Leaving Nothing To Chance | Alan Questel | Acts Of Kindness

 

There are two fundamental ways to like yourself more: improving your physical and mental performance, as well as practicing intentional acts of kindness. John Solleder is joined by Alan Questel, who shares how he uses the proven Feldenkrais Method to guide others in achieving better body movement and more meaningful daily life. He explains how to achieve balance by focusing on instability, building a better self-image through a deeper self-care, and embracing the pleasures of challenge. Alan also stressed how showing kindness to others leads to a more beautiful you, opening your eyes to your uniqueness and strengths.

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How To Practice Intentional Acts Of Kindness And Like Yourself More With Alan Questel

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the show, Alan Questel. Alan, how are you today?

I’m very good. How are you doing today?

I’m great, Alan. I’m going to tell people a little bit about you. I’m going to brag about you a little bit. I’m going to use my notes on my other computer. I just want to tell them a little bit about you. You’re known for your clarity, creativity, down-to-earth style of teaching, depth of understanding, humor, and gentle human perspective while creating lively conditions for learning.

You’ve taught thousands of people in over 20 countries on five continents. You were trained by Dr. Feldenkrais himself who created numerous Feldenkrais programs on numerous topics including one for pregnant women called Pregnant Pauses. You’re the author of Creating Creativity, Embodying the Creative Process. You’re still discovering how to be kinder towards others as well as yourself.

That’s part of our topic today because I think we’re living at some crazy times certainly and I think we all need to learn how to be nice to ourselves as others, if you’re not nice to yourself, you can’t be nice to other folks. You have a new book out that we want to talk about as well. I don’t even know where to start, but I think why don’t we just start at the top because not everybody is aware of Dr. Feldenkrais.

Dr. Feldenkrais was a really interesting man. He was a physicist, an engineer, and a mathematician. One of the first Westerners to get a black belt in judo and through his knee injuries, he developed this method called the Feldenkrais Method. He destroyed his knees playing soccer as a young man and he would do anything to win the game, he said, even if it killed him, and it nearly did. He couldn’t figure out why some days his knees hurt and some days they didn’t hurt. Then some days one knee would hurt and some days the other.

He became his own laboratory trying to figure out what he was doing and he was applying his understanding of physics and the prevalent understanding of neurology at the time. He finally realized on the days his knees didn’t hurt, he moved his pelvis differently and he was able to walk. Later as life went on, he encountered other challenges and he always had bad knees till the day he died but his big intention was, “How do I do what I want to do?”

I don’t always fulfill my intentions and as I said, he became a black belt. Was one of the first Westerners to get a black belt in judo. He developed this method, and I came to it hurting my back. I was an actor, and my acting teacher recommended this guy, I thought it was nonsense, but I went, and he was barely touching me, and I thought it was a waste of time and money, and I got up and I had no pain.

Three days later, I still had no pain, and I was driving on the FDR Drive in New York which is like a pinball machine for cars. I noticed I wasn’t getting angry when people cut me off and I thought, “What happened to me?” I couldn’t figure it out and I went back to this guy. After the third time, I thought, “I want to learn this.” I bet I could do this part-time and pursue acting. I had a contract in business, which I wasn’t crazy about. I was lucky to get into the last training that Dr. Feldenkrais taught in 1980 and that’s all I’ve done ever since. It’s been pretty good to me.

I can’t let the mention of judo go because most of my readers know judo has been a huge part of my life. Probably saved my life when I was young, but today the show’s about you. Some people know my story. Some don’t, but judo was, was got me on the straight and narrow, so to speak. Got me to go to college and do some things and influenced by some great judokas as well as two great senseis in particular. Dr. Feldenkrais knew Dr. Kano, the founder of Judo.

The way he met him is super interesting. At the time, Feldenkrais was living in Palestine. I don’t know if it was Israel yet or not. They brought someone in, he was part of the Haganah, the secret army there. They brought someone in from Germany to teach them Jiu-Jitsu. They studied it and six months later there was an attack.

The ones who tried to use Jiu-jitsu got killed because six months is not enough time to practice it. It’s a life’s work. Feldenkrais, this is his thinking, how brilliant he was. He would hide in doorways and alleyways and jump out and frighten people. He would see what position would they reflexively put themselves in. From there, he’d figure out how to break a man’s neck.

He wrote a book there. The original title was 50 Ways to Break a Man’s Neck. Now it’s called Unarmed Combat. It’s a violent book in a sense. It’s about aggressively protecting yourself. He was studying in Paris and he was at the Sorbonne working with Joliot Curie in the nuclear physics lab. Kano was visiting Paris and he went there.

Of course, he had no invitation and they wouldn’t let him in and he said, “Here’s my book.” He gave them the book and the next day Kano invited him. Kano said to him, “Your book is very interesting, but there’s one move with the knife that won’t work.” Moshe said, “No, they all work.” He said, “No, it won’t work.” He said, “I’ll show you.” He did it with Kano and it worked.

At that time and still today, there’s that quality in Asian cultures about saving faces . It was a tricky moment. When Moshe threw him and showed him he could protect himself from that knife, he said, “Now I’ve taught you something. What can you teach me?” That was the beginning of his studies in judo. It was a lifelong influence on the work I was talking about before, the Feldenkrais method.

One easy example, in many martial arts in judo, I could take someone by the little toe and throw the whole person. The Feldenkrais method is used for people who have all kinds of pain, neurological problems, issues around, or changes in self-image, professional athletes, actors, and dancers. What I can do is take someone by their little toe and connect that movement all the way through them.

The key word there is connection and it was the same in Judo too. What does that afford us? If a movement can connect more effectively through a skeleton, it turns out that functioning improves, pain is diminished or even goes away, and self-image changes. I added my own little tweak to it at the end, which is that people like themselves more from that quality of feeling in themselves and being able to do what they want to do more and more effectively.

What’s amazing is when you talk about Dr. Feldenkrais and Dr. Kano. Renaissance men these guys have multiplicities of skills and they know each other. It’s like Edison and Tesla,  you can only imagine being a fly on the wall and they in conversations at the level they were at and then they probably say, “Hey, you want to go get a beer?” They were just normal guys after that, but they were performing at that incredible level. I think our world would be blessed with more folks like that these days. I’m sure you agree.

Let’s talk about this because your new book, Practice Intentional Acts of Kindness and Like Yourself More, is a great title. It’s such a compelling title. When I heard it, I said, “I’ve got to interview Alan.” Let’s talk about the book a little bit. I’ve got a few subjects from the book I’d like to reference, if I may. Let’s start at the top because when we talk about judo, we talk about life. That word balance is very important to both. Talk about balance a little bit.

Leaving Nothing To Chance | Alan Questel | Acts Of Kindness

Practice Intentional Acts of Kindness: … and Like Yourself More

Balance is an explanatory principle. What does that mean? An explanatory principle is like gravity. Gravity is something that we all understand we can drop something and see the effects of gravity, but you can’t hold it in your hands. It’s an amorphous thing. It’s a description of a phenomenon and balance is the same thing.

In fact, most people don’t even really consider much about their balance except for two situations. One, when they start to lose their balance. The other one is when they’re doing something like slack rope or tightrope where they need it, have a very heightened sense of balance but that’s the minority. Most of us don’t think about our balance until we start falling. The funny thing about balance is we can talk about it in terms of falling, which relates to Judo as well.

One question I ask people when I’m teaching is, “What’s the difference between falling and moving?” People will say loss of balance and it’s actually when you walk, you’re continually losing your balance and regaining it. That’s not the answer. The only thing that’s different between falling and movement is falling is irreversible. You can’t return.

In martial arts, when you fall, you learn to recognize that moment and instead of feeling out of control, gain volition over it and turn that fall into something else. Now, when we speak about balance specifically, like as a phenomenon, and this is two of most dictionary definitions, they’re described from the observer’s point of view, not from the point of view of the experience of it.

To understand something of balance, it’s a complex thing but it needs to be a relationship between stability and mobility. There’s a third option in there which is instability. That’s falling when someone is unstable. In Feldenkrais, we’re always looking at this relationship between mobility and stability, not either or, but a blending. It’s mobile stability or stable mobility. How do we find that? That’s the next question.

Understanding balance is about exploring the relationship between stability and mobility. Click To Tweet

It’s one of the things that Feldenkrais’ method explores in-depth, and it’s by using ourselves more skeletal. This function of the skeleton is to bear weight and transmit force and we tend to underuse that and overuse our musculature. In a Feldenkrais private lesson or a class, there’s a gentle deconstruction of the muscular habits that allows movement to connect more easily through someone’s skeleton so that we have more balance.

I would say that one term that I would add to balance that people don’t consider is, again, a keyword in the Feldenkrais method, “Reversibility.” If I start to fall, how far do I go before I can pull myself back? Or how far do I go before I lose control and turn it into something else? When I think of balance with people, when people lack balance or feel unstable, unfortunately, the first response is to hold themselves, to try to tighten themselves. If they feel themselves falling, they pull away from the ground. Who gets the fewest injuries when they fall to the ground? They’ll get a kick out of this.

Besides people who played judo? I would probably say kids because they don’t fall that far.

That’s true but as adults, the people who hurt themselves the least are drunks.

Yes, because they don’t brace them.

Drunks. They fall and they just keep going. They don’t try to pull away. Kids too, up to a certain age. That idea of stabilizing myself, the more stable I make myself, the more easily I topple over, the less balance I have. There we come back to that idea of increasing one’s mobility and reversibility through movement in a way that when they fall, they don’t plant their face on the floor. I was teaching in Italy and I was teaching all this stuff on falling.

In the Feldenkrais method, there are lessons about Judo rolls too and headstands. It can get quite complex. There was one woman who came back to the class the next day and said, “I fell and I felt it. I just skidded to the ground and didn’t hit my head.” All of that to happen is a dynamic relationship that can be learned. That’s the most important thing.

I’m working with someone right now who has Parkinson’s disease and a very challenged balance and I’ve shown her several ways that she can get up and down from a chair, from the floor. When  I work with someone who’s lacking balance and I work with them, one of the things they say is, “This now feels unstable.” I say, “Does it feel unstable or more mobile?” “No, more mobile.” They can feel the difference. It’s those relationships that we play with. Now, all I can do is talk about it.

Probably one of the most genius things about Feldenkrais was his ability to take an abstract idea and give someone a concrete experience of it. I’m happy to talk about it, but when someone has the experience of it, where they can do something that they couldn’t do before and become more balanced, that’s a real learning and a testament to the method and their self-image as well.

Leaving Nothing To Chance | Alan Questel | Acts Of Kindness

Acts Of Kindness: When someone can do something they could not do before, that means real learning and a testament to their self-image.

 

It’s such an interesting thing. Let’s say I’m falling for a minute, if we can, Alan, because like my mother died at 92. Until 85 she was great and then she got a phone call. Her sneaker was untied. She stepped on her other sneakers and broke her hip. After that, the next seven years were not good and then she passed away.

Until 85, if you spoke to this woman, you’d think she was 65. She was involved in her church. She was involved in her town. She was involved in politics. Just a very active senior citizen but the second that happened, her life changed. A lot of our people who read this, we’re getting up there. I’m 62. I’m going to be 63 in a couple of months. A lot of our people are older than that. A lot of people are a little bit younger. Everybody.

Another reason we need to start doing some filming. That being the case though. I think it’s so important that with falling. If people can find, not that we want to fall, but at the end of the day, that falling like in judo, it’s part of the sport and our training. I’ve probably fallen 10,000 times in my life on purpose where you’re doing practice back and forth and you let your workout partner throw you and then you throw him. That’s part of learning.

I don’t know if I’d want to do that at 62, some of the stuff I did. Having said that, falling is such a fear, not only the physical falling but also metaphorically, the mental falling. I’m not as sharp as I used to be as I’m getting older. The synapses in the brain aren’t working the same, et cetera. Talk about that, if you would, from the standpoint of, how somebody gets over that fear so that they keep living as they get older.

How each individual gets over is going to be a little bit different but some fundamental things can help someone feel more comfortable moving through space, let me put it that way. One of the first things is being a little bit friendlier with the ground. There have been studies when they talk about aging now, they talk about one measure of how vital you still are is your ability to get up and down from the ground.

How do we do that? Then it’s a question of technique. I don’t think Feldenkrais is the only thing out there that teaches something like this but what Feldenkrais will do, will teach it in a way that’s both noble and connected through the whole person. Even though they may be coming to help themselves not fall. They find that their walking improves, which again, as I mentioned, walking can be seen as a controlled falling or getting in and out of a chair. When you get into a chair, most people fall into the chair as they get older.

I would say that if we looked at it simply from a mechanical point of view, and I’m going to talk about it skeletally, it doesn’t exclude the muscular activity that moves our skeleton, is that where we need to move more freely to not fall? I’d say it’s one place. As a matter of fact, the last workshop I recorded was called Move Like a Peaceful Ninja. It explores different ideas of martial arts and movement and uses martial arts as a theme for the whole thing.

Our hip joints are one of the most significant axes of movement for anything that we do, and it’s a hidden joint. It’s where our leg connects to our torso. You can’t touch your hip joint. I can touch my elbow, my wrist, my jaw, all that. I can feel the skeleton. You can’t touch your hip joint, and people don’t know where it is.

One workshop I have is called Getting Hip and it’s about finding your hip joints. I was teaching it in Switzerland and when I was recording it, I said to people after each lesson, “How do you feel?” “I feel my neck, my back, my feet.” “As for your hip joints?” “Maybe.” I started teaching in Asia, Taiwan, and Japan, where they can move their hip joints but they don’t know where they are.

If you don’t know where it is, you don’t have any access to control it to move around that point. If you think of the Dantian or the Hara or where the Chi collects, that’s all the general area of the pelvis. When we think of the pelvis moving, most people’s image of it is in the lower back, but actually, it’s in the hip joints, more significantly in the hip joints.

Once we can move in these places, then we can change something and feel less fearful. I’ll tell you a brief story. Moshe was at a judo conference in England many years ago. Someone asked the Sensei, “Would you please talk about the Tanden? The Sensei said, “I think Dr. Feldenkreis could answer it in a way that’s better for you to understand.”

He got up there, first he was joking. He said, “The Hara, this stuff, this is a magical thing that one in a million people get up, they practice for 20 years.” Then he said, “I don’t know what it is but here’s the concrete part. When someone has it, they can move their head and their pelvis in any relationship to each other.”

The head, we’re oriented to that. The pelvis, those are the large muscles that generate beginning action. If you know how to connect those points and move with those things connected, you have less of a chance of falling or I would say you have a better chance of not hurting yourself when you fall. That’s the worst you ever can think.

It’s funny you say that about being able to get up as an older person off the floor. Sure, you’re familiar with Dan Beuttner and the work that he’s done with National Geographic with the Blue Zones. The five regions, I think there are six now, he just identified the six one. It’s funny because when you watch Dan’s stuff and I’ve read his books and I watched a couple of documentaries.

That’s one of the things. These 100-year-old people in some of these cultures, they’ll sit on the floor and drink tea together and then they’re able to get up. They may not jump up like a 20-year-old would, but they have the ability to get up without leaning on something or anything else. What you’re talking about is, that it’s right on point.

Not only are we an aging population, but people are living longer, which is the good news. The bad news is you want to do you want to be in a wheelchair or you want to be confined to a couch all day? Do you want to be out playing with your grandkids? Let me ask you, Alan, let’s go to this question. How about the moment where we begin?

That speaks right to the hip joints and the pelvis. We can  talk about the moment where we begin in a lot of different ways, but I would look at it from the point of view that I’m talking about, where and how we initiate the movement. Where we begin. Here’s  a little bit of anatomy. If I ask someone, where does your arm begin and end? Almost everyone will point to their fingers and their shoulder. And that’s correct. That’s the arm and we need that for Simon Says and things like that.

When  you learn skeletal anatomy, you’ll learn that the arm begins at the sternoclavicular joint and includes the collarbone and the shoulder blade. That makes sense when you look at the yoke of our structure and how it’s put together. When I look at a kid reaching, a little kid, they never reach from their shoulder, they never reach from the collarbone and scapula.

When you watch them reach, it’s their pelvis moving their arm through space. Their arm is free. There’s a good example of the moment where we begin in Judo and Feldenkrais as a violinist, as an athlete, as a housekeeper. Any one of us will move more efficiently if we initiate a movement around our pelvis, skeletally through the hip joints, and muscularly through the larger muscles that reside there because if the larger muscles work, the rest of the system doesn’t have to work as much.

The moment where we begin is a training for life, meaning, “I’m still improving with that.” When I get out of a chair, yes, my feet have to push into the ground, but it’s an action in my hip joints and pelvis that actually can help me lift and make it reversible again. It’s some of the things I teach almost everybody how to get in and out of a chair because the older we get, the more we struggle with that.

The moment where we begin is about the initiation. In a private lesson, there are two modalities in the Feldenkrais method. One is functional integration, which Moshe developed first and that was what he did with himself and started playing around with other people. Then he thought, “There are so many people I can touch in a day.” He developed these classes.

I would say when I’m working with someone, I work with them fully clothed on a low table, and I start to move them, the movements they make are tiny, and already I can feel someone’s [Inaudible ]. I’m trying to interface around the moment where they begin the initiation of the action, and if a change can be made there, what kind of change? That the change becomes connected differently through them, that more of them participate, everything improves.

The classwork is one of the things that led me to the idea of liking ourselves more. I think the Feldenkrais method affords such an unusual way to experience that because I was putting together a workshop on self-image and the more I investigated it, the more I thought our self-image is a reflection of how much we like ourselves or how much we don’t like ourselves.

If I like myself, I have a good self-image. If I don’t, not have such a good self-image. After a while, I started thinking, this is my job to help people like themselves more and I do it through the Feldenkrais method. I would imagine your blog  affords people an opportunity to understand something, to learn something about themselves, to help them feel better about themselves.

Why would we spend time doing all these extracurricular things if it didn’t reward us in some way? As I said in the classwork, which is called Awareness and Movement, you’re doing these very small repetitive movements with a lot of attention and I started asking the question, I said, “Are you moving in a way that you like the way it feels?” If the answer is yes, great. But if not, that’s significant because we don’t practice that enough.

In my book, I talk about, how you like yourself more. It’s not so easy. Generally, we do it through external things. You get a new car, a new hat, a new partner, a new apartment, all those things work, but they’re temporary. I don’t know if you ever had the experience of buying a new car and driving around for a year feeling, “This is great, I love this car.”

Then a year goes by and then there’s the next model, you’re looking out the window, “I wish I had that.” That’s crazy. You have a new car, so on your own, runs fine. All of those things of liking ourselves more in our everyday lives are attached to everyday outcomes. They can be compared to others but if you just move in a way that you like the way it feels, that’s between you and you and if you improve that over time, that changes something dramatically.

Probably the best example of that I have is a group, a Thousand Grace training, which is most of my work now, it’s four years long. I was graduating the group in Australia and I was calling them up and giving them their certificate and a hug. Many people whispered in my ear, “I like myself.” I thought that’s a foundational idea of being more of who we want ourselves to be because if we don’t like ourselves, it’s a struggle.

Our whole culture is built to measure it with all the likes on Facebook and Instagram and stuff, “Phew, let’s take a breath and see if we can enter into ourselves through the back door and build something more substantial that no one can take away from you.” They can take away your car and your house. They can’t take away the quality of movement you experience.

If you can enter into yourself and build something substantial, no one can take it away from you. Click To Tweet

Great, love it. Let’s talk about The Pleasure of Challenge.

The Pleasure of Challenge. You’re naming some of the work, some of my Feldenkrais workshops, which is great. I was always looking for themes to engage people because Feldenkrais will help you with your neck pain and lower back pain and your stroke and all this other stuff and your golf game. If I can contextualize it more neutrally.

Pleasure challenge and challenge of pleasure is exactly that. I was looking for lessons that gave people a chance, this is going to sound weird, to tolerate more pleasure. People said, “What do you mean tolerate?” And I go, “All of us have a threshold where things get too good, we get nervous. Create the circumstances to feel more and more pleasure and then challenge because life is very challenging, of course, we’re not going to eliminate challenges.

How do we engage in it? Can we engage, let’s say in a physical challenge in a way that it doesn’t injure ourselves? We know ourselves well enough to be able to move back and forth between these different ideas of pleasure and challenge. I’ll tell you a funny story. I taught a one-day workshop called The Pleasure of Challenge.

I had about 40 people in the workshop, but as they were coming in, there were canes and walkers. I thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to kill them.” These were going to be challenging lessons and they got through it, some of them even walked out without their canes. There were some other Feldenkrais practitioners there and they said, “I can’t believe you taught those lessons.” I said, “Me neither, but it worked.”

Again, it’s a testament to the method of how people can be guided through something to make the impossible more possible and the possible easy, and as Moshe said, “Make the easy more elegant.” Can I make a segue here? You mentioned my book in the beginning, I’m going to bring it up from this point of view. The book is Practice Intentional Acts of Kindness and Like Yourself More.

In the beginning, I talk a lot about, how you think that this book is going to be easy, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be pretty challenging and you’re going to have to hang in there with that. What does it mean to stay with the challenge, to persevere, to not give up? Of course, along with that, to not have the internal dialogue of, “I’m no good and I’ll never succeed.” Just to keep going and finding small changes, beginning in different ways, and seeing if we can meet the challenge in a way that there are levels of approximation of success.

It’s not all or nothing. I’m a little bit better. I like myself a little bit more. I can fall a little bit or I can reverse my movement a little bit more easily. These things, they’re all part of the challenge, but then like in the book, in each chapter I talk about different aspects of kindness or liking ourselves more. I give you things to do every day and you know what? They’re challenging.

They should be challenging if they’re going to change us in some way. If everything fits us perfectly from the beginning, imagine if you went to a Judo club and from the beginning, you could do everything. In a few months, you’d be bored, and you’d leave but as someone who practices Judo, you know that it’s always another level, another stage of improvement, another improvement in quality, and something like that.

Something has to be challenging if they are meant to change you in some way. Click To Tweet

I can give you an example of the challenge. In the book there’s one chapter on generosity and I go into it in a lot more depth, but one of the exercises I suggest is when you tip, however much you tip, for every $5 give one more dollar. If you can afford it, it’s always within your means. I’m writing this chapter. I’m writing it, I go out to dinner with some friends, at a local place, and I pick up the check, it’s about $70, and I normally tip 20%, it’s about $85, and I have a $100 bill.

I’m going to give the $100 bill and the next moment I clutch. I was like, “You can’t do that, that’s crazy it’s 15, what’s wrong with you?” I was challenged with my idea. it was kind of crazy-making. I just went, “I’m going to do it.” it wasn’t, I felt it was hard to leave that there but the cool thing was when I left the restaurant, the waitress stopped me. She said, you just made my day. The challenge is a worthwhile thing. I think we all need to learn to navigate it better.

You brought up a lot of valuable points there, but I’ll just add one from my own judo life. I earned my first-degree black belt in 1992. I was building a sales organization with a company out of Toronto and we had opened up Australia and New Zealand. Ultimately we would do business in Japan, but I figured, let me go to the Kodokon and I can pick up my certificate in Japanese, my diploma. Of course, having a Japanese sensei, he had all the connections back there.

We set it up and I went to the Kodokan. I’m one of the few Westerners there and the way that they lined you up, at least then, I’ve been there many years, but the older guys were on one end of the mat and you had a belt partition and the younger guys were out here where you’re doing Randori and going full speed and the 70 or 80-year-old guy, you’re not going to go throw. If you did, you were in big trouble.

Anyway, what happened was of course the different Japanese judokas that were there when that spoke English, “When did you get your belt?” “Just recently.” “Oh, great.” I’ll never forget the eighth or ninth-degree black belt there who spoke perfect English, a business guy and he said to me, “Now you have started to learn judo.”

I’m thinking, I’ve broken bones. I’ve had spinal cord surgery. I’ve had shoulder surgery. I’ve had knee surgery multiple times. I’ve invested all sorts of money back in this sport. I’m still doing it, even though at that point in my early 30s. At first, I was a little taken aback to be very honest with you. I’m thinking, “I’ve achieved something.” I’m a Westerner with a black belt and this is your sport. You guys created this sport, which is more than a sport as you and I both know.

There’s a lot more to judo than just that in terms of thought process and philosophy. It’s a beautiful philosophy. He said that to me and your point, he’s right. Now you know something, you have a foundation, but you know nothing compared to the guys on that other side of the map who have been doing this for 50 years.

Some of them at that point knew Kano when he was still alive. Some of them had Olympic medals. You’re thinking something, and I don’t care whether it’s judo, but it’s a great metaphor for everything else in life. When you think that you know everything, you find out that you know a little, you don’t know what you think you know.

That’s right. Absolutely. I can’t remember. There’s a story about Bruce Lee like that, where someone asked him what belt he was. I think he said, “I’m a white belt.” He said, “If you’re learning something, you wear a white belt and you get the black belt, and then you get the white belt again.” You realize, with all the work, I teach, I’m successful. I’m good at it, I guess, but the more I do it, the more I think, “Wow, I don’t know very much.”

Don’t you find as we get older, because we’re in the same age group, you got a couple of years on me, but life is like an alchemy set? It’s always morphing and changing, whether it’s professionally or whether it’s in relationships or whether it’s just in our diet or whatever, that there’s always something else that you go, “Does this or does this not agree with me personally?” It might be great for my next-door neighbor, but it may not be great for me or vice versa.

When you say that, I go back to a question about balance. I would say another way of looking at not falling, and being balanced, is how adaptable we are. Like you mentioned on Judo, there’s much more than the movement. There’s the philosophy and things like that. In most great practices that I’ve seen, the philosophy revolves a lot about adaptability. In business, isn’t that what we need to do? Things are going wrong all the time. Every day something happens. You’ve got to, “How do I fix that?”

Now, if someone was going to teach a class in adaptability they probably get a lot of theory, and maybe some clever ideas but physically, if you learn something physically, the sense of what adaptability means is different. For example, so much of our culture is built on a cognitive understanding. I said before Feldenkrais was brilliant in making the abstract concrete.

The abstract, we know is the cognitive understanding of something but then the concrete understanding. I can talk about dynamic stability or stable mobility, but when I give you the experience of it, then you understand something differently. Those two things, the cognitive and experiential, may not sync up for many years but when they do, I believe that’s a truer sense of understanding of knowing something.

Let’s look at this one. I don’t know if you were a Star Trek fan or not, but I guess maybe you were at some point. May the force go through you.

That was Star Wars. I was a Star Wars fan. The funny thing about that is the title, May the Force Go Through You. When I was recording it in Switzerland, they said, “We can’t use that title here.” I said, “Why?” It translates into something very religious. So I can’t remember what they changed it to but May the Force Go Through You is exactly what I spoke about before, which is the transmission of movement and force through our skeleton.

Where it doesn’t go through our skeleton easily, that’s usually evident that some muscular habit, that if that can be quieted down and deconstructed in some way, then the movement goes through us more, right? That feeling of connection happens and the funny thing is if you watch a basketball game or a great judo con, or someone who’s a great bricklayer or something like that. It looks so effortless that you don’t see how it happens.

This is a bizarre thing because I teach people primarily through movement. If I ask them, of course, “What’s the quality of an ideal movement?” They’ll say, “Efficient.” “It’s pleasurable.” “It was fast.” Anyway, all their answers are correct but in an ideal movement, there would be an example of the force going through you. In an ideal movement, nothing stands out. There’s the absence of any sense of it.

If I throw something in the wastebasket and it lands, I don’t go, “Wow, I felt my weight shift and my back turn and my arm length.” It’s like, “I felt like I didn’t do anything. I’m surprised by it.” In sports, they’ll talk about that as, “The Zone.” The problem with books like In the Zone, which I’ve read, is a nice idea. “How?” “How do you do it?” That’s the thing. Same thing with liking yourself more. How do you do it? It needs practice. It’s not something that’s just going to happen because you want it to happen.

I could speak personally when I wanted it to happen, each step of the way gets more challenging. That surprises me. When I wrote the book, I had no idea what I was doing in the sense that the outcome of where it would put me in my life because everything I write about in the book is about liking yourself and being kind, honestly, I feel pretty adept at that. Now the next level, I hope I make it to see it.

It’s back to that judo analogy. I thought I knew something. Let’s use a judo philosophy for a second, because most Westerners, unfortunately, have people around the world who read this , but most of them are North American people and they don’t know Judo. The first thing anybody says was when you play Judo, “Can you kick somebody?”

“No, we don’t kick anybody, Judo. Sorry.” “You punch people?” “No, we don’t punch people. We throw people.” “How do you do that?” Believe it or not, Judo’s literal translation, Japanese to English is, “A gentle way.” There’s nothing about judo that’s gentle, but as a philosophy, it’s gentle because we’re out to help each other. I’m going to throw you in practice and then you’re going to replicate my throw and we’re going to do it. Ippon seoinage, or we’re going to do whatever throw you’re practicing at the moment is 64 of them.

Let’s look at that for a second and say that gentle way with Feldenkrais because it’s probably not easy either. People probably get up sometimes afterward and say, “Wow, that hurt.” But all of a sudden they stand up and go, “That shoulder pain I had for 20 years is gone.” A woman birthing a baby is a beautiful thing once the baby is out.

You and I haven’t given birth, but we know people who have. My wife went through some torment for 19 hours with one of our kids. All of a sudden you get this beautiful child. To get to that endpoint of kindness or gentility or the thing that we all want, we have to go through some pain. Reference that for a minute.

When I think of the gentle way. In my book about kindness, there are many ideas about being kind to others, but then there’s a whole part about being kind to ourselves. To be honest with you, when I started writing that, I got blocked for about five years. I realized there was a lot I needed to learn and understand. I thought I was kind to myself, and even if I think that now, I think, “Yes I am.”

It could be better in terms of doing that but one of the more significant ways of being gentle with ourselves is that I think through our internal conversations. Now I can look at it in exercise too, where people push themselves too hard and end up injuring themselves. What’s the value of that? When I read the book, K2, I’m like, “Why?” I don’t get it.

Leaving Nothing To Chance | Alan Questel | Acts Of Kindness

K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain

I like skiing down steep hills, scuba diving, and doing things that are dangerous sports, but I’m not there to prove to someone else how much I can do it. To be gentle with ourselves, I would say, as I said before, “Moving in a way that you like the way it feels.” Not all the time, but a few times a day. That’s being gentle with ourselves.

I think the internal conversations to catch them, interrupt them, and shift them. That’s an adaptation. That’s not falling into the pit of the loop of my endless thoughts of what’s wrong with me and being able to think, “Can I gently pull myself out of it without judging myself so much?” When I think of kindness in general, I have one chapter on tough love, which is a different kind of kindness.

You know that if someone’s been an alcoholic, you don’t offer them a drink. If they want one, say no. Not no because you care, no because I care about you. I think that gentleness is an act towards others. The idea of kindness has been generated for me in several ways, but one way that I connected it to liking ourselves more was I doing some small act of kindness. I don’t even remember what it was.

In the next moment, I realized, that’s no better. I like myself more for doing that. It’s not to do acts of kindness so I can pat myself on the back. It’s that those acts help someone else smile. It makes their life a little bit easier or acknowledged in some way. I don’t know, is there a violent act of kindness? I can’t imagine that. I think they’re all gentle at least in the spirit of ren fulfilled  and doing something like that.

Even when you said that Judo wasn’t gentle in practice, I disagree. I think that compared to something like karate or some other martial arts, where you’re breaking into them in some way, as opposed to using their force against themselves. That’s almost like an invitation. “You want to come at me? Okay, keep going.” That’s a gentle way kind of you’re throwing them to the floor. I don’t know, but it’s not as aggressive as some of the other martial arts or sports like that.

One of the things that is too is that you’re helping each other whether you’re whether you’re training or whether you’re competing. In Japanese when you thank each other at the end, it’s very formal. As a Westerner, when I was a kid when I started, fortunately, some people started as adults, I understood. I grew up with a Japanese sensei, I understood the cleanliness of the dojo, the cleanliness of your uniform, cleanliness of your hands, because you are touching another human being.

Whether that person throws you for Ippon or you throw them for Ippon, or it’s just a tight match and you lose, you bow to each other because it’s about respect. To respect each other. It’s something that we as Westerners need to apply a little bit more, I think in our philosophy, not about judo. Judo is a very small sport.

It’s the philosophy of being nice to other people. When you gave that waitress a $30 tip, you don’t know that that money did put gas in her car that she couldn’t put in. You don’t know what the end was and you’re thinking, “I have 30 bucks.” “I over tipped her.” For five minutes you thought about it and then you went, “30 bucks.” That’s the point. That’s why I love what you’re talking about.

Let’s talk about how they get the book, most importantly, and how they can tap into some of the consciousness of not only Dr. Feldenkrais but by extension, your tremendous work and I love what I have seen the other night looked at. I filled out the question here, by the way, I don’t know if you see that stuff.

I use my own example from your example. We adopted four dogs and rescue dogs that were found in parks and things here in Dallas. At first, I was against it when we had dogs throughout our married life. I said to my wife, “We want to travel now.” Our kids are 19, 20 and 28. The 28-year-old lives in California.

Now’s our time. I want to go here and I want to go there but four dogs and we have four cats on top of it that I don’t even talk about. The four dogs, the other day was a freezing cold day here, and the two little ones that are Chiweenies, they’re sitting on my lap, keeping me warm. I’m keeping them warm. We’re watching TV together. The love that those animals show back to you, it’s like you adopted them, they adopted you too.

Whether it’s an animal, another human being, or a homeless person, we have so many people in need, so many animals in need for that matter in our country right now. I love that. Anyway, let’s talk about the practice, intentional acts of kindness, and like yourself more. How did they get the book and how did it happen to resources?

They can go to the website, which is Practicing-Kindness.com and there’s a lot of information about stuff. You can get a sample worksheet there, which is, I think, what you downloaded, and get some idea of the direction of the book. It’s all sold at Amazon as a paperback, as I like to say a Kindle instead of a Kindle because it’s kind, a Kindle, and also as an audiobook as well.

Also, there is my other book called Creating Creativity, Embodying the Creative Process, which was originally about acting in Feldenkrais. I decided to broaden it to the creative process and there I’m looking at some very specific ideas in the creative process, and then giving people a concrete experience of it, as I was talking about before.

Leaving Nothing To Chance | Alan Questel | Acts Of Kindness

Creating Creativity: Embodying The Creative Process

The cognitive and the experiential understanding of it. My other website, UncommonSensing.com is more of my Feldenkrais website. A lot of the stuff we were talking about here, a lot of the questions you ask, the names of my workshops and you can find many more there. You can always reach me through the websites as well.

We’re going to include all of that because as we talk here, all of this is notarized and diarized by our podcast company. Just go to  the show notes and you’ll be able to see everything Alan just referenced there. I know before I let you run. You’ve got a crazy schedule coming up here. You were telling me earlier. Where are you off to? What countries?

On Monday, I’m off to Belgium for two weeks where I have a Feldenkrais training program, and then I’m in France for two weeks in the south. Another training program I have there that’s in starting it’s ending its second year. After that, I go to Switzerland, which is the place where I record all my workshops. I also teach advanced training and supervision workshops to practitioners. I travel about five, or six months of the year all over the place.

Now, you’re going to Taiwan, I think, too.

Taiwan. I was just there in November and December 2023. Now I’m planning on starting training there beginning May 2024. I get around. That’s for four years when I commit to that, where I go like Taiwan for a month at a time, twice a year for four years. It keeps me busy.

Let’s ask a fun question because you are all over the world. If you had to say, what’s your favorite place in the world?

Someone just asked me that yesterday. Fiji. When I would teach in Australia, it used to be a free stopover. I got to go there a few times and then I had two programs in Australia with a week off and I would go scuba diving. Fiji is one of the most gorgeous places and the people are just sweet and great and the diving is great, and the snorkeling is great. I haven’t been there for a while, but I love Fiji,

Great, Alan, this has been a pleasure, my friend, and just hang on here as we sign off. I’m going to ask you one last quick question here. We’ll just do a little housekeeping for the show and the dates and all that stuff but advice to our readers. We’ve got readers. I don’t know all my readers. Obviously, there are thousands of them, fortunately around the world and I don’t know them all.

If I had to profile them, here are a couple of things they have in common. Most of them are in business for themselves. They’re what you might call a Solopreneur. They’re in many different direct-selling companies that they represent. They work for themselves like you and I do and this has been what I’ve done for business for 41 years myself.

Some people are very into improving themselves. I could say all of them, but I’ll just say most of them are into not only self-development but also their health. Feldenkrais sounds like something that we all should be looking at for a variety of reasons as part of a health regimen. Is this something that they can find locally if they google it? Where they can find a local Feldenkrais teacher? Maybe one of your disciples, should they go to your website? How would they find that?

They can just google Feldenkrais.com, which is the Feldenkrais Guild of North America and there there’s a listing of all the members and different, you can search by location or name. Usually, there’s someone nearby when they do that. If they’re interested in self-development, Feldenkrais had an interesting definition of health.

He said, ”For most dictionaries, being healthy is not being sick.” One of his definitions was, “You can measure someone’s health by how quickly they recover from a trauma or an accident.” Now we’re back to adaptability again, sustainability. If someone’s interested in their health through the movement is such a significant way to make a difference and then I think honestly, on an emotional level. Do you want to like yourself more? It’s through kindness that you’ll feel healthier and happier with yourself.

You can measure someone’s health by how quickly they recover from a trauma or an accident. Click To Tweet

I don’t know of any better way to develop ourselves and the idea of liking ourselves more. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t want to like themselves more. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t want to feel better in the movement. These are fundamental things to all cultures, not just us. It’s going to be valuable. I recommend regardless of whether you pursue Feldenkrais or my book or anything like that, look at what are some of the fundamental things you want to become and how you pursue that.

Thank you once again. It’s been a pleasure, my friend. Safe travels.

Thanks very much for having me. I enjoyed our conversation.

It’s been a privilege.

 

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