If you are searching for a way to improve your mood and mental focus, it is likely that you are experiencing the symptoms of stress. This article will introduce you to an online stress reduction program that combines elements of meditation with the Feldenkrais Method of movement. Feldenkrais training is a highly effective way to activate the relaxation response and achieve mindfulness. Do you have 15 minutes right now? Sign in below, or read on to learn more.
First, do you know the symptoms of stress?
- Are you noticing unpredictable or frequent mood changes, such as a quickness to anger?
- Do you have the sense of being overwhelmed, or depressed?
- Are you finding it difficult to focus your mind?
- Are you unable to relax because your thoughts are racing, or you feel completely disorganized?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are experiencing some common symptoms associated with the body's stress response.
What Causes the Symptoms of Stress?
Stress symptoms are caused by your body's reaction to circumstances or events that you perceive to be harmful. The perception is formed when your brain interprets the signals that are picked up via your five senses. If you see, hear, taste, smell, or feel something that the brain thinks is threatening to life or limb, this will trigger the "fight-or-flight" chemical response in your body.
The Fight-or-Flight (Stress) Response
When the fight-or-flight response is activated, stress hormones flood your system, driving up your blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. It also triggers an active state of readiness at the muscular level (also known as muscular tension). All of this is good, in fact, it is great in a life-threatening emergency. However, the perceptions that trigger the fight-or-flight response can be largely subjective in nature.
No one would argue that a natural disaster such as an earthquake or tornado is life threatening. But when it's over, unless you have personally experienced devastating loss, it's over. After a period of time, your body will calm down and return to a state of homeostasis. The same is true with other emergency situations that you experience over the course of your life.
On the other end of the spectrum are perceived threats that are specific to your particular situation, and these can be more insidious. Think of the following senarios:
- the school bully who may be lurking around the corner or taunting you on social media.
- the boss who doesn't respect you or your boundaries.
- the devastating medical diagnosis a close friend or family member has received.
- that dimly lit parking garage you have to walk through to get to your car after yet another late night at work.
These types of situations, and the stress perceptions they produce, may be fueled by an impending danger or the imagined sense of possibility that danger might occur at any given moment. In other words, there may be a bully in your life, but he may not be around the corner right now. However, because the possibility exists and is connected to significant aspects of your daily routine, the sense that the threat is constant can lead to a habituated stress perception. When this happens it's like your body is a house without a circuit breaker: the electrical signals keep surging at dangerous levels. Eventually, something is going to burn out or burn up. Don't let it be you.
How to Find a Solution
Finding a solution is a two part process. There are two questions you need to ask yourself:
- What will give me immediate relief?
- How can I break the cycle of perceptions that lead to a stress response in the first place?
These were the two questions I asked myself one day after an interesting exchange with some tenth grade girls who were students of mine at an independent school, where I was teaching a year-long seminar in stress management. A fellow faculty member and I had been introducing a number of different stress management strategies over the course of the school year, including meditation and a somatic education process called Awareness Through Movement, which comes from the Feldenkrais Method of somatic learning.
The girls loved the class, especially the Awareness Through Movement lessons, and repeatedly commented on how relaxed they felt by the end of the period. However, when the school implemented a 5-minute school-wide period of silence each day, the girls confided that they found it to be extremely anxiety provoking. Sitting still and doing nothing was driving them crazy.
Despite having learned a variety of strategies for dealing with their anxiety, they hadn't yet figured out how to apply those skills in a real life situation. I said to the class, "I don't get it. You always tell me how much you love doing the mediation and the Feldenkrais lessons, in which you are quiet for an entire class period. Why would 5-minutes cause you so much anxiety?" One student responded as follows:
...when we are with you we can rest our mind because all we are thinking about is feeling what our body is doing. It's like we can't worry because that part of our mind is resting.
As I thought about that student's observation and reflected on my own experience with Feldenkrais, I realized that she had hit on something important. When we consciously focus on our sensory motor experience in the way that Feldenkrais lessons ask of us, all other thoughts recede into the background. Thinking doesn't stop, but it is focused through a different lens. The experience creates a sense of novelty that is so interesting to the brain that it functions like a circuit breaker, interrupting the habitual thought flow. This led me to ask, can movement, and more specifically attention to the experience of movement, function like a mantra does in meditation?
The Awake Naps Process
This inquiry led to the development of a process I call Awake Naps. To date, students of mine between the ages of 14 and 90 have tried these lessons with good success. The process draws from the Awareness Through Movement lesson model used by Feldenkrais teachers, but applies it to meditation. I have seen it bring about a calmer, more focused state of mind after just a few minutes, thereby answering the first of my two question (What can bring immediate relief?).
But I was also interested in helping my students to break the habituated cycle of stress perceptions that were leading to the stress response in the first place. Here is where I think the Awake Naps process has even greater value. It is grounded in awareness of the physical sensation of easy movement that you can do at any time of day. Therefore, it is possible to use the body's learned relaxation response to the movement as a circuit breaker in a stressful situation as it is happening. It may not change the circumstances, but it will change your perspective.
If you can find a new perspective while you are experiencing a stressful situation, you are no longer experiencing it from a victim's mentality, which only contributes further to the stress. You may still be deeply impacted by the circumstances, but your mindset will switch to a mode of personal power, leaving room for creative solutions that were not previously available. This will not only help you in the moment, but will bring greater personal insight into the ways you can make positive changes in your life and for your health.
To experience the Awake Naps process for yourself, please register below for 15-minutes to a Calmer, More Focused, Happier You. This online program, which takes 15 minutes to complete, is available 24-7, and offered on Pay What Your Want model. Those who register then have the option of then completing a follow-up month-long plan for using the Awake Naps process as a means for establishing a regular practice of daily mediation.
About the Author
Andrea Higgins is a dance and somatic movement educator with a specialty in the Feldenkrais Method of movement. She is the author of Mediation: State of Mind or State of Awareness, Kinesthetic Edge for Golfers, and Body Knowledge. She is the creator of Awake Naps, 15 Minutes to a Calmer, More Focused Happier You, and the director of Kinesthetic Edge.
The image of the woman with arms reaching skyward is used under license from Shutterstock.com. The artist's link is: www.shutterstock.com/g/ostill
©Andrea Higgins, 2015. All rights reserved.
Feldenkrais Method® and Awareness Through Movement® are registered service marks of the Feldenkrais Guild® of North America.