Awareness and Stress
Life is Problems: Stress Relief in a Stressed-Out Society
NOTE: The Feldenkrais Method® Support, a movement-based learning format, was developed by Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais (1904-84), an Israeli physicist who worked at the Curie Institute in Paris. A series of crippling knee injuries left him unable to walk, facing surgery and a poor prognosis; instead he treated himself. After a long struggle, Feldenkrais taught himself to walk again without pain, and refined his methods, (Awareness Through Movement‚ (ATM) and Functional Integration‚) to teach and help others.
Life is, in essence, a series of problems. Our earliest problems are “Where’s food? I’m hungry” or “I’m tired and need to sleep.” We graduate to bigger problems: “How can I reach that cookie jar, way up there on the counter?” Pretty soon, we are solving problems like: “Do I ask him out on a date?”
Then we have problems like buying and maintaining a house, relating to another person in a long-term, committed relationship (or not!) and all of the wonderful problems of parenting. The more we mature, the bigger and better our problems seem to get.
When problem-solving is not fun or challenging in a positive way, it causes stress. We all know when stress gets to be too much — and the damage it can cause. But our problems aren’t going to go away. So how can we learn to handle them?
When I first took a weekly Awareness Through Movement® class, it was an island of sanity and relaxation in my insanely stressed-out life. I spent at least 20 minutes of every class fast asleep!
Learning to identify and respect my physical, mental and emotional limits has been gradual, but the quality of my life is now so improved, I can’t imagine how I lived like that. I now use my body as a barometer and listen to it when it tells me where my limits are. I still accomplish a lot, but only if I take the nonlinear approach I learned in those Feldenkrais® classes.
Thus Awareness Through Movement® classes are a down-to-earth approach to dealing with the problems of life. In an ATM class, participants explore solutions to various movement challenges. This transforms “problem-solving” into fun, as it was when we were children. ATM helps us learn to handle stress in two ways simultaneously: physically and mentally:
On the physical side, ATM lessons release us from our habits of hunching the shoulders, holding or restricting the breath, locking the chest and rib cage, tensing the belly, and otherwise preparing to fight or flee. ATM teaches us ways to notice those signs of stress and de-stress our selves throughout the day.
On the mental side, ATM helps us identify and respect our limits, and to focus on the process, instead of chasing one goal after another with nothing but stress in between. Moshe Feldenkrais insisted everyone should have at least three distinct options for doing every action. The more options available, the more chances of drawing upon one of the previously “superfluous” options in handling an unexpected problem. Respecting our limits is often a new experience, as there is little cultural support for it. If you begin to identify and respect your limits, be prepared for resistance—respecting your limits is a revolutionary thing to do. But it is an idea whose time has come, and you will be a role model for others when they see you at peace, with plenty of time to spare.
Improved Awareness Leads to Greater Workplace Comfort
So many of our repetitive postures began in childhood that we are barely aware of them any longer. Even as adults, repetition deadens our physical awareness — our brains basically stop noticing when we are not comfortable. Many computer users, for example, extend their mousing arm far from their body while working, and unnecessarily hold up the weight of their whole arm.
If we unconsciously hold our heads forward while working on the computer, we place a similarly unnecessary strain on our shoulders and neck. But we usually don’t notice these unnecessary tensions until we are in pain! By then, of course, damage or injury to tissues may have already occurred.
Increased sensory awareness helps us to notice sooner when our unconscious postures are moving toward strain and injury. The Feldenkrais Method® teaches us how to improve our awareness of our physical status, and provides options for sitting, moving and rebalancing our weight. With new choices for movement, the nervous system can adapt more quickly and thus modify our postures before real strain or damage sets in – even while we are deep in thought and hard at work.
Mini- Awareness Through Movement®
EASY FLEXIBILITY LESSON
To do this lesson, sit at the edge of your chair.
1. Turn your head to look to the right. Notice if there is any strain or pain in the movement and if you hold your breath. Do it again and notice where do you initiate the movement from.
2. Repeat this simple movement, but reduce the effort. Don’t go to the limit. Make the movement light as though floating through air or oil.
3. Now leave the head in the middle and turn both shoulders to the right. The left shoulder comes forward as the right shoulder goes backward. Again reduce the effort and repeat several times, don’t hold your breath, and make the movement lighter each time.
4. Turn your head a few times to the right and notice if more of you participates in the movement now. Is it a little easier? Pause a few seconds in the middle.
5. This time leave the head in the middle, but move your left knee a little bit forward so that the pelvis rotates, with the left side of the pelvis coming forward and the right side going backward. Repeat several times without strain or holding the breath.
6. Now again turn your head to the right and let all the parts of yourself participate.
Is the movement easier now? Do you turn further? Do you initiate the movement from a different place than you did in the beginning? Can you feel how using more of yourself has freed the head and neck?
7. Repeat the same sequence, turning to the other side.
For more information about the Feldenkrais Method® or for a catalogue of tapes, workshops and trainings contact Feldenkrais Resources at www.feldenkraisresources.com or call 800-765-1907.