“Whereas health is conventionally thought of as a static state to be maintained, Moshe [Feldenkrais] defined health as a dynamic condition, the ability to recover from shocks. Whether originating from within or without, from sickness or accident, from violence or social upheaval, shocks perturb our balance; health is the capability of regaining balance and standing poised again on one’s feet.”
– Mark Reese, from Moshe Feldenkrais: A Life in Movement
What is resilience?
Resilience is defined as an ability to regain our balance, to bounce back, to recover quickly, to be flexible and adaptable in response to difficult situations in our environment. This might simply look like the ability to change plans easily when your day gets sidelined by a sick child or unexpected task at work. It might also look like the ability to pause a moment before reacting when a loved one or friend says something and you feel an emotional response rising in your body that may seem out of proportion for the moment.
Our capacity for resilience depends on the experiences we’ve had and what internal resources we’ve had the opportunity to develop and maintain. If we’ve grown up in a safe and nurturing environment with plenty of attunement and co-regulation, we may have learned how to self-regulate our nervous system and develop the capacity for resilience. Alternately, when we are stuck in a state of stress, or dysregulation, our physiology is affected, stress hormones circulate, and our body’s ability to heal is reduced. We therefore become less resilient.
Why is resilience important?
In an uncertain, ever-changing world, we rely on the tools available to us to develop patterns of behavior to meet the demands of our environment as best we can. For example, if there was a lot of conflict in my home environment growing up, I might develop a strategy of going with the flow so as to minimize my involvement in any conflict. These response patterns are developed to allow us to function and survive in our specific environment and help us maintain a sense of stability.
However, we may find ourselves in a new situation or environment and discover that our habits and behavior patterns have become outdated and limit us from responding with resilience and choice in our current environment. For example, I may shut down in response to something a co-worker suggests instead of advocating for an exciting new idea. The response I developed to help navigate my childhood environment no longer serves me in the present moment!
Our ability to be flexible and responsive to the present moment gives us agency in our lives. We can act, rather than re-act. This capacity for resilience reduces stress and its negative impacts, and allows a greater sense of pleasure and joy in living. In other words, it is good for our health.
Take a moment here to think about the past week and make two lists. One list will include all the moments you felt a sense of ease and an ability to respond without distress. The other list will include moments that you felt out of your body, reactive, confused about why you responded in the way you did, or “not yourself.” Notice, perhaps, the capacity you had to make clearer and more appropriate decisions in the moments you felt at ease.
How can EFT and Feldenkrais help build resilience?
No matter what our prior experiences have been, we all have the capacity to build resilience. Neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity for learning and changing over our lifetime, is increasingly well understood by modern science. While EFT and Feldenkrais® both utilize neuroplasticity to affect change and develop new patterns, they have different entry points.
EFT tapping generates neuroplastic changes when we tap on acupoints on the head, face and torso while saying statements that focus on a specific issue, its roots in personal experience, and noticing sensations in the body. Why? Because this process has been shown to reduce cortisol, calm the limbic system, decrease activity in the amygdala, affect brain waves, change neural pathways, and affect gene expression. If we tap on the points, calming our nervous system while thinking of a current or past issue that creates anxiety, we can have an experience of thinking of those stressful events without the physiology of stress in our bodies. Difficult events from the past can now stay in the past while we remain rooted in the present. Rather than be triggered into fight or flight or freeze, we can think more clearly and respond more appropriately to the here and now, demonstrating resilience.
While EFT utilizes the somatic component of tapping as well as tuning into sensations in the body, a primary entry point is through the mind. We identify an issue or problem we are dealing with in our lives and make connections to memories and experiences, making sense of our habits and patterns. We name emotions we are feeling and we reflect on how we have developed belief systems based on these experiences and how these belief systems help determine our behavior.
Feldenkrais® lessons utilize the body as the primary entry point for discovering habits and helping us build resilience. The Feldenkrais Method® of Somatic Education was created and developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais and relies on gentle, guided movements to explore one’s experience of posture, emotions, personal beliefs, and self-image. In a Feldenkrais lesson, we use awareness to sense ourselves, where we hold tension, how we organize our movements, when we hold our breath, etc.
As we sense the habits we’ve developed and take our time to explore different and more easeful ways to move in a Feldenkrais® lesson, our bodies learn that we are capable of moving, and feeling, differently. As we notice these new possibilities throughout a lesson, we begin to recognize that we can feel and act differently–that our bodies are indeed also capable of choosing new patterns that may better serve us in the present moment!
By using awareness to sense how our habits – physical and emotional – form within us, we are fostering skills that we can use in any moment in our lives. We can harness this awareness to sense our own internal cues and the universe of available alternative responses that offer more ease.
Putting it into practice
We can powerfully influence our own health by listening to ourselves, by processing memories and experiences held in our bodies through safe and gentle practices, and exploring alternative behaviors that offer resilience.
In my practice, the complementary modalities of EFT and The Feldenkrais® Method provide powerful synergies that amplify participants’ ability to access the potential for change and growth by offering different entry points for learning and integration. A recent participant in my classes utilizing EFT and The Feldenkrais® Method summed up their powerful experience combining these two modalities, stating: "There is more hope and freedom in living than there was last month.”
By going slowly, making connections between past experiences and current beliefs and behavior patterns, and calming our nervous system, we find opportunity to change our habits and live with more ease and joy. We learn we can continue to build our sense of agency and capacity for resilience in an ever-changing world. There are multiple pathways to these discoveries, and accessing the synergies of complementary modalities when we need help moving through stubborn challenges is a powerful tool for our toolboxes.
Fritha Pengelly is an Accredited Certified EFT Practitioner, a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner®, and a Certified IOPS Practitioner based in Northampton, MA