The Alba Method
In the book, Ishmael, author Daniel Quinn defines myth as something so entrenched in a culture or race’s belief system that it is never questioned. His example is the idea among many people that human beings are the pinnacle of evolution, that we are the reason everything else exists, to serve humankind.
Whether one agrees with his example or not, the truth is that humans operate with a lot of myths, and each one of us carries certain mythologies based on our upbringing, culture and experiences.
One myth I’d like to dispel regards our emotional life. Like being the pinnacle of evolution, many people believe emotions are mysterious, or have nothing to do with bodily function. We say, “I cry because I’m sad” or , “that person made me really angry.” We treat our emotions as if they are some energetic force coming from somewhere outside of us.
But emotions are bodily functions. Each emotion has a posture, a breath pattern, and a facial expression. What we call emotions are reactions triggered by chemicals moving through the body in response to the body’s attitude. Many people are offended when you tell them that their sorrow, or their pride is purely a physical phenomenon. No one wants to believe that what she calls joy or sorrow is simply a cocktail of neurotransmitters and amino acids moving through the body that can be triggered by physical cues. Yet research shows that even our habitual postures such as rounded shoulders, wrinkled forehead, or wide eyes, are connected to our emotional lives.
Body language and our emotions have become the new darling of researchers, spawning books, TV shows (Lie to Me), movies (Inside/Out), coaching programs, and TED talks. And while there is much science available, until now there has been little in the way of a true somatic training in the use of body language.
The psychology world has been buzzing recently with the term “emotion regulation”. Researchers have focused on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and certain approaches developed by psychologists, such as Somatic Experience and Daniel Siegel’s “Mindsight.” But all of these therapies are still based on the relation between thought and the physical manifestation of emotion.
Chilean scientist Susanah Bloch has developed a somatic training called Alba Emoting™. She spent years researching the relation between the body and the emotions. Using hypnotized subjects, she measured bodily functions as subjects were placed in postures that evoked emotions. She codified the facial expressions, breath patterns and postures for a series of six basic what she calls, emotional effector patterns: Joy, Anger, Tenderness, Sensuality, Sadness, and Fear. The Alba training consists of learning and mastering these basic patterns. Students become aware of unconscious ways their various emotional manifestations have become “entangled”, and in the process come to an understanding of a pure emotional expression. With further training, students learn how these six basic patterns mix for the vast array of expressions in the human experience.
Imagine being able to recognize when someone is disguising his feelings. Or to have concrete tools at your disposal for calming down your emotions during a distressing or difficult situation. We’ve all read about the value of “fake it till you make it.” Alba affords the opportunity to learn the somatic recipe for an attitude of courage when you need it, or compassion when someone else needs it from you.
The Alba Method, like the Feldenkrais Method, approaches function from a strictly somatic perspective. There is no psychoanalysis, or talk therapy involved. The therapeutic results come from the student’s evolving understanding of habits that interfere with quality of life. The differences between the two methods are what actually support a deeper understanding of each. Alba Training is very precise and prescriptive – students practice specific muscles and breathing patterns to master an effector pattern. Feldenkrais lessons are more subjective experiences of personal movement and emotional patterns.
In my 10 years of studying The Alba Method, I have learned to “regulate” my emotions to become a more effective practitioner, a better listener and a calmer person. For example, I have been known to have a temper. It would seem that one moment, I’m listening, and the next moment I am yelling, or defiant. One could spend years in therapy addressing how this habit developed during a chaotic and violent childhood (which helped me recognize the pattern, but did not change my behavior). What I began to see was how certain aspects of the anger pattern would begin: a narrowing of the eyes, a change in my breath. By being aware, I now can often shift before I become fully trapped, into something more neutral, or even friendly, which often helps me realize that my anger was misplaced.
I have also seen how teaching people to regulate their breathing can help dissipate panic attacks and nervous behavior, as well as support people who are trapped in a posture of sadness.
Combining this technique with Feldenkrais Method lessons makes for a very potent approach to understanding our emotional lives. Moshe Feldenkrais defined the four components of action: thinking, sensing, moving and feeling (emotions). Alba lessons can help you recognize your habitual emotional expressions. Feldenkrais lessons can elegantly allow you to find ways to relax your face, regulate your breath, shift your posture. By learning movements that increase flexibility and improve posture, you develop options for how you stand and move through the world. You can choose courage and joy over frustration and despair because you understand both the patterns and the tensions associated with the patterns.
There are only a few practitioners in the world who are certified in both Alba and Feldenkrais. This potent combination is one way I can help you realize, as Moshe Feldenkrais once put it, “your avowed and unavowed dreams.”