows he's being encouraged.  He knows he's doing something right.  But he has no idea what that is. He doesn't know what you're talking about."  The next morning, as they sat down to start their next lesson, the first thing out of Jeff's mouth was, "So, Boyd, Andrew tells me that when I tell you, "yes, that's it", you're not sure what I'm talking about." After this conversation the lessons became even more detailed and clear, and most important, my father got even more out of them.  I was struck by how Jeff put my feedback to use immediately. He would address anything that stood in the way of my dad's learning.  My dad returned to Wisconsin moving much better. He had the MRI, and was told by the surgeon that he had beautiful knees.  He, too, has continued to ask for feedback. 


Working with Labels & Problems:

(Feldyforum msg#7100, March 12, 2002)

Not long ago I was teaching in Phoenix. There was a man in the class with a messed up right knee. Messed up is almost as bad as gunky, and I can see here as I write using my MS Word program, there is no such word as gunky. Gunky is underlined in red. Must be bad. Anyway, the assistant trainer for the segment was Julie Peck from Perth, Australia. In the class she gave an absolutely wonderful demonstration FI lesson with this man. In the lesson the man found artistry in coming from lying on his back to sitting. I applauded Julie and the man for the work they had done together, only to turn to look and see the looks of consternation on the faces of many people in the class. In a chorus the question arose. “What about his knee?” Moshe used to say. “If you have a problem, you have a problem for life.” With this in mind I had a brief discussion with the group. The moment you as a practitioner identify with your student’s problem, implicitly you remind them that they have a problem. Then you sort through all the things, techniques, and tricks you have learned in the training and before long you realize that you can’t help the person with their problem. Therefore you have a problem. Now both of you have problems. They have a problem and you have a problem because you can’t solve their problem. This is not my interpretation of the Feldenkrais Method®. Moshe very clearly states that we don’t deal with people’s problems. We deal with their health (Amherst, August 7, 1980). Identifying with people’s problems is going down the garden path. In the lesson the man found an aesthetically pleasing way to act. He moved from, “I have a problem” to finding a way of being self-observant and acting which was a pleasure for him. The process of the learning awakened in him a quality that he could with some vigilance spread into his life—and still have a messed up knee. Working with problems is another kind of work that might be relatively beneficial but to me it is another form of work. In fact, the other day I was having a conversation with Jim Lesear, head of the local hospital here. He is a consultant to the Guild on it policies of governance. His comment was so insightful. “Here in the hospital we work with people’s problems, the field of health is in the hands of the educators.” 

It is clear that in Moshe’s lessons extraordinary results appeared with the people he worked with. For us though the production of results is the pitfall. It reminds me of Eugene Heirgel in Zen and the Art of Archery. Heirgel is a student of Japanese archery who after years of practice still can’t hit the target. On a vacation he discovers a trick to release the arrow so he can hit the target. The next time he is in the dojo practicing he employs his trick. His sensei comes over and asks him to repeat the shot. Heirgel is overjoyed. The master has noticed him and he can hit the target. He trickily releases his next arrow and the master immediately kicks him out of the dojo for violating the practice. It took a hell of a lot of pleading to get back in. 

In the discussion of the lesson with Jonathon Hughes (Amherst, July 14, 1981) Moshe gives us a clue. He says, I work in such a way that I can feel when the student begins to take over the work. Clearly, in the lesson, Moshe waits and waits and waits for Jonathon to find his own stability and support and learn how to use them to advance himself on the table. Moshe provides the space for learning. The endeavor to produce results or to gain technique often stems from the practitioners need to be of benefit. If a practitioner’s well being is wrapped up and identified with the outcomes of a lesson then the practitioner has become dependent on their client. This again is a different kind of work, not the Feldenkrais Method. We are noted for providing the space in which people develop their own posture in the world. To me, the beauty of our work is the process in which the “teacher” disappears and two individuals enter in a journey of exploration in which both learn about the potential they have for functioning. The implicit environment of learning requires curiosity and the ability to be free from needing results. The practitioner simply sees his client as whole and supports them in finding for themselves their own ability to learn and develop. He supports them in their dignity and integrity. This means, in learning one leaves the past behind and points to their potential. As a side note, in The Potent Self, Moshe gives at least three descriptions of maturity. One is the ability to separate emotions from actions. One must be able to be present to one’s emotional reactions and be able to choose responses to the present moment. This means leaving ones habitual emotional reactions behind. Two, one must be able to separate intention from achievement. One must not be identified with results but with the process, free from achievement. Three is the ability to mobilize one’s habits to fit the present moment. Again this requires presence and not identification with the past, the ability to respond to the moment. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Uyeshiba, often spoke of Take Musu Aikido. Translated this could mean, In aikido there is no technique, only unlimited creativity. 

As a practitioner of our work, this speaks to me. What is the state of presence where I am able to wait until answers appear between my client and myself that lead us to a new reference point for living? What is the potent self? What is a potent posture? What is the freedom to move in every direction without preparation or hesitation? I only know what it isn’t. It isn’t getting lost in problems, labels, and identification with results. I know that all of the principles and strategies I learned in ATM exactly fill the bill for me in knowing how to create an environment for learning, and I know we are working with how a person lives their life. I don’t know about multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, the yips, sleep apnea, piroformis pain, lumbar instability or all the labels and maladies people live with. I am only interested in their health, in their ability to learn how to learn and in supporting their dignity.

Recently a woman came to me. She came bearing a list of exercises she had been given for spinal stability. She was a striking woman, clearly intelligent. I asked her what we could explore together. She said she had two cysts on her spine. One near her neck and the other in the lower back. They caused her a significant amount of pain but she had opted not to have surgery. The moment she mentioned the cysts, I watched my mind create the thoughts, “oh shit what does that mean?”. Breathe, easy, let the moment pass. And I began to engage her in a brief discussion about her life. She was married with no children but had a long time relationship with her husband. In this she appeared solid, no changes in posture and seemed to reflect a joy in her partnership. I asked her about her work. She said her work was complicated. I asked her what she did. She worked for a state agency. I asked her if she enjoyed her work. She did very much so. She really lit up in a heartfelt way as she described what she did. She made a real difference in some people’s lives. I asked her about the administrative aspect of her work. You should have seen how quickly she slumped and how deep her slump was. In a matter of a moment she was telling me about how awful her relationship with her immediate superior was. I can tell you that no amount of spinal stability exercises would give her the integrity to meet that situation. She would regress into whatever habit had served her to protect herself from such a person. So we began our exploration together. I had her move my plastic skeleton into the position she was sitting in. We looked together at how her spine would support her head in that situation. Between us we agreed, it wasn’t a posture for movement or of elegance. It was also not descriptive of her self-experience. She was triggered into a reaction which she had little control over. In the course of the lesson we learned together about sitting, breathing in a full and new way, support and stability, being free to move, getting up and being present. At the end of the lesson she was sitting up in a very full, regal, and elegant way and I asked her now to imagine being in the office of her superior. She just laughed and laughed. Her ability to learn and enjoy learning was so much greater than being triggered by old reactions that weren’t fitting for her anymore. She left realizing that the work she personally had to do was observe how she got triggered and choose to honor her own integrity. What I learned had to do with sitting in a posture that gave her the space to be herself in and learn in...

—Jeff Haller