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Interview | Becoming stronger through fear – a conversation with Veronika Fiegl

I walk into the Chill Out Room at Impact Hub trying really hard not to show that I had just sprinted from Zieglergasse to be on time. Veronika Fiegl is not one to waste time – she offers some water and tells me to take off my shoes and socks and sit on the massage table set in the middle of the room, feet facing her.

My session was booked spontaneously: Veronika visits Impact Hub every two months for special free one-to-one sessions available exclusively to the Impact Hub community members. It just happened that her last one collided with my search for an inspiring Impact Hub member to interview (which she totally is).

Veronika immediately started rubbing my feet to discover pressure points indicating where my body is tense. The idea is that since we stand on our feet all day, they are the best tellers of how our body behaves under different circumstances. She correctly diagnosed my chronic neck and back problem, as well as served an awesome side dish of psychoanalysis, which left me stupefied. When I asked her how did she know, she simply responded “It is all here. You are carrying all the stress and the issue, which had caused it, around with you”.

Meet Veronika Fiegl, the Grinberg Method practitioner

Let’s start with an introduction. What do you do?

I practice the Grinberg Method in different forms: as individual and group sessions.

You have been self-employed for the last 15 years successfully treating people through touch. How did you come across the Grinberg Method?

I found a gift voucher in Billa which said ‘free foot analysis’ (laughs). I had no idea what it was, actually I thought it is something cosmetics related, which I don’t care about. At first I didn’t take the gift voucher. I walked out of Billa and then I had a sort of a shock going through me: ‘I need this gift voucher!’. I ran back, took it, looked at it for the next three weeks. In the end I finally went to have that foot analysis and it was the first time I had the impression that somebody really sees me. Somebody is not fooled by my pretense and does not buy my theater, sort of. I felt that somebody really sees my issues. That was fascinating.

When did you become a practitioner yourself?

I was just a client for a year and I didn’t ever think about it. Then my sister thought she would become a practitioner and I had to gather all the information for her. While I was doing that, I started to become curious, to understand that this is not a massage, but something very empowering. This method really believes in us being fundamentally intelligent creatures. We have all the talents we need to thrive, to do in life what we want. If you are confident, if you trust yourself, you know what to do.

What in your own words is the core value, the key message of the Grinberg Method?

The idea of the Grinberg Method is that by learning to feel your body again, you rediscover your talents. You become who you actually are and then you sit well in your life and have much fewer problems. We look at what is somebody’s potential, which you can see in the body, and then how that somebody is actually using their potential. There can be a big difference between who they could be and who they actually made themselves to be at the moment. For example some people could naturally be extremely outgoing but for some reason they learned to be shy in their life.

Experiencing life through the body… That sounds as if the method was taking us away from the focus on the mind, which right now prevails. When it comes to physicality, we often only talk about general fitness – the body is maintained like a well-oiled machine to prevent failure in the crucial moments. My question is: where does the Grinberg Method fit?

I would say what the Grinberg Method calls being a body is a very different perception to what you just described. You basically described what the society thinks: we are all thinking heads and then we have this machine that should be pretty, slim and work. Grinberg Method says that thinking is also a part of your body, you cannot think without your body. The idea of the Grinberg Method is not to be physical without the mind- the idea is to balance it. Being a body means that you have all of your abilities available to you and not one part of you is more important than the rest. Imagine that you are in a severe pain – you cannot think straight because you are in pain, right? However, if you are very relaxed, your head is clear, your thoughts can flow. This exact gap between what we call our mind and the rest of our body, became almost a war zone in our society.

So one of the elements of the Grinberg Method, ‘taking the focus away from the mind’, does not actually mean prioritizing the body?

I wouldn’t say it’s being physical against the mind, not at all. It’s teaching you to be you from head to toe, with the aim of finding maximum balance to have the life that you want without screwing that up with tensions, with low confidence, with judging yourself, doubting yourself. We look at all the places where people really make their own life difficult: from simply not breathing deep enough to judging yourself and doubting yourself, giving yourself commands, pushing yourself. This is how we stab ourselves in the back. We, the Grinberg Method practitioners, say ‘Feel what you do to yourself’. Feel yourself, be aware of yourself. For example if you constantly judge yourself, you feel that it is nasty, it’s horrible, it’s actually painful. If you are aware of yourself, if you feel that it is painful, then you can decide if you really want to do this.

What you are describing, being confronted with a situation we learned to be stressed about and start taking short breaths or tense up, sounds like a bad habit. Is there a pattern for these bad physical habits to form? Is there a reason that one person develops a habit of bad posture when overwhelmed and another won’t? 

I would say it is personal but we also live in a culture. There are always other people around you, so there are cultural patterns. Most of us sit a lot, we control our neck and shoulders a lot, there is a cultural tendency It doesn’t mean that everybody has to react certain way. We have personal choice in deciding if my breathing will be shallow or not. You can continue to breathe even if everybody else is gasping. In the end it is individual how you react and we can change it.

Would you say that practicing the Grinberg Method yourself has changed you? 

If you look at the photographs of me when I was sixteen I looked twice as old as I look now, because I was much more tense, worried, serious. I was trying to show that I am somebody else. Now, when something bad happens, I have much more confidence that I can deal with it. I waste less energy on tensing up and worrying. It means I actually have more energy free to think of an actual solution. In the past I was a good pupil, I worked very hard and I pushed myself to achieve what I thought was important for me. At the end I was exhausted; I was tired, my back was hurting and I didn’t trust my own abilities at all. Now it is completely different. I have a life that I chose and if I don’t like something in my life, I know that I can change it.

You just mentioned that you were doubting yourself. At Impact Hub we talk a lot about anxiety, fear of failure, stress. How does our body learning bad physical habits in reaction to negative situations translate into self-doubt? 

I think doubting ourselves is a bad habit that we learn from other people too. I know for sure I learned it from my family. Because we not only learn postures from other people, we learn feelings, we learn how to think. We don’t allow ourselves to be who we are. We constantly have to keep ourselves in check, say the right thing, perform. There is so much energy stuck in these rules of who you can and cannot be. It’s like a plant which has been cut too much. You weaken it.

How long have been going to Impact Hub to give Grinberg Method sessions?

I think it’s either 2 or 3 years…

In that time you must have seen enough community members to know what are the most common issues they are facing. What is the struggle that most people face?

All Hubbers whom I have met were people that had a purpose, a vision, a dream, who want something in life. What I have seen many times is that they put themselves under pressure because they want something badly. It’s like their business was their baby, and I completely understand because my business is my baby, and because of that they suffer from a specific type of self-inflicted pressure. They feel that they have to succeed, not like in the corporate world of trying to make your boss happy, but on a more personal level. Being afraid of failing is another thing. They are not relaxing with this fear, because unless we train it, nobody tells us to try that. I know a lot of people who do not take enough breaks, don’t relax enough; who don’t stop thinking about their job at all. People who either exploit or run in danger of exploiting themselves. Along with this fear is the worry about money. Money is a big issue for a lot of Hubbers I have met.

The important part of your observations is fear: of failure, of not being enough, of not having enough money. The Grinberg Method states that fear is an important part of our lives because it can be turned around and used to propel our goals instead of damaging us. So how do I do that?

This is something you really need to learn through your body. The theory is really easy- basically ‘Be afraid and then relax’. That’s it. Breathe, relax, allow the fear. But this is exactly something that you need to learn as an experience through the body, because usually we learn as a physical habit to block fear, to not want fear. It is a bit like having constipation of fear. Learning to let if flow again is something that we can learn best from body to body. That fear is not always irrational because for us, self-employed people, money is an issue and the fear that maybe the business will not go so well, comes from the fact that you simply just don’t know. I had so many ups and downs of my business, sometimes I had more money that I knew how to spend, and sometimes I had just about enough money. In this sense, I would say it is not irrational to be afraid as a self-employed person. You will be afraid, constantly. But, the way this fear feels for you – this can change dramatically. For me in the past it was panic. Now, I don’t experience it like this anymore, because I relax into it and it actually becomes just energy waking me up. It doesn’t feel like it used to feel because I don’t block it anymore. The interesting thing is that when you really stop fighting it, it is not the monster that you thought it once was.

But what happens when somebody, a business person like our Impact Hub members, is blocking the fear constantly? 

It means they lose money because they are wasting energy in themselves. I always tell my clients when I find very tense places in their bodies that this point is almost like a bank account that you forgot about. You invest energy into closing this area of your body. Doing this makes you more tired, it makes you older, it makes you less inventive, and less creative. As a business person, these are qualities you need: you need your brain, you need to be able to think, to see opportunities, to dare, to act. If you stand around shy and wait hoping somebody will find you, it gets hard. I really think being panicked, worry is too expensive for us business people. We cannot afford it.

As a finish line, I wanted to ask you if you have a simple method for people who will read this interview, that they could apply every day to de-stress themselves. 

Most of us work in front of the computer a lot, so there is one exercise that I would suggest, not only to do once per day but often, during breaks.

Before you start working, take a few really, really deep breaths. Feel how you sit on the chair, allow your weight to sink into the chair. Feel the feet on the floor. Then, if you want to, close your eyes, and for a few minutes just breathe and feel that you exist as a body. Breathe and pay attention to your body. Be aware and enter the situation with all of your body.

Some of my clients have a pop-up in their calendar that says ‘breathe’ or set an alarm to remind themselves to spend a few minutes feeling their body. I recommend that too.

Thank you for your time, Veronika!

This article was written for the Impact Hub Vienna blog and published on the 5th of December, 2016. Access it online here. Link not working? View the PDF.