“You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension.”
"You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.”
"Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down."
One of the key principles of the Alexander Technique is the idea that in order to create meaningful change in ourselves, we must first stop doing our 'Habit'--an automatic response to a stimulus or circumstance. Another is that our thinking--mental activity--translates over into our physical body in terms of tension, effort, and specificity of action. This process is referred to as Direction.
In order to consciously change your thinking for the better, you have to drive a wedge between the stimulus to react and your habit--in A.T. this is called Inhibition, a very heady word that simply just means making space to change. I have found one of the best ways to do this is to simply slow down--in the modern world, we are constantly stimulated to action, with little time for awareness or breath. Sometimes I find that even if I succeed in pausing my body, my mind races on with lightning speed--mediators might be familiar with the sensation of sitting still for 20 minutes focusing on your breath but fighting the pace of your thoughts. Any attempt to change or calm yourself down must involve your whole self--body, mind and spirit; and sometimes all that is required is to consciously find a way to direct the mind to cooperate with your intention.
Here are 7 ways I've been playing with slowing down my mind lately you might find handy.
1. Extend your Exhale:
When we are stressed, we tend to do one of two things--hold our breath, or try hard to 'breath'--usually meaning trying to pull breath in. This is a trap--we take short shallow breaths into our upper chest (the pattern associated with panic attacks!) and spend more time inhaling than exhaling. Scientifically, when you do this your heartbeat speeds up, and with that comes adrenaline, racing thoughts and tension. The simple solution is to focus on your exhale. It doesn't have to be complicated--you can simply notice when you are holding your breath and allow it to gently release, try exhaling on a long gentle stream through the nose, or release a gentle sigh through the mouth. Don't over control or try to breath on counts (which tends to promote tension in your ribs and torso)--just try to extend each breath a little more than the last one. If you don't muscle your inhale afterwards, you will find the in breath comes with more depth and ease. In Alexander Lessons, we learn a formal exercise called the 'Silent Lalala' that helps with this. You can play with it in my 'Active Rest to Ease Anxiety' talk through.
2. Move Slowly for 10 Minutes:
Often if you try to hold yourself completely still (a la meditation) you over-stabilize and stiffen the muscles in your body. The result is that your mind races--instead, try slowing your everyday movement down for about 10 minutes and see if it calms your mind. Like the breathing, don't go for the 'Olympic Sport' of slowing down right away, try to move a little slower with each movement than the one before. You might find if you do this the pace of your mind and breath might start to slow down with it. A great discipline that helps with this is T'ai Ch'i. Mindful, non-fitness oriented Yoga can have a similar affect. I also find a gentle walk around the neighborhood can accomplish a similar aim.
3. Turn off Media--Social and Otherwise:
This one is a no brainer, but is hard to execute practically. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli to react to--positive and negative--through the media. This includes sites like Facebook, but also includes: cable news, text messaging, and, alarmingly for some, podcasts. All of these things create constant background chatter that forces our brain to speed up in order to process everything. Try to have at least an hour a day without these--close Facebook, turn off your phone's ringer (or better put it in the next room, like I try to), and enjoy some sweet silence for your mind to expand into. You can also try a word freeze--try not to read or listen to anything verbal for a few minutes and your mind will calm down.
4. Sync with an External Thing with a Slow Tempo (but really pay attention):
Sometimes, it is hard to slow down from the inside. You can use some clever external input to aid you--one of my favorite ways to wake up is to watch nature documentaries--the expansive imagery and moderate pace helps me to turn off my mind's urge to over-accelerate. Taking a walk in nature can have similar benefits. Another great strategy is to put on some slow music and actually listen to it--don't let it be in the background, really notice and be present to it. One thing that can take this to the next level is letting the mucis be non-verbal--there is something about not hearing words that lets your mind go nonverbal and slow down along with it.
5. Moderate Sugar and Alcohol:
When I consume too much sugar, I find I get overstimulated and my mind races. Conversely, if I have too much alcohol, my system becomes depressed, and much like sitting too still, my mind speeds up to function within the artificially slowed system. This is not to say you can't enjoy these things--just be conscious of over-use and if you are employing them as a form of self-medication.
6. Slow-Motion your Internal Monologue:
If your mind is racing, notice the speed at which your inner voice is literally speaking. You might be surprised to notice its breakneck speed. If you try consciously 'talking' to yourself very slowly (I've nicknamed it 'sloth-voice' for myself) you might find the rest of your mind slows with it.
7. Connect to Another Person (in-person):
Another one that is surprisingly hard. Honestly, we let mobile and online communication substitute for human contact too much in the modern age--spending time in the same room with someone else breathing together and seeing the other person's responses has a very different affect than virtual communication. This doesn't have to be anything complicated, but try combining this with the previous strategies--try to minimize media input with the meet-up; be conscious of not holding your breath when not speaking; meet up to be present in nature or see some live music; don't push the conversation. This shifts your focus from internal (its interesting how virtual communication intensifies this internal attention) and spreads your consciousness into something else, taking internal pressure off and providing context for your thoughts.
Enjoy and keep thinking up! Much more info on how to slow down and become present throughout the rest of freedominmotionat.com.
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.