Sunday, June 1, 2008

Somatic Relaxation

In the realm of human movement, the word relaxation does not quite fit. In common usage it is heavily weighted with  the idea of inertia or disconnect from whatever might usually need to be done - duty. It is seen as a sort of relief from over-work. In the somatic sense it needs to take on a dynamic quality - efficiency of movement, minimal effort, a quiet readiness to do whatever is required, moment to moment. That is what is seen throughout Nature - if any animal, bird, or insect were to think "let me relax and forget about everything for awhile" that creature would soon be dead. Nature apparently does not approve of "relaxation" in that sense. 

Our brains and or bodies are constructed the same way. Our ancestors were certainly mentored by Nature to be competent - or else we would not be here. All of our ancestors survived wars, cataclysms, floods, disease, to reproduce and raise offspring.  This was certainly not achieved by "taking it easy, rest and forget everything - just relax" as commonly understood today.  Even a little of that would be like a poison pill in a harsh environment. No, there had to be a constant sense of relaxed watchfulness or readiness to do whatever was necessary, moment to moment. 

When this is understood - that our brains and bodies are built to exist in a dynamic balance between comfort and challenge, between rest and activity, then we begin to understand what somatic education is all about. 

A bird is asleep on a twig. The twig breaks, the bird falls and flies away. Even while asleep, the bird was in a state of relaxed readiness.  A deer is chewing grass, head down, apparently relaxed and at ease. Yet, it is listening for sounds of danger, it has an expanded sense of awareness, and every moment or two, it will look up and see what is going on. The deer is ready to bolt at an instant's notice. 

In the realm of movement education, the idea is to improve balance,  refine movement, fill in the self image, eliminate parasitic or contradictory muscle tension patterns, and have many choices for any necessary course of action, for any necessary movement (pain relief happens as a matter of course when this is done in the right way).  The idea of relaxation in the common sense goes in exactly the opposite direction. 

The testimony of anyone who has taken a four year Feldenkrais Training Program or who has taken Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM)  classes for some years is that the quality of rest - of "relaxation" that is discovered in that process is far more enjoyable and useful and helpful than the kind of relaxation the is commonly pursued in the world today. It reconnects us to our evolutionary birthright - a sense of ease in our bodies, a sense of resting on our skeletons, a sense of powerful readiness and many choices to face each moment. It encourages a quiet cortex, a quiet mind, that is not carrying baggage from the past. It is only with a quiet mind and a body in full rest, yet dynamically ready, that we can confidently and successfully face each moment appropriately. 

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