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Social Justice and Feldenkrais Pt 1: Relaxation, Anxiety and the Feldenkrais Method

This blog series was sparked by the following works:

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Relaxation, Anxiety and the Feldenkrais Method

In the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, a strong emphasis is placed on learning that occurs in a parasympathetic state. The parasympathetic state is an aspect of the autonomic nervous system which aids in rest, recuperation, and digestion. The complementary aspect of the autonomic nervous system is the sympathetic state which governs arousal, excitement, aggression, and the fight-or-flight instincts.

Enhancing the parasympathetic state for learning purposes involves reducing muscular work, tension and anxiety. With reduced effort, the body becomes sensitive to the differences which make improvement and reorganization possible.

Anxiety and its associated muscular tone are produced by threats to safety and comfort, either real or perceived.

In one event, anxiety is a conditioned response, which Feldenkrais traces to the vestibular system and the excitation of the organs involved in homeostatic function. Resolving this anxiety is a matter of delving into that excitation response and recognizing that it does not accurately reflect a non-threatening environment. By moving slowly and sensing internally, the nervous system is able to respond to the supportive safety of the environment by letting go of unnecessary effort.

In another case however, anxiety is a natural and appropriate response to a genuine threat. Here, anxiety brings the self and the attention into action to resolve the contradiction, either changing the environment or adapting to it. In this case, effort is necessary for protection and action. Reducing one’s muscle tone would make oneself vulnerable to violence and subject to further pain, anxiety, injury or death.

While mainstream western media and many in the somatics community idealize a life without anxiety and without pain, this is impossible and impractical. This notion is doubly false and alienating for those who suffer from genuine threats, serious illness and social oppression.

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