Restoring Human Dignity, One Person at a Time

Human dignity is such an important part of our overall health and well-being physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Unfortunately, life experiences can chip away at our human dignity, and in some cases even brutally rip it apart. However, I discovered an almost magical method that literally helps restore human dignity, one person at a time.

It was in February of 2000 when I found Feldenkrais. That statement sounds like it has an almost poetic and biblical sound to it, and I mean no disrespect. I do mean that it changed my life forever and helped me see the light.

After I took my first Feldenkrais class, I knew I had to become a practitioner of this remarkable movement therapy and share it with everyone who was looking to move better, feel better, look better, and generally improve their activity level and quality of life. To restore their human dignity.

Then I found out that the training was a grueling four-year-long program to become a Feldenkrais Practitioner. Yikes! I was still paying off my student loan from my physical therapy program! But, I just had to do it, and I graduated from my program and became a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner in November of 2009.

The Feldenkrais philosophy is to restore human dignity through the process of exploring primitive movement, finding ways to move effortlessly and easily in your body and your mind, and challenge your belief system in a gentle and non-judgmental approach.

The founder of the method, Moshe Feldenkrais, was a genius, a survivalist, and martial artist. He was the first European ever to earn a black belt in Judo. The principles of martial arts are deeply embedded in his method.

In a weird twist of fate (or was it destiny?) I began training in Ninpo Tai Jutsu, and ancient Japanese martial art, in September of 2003. The combined teachings of Feldenkrais and martial arts had a profound and powerful impact on every aspect of my life. Through these harmoniously connected movement arts, I found my true self and regained my own human dignity.

I continue to promote and share the principles of both Feldenkrais and martial arts to my hundreds of clients, colleagues, friends, my many speaking audiences, workshop attendees, and pretty much anyone who will listen. Because I am dedicated to restoring human dignity, one person at a time. And I refuse to quit until I do.

“Be careful what you tell yourself, and do not belittle yourself, even in jest. Negative, deprecating self-talk can do significant harm to your self-image.”

–Cheryl L Ilov, Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond. 

Episode 1: Welcome to The FemiNinja Project!

Exactly one year ago I entered a podcasting contest. At the time, I had no idea what a podcast was, or why I would possibly want one. I entered the contest anyway.

Eight anxiety-filled weeks later and overcoming multiple steep learning curves, the contest was over. I didn’t win, but I was invited to join the platform anyway. I am now flying solo, re-branding the show, and creating a community of like-minded women and men who are dedicated to restoring human dignity and helping people of all ages and walks of life unleash their personal power.

In this first episode, you’ll hear about how (and why) I began training in an ancient Japanese martial art called Ninpo Tai Jutsu, the Art of the Ninja. As a matter of fact, you’ll learn more about me than I ever wanted anyone to know. But, it’s time for me to share my story and stop hiding in the shadows.

I also will share many of the ninja secrets, tips, and tricks I learned in my training that you can apply in every single aspect of your life to keep you safe, strong, establish clear boundaries, and be healthy in body, mind, and spirit. And all without spending 14 years in a smelly dojo getting smacked around by a bunch of sweaty men. I took the hits so you wouldn’t have to. You’re welcome.

Never underestimate the strength and power you have deep inside of you. My mission is to help you unleash that power, Discover that it IS possible to look like a woman, act like a lady, move like a ninja and think like a warrior. And remember, men are always welcome on The FemiNinja Project. After all, I would not be here today if it were not for the many magnificent men in my life.

I am grateful to each and every one of them, and I am grateful to you for listening to the podcast, and starting your own journey into the Art of the Ninja. Sayonara!

The Eyes Have it

Making eye contact with another person is crucial to the human connection and establishing a relationship. Averting one’s eyes makes you appear suspicious, furtive, unapproachable, and even dangerous. Or it can communicate to strangers that you are insecure, vulnerable, and an easy target for perpetrators.

However, when you look someone in the eye, there is an immediate connection, and an exchange of information. Your brain processes this information, sending electrical, chemical, and hormonal signals through your body how to react. Eye contact gives you an instantaneous respond as to whether this person is a friend or foe, safe or threatening. That’s why it is so dangerous to walk around in public with your head buried in your cell phone.

First of all, it’s not safe. Second, it desensitizes you to the human experience and the human connection. Third, it’s creepy. But a few days ago I experienced something that was beyond creepy.

I went to the grocery store with my husband to pick up a few things. Much has changed in the past several weeks due to the COVID19 pandemic, and we’re all used to the masks, the social distancing, the hand washing, etc. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in the store that day.

Just a few days earlier, people were looking at each other, making eye contact, and even smiling at each other. The unspoken message was, “Hey, this is kind of weird, but we’re all in this together and this soon shall pass.”

But on this particular day people were social distancing, wearing their masks, and avoiding eye contact. Many of them were averting their eyes, furtively looking away and even turning their backs when another person walked by them. It was creepy, incredibly disturbing, and dehumanizing. I felt like I was in a store with a bunch of zombies, or maybe even a few mass murderers. People behaved as if each one knew that the other had a deep, dark, horrible secret that they were trying to hide. I couldn’t wait to get out of the store.

On the way out one woman stopped at the entrance to dig in her purse, creating a back log of shoppers behind her. We tried to go around her, but we were trapped. I glanced at the police officer guarding the entrance, but she turned her back on me when I looked at her. So much for guarding the store. Shoppers were trying to get in, others were trying to get out, no one was looking at each other and no one said a word. Not even an “excuse me.” It was surreal.

When we finally broke loose and made it outside I was disheartened and depressed. Is this where we are now as a society? That we are so disconnected from each other that we walk around like zombies or robots, not looking at each other and not speaking to one another?  What has happened to the human connection?

But then magic happened. As we pulled the bags out of the cart, a man walked briskly around the corner, saw us with a free cart, looked me in the eye, gave me a big smile and said, “Are you done with this?” “Yes,” I replied, “Here, let me clean it off for you.” And I whipped out my spray bottle of alcohol from my purse. He continued to smile at me, and still holding my gaze said, “Nah, I’m good!” I sprayed the cart anyway.

That man made my day. Because in that simple encounter, he lifted my spirits, and restored my faith in humanity and human dignity. All because he made eye contact with me. And gave me a smile.

Episode 12: The Magic of Healing Through Movement

Movement is life, and movement can help you heal from pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and pretty much anything that is interfering with the quality of your life. On the other hand, we all have habits and patterns of moving that can create or add to our physical or emotional pain.

Knowledge is power, and so is lifelong learning. Keeping an open mind and learning about alternative health practices gives you the power to take control of your body and puts you in charge of your health rather than relinquishing it to someone else.

This episode outlines one of my favorite alternative modalities, one which I have studied extensively and eventually became certified in after four grueling years of study and training.

However, it was well worth the time, money, and effort invested. Yes, it’s that good. Learn a little bit about this method and discover how using your awareness, along with simple changes in your movement patterns can help you heal your life, in a natural, organic, and visceral way. After all, the human body has an incredible ability to heal itself.

As I said, knowledge is power. And so is the magic of movement. It will even restore your human dignity.

Episode 6: Who Needs A Gym?

Keeping fit and healthy is an important component of the spirit of the ninja. Think about it–how could you possibly defend yourself or your loved ones if you were in poor physical shape? You couldn’t, which is why you need to follow some sort of fitness routine.

But, what do you do if you’re like me, and hate going to the gym? Believe me, in my younger years I tried. Really I did. I even tried running a long time ago. But I quickly discovered that I was allergic to running and the mere thought of going to a gym made me break out in hives.

Fortunately I discovered other ways to keep in some sort of shape, including dance, Pilates, and martial arts classes. All, by the way, are highly effective but also incredibly expensive to pursue on a regular basis. But, they share many basic principles and have a lot in common, which is something I was able to figure out and share with hundreds of my clients along the way stay in tip-top shape so they can fight the good fight.

In this episode I share some surprisingly simple tips to help you get fit and stay fit in every stage of life, without spending hours at a gym. Because it’s not what you do during those few hours a week at the gym. It’s what you do during the rest of the time that really counts. And here are just a few ideas.

Episode 5: Cutting The Ties That Bind

Breaking up with someone is always awkward, and uncomfortable. But a few years ago I had the McDaddy of all breakups when I had to break up with my BFF.

It was so bad I actually had to seek professional help. Because, how do you tell someone you have been best friends with for thirty years (yep, I said thirty), that you haven’t liked them for the past fifteen and have been trying to figure out how to break up with them for the past ten?

Find out what happened, and why cutting the ties that bind an incredibly empowering experience, and a terrific way to reclaim your human dignity.

Episode 4: Don’t Be Sorry–Just Be You

It’s interesting how some of our habits and patterns are actually self-sabotaging. And we don’t even realize it. However, some of our habits are so self-destructive they can become pathological.

Unfortunately, unless someone brings our awareness to it, we can’t change the pattern that is slowly and methodically chipping away at our personal power. And here is just one example.

How many times a day do you say you’re sorry? And what exactly is it that you are so sorry for? Women especially are always apologizing for one thing or another, even when the situation doesn’t warrant it or there is nothing wrong to begin with.

This episode of The FemiNinja Project addresses the apology pathology of Excessive Apology Disorder. But, never fear–there is a safe and effective way to recover from Excessive Apology Disorder and reclaim your personal power. And, it requires no harmful drugs or intensive therapy. Just good, old-fashioned awareness.

After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, restoring your human dignity, and unleashing your personal power.

When Life Gives You Lemons….

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I was recently reminded of this when I was looking for an old Fannie Farmer recipe. I didn’t even know that Fannie Farmer was a real person. I just thought it was a catchy name for farm fresh recipes. That shows you how much I know! I was fascinated at what I found.

Fannie was the oldest daughter in a family of 4 girls. Huh, interesting. I grew up in a family of 5 girls. She and her sisters were expected to go to college. Another coincidence–my sisters and I were expected to go to college as well. So we could be self sufficient before we got married. We were kind of expected to do that as well.

Anyway, that’s where any parallels ended. Fannie never did pursue higher education. She suffered a paralyzing stroke when she was 16. Sixteen! How does someone have a stroke at 16? As a medical person I know it happens, but it’s pretty rare.

For several years, she was unable to walk. She lived at home so her parents could take care of her. While recuperating, she took up cooking and eventually turned her mother’s home into a boarding house that was renowned for the quality of the meals it served. Go, Fannie!!

The rest, as they say, is history. And Fannie Farmer certainly made history, as well as significant impact on the future of cooking, nutrition, and domestic science. Her life path was dramatically changed by a devastating medical crisis. But instead of giving up, she managed to find a new path which made her name a household word long after she was gone.

Her story inspired me, and made me think of other people who changed the world. Not in spite of their physical challenges, but because of them. Joseph Pilates and Moshe Feldenkrais are just two that come to mind, but there are hundreds more out there.

Maybe you’re one of them. Or will be in the future. Just remember that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I have faith in you, and I’ll give you plenty of sugar along the way if you need it. Because I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. And I certainly believe in you.

A Unique Form of Movement Therapy: Feldenkrais!

There is a unique form of movement therapy that is the best kept secret known to mankind. This movement method can help you move better, feel better, get rid of pain, stress, anxiety, etc. It can even help you reverse the aging process and engage in activities you never thought you could do before. You can even learn how to stand on your head. The list goes on and on. This unique method is called Feldenkrais, and here  are a few reasons why Feldenkrais is unique from other methods.

Move from your skeleton.

In Feldenkrais, we focus on moving from our skeleton rather than pushing from our muscles. Because, our skeleton is what supports us, and our bones and joints are what propel us through space. Our brain and our nervous system is the command center that puts it all together for us. Our muscles simply shorten (contract) or lengthen (relax) according to what the system requires it to do.

Quality rather than quantity.

We are more interested in the quality of our movement rather than the quantity, velocity, or repetitions. When we change the way we approach movement, our nervous system is more able to interrupt movement patterns that are interfering with our ability to thrive.

Slow is better, and less is more.

We move slowly–very, very slowly. It allows for a way of “listening” to the movement pattern as well as the effect it is having on our body, and the feelings and sensations we experience as we move.

No pain, much gain.

We make ourselves comfortable. I know, it sounds self-indulgent and contradictory to the common mantra of “no pain, no gain.” However, if we are experiencing any kind of discomfort, our nervous system isn’t able to work it’s magic and integrate the many wonderful new changes it is experiencing.

It’s all about awareness.

In a nutshell, we are training our awareness. Our awareness of our selves, our movement patterns, our environment, and our relationships. Here is a lovely quote by Moshe Feldenkrais himself, the master of movement which summarizes it quite well.

“Through awareness we can learn to move with a surprising lightness and freedom at any age, and improve our quality of life. Not only physically, but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.”        -Moshe Feldenkrais

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a beautiful thing. Thank you, Moshe, for restoring to each of us our human dignity, and providing us with the path to live up to our full potential.

Feldenkrais® and the Middle-aged Pole dancer….

I celebrated my 58th birthday a few months ago. Since I am now living on the South Side of 50, and the big 6-0 is right around the corner, I decided it was time to start engaging in more age appropriate activities. So, I started pole dancing.

When I took my first Level 1 class, my arms were so sore I couldn’t lift them over my head for four days. After the second class, my arms felt stronger, and they only hurt for three days, so I knew I was making progress.

Indeed, I was making progress, and after only four classes, I was promoted to the next level. I was now officially a Level 2 pole dancer. Ha! How many middle-aged ladies can put that on their resumé? I was really excited to learn more advanced moves. At least, I was until I experienced my first Level 2 class.

Our first exercise was called forearm presses. That didn’t sound too bad, especially since my arms were getting so strong. But, then I saw the move, and I started having second thoughts. A forearm press was actually a head stand in front of the pole, with your legs landing against the pole.

I glanced around the room to see if I could find a back door so I could make a quick escape. For some reason, pole dancing didn’t seem like such a good idea any more. I couldn’t find an exit, but even if I could, running out of the room probably wasn’t a good idea, either. After all, it was pretty cold outside, and all I was wearing was a leotard and a pair of shorts.

Feeling stuck, I assumed the position and gave it a try. It hurt my head, strained my neck, and my feet were glued to the floor. No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not wrap my head (so to speak) around lifting my legs in the air. Finally, I held my breath and kicked my legs a few times. Each time I fell over and landed on my butt. It was quite undignified, and very embarrassing.

I decided to give it one last try, when something really strange happened. A memory from my Feldenkrais training made its way back home, and I heard a voice in my head say, “Sense your contact with the floor.” I slowed myself down, felt my head against the floor and the floor against my head. Okay, that felt different. The voice continued, “Sense your breathing.” My chest began to soften and my connection with the floor felt stronger, yet easier. Well now, that wasn’t so hard.

I thought about lifting my legs in the air to a full head stand, but the voice stopped me and said, “Sense your five lines.” Oh, good idea….I had forgotten about that. Suddenly my legs felt as light as air, and I effortlessly lifted them up to rest against the pole. Taking another moment to sense my contact with the floor as well as the pole, I felt my spine get longer, stronger, and my legs lengthen against the pole. But I wasn’t done. 

Slowly I lowered one leg down to land softly back on the floor. In the foreground of my attention there was only me, the floor and the pole. In the background of my attention were several loud thunks as other dancers hit the floor.

Allowing myself another minute to enjoy my new-found freedom of standing on my head, I slowly allowed my other leg float away from the pole to the floor. It felt so easy, so effortless, and so elegant. I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult just a few short minutes earlier.

When I lifted my head, for some reason the entire class was staring at me, including my teacher. She asked me how I did that. I merely smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I just figured it out.”

Just in case you are concerned about the voices in my head, please don’t worry. I’m pretty sure it’s just my nervous system talking to me, and reminding me that with Feldenkrais, anything is possible. Those voices are working with me, not against me, all for the power of good. A far cry from what they told me before my Feldenkrais training, and before my pole dancing days.

It’s good to be 58. It’s good to be a pole dancer. Most of all, it’s really good to be a Feldenkrais practitioner. Feldenkrais….restoring each person to their human dignity. Even for middle-aged pole dancers. It’s a beautiful thing!