hold on tight

Jo asked me how I am.

The answer is—really, really great.

In the couple of weeks before my appendectomy I felt a definite shift in my thinking, a definite shift in my approach to the world.  (Then the appendicitis hit and all of July was basically a wash.)  Of course, I didn’t become a different person and I have plenty of neuroses and issues left to sift through, but right now they’re not making me feel like a failure.  Right now I feel like I’ve turned a corner.

A piece of this corner-turning has come from starting to learn the Alexander Technique.  For quite a while my therapist had been suggesting that I take up an activity to help me have better awareness of my body.  She suggested both yoga and the Feldenkrais method and I was trying to figure out something that would work well for me.  Serendipitously, I discovered that a woman from my divorce recovery class is a teacher of the Alexander Technique, which I had never heard of before.  It’s a bit hard for me to explain what it is, but Wikipedia says it is

an alternative medicine and educational discipline focusing on bodily coordination, including psychological principles of awareness. It is applied for purposes of recovering freedom of movement, in the mastery of performing arts, and for general self-improvement affecting poise, impulse control and attention.

During the lessons I’ve had, my teacher will have me sit, stand, or do other basic movements.  She then instructs me (often using light touch) to change my movement or position.  The changes are usually quite subtle, but I have found the sessions quite powerful, even overwhelming.  I often get dizzy, which seems to be a signal that we’re moving too quickly (I never would have thought before that such slight movements could cause a change in my blood pressure, but there you go).  Also, the idea that we’re moving too “quickly” often seems strange, as the changes in movement or position I make are quite slight.

The thing I like the best about my lessons (other than my friend’s giving me a hefty discount in her fee) is how I feel when I leave.  I feel really present inside my body, and have an awareness of my body that does not normally come easily to me.

Another thing I really like about learning this technique is that I am not just learning better posture, but the lessons that I learn about my physical self all seem to be mirrored in the rest of my life, and so I am learning about me.

I could give you a number of examples (and may, in the coming days), but the one I think about the most has to do with how I hold my shoulders, neck, and jaw.  Much of the time I hold everything very tightly:  clenching my jaw, scrunching my shoulders up, tensing my neck.

This is actually the same way that I hold on to the rest of my life.  I’ve noticed this posture in myself most when I am anxious (which comes much more frequently than I ever was aware before), when I feel that something is out of my control, out of my grasp, when I feel the ground shifting below my feet.  I have noticed that this feeling comes many, many times a day.  I hold myself as if bracing for a blow, as if trying to keep all the plates spinning.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

In learning to let my shoulders release, my jaw unclench, I have noticed that as soon as I am able to do so, a bit of the angst leaves my belly, my arms feel looser, my heart is lighter.  This has become a physical reminder that I don’t have to hold all the pieces in place, I will be okay if the plates fall, there is no theoretical fist waiting in the wings to wallop me.

My teacher suggested that when I notice that my jaw is tight, to focus on how my feet are stable on the ground, how I am solid in my chair.  I don’t have to hold myself up completely.  The earth is perfectly capable of holding my weight.  It is not all on my shoulders to micro-manage.  If the plates fall and crash, the earth will still be here, holding me up.

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5 responses to “hold on tight

  1. Well, you answered my question – about the Alexander technique that is – I’ve heard of it – but I wondered what your experience of it is.

  2. I really like this post. Full of self-awareness and mindfulness. Thank you for this — much needed for me now.

  3. I love this. I’m glad that you are becoming more self aware!

  4. Interesting. I many have to look into this more.

  5. Just catching up on my blog reading & commenting, post-vacation. I’m glad you are on the mend. I’ve never heard of this technique — I am a jaw clencher myself, so I may have to look into this…!

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