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The cycle to work was heavenly. Warm, filled with the scent of newly mown grass and umpteen flowers and the inevitable exhaust fumes from a city commute.
Walking onto wards I was greeted with clouds of talcum powder and many other unaccustomed smells. My olfactory system, my lungs, my whole being was being assaulted all day long with new stuff! It was my first ever job as a qualified physiotherapist and I was also struggling to breath!
I had been working in various NHS settings for the last three years as a student physiotherapist so much of the hospital smells would not have been that new, but somehow it was affecting me differently.
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“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.
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My Dad had quite a few “War stories” he told but the one that I want to tell today is about when he stuck his head above the parapet. A parapet is a low protective wall for concealing troops. It’s a very short story and involves my Dad behind a parapet, his commanding officer, and a random third party doing shooting practice. Apparently his commanding officer bellowed out “Clappison” and my Dad lifted his head up above the parapet, and said “Yes, Sir” and got shot! Fortunately it hit him at the very edge of his forehead. All his kids, and anyone else listening, got to feel the dent in his skull, and the outline of the bullet underneath his skin every time he told the story. He carried the bullet for the rest of his life. I’m guessing it wasn’t a live bullet but a practice round.
My best friend also has a very similar wound from sticking his head above the parapet, but this one happened at school. It happened when he was very young, but he didn’t ever forget it. His body tries to protect him from ever being wounded again, every time he is in company.
Apparently, when he was at school, the teacher decided to tell the class about penguins. As my friend had been reading about penguins, with his mum, the night before, he got really excited. He knew all about penguins and they were from the south west coast of Africa, and even had islands named after them: the Penguin Islands. Unfortunately the teacher had only read about penguins from Antarctica. So when the teacher asked “Where do Penguins come from?” and my friend shot up his hand quicker than anyone else in the class, he got picked to answer the question. The answer made the teacher, and then the whole class, laugh. That bullet landed very deeply and is still felt: everywhere.
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For years, mornings started with my own mental daily movie examining absolutely everything I had done the day before. I looked for mistakes rather than successes e.g. when I was dieting the movie was about food eaten, and spotting “mistakes” so I could lose more weight. Teaching session movies were about perceived faults and how I could improve them. Meetings with people were replayed to work out how I could do them “better!” This mental marathon happened before getting out of bed and meant I started off the day with an incredibly “wired” brain! It didn’t change anything that had happened and started the coming day with rules about how I should be different! No opportunity to be in the moment, flexible and go with the flow!
However, I have discovered a few Alexander Technique based steps which make these morning “replays” either non-existent or at least very much shorter and more positive! I’d like to share some of my experience with you!
“When you know better you do better.” Maya Angelou
The change came in when I started to have Alexander Technique lessons. I learned to notice things in the present moment with no pressure. Over a few lessons I became less ridged in my thinking, less angry and anxious. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, with my own emotions and thoughts. I began to know myself much more. I now understand that I did my morning mental check (and maybe you do too) to “keep myself safe”. If you want to know more about struggling with unwanted thoughts, read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris as he explains this kind of thinking in more detail.
Lessons taught me I didn’t, and don’t, have to vigilantly work out how to do things differently. I can make mistakes (and learn from them) and it’s ok. I can be loved for who I am exactly as I am! I am safe. This has not happened overnight. It has evolved over the last 27+ years! I learned to stop bracing myself and let my muscular armour soften and dissolve into a more fluid, responsive state.
However, old habits die hard! So, when I found myself replaying the workshop I had taught at the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique AGM in 2016 I took a different approach to the one I might have done previously. I applied The Alexander Technique to it.
- I noticed my thoughts from a place of curiosity – “Oh, there are those thoughts again!”
- I knew I didn’t have to change anything.
- I became aware of where I was, what I was hearing, seeing and doing which released all sorts of tensions. I knew I was safe in that moment.
- Knowing I didn’t have to change anything, and that I could just BE IN THE MOMENT also had the paradoxical effect of breaking the old pattern.
- Then I applied further “Alexander Technique” in the form of invitation/s (directions) to my body – “Let my neck be free” and ” I invite my shoulders to do less and widen.”
- Now I was feeling much more blissfully in the moment and could breath and know I didn’t need to change anything!
Some of these behaviours may be familiar? If you want to learn how to change tense muscles to responsive muscles, cyclical thoughts to ones that have choices, feel happier in your own skin being uniquely you…do get in touch! Contact me! Jane – 01759 307282