We are often told from a young age that we need to try hard and you’ll make it – or, you need to try harder – put some effort in to achieve what you want. Whether that’s being better at spelling, competing at sport, playing an instrument or later in life in our careers. But, is it really good for our mind/body wellbeing to be doing all this trying hard, striving, struggling?
I don’t mean we needn’t bother at all, just lie there doing nothing in a free and easy way (although a little bit of that certainly feels great, and constructive rest is a great, nourishing way of stopping for a while). I mean, do we need to approach life with gritted teeth, trying hard, striving to succeed? These are often seen as mental attitudes we need to employ to get better at something and achieve our goals. However, what we think affects the way we use our bodies too (emotions are expressed as muscular tension). The way we use our bodies also affects the way we function (mentally and physically). Trying harder can lead to excess body tension, head aches, pain and breathing pattern changes, which can make us feel stressed or anxious. If left unchecked this can lead to RSI and other ailments. If you drove around in your car with the hand break on, you wouldn’t be surprised if eventually it broke down. Some if us are doing the equivalent to our bodies!
The Alexander Technique allows us to find a new approach to what we are doing – lighter, freer, more poised, curious and focused, but with less effort and tension. We can still achieve our goals while looking after our mental and physical wellbeing. We may have been lucky enough to experience this when things are going well. Physically and mentally things seem to flow, it feels effortless. This is the state that we can do our best work in, but often we can’t consciously find this state and instead put more effort in and tense up.
Generally we are drawn to people (in all realms of sports, the arts and work) who make what they do look effortless and easy. Think of Gene Kelly in ‘Singing in the Rain’. Roger Federer playing tennis or your favourite orator. Its not to say they haven’t spent time perfecting the way they do things, but tense, tight ‘effort’ is not part of the way they do things.
The Alexander Technique gives us a framework that allows this body/mind ease. It starts with cultivating embodied awareness of our habits (as I wrote in my last month’s blog). Then it offers ways to release any mental and physical tension and be free of our unhelpful habits. We are able to stay with the process of what we are doing and look after ourselves while working towards our goals. It provides a method to establish mind/body calm in our hectic lives.
Alexander Technique has been helping people for over 100 years, but modern science is confirming the validity of this old method. Some of its principles can be seen in modern psychological approaches to learning, such as Growth Mindset which is being used in schools. In this approach, development over results is encouraged, so is curiosity. It encourages positive values such as learning and development and helpful ‘self talk’ (how to manage how we talk to ourselves – positive, helpful and energised).
I do love seeing that certain mind/body wisdom holds true where ever it comes from; Alexander Technique,growth mindset, and I found this in a mediation book I am reading a the moment. *
‘insight (understanding) doesn’t operate outside of calm. The requirement to insight is that the mind is calm and steady enough not to be in the grip of the hinderances (eg. bad habits).’
In other words, when we want to work well and think well, being stressed and putting ourselves under pressure is counter productive.
I looked up synonyms for strive, I thought I might share some with you.
Try, try hard, toil, strain, struggle were listed – BUT so were attempt, aspire and venture, which to my mind, feel much more in keeping with the principles of the Alexander Technique. So, pause, and ask yourself, can I do less? can it be easier? (in terms of tension). Lighten up and find a new, freer and more balanced way of doing and being with the Alexander Technique. If you would like to find out more please contact me using the contact details at the top of the page.
*Meditation, A Way of Awakening by Ajahn Sucitto.