Uncaging Your Whole Self
by David Zemach-Bersin
One of the most exciting and fundamental ideas in Dr. Feldenkrais' work is the importance of viewing each person as a whole rather than as a group of fragmented parts. So, when we talk about a shoulder or a chest or a spine or a jaw, we keep in mind that the shoulder, spine, and jaw do not, in reality, exist independently. There is no such thing as a jaw without an entire self. There's no such thing as a shoulder or a spine without an entire self. This idea of viewing ourselves at each moment as a whole, integrated self is especially important in regard to the chest. The mobility of your chest is intrinsically related to your whole self and is never, ever separate.
Our chest developed to have a lot of flexibility. We have twelve pairs of ribs, so there are 24 places where our ribs articulate with our thoracic spine, allowing our chest to move dynamically and multidimensionally in all directions. For example, I can bend my chest to the left. I can bend my chest to the right. I can turn. I can turn and bend. I can twist and extend backward. I can fold forward. Then, when I'm forward, I can bend left and right; when I'm extended, I can still bend left and right. The degrees of freedom we are endowed with are extraordinary, but if I lose access to any of these directions, my organization becomes distorted, and all my movements become limited or restricted. This is one of the beautiful things about Feldenkrais lessons— they help us restore movement and mobility in all directions.
Many people have issues that affect the organization of their chest: including asthma, COPD, restricted breathing, mastectomy, or open-heart or chest surgery. In addition, most people spend a large portion of their days bending forward, which leads to a compressed chest. This frequently happens when we sit a lot or as we focus on screens, either hand-help or a computer. When our chest is compressed and when our head and neck are tilted forward, our ability to take in oxygen and expel CO2 is constrained and restricted. Why? Because when my chest is compressed and when the movement of my chest is limited, my diaphragm cannot move freely.
In my work with people over the years, I've found that freeing the chest is essential to helping them reduce back, neck, and shoulder pain, improve their posture and gait, and reduce anxiety. Limitations in the movement of the chest is a central part of them and affects their entire self. In my upcoming series, Uncaged, I will share lessons you can use at home to regain the flexibility of your chest. I'm confident that each lesson in the series will help you feel more upright, improve your breathing, promote your sense of security and well-being and significantly improve your movements.