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Now at Castlemaine Movement Centre

July 6, 2014

Well it’s been a long time between posts… a lot’s been happening too.

The acturelab has moved, hopefully to a long term HQ this time, in Castlemaine:

CMCgaolYep, I’m in gaol…the old Castlemaine Gaol, that is, as part of the newly created Castlemaine Movement Centre. I still practice in and around Kyneton, though, and home visits are possible in parts of the Macedon Ranges and Mt Alexander Shire.


April 21, 2013

acturelab has joined the Kyneton Movement Studio!Image

We’re having a launch this Saturday – please come along.

Festive Season Gift Certificates!

November 14, 2012

in time for this year’s Festive Season….acturelab Gift Certificates!
If you want to give that special someone a local, sustainable, ethical, amazing experience as a gift – we have the solution for you.


Choose from:

$25 half hour individual session

$50 one hour individual session

$100 group classes x 4

or speak to us about workshop and other possibilities!


There’s movement at the station…

September 11, 2012

more on movement: problem = difficulties.

March 4, 2012

Just after I hit the “publish” button on the previous post, I recalled having already written on a similar topic. After a quick hunt, I found this post from two and a half years ago. I haven’t changed position on what I wrote then, but I do think it’s worth fleshing out, as the issue is currently ‘hot’ again and I think it’s high time we moved on to a better framing for the role of a Feldenkrais Practitioner.

So just to recap, Feldenkrais Practitioners work with movement problems; most often those problems present in the form of difficulties; those difficulties arise from either pathology or pain.

Hopefully the diagram below helps elucidate.

If you’re jumping up and down right now saying “There are more bases to movement problems than either pathology or pain! What about…?” you’re correct. I just probably classified the problem you’re thinking of as a puzzle, not a difficulty. We haven’t detailed the right side of the diagram yet, and probably won’t in this post, but soon, I promise, soon…

One of the reasons I want to examine the left side in more detail is, oddly enough, health insurance. Quite a few health insurers in Australia rebate visits to Feldenkrais Practitioners. Mind you, they also rebate – amongst a plethora of other things – for aromatherapy and medically prescribed yoga(!). But anyway, there it is, Feldenkrais Method, invariably listed under (shudder) alternative therapies. More grist to the misrepresentation mill, but that’s another rant. Earlier this year, a group, Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM), launched a campaign to remove the teaching of alt med and alt therapies in Australian universities. They also push for removing alternative therapies from health insurance. You can read about it in this article from the SMH, or this article in The Atlantic . Two things: first, the Feldenkrais Method is not mentioned as far as I know and second, I should declare my support here and now for FSM. Nevertheless, there are stirrings of anxiety roundabouts that Feldenkrais Practitioners might lose access to hard-fought rebates. It’s a tricky issue.

On the one hand, there are practitioners like me whose students rarely, if ever, consider health insurance rebates as a criterion for deciding whether or not to come to a class or lesson. That’s not because they’re rich, but because they simply don’t see it as ‘therapy’. (They’re problem = puzzle folk, bless’em!)

On the other hand, there are plenty of Feldenkrais Practitioners who work in rehabilitation, or in hospitals or adjunct to them, or with chronic pain sufferers, for whose students health rebates are enormously important. And furthermore, beyond the health rebates issue, could there be a place for these practitioners within the FSM model? I think there could be, particularly where there is increasing evidence that medications and/or surgery are no longer appropriate interventions in certain situations. This is especially the case for pain-based movement problems: pain science has pretty comprehensively shown that there is no 1:1:1 direct or linear relationship between tissue damage, nocioception, and the experience of pain. For the most elegantly simple and concrete demonstration of this, read Damage does not ’cause’ pain by BBoy Science.  Aphorism-ised, “pain is in the brain” – and there are a growing number of therapists who are researching, teaching, and innovating in their clinical practice around this understanding. In Australia, Body in Mind and NOIgroup are just two examples; from Canada, there’s the marvellous Humanantigravitysuit blog detailing goings-on North of the equator. In my opinion, Feldenkrais Practitioners have a lot to offer to this research and practice, particularly as it edges toward education as an effective intervention. Learning, particularly embodied learning, is our specialty. And there is precedence for educators (i.e. not therapists) within the medical structure: dietitians are but one example (and their services are rebated by health insurers too). But two things need to happen, I think, for Feldenkrais Practitioners to participate more effectively within science based medicine.

First and foremost, we need to stop allowing ourselves to be called therapists – alternative, complementary, or otherwise. It positions the profession on sides of fences which are simply not in our neighborhood. Learning may benefit a person, but that does not make it a therapy (unless you loosen the definition of therapy so much it’s almost meaningless, as in ‘retail therapy’). It also profoundly limits the public perception of Feldenkrais Practitioners. By way of analogy: while there are dance teachers who claim there are both mental and physical benefits from doing dance classes, people generally enroll in those classes because they think it will be fun, or pleasurable, and not because it might be theraputic.

Second, we need to interact with research and the building of an evidence base in new ways. Based on the Research links page on the International Feldenkrais Federation website, much of the research into the Feldenkrais Method took place between 1990 and 2005 (it seems to have petered off since then). More relevant to this post, much of it attempted to demonstrate the efficacy of the Feldenkrais Method for specific pathology or pain conditions. This is the sort of research you do if you carry the mindset that the Method is, or is equivalent to, a therapy. As a profession, we are always going to struggle with getting the large enough sample sizes, sufficiently well constructed experiments, robust research methodologies, and sufficient distance from cognitive bias, if we continue to persist with this approach. Advances in scientific technology mean that it is now much more possible to investigate the evidence (for and against) on the tenets of the Method: do humans learn the way we (Feldenkrais Practitioners) think they learn? Are the conditions of learning we hold important valid? Does the kind of learning we advocate actually “stick” and if so, how? What really happens in an Awareness Through Movement lesson? If we can’t answer these with any degree of certainty then science based medical folk have every right to dismiss the Method as “interesting but unproven”.

What acquaintances and family friends think I do.

March 1, 2012

As I morosely contemplate the (temporary, hopefully) wreckage of my nose it occurs to me that, following the day before yesterday’s post, I’m going to be starting this series on a negative note.

My nose is currently a wreck because in January this year, my GP referred me to a dermatologist, who took a biopsy, which resulted in the diagnosis of a couple of BCCs (basal cell carcinomas). Removal by MOHs surgery was the only treatment considered, so a little over a month later I am sitting here looking like a made-up extra for a zombie flick hoping that my two skin grafts will heal well. I don’t know about you, but when I hear a health practitioner use words like ‘cancer’, ‘lesion’, and ‘surgery’ in close proximity to my name, the last things on my mind are thoughts of exploration or learning. I want things like certainty and authority and cure. In other words, when I experience fear, my default is to defer to an expert who will deal with this threatening unknown for me. Fear is generally not something I experience these days in association with my body – see my Turkey posts – although this rhinic episode has reminded me what it’s like to mistrust one’s own flesh.

See all those words in blue italics in the previous paragraph? At the risk of ruffling feathers, those words are expressly what a Feldenkrais Practitioner does not do. Somehow, though, when I tell folk that I help people move better, a medical or healing model is their first “box” (familiar category) as they try to get their head around what this “feldenwhatsit” might be. Bear with me while I unpack why this first guess is (while understandable) w-r-o-n-g, using my simple, one sentence definition of what Feldenkrais Practitioners do:

work with movement problems

Let’s begin at the end of that (why not?), with the word ‘problem’, which will probably be about all I can fit into this post. There are at least two common meanings for ‘problem’.

Perhaps the first you thought of was something like a state or source of ‘difficulty’ as in “She can’t play tennis, she has a problem with her knees.”

Almost as common is the meaning ‘question’ or ‘puzzle’, as in “I can’t come out to play right now, I’m working on a maths problem.”

So people come to Feldenkrais Practitioners because they have difficulties or questions around movement – most frequently (in my experience) for the former kind of ‘problem’.

movement difficulties

It’s problem-as-difficulty where the boundaries of Feldenkrais/medical/healing are most slippery and fraught. Movement difficulty (that is, which interferes with everyday function), underlying the specifics of each individual’s situation, has its roots in either pathology (disease or injury), and/or pain. So let’s say you have a child with CP, or your husband is recovering from a stroke, or your sister suffers from chronic pain, or you have a recurrent shoulder pain, chances are you’ll have encountered the medical, and/or possibly the alt. med (healing) communities before coming to a Feldenkrais Practitioner.

What Feldenkrais Practitioners won’t do: diagnose, treat, cure with authority and certainty, or heal the roots of your movement difficulty. That is the job of the health practitioner of your choice. What can muddy the waters here is that (in Australia at least) many Feldenkrais Practitioners are also health practitioners (eg physiotherapists, massage therapists) who do, in their health practitioner role, diagnose, treat etc. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with holding two or more careers at once (hell, I’m also a Cert IV Fitness Trainer and teach English as a Second Language as well, not to mention the occasional lapse back into ‘architecting’) – I’m just suggesting that it’s no wonder that Joe Public out there can get a little confused. And that confusion is not helping anyone.

I can see that this post is already getting very long – and there are some key concepts in the preceding paragraph I want to tease out. So stay tuned for the next post, which will explore a little more of why Feldenkrais Practioners don’t (or shouldn’t) do what they don’t do.

Your friendly neighborhood practitioner.

February 28, 2012

Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing, thinking, writing and not-posting a great deal. Events (both professional and private) have given me a wealth of topics to ponder and act on – so coming up, a series of posts, for which this is a kind of introduction.

I was an architect for some 15 years. I tell folk I’m ‘pro-tired’ now, which means I chose to leave one career for an other, more engaging one, and that I don’t take on architectural clients unless I really, really want to.

But back when I was an architect, I gradually came to develop an ethos and modus operandi for the house-design (domestic) work I did as follows:

  • I expected my work with my clients to be a once-in-their-lifetime experience.
  • The interaction would be intense, intimate, and mutually rewarding.
  • Clients would come to me because they sought change but recognised they lacked the experience, or confidence, or specialist knowledge to sucessfully produce change for the better.
  • My role was as much educative as anything else. It was my responsibility to guide clients into a clearer understanding of: how they lived already; what of that worked and what didn’t work; what their vision for the future was; and how that future could be realised within real world constraints (eg site, budget).
  • Earned trust and mutual respect was fundamental.
  • The experience should be positive, thought-provoking, even fun – and not scarey. Set-backs were inevitable, no matter how carefully all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed. A fundamental part of my job was to prepare clients to meet set-backs with resilience.
  • There was always a mutally agreed Plan B. And possibly a C and D. Choice always trumped obstacles.
  • From the first meeting to the housewarming party, the process moved forward through loops of question, suggestion, consideration, response, interpretation.
  • The house belonged to the client.* The outcome of the work was the client‘s future life.
  • Some clients had clear ideas for their future life: about what they wanted, or didn’t want. Some had strong visions they were initially unable to articulate; some had a shopping list of loose aspirations they wanted help in sorting and clarifying. Some clients had ideas but lacked confidence in them; some clients came to me precisely because they wanted the stimulation of new and different ideas. In other words, even though people ‘know’ what an architect does, people come to an architect for a broad range of reasons, purposes and outcomes.

These days my modus operandi is pretty similar – if you substitute the word ‘client’ for ‘student’, and the word ‘house’ for ‘self’ (or body, if you must). Though it does involve less drawing, and MUCH less money.

What’s really different though, is in the last dot point. Even if folks’ ideas of what an architect does are as varied (in accuracy as well as scope) as their reasons for seeking one out, you can’t substitute the word ‘architect’ for the words ‘Feldenkrais Practitioner’, because very few people “know” what a Feldenkrais Practitioner does. There is no “What My Friends Think I Do” poster for Feldenkrais Practitioners.**

One of the things I want to do over the next few posts is to flesh out my thoughts around what a Feldenkrais Practitioner does (and does not do), why you might want to seek one out (or not), and how we might frame (or reframe) the profession (at least in Australia). I invite you all to join in the process.

* It’s amazing how many architects lose sight of this one.

** though as I typed that sentence I thought “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if over this series of posts I and you, Dear Reader, put one together?”

More Turkey Wisdom.

December 30, 2011

In my last post, I described how I went head-to-head with a dead turkey, and the turkey won. Using basic principles of Physics.

Even though I knew on Christmas morning that I was in pretty serious trouble, it did not occur to me to say to my beloved “Here, you take the cooked turkey to the family shindig, please give them my apologies but I really need to lie down horizontally because a two hour car trip followed by a three hour sit down lunch is only going to increase the damage I’ve done to myself.”

If I had said that, I wouldn’t be writing this post. A day’s rest on the back, and I would have been back to business as usual.

But no. Instead, I gritted my teeth and taxed that little group of postural muscles further by sitting, standing, and generally struggling to maintain my torso upright with respect to gravity. For 5 hours. Over which time various other muscles came under unusually heavy load (lumbar extensors, diaphragm) in an attempt to compensate. I became profoundly aware of postural sway – millimeter deviations from a pain-free organisation was accompanied by a screaming spasm of muscular pain.  Acute pain, which I foolishly chose to suffer through in order to satisfy my socio-cultural obligations.

By acute, I mean short term pain with a pathology (aka injury). Pain of this kind is an incredibly useful (albeit unpleasant) product of evolution. Its purpose is to make an organism stop doing something harmful to itself. Like take-your-hand-out-of-the-fire, or don’t-bear-weight-on-that-broken-leg, or in my case: don’t-load-kaput-extensor-muscles. Ignore or use painkillers to dampen acute pain at your peril.

I’m not against painkillers per se – they’re incredibly useful in certain situations. I’m just not a fan of painkillers as a blanket first resort for the reason I just raised: acute pain has a purpose. If you can identify the harmful thing to stop doing, and be confident that your conscious willpower (or some external device like a sling or cast) can prevent you from doing that harmful thing, then go ahead, gobble those aspirin, spray on the anesthetic, smear on the Deep Heat or whatever your choice of painkiller is.

The thing is, what most of us use painkillers for is to mask acute pain signals so that we can keep on doing whatever harmful thing our body has just red-carded. This is pretty much a sure-fire recipe for further injury and prolonging recovery time. I’m no fan of suffering, but I turned down the various pills and potions offered (with the very kindest of intentions) on and since Christmas Day.

Instead, I chose bedrest: commonly considered a bad idea because we all “know” that “the best cure for back problems is to keep moving” .

Rest. Is. Good. The important thing is to rest relative to the kind of injury you have. This article from has my vote for the all-time, best-ever advice on relative resting. Because my injury involved the postural muscle system, being upright ran the risk of making the damage worse, and of establishing compensatory muscular habits that would, in the long run, lead to other damage.

That’s not to say I did nothing while lying on my back. I employed my skills as a Feldenkrais Practitioner to keep moving, to stay within the boundaries of comfort, to explore what I could do, to take things slowly, and to discern and appreciate the smallest of changes. I set myself little challenges, and listened to when my body told me to rest. I only experienced pain when I engaged the damaged muscles – which told me they weren’t ready to take load yet. Using painkillers would have blurred and confused that critical feedback.

So let me be crystal clear here: there are definitely situations where using painkillers to dampen acute pain is beneficial. But you need to be aware that the flip side of the coin is the potential to prolong recovery time.

More Wisdom of the Festive Turkey:

1. Just about everybody will hurt themselves at one time or another by doing something foolish. Even movement ‘experts’.

2. Pay attention to acute pain, and stop doing whatever is causing it. Regardless of the social situation. Do not ‘soldier through’ – you’ll regret it.

In which the Festive Turkey imparts some wisdom despite being dead. And cooked.

December 30, 2011

If Physics bored you to sleep in school, here’s a really good reason to have stayed awake: the principles of levers and forces. I’ve just spent the last four days lying on my back, unable to sit or stand, because in the Festive Roasting Rush I forgot those fundamental principles. I’ve also spent that time reflecting on pain, culture, folk wisdom, and the appalling state of Australian telly. Now that I can have my torso upright without excruciating  pain, I want to share some of my thoughts with you (not about Oz telly – it’s beyond redemption) over a series of posts.

First, to Physics, and how I hurt myself: with a 5 kilo turkey. A piffling weight to lift, you say – provided one keeps it close to one’s body. But what with the general cooking kerfuffle, the only clear space to baste the bastard was on top of the stove, which meant standing an open-oven-door’s-depth away from the stove, and lifting the turkey from below onto the stove top at pretty much full horizontal arm extension. I did that 6 times over the course of Christmas Eve day. A rough and dirty calculation makes that turkey a bit over 90 kilos of force – almost twice my entire body weight – each time I lifted it up, and each time I put it back in the oven. This is where remembering that Force = (Weight x Length-from-fulcrum) / Length-to-fulcrum BEFORE cooking would have come in handy and suggested clearing some bench space prior to basting so that the whole procedure avoided long lever action….

Now, the lifting-the-turkey fulcrum point is not at the shoulder joints – it’s in the area where a variety of muscles attach the arms to the spine. These include the muscles we’re all familiar with from gym weights training: traps, lats, rhomboids. It’s important to remember here that despite the pretty coloured diagrams you find on weights machines and in anatomy books, muscles do not work in isolation. Remember also that the spine is articuated (and therefore bendy) so to provide a stable fulcrum for lifting turkey-type loads, all of the extensor/postural muscles of the back have to participate, and to a certain extent, the diaphragm.

In an ideal body, each muscle in the whole ‘orchestra’ contributes its fair share, distributing load proportionately. There may be ideal bodies out there somewhere (although I think it’s pretty unlikely) – but mine is not one of them. So some of my muscles didn’t participate as much as they should have, and other muscles had to compensate by doing more than they’re capable of. It’s important not to interpret this as some muscles being weak, in need of some jolly-hockey-sticks strengthening discipline. What it means is that my nervous system didn’t coordinate muscular activation properly – a bit like the conductor forgetting to cue in the second violas.

In my case, the muscles which got hammered with overwork were a few small sections of the postural muscles close to the spine. As I’ve written before, this kind of injury doesn’t always present itself immediately as a pain experience, and in fact I didn’t notice a thing until the following day. I lifted my arms to pin my hair up, and, whammo. But more on acute pain in the next post.

Now, the reason I’ve painstaking detailed this fairly mundane sequence of events is because this sequence is exactly that: mundane. Long lever lifting is something that lots of folk do quite a lot of the time without thinking, and the injuries it can cause are the reasons why safe lifting practice is a standard part of OHS education. But I have never seen lever force equations or diagrams used to elucidate just WHY safe lifting techniques are important (eg that a light weight at the end of outstretched arms requires nearly 20 times force at the back). What seems to happen is that documentation like our National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders from Performing Manual Tasks at Work (2007) simply lists ‘hazardous’ actions and postures. If one were to apply the term ‘hazardous’ to these actions in everyday life, it would pretty much rule out sport, housework, cooking, playing a musical instrument, gardening, having a pet, having children…. The problem with teaching people WHAT rather than HOW is that you end up with a whopping great list (over 7 pages in the Code, with diagrams) in the hope that all possibilities will be covered. They won’t, and people won’t remember the whole list either.

The Wisdom of the Festive Turkey: remember your high school Physics.

Practical Neuroscience

December 2, 2011

It’s official: I have blog envy. Sometimes you come across a blog which is so elegant, clear, and engaging there’s absolutely nothing you can say which will add to it. But it’s so compelling you just HAVE to share it. I found one such this week: at better movement.

First, watch this marvellous TEDtalk by Daniel Wolpert on The Real Reason for Brains. Then read this post at better movement.