“That mindfulness doesn’t work for me, my mind is too full already. I need mind-less-ness.”
Yes, sometimes life is just so overwhelming you want a way out. You want to stop the whole world and get off. It’s just too much. David Whyte, describes it as:
“the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms human beings from the inside and what overpowers them from the outside.”
You feel like you are having to run to keep up with your thoughts. They are insisting on a conversation that goes round and round and round whilst you compete in an extreme sports competition. You try to keep up because you don’t feel you have a choice, but you know your legs are going to give out any moment, and you will collapse.
Sometimes it’s not quite so extreme. You always ran on fumes, talked fast, been on the alert, perhaps you physically shake in most of what you do. You’ve maybe had two jobs so you can make finances spread further. You fill your evenings and weekends with things to do. A game of squash usually helps to bring calm, or a long walk in the woods. Then something, almost imperceptible comes along, and that way of being just doesn’t work. Something gives, perhaps you find work becomes stressful or you develop a physical illness, start with persistent pain or simply you feel like your usual high energy approach just isn’t helpful any more. You crash and burn.
I understand that intensity of thought. That overwhelming state of fearful, high alert. I become disconnected from my body. I get lost in my thoughts. Worrying about what has happened, that I can’t change, or trying to control what happens, which I can’t actually predict. I just want to press the stop button.
I was forced to take stock when, in a short period of time, I got divorced, changed profession after a 3 year intensive course full of exams and practical tests, changed cities twice, my father died, followed by my dog, then my brother, then another relationship break down and several further moves. It was all too much. I woke up each morning, and for an instant everything was ok, till I remembered it wasn’t ok. Things would never be the same.
What to do?
Massively stressful situations might be doable in the short term, but when they go on and on it often means you have to take a good look at how you do things, assess your priorities, take stock. Decide what’s important and find some control in the chaos. I found myself in that place.
The Alexander Technique is something that can support you in such times. In an ideal world learn it, and put it into practice, before the storm fronts collide. However, when they do collide, because that seems to be a given in life, this technique can save your life. It has done with mine on several occasions.
Some form of support is often essential at these times from a variety of places: friends, family, professionals. Alexander Technique teachers can be part of that process. They can help you notice what happens to your body in times of stress. In times when you are sucked into an intensity of thought where you become disconnected from your body. They can help you notice your thought habits and find a way back to a calmer, more in control you. You can learn about non doing and begin to breath and smell the roses from the middle of the storm. You will learn a technique for life. It takes practice. It is highly likely you will come out a different person. I did, and continue to shed multiple layers like a butterfly that keeps turning into a pupae and back to a butterfly.
Try an introductory lesson? You may be surprised at the ease you discover with such simple processes.
This is the third interview, in a series of interviews with students of the Alexander Technique (AT) about their experiences of learning the technique.
Students of the technique often come with a specific problem they want to address but then find that they gain a lot of other benefits they had not envisaged.
The following are some of the highlights of Judy’s experiences of applying the principles of AT in her daily life. Judy says it helps to:
- make her walking easier,
- help her manage stairs and slopes easier,
- release into her meditation practice,
- make sitting easy,
- feel she can work out how to do challenging tasks with more ease,
- help her to be calm and feel peace.
Judy is in her 30’s, lives alone and has a number of physical issues which involve both traumatic injuries that became longstanding problems and hyper mobility.
When Judy started learning AT she hoped the technique would have an influence on her posture and help with the pain that occurred with everyday activity. She admits, she didn’t expect it to work, but found out that it did.
Judy decided to learn AT after exploring a number of routes including internet searches, book reading and her physiotherapist’s suggestion to have lessons.
Judy used a number of ways to learn AT including workshops, individual lessons with me and reading more about AT.
Through AT, Judy has learned how powerful her thoughts are in influencing her daily life and she now has a more expansive way of moving in various tasks. Judy says AT is an easy process, not one that requires her mind to churn over.
Judy has found that AT acts as a trigger to release old habits like bracing before an activity (common to many of us).
Learning AT means the technique can be applied to all life activities. It gives a way of thinking about the process of doing activities so that you easily arrive at the most appropriate way to do it and find ease and efficiency. Here’s a few ways in which Judy has applied AT in her life:
Judy said she now knows sitting is easy but before AT she used to kill herself trying to sit upright. She said she was trying to hold a good posture and tried to be good whilst she sat but now she knows about softening and letting go in sitting and as a bonus it improves her posture.
Judy says AT helps with both her meditation practice and general awareness. Judy says she can now sink into meditation. Judy did point out that she also sees AT as a form of meditation.
Judy described a pattern of behaviour that she has become more aware of since learning AT. It happens when she becomes less mindful, less aware. She finds she enters a cycle/circle where she drops things, knocks into things, loses her balance and falls because she has lost her body awareness. She arrives in a room and forgets why she’s there. She rushes, becomes anxious, makes mistakes, and her muscles become tight. Judy told me when she is like this her thoughts are more intrusive and repetitive and she becomes exhausted and experiences fear, pain and tiredness. In the past she couldn’t see a way out of the cycle.
When Judy is like this her only option is to stop. She finds the pain can build even more at that point and describes it like entering a field of hell.
Nowadays she can swing back into this cycle of bad habits but they come less often, and last for a much shorter period. It is in this state she has found she can use the AT and meditation tools. She notices her cyclical thoughts. She notices her fear and she uses AT to come back into awareness of her body.
Judy told me about how she applied AT to a task that she finds challenging: going down stairs. She noticed her usual habit was to brace/hold herself together and take the activity extremely carefully. However, Judy realised AT was a counterbalance to this. She now asks herself what would be the most efficient, least gripped, least stressful way of doing it instead of gripping.
Judy talked about how her 1:1 AT sessions helped connect to the trauma of her original injuries which are still in the background. She feels AT helped her accept and acknowledge that trauma, though she is not sure the psychological effect of the trauma will go completely but each time it comes up, it gets less.
Judy says she is now aware of her body through AT. She felt she was out of her body before (avoiding and ignoring it to try to distance herself from the physical sensations) and AT put her mind back into her body. She also feels AT allowed her to feel safe in her body instead of fearful of it.
Judy now feels that if everyone gets the opportunity to have AT lessons at the time of an accident, any injuries need not become chronic problems.
“It’s a tool that helps me reconnect to my body. Now I see things clearer, everything is ok, I am the person I want to be.” – Judy
If Judy’s story has got you interested, and you would like to learn the Alexander Technique, telephone me on:
01759 307282 or use the contact page on my website www.janeclappison.co.uk
I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was about 10. There were lots of pluses to our cohabitation. Excitedly standing at our bedroom window together, on Christmas Eve, trying to spot Santa on his sleigh, was one of them.
On the minus side, I was absolutely challenged by stuff all over the bedroom floor. I still remember the visceral reaction to the chaos. To my sister, the floor was her playground and storage space. It was bliss when I got my own room, though it was extremely tiny. My Dad built cupboards in the room for me. Essentially it became a cupboard from floor to ceiling, with a window and a bed in a recess. It wasn’t hard to keep it tidy.
Somehow, I coped with my sister’s chaos, and over the years I became tolerant to “excessive-to-me” sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, touch, movement: all stimuli. However, if you saw my desk right now you would not think I liked things to be ordered and calm, nor that I still panic when things get too messy. My husband describes my desk filing as a “sedimentary” system and when it gets to full height he describes it as shale. There is a logic in the chaos as the heap consists of things I am challenged to categorise and thus store, jobs pending, and things at the ready. I can tolerate the mess up to a point. When I have completed a job, or when I work out where they belong, they are filed away, A-Z style.
Lately, my tolerance to life seems to have shifted. Visiting cafes (a beloved pastime of mine) is a challenge. It has been gradually changing, but became really obvious last week, when I visited a local cafe that has just been re-furbished. It has huge windows, and the bustling street beyond is in the experience. They have opted for a wooden floor and wooden tables which all scrape and bang, and culminate in unique background percussion. They have lovely twinkly, bright lights, and the sun streams into the windows: it’s a bright environment. They also fitted an extractor fan in the open kitchen and its noises, plus the focused, pressured, yet light-hearted kitchen atmosphere, pervades the whole space. Add to that, the background music, which isn’t really background, customers who turn up their volume to be heard, hissing espresso machines, serving staff darting around. I had ordered, paid, and was sat there realising that it was just-too-much-for-me. I felt every cell in my body was vibrating and I wished for more calm than that cafe could offer.
I gained a better understanding of why things have changed for me when I read an article by Kate Wagner, in The Atlantic (an American magazine):
It’s an interesting read. Essentially the sparse modern decor increases noise, whereas the older style cafes had more noise absorbing furnishings. Therefore cafes are generally louder.
So, what did I do when I received my parsnip soup, focaccia, and berry tea? I decided to just be with the whole nerve jangling experience. I used the Alexander Technique to stay present, grounded, and get to know what this experience was really like for me, rather than brace against it and escape from it. I could then nurture myself with the food, luxuriate in the warmth of the radiator next to me, and even enjoy the cacophony. I also pondered on the merits of noise-cancelling headphones.
Do you notice if you brace against excess stimuli or too much chaos? Do you notice the effect it has on your body? Would you like to explore a way to be more aware of your reaction to these things and choose what to do about it? Get in touch! Have a few Alexander Technique lessons. We could even explore the process in a cafe together!
Jane Clappison MSTAT
I had expected similar experiences, from person to person, when I began interviewing Alexander Technique (AT) students. What I didn’t expect to find, however, was how wonderfully unique those experiences were, and how the technique influenced all elements of their lives.
What follows are highlights of the first interview.
I have changed some personal details for confidentiality reasons.
Sam is in her 50’s, lives with her husband and children and works in a listening profession. She enjoys being creative, and physical activity such as swimming, running and walking in the countryside.
Sam has had experience of the technique both in individual lessons and group sessions. She told me she sees the Alexander Technique as being about body mindfulness.
Having had her first AT lesson as a teenager she came back to it during a pregnancy. Wishing to improve her wellbeing, and apply AT to this specific event, she discovered it had a huge impact. She found it nourishing, allowing her to use her body in a different way. Also, during the birth she was able to move freely, see vividly, and be comfortable in her own body.
Sam continues to have the occasional individual lesson. She says the whole experience of a lesson is gorgeous, rather like going on a retreat. She leaves a lesson feeling freer, lighter and more present. But the benefit doesn’t end there. It’s like she takes a party bag away with her, which has little things inside, like, for example, scented hand lotion and little fortune cookies.
Between lessons, she can get a treat by taking things out of the party bag. She tunes into her body, opens up a fortune cookie, and reads the saying in it. Even one ‘saying’ helps. Sam feels tuning in and using these sayings are influential and pivotal moments, short cuts to enhance the impact of the lesson. One of her fortune cookie sayings is: let the neck be free.
Sam talked about her party bag analogy further and how she used the scented hand lotion on those occasions when she has stopped taking care of herself. Sam chooses one of the hand creams (from the lesson) which might be relaxing or stimulating and then massages it in to get the effect that is wanted. This supports her self-care between lessons.
From her experience, Sam sees that AT has multiple uses from specific events (like childbirth), or trauma (like a back injury or operation), to being in the moment. She told me she has learned helpful do-it-yourself, AT strategies, to use in all of these situations.
Sam says the overall, long term benefit of Alexander Technique lessons, is difficult to define, but she leads a richer life for it.
Fancy finding out about what might be in your goodie bag after an Alexander Technique lesson? Give me a ring or contact me!
Further individual interviews to follow in future blogs.
Alexander Technique Teacher