Relaxation as Hero’s Work

A note from Carl:


Before I head into this week’s reflections, I want to remind those in our local vicinity that we still have space in our  Movement Immersion this weekend, exploring squatting on Saturday, and many other dynamic, functional, enlivening movements. You can come to either day or the whole weekend– it will be awesome and we would love to see you!

This week, I was reflecting on the courage that is required to cultivate a relaxed physiology in this fast-paced, increasingly complex world in which we live, and I came across a piece I wrote a couple years ago: “Relaxation is Hero’s Work.” I loved reading it again, and so I wanted to share it again, along with some additions.

We have all heard the words many time before,Just relax. Sometimes the words have that yoga teacher voice quality– “Juuust relaaax.” The word “just” implies that it is easy-peasy, a no brainer– you just relax. We wouldn’t likely say something like, “Just go get a graduate degree at Harvard,” or “Just go run an ultramarathon,” but I would place genuine relaxation on that level of accomplishment, or perhaps even a bit more challenging.

Relaxation is hero’s work.

There is an inverse relationship between our tension and our sensitivity; the more tension we carry, the less we feel. When we begin to relax, we open to deeper levels of feeling, and what we feel doesn’t always feel like blissful soaking in a hot tub by the sea, or look like the cover of Mindful magazine. As we relax, we open to feeling all aspects of our life– the ones we yearn for, as well as the ones we do our best to avoid. As one of our favorite Francis Weller quotes says:

The goal of a mature human being is to hold gratitude in one hand and grief in the other,
and to be stretched larger by the two.”

So much of our tension, so much of our busyness and distraction serves as an anesthesia for what we are not wanting to feel. When we slow down and relax, the anesthesia begins to wear off, which is the good news and the bad news.

Francis Weller speaks of this dynamic in his powerful interview in The Sun magazine:

“In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we’re forced to stay on the surface of life. Poet Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” We experience little genuine joy in part because we avoid the depths. We are an ascension culture. We love rising, and we fear going down. Consequently we find ways to deny the reality of this rich but difficult territory, and we are thinned psychically. We live in what I call a “flat-line culture,” where the band is narrow in terms of what we let ourselves fully feel. We may cry at a wedding or when we watch a movie, but the full-throated expression of emotion is off-limits.” -Francis Weller
A couple years ago, when we were giving our talk on “The Wisdom of the Wilderness of the Body” for the Jung Society, a woman asked a question from a very tender space on how to work with all of the pain and the self-judgement that comes with returning to her body. “Is there a way to soften the awfulness?” Her question highlighted for me the tremendous amount of courage and self-kindness that is necessary in undertaking the hero’s journey of relaxation.

I remember when I was first learning tai chi, my teacher used to say, “We need to slow down slowly.”  It’s not so helpful to jam on the parking brake when you are driving at 80 miles an hour. As the poet Em Claire invites in this beautiful poem, we must move slowly from these old skins.

Be Received

Move slowly from these old skins.
Your belly is raw, your back is tender-
you are rudimentary now.

Move softly from these old skins. 
Let the full bodyweight
of all your innocence

Be received.
Be received by the broad earth of your worthiness.
Cast off everything
everyone else has known for you.

Move gratefully from these old skins,
and this time, if you toughen,

for whom?

-em claire


A few notes:

Erin has a brand new offeirng for you below: A Poetry Retreat! During the month of April, she’ll be sharing a poem a day (5 days a week) to give ballast to your heart, to refresh your senses, to wake you up to what really matters.  It’s just $50.

Registration is now open for Erin’s upcoming workshop and community gathering over Earth Day weekend in April. We hope you’ll check out the details for Answering The Call Of Our Time and so hope you’ll consider joining me!

Next – Erin’s thrilled to let you know that registration is open for the annual New Mexico retreat at Ghost Ranch with dear friend, Nan Seymour. Embody Your Genius with us in September! You can find details here.

We are thrilled to spend the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday March 17-18 in functional movement explorations.
This article is about the lost art of squatting and why squatting is such an important human movement. It’s a topic we’ll be exploring in our workshop on Saturday, the 17th. Whether you can squat easily or you have never come close to squatting in your adult life, the Feldenkrais lessons we will explore around freeing and integrating your feet, toes, ankles, knees, hip joints, ribs, shoulders, and spine can bring more clarity, ease and integration to the way the way you sit, run, stand, ski, email, sleep, make love, have a conversation with a friend – pretty much every human function, including, but not limited to, squatting. :) We hope you’ll join us for this rejuvenating workshop!! Spaces still available! Details here .

On Sunday the 18th, we’ll be exploring Feldenkrais lessons for functional fitness. We’ve been wanting to do this workshop for years!!! This is going to be soooo fun and enlivening. We’ll do slow, mindful movement lessons, as usual, and then take them into a crescendo of moving more quickly and playfully, integrating what we’ve learned into playful movement sequences which support fitness, rich with elegance and without self-aggression.  At the end of the day, we’ll integrate it all by playing some great music and playfully putting it all together in mindful spontaneous movement. It’s going to be a blast – a most enlivening and youthening afternoon! We hope you’ll join us. 

This article is about “the lost art of bending over.” It’s a super-important movement we do countless times a day. Through Feldy lessons, Erin learned organically how to do this movement well – using the pelvis – and it was an essential part of healing chronic back pain. Feldy lessons are unique in that they help us learn these functional movements in an organic way. As the subtitle to Ruthy Alon’s wonderful book says, it’s about “a return to natural movement.” The potential for skillful, functional, pain-free movement is there in each of us, and it’s so wonderful that we can learn to improve our movement habits without being in our heads directing the process!  When we slow down and engage in mindful movement explorations, the updated movement habits that emerge are quite natural – with no need to be managed by an inner critic. (This is one of our most beloved features of Feldenkrais learning.) The movement lessons we’ll explore over this weekend in March will support just this. We hope you’ll join us!

More good stuff coming up: 

  • Join Erin & Kinde Nebeker for a Grief Tending Ritual at Great Salt Lake on the evening of Thursday, March 22Details here. This event is offered at no charge.
  • The next Tending the River of Grief Ritual will happen over Memorial Day weekend. Mark your calendar if you’d like to join me. More details coming soon. 
  • A day of Embodied Sitting Meditation at Two Arrows Zen Center with Erin & Carl in early June
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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.