Fear and regression

Moshé Feldenkrais lived through extremely hard times, at the epicentre of huge political crisis, ethnic and religious conflicts.  Pogroms, the organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe, were such a frequent activity that the word “pogrom” was coined to refer to these riots. As a child and later a young boys Moshé directly experienced such events, in my opinion only the sense of insecurity and the desire of a better future could push him to leave his house aged 15 to a difficult journey toward the British mandate Palestine. Once he arrived in Palestine the complex relationship with the local Arabic population started, conflict and fights accompanied the birth of Israel. In a brief lapse of time dictatorship took power in most European countries.  Few years later the second World War saw such a period of regression in the core set of moral values that allow the human species to share our planet to cast doubt about the future of our specie.

There are thousands of page written about the origin of the second world war conflict analysing in detail the economical, social, cultural and political mood in the years leading to the conflict.

A less discussed approach, present in Moshé Feldenkrais books,  look at the emergence of the dictatorship and wars as due to the promptness of the automatic instinctual response under extreme stress and insecurity. Both individual and society to face an immediate danger revert back to simplified responses. An existing species survived adopting a certain tactic and it would be very challenging to modify such a tactic for a different one in hard time. The hedgehogs still curl up in front of a moving car, despite such strategy is clearly not the best one for that situation.  Such a strategy is however effective in many circumstances and the loss of individual hedgehogs along countryside roads does not seem to have an impact on the species.

If we consider possible causes of extinction for us the humans,  external causes, like meteorite induced climate changes, are beyond our control and relatively unlikely, internal causes are mostly related to our own behaviour, in particular to the instinctual component that has been fundamental for the evolution of our species  but that we need to recognise and  moderate to be able to survive.

Two tropical fish of the same species are in an aquarium with many others of different species, as soon as they spot each other they start to fight, in the confined space of the aquarium the fight will only end once the weakest will die. Once the concurrent is dead the fish remaining, in most cases,  will not show any aggressive behaviour against the fish belonging to the other species. Konrad Lorentz in his beautiful book “On aggression” discusses the aggression amongst member of the same species in the framework of the evolution and he suggests possible reasons behind aggressive behaviours. He also discusses the importance of rituals to reduce the aggressive behaviours within a given community.

It seems like we are again near the edge of a sharp transition where due to an oversimplified response we are not able to recognise members of others tribes as similar to us.  The current mood toward foreigners in Europe reflects mostly  a fearful attitude toward differences that are considered so substantial to consider as “others” people not belonging to our tribe. The dream of Europe was first of all a desire to enlarge  the European tribe so that catastrophic conflicts would not occur again. We should never ever forget this aspect when we think about Europe.

Brexit in my opinion is similar to the hedgehog response to the danger represented by a car,  integration presents many danger and unknown, however the reflex response does not seem adequate to address such issues.  Hopefully, the slowing down of the actual exit process will be beneficial to moderate the gut response.

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Spine Mobility

horse-430441_1920In her book, Mindful Spontaneity [1], Ruthy Alon describes the organization of the spine in detail, here I will limit myself to briefly discuss  some ideas about the spine.

As we know, the spine is composed by 24 vertebrae usually divided in 3 areas, 7 cervical, 12 dorsal and 5 lumbar.  The head is directly supported by the small and  very mobile cervical, whereas the pelvis are hanging from the lumbar also very mobile. Most people suffering from back pain usually refer to the lumbar area.  The dorsal vertebrae in the middle provide the attachment points for the ribs forming the thoracic cage.   Beside its structural function the spine also includes a variety of muscles, joints and nerves, what can make back pain excruciating.

When a good intentioned physical instructors or parents tell us to straighten our backs, what is the image of the spine formed in our mind? If we look at pictures of the spine from the side, it is far from straight, it has two pronounced curves.

In reality,  an healthy spine is constantly adjusting when we move around; if the flux of information is free to travel along the spine  a position change in the pelvis is transmitted up to the neck and modify the head position;  changes in the ankles and feet are reflected in the pelvis. The whole body is connected. If the spine is intentionally or unconsciously held in a given position the flow is interrupted and the vertebrae community does not work together.

In such situations some of the vertebrae, usually the cervical or the lumbar have to overcompensate the loss of mobility of other parts of the spine.

Why some parts of the spine suspend their contribution to the community? It is probably not possible to enumerate all the reasons; some can be related to medical conditions , others to habits,  others to psychological conditions.

Thomas Hanna in his book, Body of Life [2], discusses the “red light” reflex as a possible cause of alteration. The general idea is that a body organization having a specific purpose is constantly maintained,  regardless of muting circumstances.  Moshé Feldenkrais discussed the specific organization associated with anxiety, Peter Levine more recently discusses trauma and its relationship with the body.

The vital organs need to be adequately protected in dangerous situation, the thoracic cage protective role is elicited in all these responses. Muscle contraction is useful to protect the vital organs, on the other hand flexibility is loss when muscles are permanently tense.   In the long run, any change in the body has its counterpart in the somatosensory and motor cortex.

The brain needs to experience  again alternatives to give back the freedom to the dorsal vertebrae and a correct range of movement to the other vertebrae. An headstand is a powerful way to change the usual arrangement of the spine, however it can be perceived as dangerous, so it can be difficult to relax unnecessary muscular contractions.

This consideration holds for all the situations perceived as dangerous,  a very important aspect of a successful Feldenkrais lesson is the creation of a safe environment where learning can take place, so each lesson is an unique exploration that needs to be adapted to the person receiving it, staying close to the present range of possibilities and offering alternatives.

[1] Mindful Spontaneity: Lessons in the Feldenkrais Method by Ruthy Alon
[2] Body of Life: Creating New Pathways for Sensory Awareness and Fluid 
Movement by Thomas Hanna