Last week, in the last few days in the UK before lockdown, I found myself in the local supermarket with my partner, hoping to get some toilet roll. We were down to our last few rolls. I saw some apocalyptic looking shelves in that week, all vegetables having left the shop in the within half an hour of opening, snapped up by panicked shoppers, and no loo roll for love nor money.
We got there just before it opened, and of course, being British, got in the queue. I wondered if this was a little like rationing, the world my Mother was born into. During the time we were in the shop, I watched in fascinated horror as people argued over toilet paper. The fear was palpable. And as I looked around, trying to sense what was making the atmosphere so charged, I realised few people were breathing fully. And it was infectious. (We are after all, social animals). I was surrounded by people whose rib-cages barely moved.
So many people were caught by their fear, that their sympathetic systems had taken over, chests barely moved, their backs seemed stiff, there was little sound or movement of breathing. When we go into that state – our flight or fright response, the breath shallows to get ready to run, or to get ready to pretend to be dead, to avoid being eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger, or other scary predator.
In our modern life, that response is less useful. Whilst we are in a “stress response” the mammalian part of our brain takes over, (we need the speed it provides when in danger -think of when you put your hand near something hot and you remove it before you register what it is that is dangerous.) But social interactions, and good decision making require the neocortex, the cognitive, thinking part of the brain, which when we’re panicking isn’t accessible in the same way.
The physical symptoms of stress are in some ways unique to our own habits of self-use (how we use our physical selves) but in general include faster and shallower breathing, greater muscular tension, and the heart pumps faster. Different hormones are pumped out in order to help us run or freeze, and our guts also get less involved, digestion can be paused, and for some of us that can translate into bloating, or pain. For some it can involve disassociation, so we don’t feel our pain, but equally we don’t feel ourselves.
Our breathing is an excellent way back into a calmer state: slowing down the exhalation and concentrating on movement can trigger the para-sympathetic system (our system of healing, of restoring calm). Something that Feldenkrais is very good at accessing. It was at that moment in the shop, I realised that people needed to reconnect with their breathing, find their “ground” again, and then be able to respond from a calmer, more embodied place.
Feldenkrais is one of my own most important resources in dealing with stress, and so I wanted to offer it to others in this globally difficult time. My resilience and ability to stay calm in a crisis; ability to see the challenges as something to be met, rather than shied away from; to respond rather than to react is absolutely connected to my daily practice of Feldenkrais.
With that in mind I am offering free Feldenkrais classes for the few weeks. I wanted to offer a service to others. You get to try some lessons for free from the comfort of your home, at a period where many of us have more time than normal. It also allows me to experiment with online teaching and get used to it with a friendly audience.
A trial period, if you like. If it works, I will continue lessons, and ask for payments by donation. If your income, like mine, has been affected by Covid-19, please pay less than the suggested amount, or come without payment, all are welcome, and there are other ways to contribute.
If you’re interested, sign up to receive online lesson scheduling and details here, and feel free to share the link with others you think might be interested: