Over many years of observation and experience, I’ve become a student of holiday stress. You’re probably familiar with the “Stress index,” which assigns a score to various life events. There are other stress indices to measure occupational stress, parenting stress, and other “locational and temporal” stress. In fact, Google lists 1,480,000 entries for “Stress index.” That’s a lot of interest in stress! However, examining one’s own habits, behaviors, and attitudes can provide a more accurate indicator by measuring your reaction to potentially stressful situations, rather than the situations themselves.
We’ve heard (and possibly ignored) some of the sensible advice about managing stress: to eat right, exercise, don’t hold emotions in. However, it’s interesting that the stress inventory published by the Canadian Mental Health Association also includes the following “fill-in-the-blank” possibilities to the question, “Do you frequently. . .”
- Fail to get a break from noise and crowds?
- Race through the day?
- Fail to build relaxation time into your day?
- Think there is only one right way to do something?
- Make a “big deal” out of everything?
These elements are equally essential in managing your stress as are exercise, diet, and rest. They are harder to “fix,” because they require a level of awareness and choice-making that goes beyond a simple “just do it.” Yet, it’s precisely in these neglected aspects that the Feldenkrais Method can help you learn to do better, and lower your stress.
There’s something wonderful about the mood and ambiance of a Feldenkrais Class. No matter how many people are there, each one seems to blossom in the quiet expectancy that fills the room. Everyone has enough personal space on their mat, on the floor. There’s no music blaring; just a calm, friendly voice to calm and guide you, and let you think, or just be. The movements are slow and gentle. You feel the contrast between the racing you left, and something else that feels better. You remember what it feels like to relax, to let your body and mind float, completely safe and supported by the floor.
Each lesson offers practical experience in exploring multiple options for accomplishing the same thing. Sometimes an easy solution is not obvious. You have to experiment to find the best way for you. You might catch a glimpse of another student, and notice that he’s doing something a little different than you are. Together, you explore separately, and arrive at your own best way. It’s refreshing for the mind and body to engage in an activity, just for a short time, where the stakes aren’t so high.
It seems that our culture is full of judgment for those who “escape” or “turn off” like this. For some, the therapeutic language of pathology is the only way to rationalize the human need to be human, and on occasion, to rest. If you were a machine (and you’re not, by the way), you probably would understand that you have to turn it off every once in awhile. You have to refresh, reboot, update. The “machinery” of your mind, body, and soul deserves no less. It can be as simple as making opportunities for yourself to examine how you do what you do. Improvement can be enjoyable!
People sometimes get the impression that the Feldenkrais Method is just for relaxation, to become a mellowed-out wet noodle of a being, floating through life with a silly smile on your face. It’s important to remember that Moshe Feldenkrais was a black belt in Judo, and trained others in hand-to-hand combat, for real. He understood that strength, power, and endurance must be balanced with rest, awareness, and efficiency.
A little bit of stress and anxiety can be just what you need to get up off the couch and go do something productive. However, they can also sneak up on you, and suddenly you’re not having any fun. (Neither is anyone around you.) I like the Canadian Mental Health Association list because it lists “stress habits” that can be changed with some self-awareness and a little practice in doing differently. This is where the Feldenkrais Method can help you to excel.