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 they call 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 (How Emotions Are Made), 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 expression of emotion. They don’t offer a kinesthetic approach to emotion regulation.
Scientists like Paul Eckman and Lisa Feldman Barrett have investigated the physiology of our emotional expression, Ekman even offering training in use of the face. Because the face affects the entire self, he believes that all emotional regulation comes from facial expression. However Feldman Barrett has shown that facial expressions are culturally influenced. Chilean scientist Susanah Bloch 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 traditional 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.
Moshe Feldenkrais believed that our habitual postures and attitudes reflect our emotional state and our ability to regulate our emotions has to come from an understanding and mastery of self. A tall order! But by combining all these ideas, we can come to a path for emotional growth and personal development.
Imagine being able to recognize when someone is disguising their 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.” Understanding the emotional effector patterns 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 learning 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.
Over the years, collaborating with various teachers of both Alba and The Feldenkrais Method have resulted in a new pedagogy, The Emotional Body., created by Laura Bond. As an Emotional Body Lead Instructor,I employ somatic strategies from the Feldenkrais Method and other disciplines to create a non-judgmental, non-performative approach to emotional regulation. By creating a safe space for exploration, students slowly master the effector patterns and learn to apply them: for teaching, acting, business and relatoinships. Feldenkrais Method lessons make for a very potent approach to understanding our emotional lives. Moshe Feldenkrais defined the four components of action: thinking, sensing, moving and feeling (emotions). 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. Mastering the emotional effector patterns can help you recognize your habitual emotional expressions and develop emotional fluency. The Kinēsa Process integrates these two methods with my years of research for an elegant approach to embodying emotions you choose, whether it’s compassion and calm, or courage and determination.
I am one of only a few practitioners in the world who are endorsed to teach The Emotional Body. As a Lead Teacher, I have supported several trainings alongside founder Laura Bond. Read more about the Emotional Body in Laura’s book: The Emotional Body.
Want private coaching in emotional regulation? Book an appointment today!
Emotional Body Training
Join Master Teachers Laura Bond and Jessica Beck, with Certified Teacher Lavinia Plonka for an online Emotional Body training
August 2 – 7, 2021
Through Movement To Emotional Awareness with Lavinia Plonka
Lavinia sits down with Monique at Emaww.com to talk about how to reach your highest levels of emotional awareness through movement.