The happiness myth

Sometimes, when I have too much to do, when I am a little overwhelmed as to how much there is on my to do list, I sense in myself that I begin to tighten up. The response to my emotional feeling is physical. I begin to tense, to tighten my musculature in some areas. It’s something that many of my clients who come to me to work on anxiety often talk about in relationship to themselves. They feel tense, but don’t know how to unwind, or to let go.

You often have habitual areas where you first tighten and contract in the face of stress. For me, I know that it’s my left shoulder that stiffens a little, it acts as a sort of  shield. I imagine it’s linked to my profession as a string player.  A remnant of an old habit of raising one’s left shoulder to hold the viola.

So, I know that I tend to tense up the left shoulder joint when I get stressed. And if that was a useful response to stress, then that would be fine- I wouldn’t be mentioning it.

But of course, it’s not. Adding tension is rarely the answer. The more tension you have in your physical self, the harder it is for you to think clearly. Literally, excess effort prevents you from having clarity of thought. Your inability to make decisions when feeling bad is part of the whole system response. Tension doesn’t just affect our musculature; it also affects the way that we think.

Neuro-muscularly, an emotion, physical sensation, and a movement accompany every thought.  I would go one step further: we amplify the thought of an emotion in our bodies, in the ways in which we hold ourselves. In embodying the emotion, we make it stronger.

Life is sometimes stressful. Nobody, no matter how successful, lives in a vacuum of pure happiness, where nothing bad happens. That idea just doesn’t exist in reality. It’s a myth, of happiness, that we should sail through life without downs as well as ups. After all, at some point we all have to face loss, if nothing else.

As positive and negative are part of life, I think the question is instead:  how quickly can we recover?  Feldenkrais thought of health as our ability to recover from set-backs. The speed of adaptation to the reality of our environment or condition.

After all, there are so many factors outside of our control. Even without a global pandemic.

But what you can do is get to know your habits of stress.

How we act, how we move, how we think, that is where we have our arena of action.

Growing your tool-box of self knowledge of how you are feeling, the details of your physical response, is a really useful step in the process.

Once you can locate where tension is, then it’s possible to do something about it. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s very difficult to change anything.

Now when I sense my shoulders tightening, I can release them.

Just in that simple release, is relief. I feel better. I don’t feel so tight and I can I can think more clearly I can move more easily.

I can act more easily. And for me, that’s the purpose of Feldenkrais.


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