I will survive 
Feldenkrais and other strategies that improve your chancesIMAGE: ENGIN AKYURT | PEXELSThese four strategies can improve your chance to survive and thrive in the midst of major calamities: job loss, illness, death of a loved one, marital break-up, incarceration, zombie apocalypse and, yes, COVID-19.by Ralph HaddenIn 1918, at the age of 14, Moshe Feldenkrais set out to trek from his village in eastern Europe to Palestine, to join Jewish settlers who were pioneering a new homeland for the Jewish people.

Wandering through a Polish town he saw street vendors selling ‘speck’; pieces of bacon fried in a pan. He was curious to try it but felt uneasy. His strict orthodox upbringing had forbidden eating pork. However, he was curious to discover if could he free himself from his rigid upbringing. He bought a piece of speck.

As Feldenkrais describes it, he felt so uncomfortable and ashamed that he had to hide in an alleyway to furtively eat the speck. He said he imagined his mother looking over his shoulder, frowning with disapproval. He ate the speck but felt so disturbed that he immediately vomited it all up!

This was a pivotal moment. He said to himself something very interesting: “If I don’t do it now, I will never do it”. So he went back to the street stall and bought two more pieces. He bought two, he says, resolving that he would eat one and if he vomited again, he would eat the other one. He ate one, and then the second piece and kept them down.
His own masterFeldenkrais continued on his journey to Palestine knowing he had proved to himself he was his own master. He could make his own choices and not be forever bound by his upbringing.

Feldenkrais went on to develop the system of movement and awareness exercises that is the Feldenkrais Method®. The method is a way of developing flexibility and adaptability in body and mind. The ability to change behaviour and overcome programming is one key element of being able to successfully adapt to changed life situations.

This is the first of the key elements of survival and adaptation that I am presenting here.
1: CHANGING HABITSOur habits are comfortable; we do things the same way each day, without much thought. It’s convenient; we can have breakfast, brush teeth, make the bed without having to think about it. Habits, whether good or bad, are tenacious. They’re hard to change, especially if they are long-standing (Moshe had been abstaining from pork all his 14-year life). Supposing your life changes drastically. It is an advantage to have the ability to adjust your habits to the new situation. Try this exercise, to see how you go with shifting from familiar, comfortable habits.

Clasp your hands together, with your fingers interlaced. Move your clasped hands around a little. They probably feel comfortable in this familiar arrangement. Notice which thumb is on top. In the first two photos you can see how I habitually clasp my hands. I have my left thumb on top. In my experience people are fairly evenly mixed in their preference – some have their left thumb on top, others the right.
CLASP HANDS NATURALLYNOTE WHICH THUMB IS ON TOPRearrange your fingers and thumbs to shift them over to the other interlacing, with the other thumb on top.

This will feel odd! Move your rearranged clasped hands around a little, noticing how you feel now.

Take your hands apart and, without thinking about it, clasp them together again. You will probably return to your familiar interlacing. This is your habitual pattern.

You have been doing it this way for years, without needing to think about it (unless there has been some major alteration, due to injury or illness, for example).

Change over the interlacing again, to the non-habitual arrangement. Feel the oddness. And change back again.

Clasp and unclasp your hands several times, shifting between the habitual and non-habitual interlacings. Pause and rest.

How do your hands feel now?

This is a good exercise for your hands – it warms up and mobilises the joints and tissues of your fingers and thumbs – but it’s also a good exercise for your brain. You are practising being flexible in your behaviour.

By the way, you can add this to your hand-washing routine – a good way to spread the lather and exercise mind and body each time you wash.

Feldenkrais movement lessons like this are a clever way to improve physical flexibility, while also developing mental flexibility and adaptability. Life can change in many unexpected ways and in one expected way: a pandemic, war, economic crisis, marital break-up, severe illness and job loss to give just a few examples. The one expected way it will change is old age (assuming you survive to reach that!).

To adapt well and to survive and flourish in changed circumstances requires certain attributes and skills. The first is the ability to change habits. Here are some more.
2: CONNECTIONSIn my personal experience, female identified individuals are good at this, and heterosexual, male identified folk are sometimes terrible at it. That’s just my personal observation; of course there are many exceptions. In a conventional, heterosexual marriage the women tend to carry the emotional labour of maintaining connections – arranging birthday parties, play dates for the kids, chatting to the mums at school pick-ups, meeting for cuppas and chats with friends, relatives, associates.

And men tend to go along for the ride (okay, okay, not all men). Many men unconsciously rely on their female partner to keep them in regular contact with a community of family and friends. If the marriage breaks up they suddenly find they have almost no-one. They have an awful, lonely time as they start from scratch to learn how to connect. A similar thing happens to the work-obsessed (again often the male identified). All their life is devoted to work and nearly all their connections are at work. If they lose their job it is often devastating.

The more social connections we have, the better our chances of surviving a crisis. Connections can be personal – family, friends, spouse or lover/s – or social – church, comrades-in-arms. It can even be belonging to a sports club, political activism group or the local community garden.

As a non-religious person, It saddens me to say this, but the statistics show that churchgoing people are found to be happier, live longer and are better at surviving life crises. The reason, once again, is connection – they regularly meet with their fellow churchgoers; they probably sing hymns together (a good social bonding exercise); and they believe in God – they feel there is meaning to life.

Connection makes for health and resilience

What is your connection status? Do you look after your network of connections?
Here’s an exercise to help:

The non-significant birthday list
Imagine you are having a non-significant birthday, say you’re 23rd, or 47th or 68th, and you are having a little birthday gathering. Just something small, say three or four, maybe up to eight people. Who would you like to have there? Make a list of those people, the ones who are really important to you. If you were lying on your deathbed, these are the people you would like to have gathered around.

Take a look at your list. When did you last make contact with those people on your list? Those who nourish their connections are regularly in touch with their significant ones – a phone call, email, letter (ah, those were the days), a walk together or a chat over a cuppa (when such things are possible). (Liking their posts on social media does not count!)

If you are not already in regular contact with these precious friends, family members and valued people, draw up a plan to make contact. Put an intention on your to-do list, and put it at the top! Plan to give them a call, send a message or meet with them.

And keep doing this, ALL YOUR LIFE, nourishing your connections to the people you care about. And maybe, when the time comes that you need it, they will step up and be there for you too.
3: LUCKLife is random, as expressed in this beautiful poem by Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. It’s called Could Have and is said to be set in Poland during German occupation in the Second World War: Luck is random but then there is what you make of the luck you have. In The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind, psychologist and magician Dr Richard Wiseman examined what made some people seem to have better luck than others. He found it was shaped by attitude – expecting good luck, appreciating the luck you have and being on the alert for opportunities that luck presents – they all go towards success and life satisfaction.COULD HAVE by Wislawa SzymborskaIt could have happened It had to happen It happened earlier. Later. Nearer. Farther off. 

It happened, but not to you. You were saved because you were the first. You were saved because you were the last. Alone. With others. On the right. The left. Because it was raining. Because of the shade. Because the day was sunny. You were in luck – there was a forest. You were in luck – there were no trees. You were In luck – a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake, a jamb, a turn, a quarter inch, an instant. You were in luck – just then a straw went floating by.

As a result, because, although, despite. What would have happened if a hand, a foot, within an inch, a hairsbreadth from an unfortunate coincidence. So, you’re here? Still dizzy from another dodge, close shave, reprieve? One hole in the net and you slipped through? I couldn’t be more shocked or speechless. Listen, how your heart pounds inside me.
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare CavanaghI read the book at a bad time for me. I’d recently experienced the death of a loved one. I wasn’t feeling particularly lucky. But, even so, I found it a fascinating and enjoyable read.

Luck Journal

And at the end of each day I did the exercise he set out in the book. I kept a ‘Luck Journal’ (another version of this is a gratitude journal). This involved noticing and writing down three lucky things that happened that day. Even if you are having an absolutely terrible day it is still possible to find some examples of good fortune. It could be just saying, ‘well, the sun came up today’.

Therefore, with practice, you begin to notice more examples of good luck – you look out for them as you want to have something to write in your journal!

Gradually your luck will improve and, more importantly, you improve your skill in noticing and appreciating the good things in your life. This helps you become better at perceiving opportunities that come your way. You will find your life becoming richer and more satisfying; your luck will improve. Nothing magical about it – though Wiseman is also a magician (he has some entertaining videos on YouTube), he takes a strictly scientific approach to improving your luck.
4: HEALTHY HABITS OF SLEEP, DIET AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITYThis is pretty obvious so there’s not much I want to say about health habits. Except I will say that by ‘physical activity’ I don’t mean regular workouts at the gym. There is little evidence that they, in the long term, improve your overall health and adaptability. It depends on what sort of workout you do, but if it is a boring, rigid routine on weight machines then you are not enhancing your physical and mental flexibility and resourcefulness.

I recommend each day having some forms of joyful, natural, free form activity:
  • Go for a walk in nature
  • Dance
  • Play a sport that you love
  • Swim – not just laps but also just splash about; play in the waves
  • Walk around your neighbourhood
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Climb a tree
  • Play with children
  • Ride your bike to the shops instead of taking your car
  • Make love, solo, or with another
  • Play on the play equipment at a playground I’m sure you can think of lots of your own examples of enjoyable activities you could do that would get your heart pumping while still being fun
There are more survival strategies I would like to talk about but that’s enough for now. I’ll leave them to a future article. Meantime, put on Gloria Gaynor, ‘I will survive’, and have a dance:Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die? 
Oh, no, not I, I will survive 
Oh, as long as I know how to love, 
I know I’ll stay alive 
I’ve got all my life to live, 
I’ve got all my love to give 
And I’ll survive 
I will survive…
Ralph Hadden BA, CFP has been practising, teaching and training teachers in massage, body therapies and movement for 40+ years. He teaches Feldenkrais in Melbourne. He is a writer and was editor of Feldenkrais Australia, the journal of AFG Inc.
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