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January 30, 2016: Bringing Centered Riding to Alaska: A Day-Long Feldenkrais Workshop

The day following our August Centered Riding clinic, I thought, well, we had a clinic here. We brought in Susan Harris, a Level IV instructor. The clinic and the anatomy in motion day were a huge success. Then I said to myself, “what now?” Well, maybe when I ride with some of the clinic attendees they’ll in passing refer to one or more of Sally Swift’s six basics. I could not hope for any more than that because I didn’t have a vision.

What has happened since that clinic has been beyond my wildest dreams. Susan Harris brought Centered Riding to Alaska, and in a huge way. There is something about that woman that defies description – all I can figure is

Alys with Tinni and flag

that because she is so centered, that people love and respect her.

I began instructing in September. Shortly thereafter, I went to Europe and did a Centered Riding Update clinic with Centered Riding Level IV instructor Deb Moynihan. Deb, in my final evaluation, minced no words in indicating that I needed to hop on the body awareness bandwagon. I was in hearing this, inwardly disheartened because I used to be an athlete. I did long distance bicycle trips, sea kayaking trips, and horseback rides. My thinking was that I was not as bad off as she thought – I was just stiff from having spent several nights in my tent, and from having lugged my heavy pack a seemingly long distance.

However, I had of late been feeling stiff and bit creaky. It was because I was not beyond the point of no return that I decided to act on my instructor’s suggestion and get myself in better shape. If I had been beyond the point of return I would have crawled under a rock and never emerged.

I looked on the internet and found the Name of Shari Lee, who is a Feldenkrais instructor, and has a business called Movement Options. I contacted her because I was impressed with the fact that one of the website photos has her working with a tiger. That, I thought, was one tough lady. I was told that there was room for me in her Tuesday and Thursday morning classes, and then I coerced Pete into driving me there. (I won’t drive to Anchorage, it’s too dangerous.) Pete, too, opted to take Shari’s class. I liked the classes, my determinate being that what Shari was saying and doing made sense to me. As if this was not enough, I also decided to start taking an internal martial arts class. As luck would have it, a couple who live nearby our place teach classes in TI Chi and other internal martial arts on a daily basis. I did not have to coerce Pete into taking me to Seven Sages because Jen and Jay’s place is very close to where we live.

Now 1 ½ months later, I’m more supple, more energetic than previously. And because I’m more in balance, getting around is easier. And because getting around is easier, I’m infinitely more cheerful. As I’m now telling people, I’m undergoing an energy shift.

The commute to Anchorage for Feldenkrais class is time consuming, which is why I recently asked Shari if she’d like to do a one-day workshop here in Palmer. She agreed, and so I rounded up nine people (two ended up having other commitments) and located a place for us to meet. The latter was the conference room of a local restaurant.

Today’s workshop was nothing short of extraordinary. I do not know if my mood became one of euphoria because I was surrounded by good friends, all of whom were receptive to Shari’s teachings, or because the body work had a pronouncedly good effect on me. For sure, the long-time knot in my back, the one Shari called an “uninvited visitor” disappeared at about mid-day.

The students, all Centered Riders, were a very articulate bunch. And the comments that wove around the Feldenkrais exercises were thoughtful, insightful, and indicative of the fact that all were making the connections between Centered Riding basics and the Feldenkrais methodology.

I was particularly impressed with Shari’s high level of expertise in addressing horseback riding specifics. She (in very short order) tailored her lesson so that it complemented the needs/concerns/interests of a very horsey group. Her specific exercises enabled us to open our tight hips and made our pelvises infinitely more supple. For example (and this is the short version), we laid on our backs and with knees up, rolled our pelvises back and forth and from side-to-side. This was all fitting since the Feldenkrais method involves sending messages to the Central Nervous System, telling it where the tension patterns are located. The CNS then sends messages to the tense muscles, which causes them to release.

The exercises are not strenuous or stressful, and so the adage “no pain, no gain” does not apply. I’m sure that for this reason, some would be dismissive of this particular modality. Not me – the fact that there is no knot in my back is proof positive that there is something to this.

We wrapped up the session with Shari cautioning us to be quiet this evening. Her analogy was that we were like Etch-a-Sketches. Should we exert ourselves, we might undo the new (and delicate) paths in our neural pathways. I had wanted to go riding when I got home, but ended up saying to myself “oh well, tomorrow will be another day.”

After class, Pete talked briefly with Shari and Jessica about the possibility of Shari’s coming out to the valley on a regular basis and doing a class. I am thinking that this is well within the realm of possibility – I can easily think of a dozen people who would attend her sessions on a regular basis. Today was just the tip of the iceberg.

There was also some talk related to Shari’s coming out to the valley and assisting with some of our ongoing lessons. Additionally, Deb Moynihan is coming to Alaska in May. It would be beneficial to all us riders if the two could collaborate in watching us ride.

Pete also later told me that Jessica said that the Chickaloon Health Center is now offering ongoing tai chi classes on Friday afternoons. I’m going to do this because this is a non-martial arts day for me.

Additionally, Karen Irland, a Level IV instructor is coming up here to do a clinic in July. And Susan Harris and Peggy Brown will be doing a couple of clinics and a combined horse and rider anatomy in motion clinic here in Spring, 2017. I wish this was sooner, but the timing will be good. By then the bulk of the riders will be Centered Riding savvy.

So yes, I have to say that we now are on a roll here as far as Centered Riding goes, and in a big way. No wonder I’m euphoric. And, additionally, that knot in my back now seems to be history.

Next: 31. 1/31/16: Sunday at Saddle-Up –Post Idea Day

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