By Erin Finkelstein
Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash
Have you ever asked a friend or family member how they’re doing based upon something you observed in their facial expression? If we see a frown, a firmly set jaw, or something else in their body language, we can tell something emotional is going on in another person, sometimes before they even realize it. Think of any situation that brings about a particular emotional state such as insecurity, fear, joy, anger, fury, vulnerability, or contentment, and try to imagine viewing yourself in a mirror, sensing what parts of your face move. Your face and eye movements will reflect your internal emotional state.
The Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education is a rich and multifaceted approach to learning and exploring the human condition from the perspective of the individual’s own nervous system. The state of our emotional wellness and internal harmony can show up directly in how we use the muscles of our face and eyes and conversely, we can affect our emotional state through our movements.
In my practice as a musician and a Feldenkrais® teacher, I work with students to become aware of their physical challenges, thinking patterns and emotional reactions, learning how to use the senses to guide through those states. Feldenkrais taught that coordinated action, or what I like to think of as harmonious living, is when thinking, sensing, feeling and moving are all in sync with whatever task is at hand – from washing the dishes to running a marathon to dealing with challenging situations.
A student of mine, “Jill,” was interested in gaining ease of movement through weight loss. Through our work together, Jill cultivated the ability to slow down and sense herself, particularly when eating a meal. At first, this was a challenge. She was often lost in thought and her eyes didn’t really take in her surroundings, or she found herself eating to distract herself from an emotional situation.
Feldenkrais taught that “nothing is permanent about our behaviour patterns, except one’s belief that they are so”. We often believe, consciously or unconsciously, that we only have one way to act, and from that belief we form habitual responses, which means that we do things largely without awareness of what we are doing. Jill’s habit was to eat quickly, because her whole family did. Though the neurological wiring of habits starts early in our childhood, we can play with moving in new ways, non-habitual ways, to change any automatic behavior.
Habits in our nervous system are necessary to function and move through life. In moments when we feel emotionally charged or triggered, engaging awareness of our eye
s movements and how our faces smile or clench, can lead to helping us find new reactions to situations around us. Through moving her eyes slowly, Jill was able to learn how to appreciate her food in a new way through looking at the colors, shapes, and imagining the different textures before tasting her food. She then carried that slowness to chewing and being able to sense when she was full, which in the past she never paid attention to. Jill gained greater freedom in her emotional life to connect with others in a more harmonious way during meals by making eye contact across the table. She also applied this new ability to slow down and make non-habitual choices to other situations in life, such as how she reacted when faced with emotionally charged situations.
Early Latin and French roots of the word “emotion” define it as such: to excite, to move out or away, dislodge, or expel, stir up, and remove. Our emotional wellness depends on our ability to MOVE between states, and to fully feel what’s happening in each moment. This sensory ability helps guide us through all the various situations in our complex lives. Prior to Jill’s awareness of how to change her habits, she would fear feeling her emotional state fully because she would get stuck in one negative emotion and stay upset for too long. After slowing down the movement of her eyes and feeling empowered to change her habits, she also learned how to feel her emotions more fully in order to MOVE to a new emotional state rather than getting stuck in one place.
Our face and eyes reflect the changes in emotional states, and can become habitual in prolonged states of worry or stress. The physical expression of these states can cause holding patterns of unnecessary tension in the facial muscles. Our wrinkles show our habitual movements over time, and thus reflect our inner world to some degree. Awareness Through Movement® invites new options in our expressive choices that can also alter the inner landscape. Let’s explore how to use the eyes and the face to move through emotional fields.
Face and Eye Movement For Emotional Balance
The following recording is a short Awareness Through Movement lesson that you can play with at any time. Do the movements gently, and once you’ve experienced it a few times, try different combinations and add other movements. You can use any part of this lesson, or make up your own, as long as you slow down in order to pay attention to what is actually happening in your sensations. Invite an atmosphere of acceptance rather than judgement of yourself in order to feel the wonderful transformation that can take place.
Erin Finkelstein is a professional clarinetist with Urban Nocturnes in Phoenix Arizona and the Carmel Bach Festival in California and has been a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner(CM) since 2007, working with musicians and people and children from all walks of life. She teaches ATM® classes and private sessions online and anyone is welcome to join! For more information please visit ErinFinkelstein.com.