- The slow dynamics of nearly stationary patterns in a FitzHugh-Nagumo model are studied using a phase dynamics approach. A Cross-Newell phase equation describing slow and weak modulations of periodic stationary solutions is derived. The derivation applies to the bistable, excitable, and Turing unstable regimes. In the bistable case stability thresholds are obtained for the Eckhaus and zigzag instabilities and for the transition to traveling waves. Neutral stability curves demonstrate the destabilization of stationary planar patterns at low wave numbers to zigzag and traveling modes. Numerical solutions of the model system support the theoretical findings. (c) 2000 The American Physical Society.