Some Thoughts on Reducing the Body Pattern of Anxiety
May 17, 2021
David Zemach-Bersin, Feldenkrais Trainer, Feldenkrais Access Founder
Anxiety was a problem that interested Dr. Feldenkrais for over 40 years. He devoted an entire chapter to the problem of anxiety in his first book, Body & Mature Behavior, and then returned to it again in his last book, The Elusive Obvious.
Our nervous system responds to fear or stress in ways that are universal to all living organisms. These responses are unconscious, self-protective, and in every instance, involve muscular contraction. For us, this means contraction throughout our musculature, constricted breathing, inhibited movement of the diaphragm, a forward carriage of the head, an almost static contraction of the abdomen and pelvis, restrictions in the movement of the spine, neck and shoulders, and clenching of the hands, mouth, and jaw. It also means a quickening of our pulse, an inhibition of our digestion, and significant changes in our circulation.
This is the primordial body pattern of fear: a pattern of global contraction that allows an organism to either freeze, withdraw from a threat, or move toward (against) a threat. It's an autonomic or involuntary nervous system pattern that developed hundreds of thousands of years ago to facilitate a brief, intense, effective response and has served us well. In earlier times, it was precisely what we needed. If we encountered a hungry lion, it improved our chance of survival. And after the danger had passed, we'd return to a calm and relaxed state, relatively quickly, and move on. Today, it's more complicated.
Trauma and fear-linked experiences make a strong impression on our brain, stimulating ancient neural networks responsible for our self-protection. But, these neural networks did not evolve in the context of a modern world, in which we are bombarded by stress and complex stimuli, and our nervous system perceives itself to be threatened for sustained periods of time. Instead of dissipating, our primitive fear response is sustained, and bodily contraction becomes habitual. One of the ways we experience this is as chronic anxiety.
Fortunately, the human brain is also attracted to things that can help. With a sophisticated combination of movement and our attention, the Feldenkrais Method communicates with our brain's neuroplastic learning centers to interrupt, reduce and even eliminate the body pattern of anxiety. It quickly reminds us of healthier and better-organized ways of breathing, feeling, sensing, and moving, that are free of stress and anxiety. And in this way, the body pattern of anxiety gradually loses its physical basis and yields to a new, easier, freer, and more pleasurable way of being in the world.
~David, April 2021