Stress. The Enemy.
For years scientific research has pointed to connections between stress and ill health, even to the point of establishing a connection between it and mortality. The study that inspired Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal to give the above TED talk tracked 30,000 adults in the United States over the course of eight years. People who reported high stress levels had a 43% increased risk of dying. This substantially supports the theory that stress is bad for you.
But there is a twist. That 43% increase is only true if you believe that stress is harmful.
People who reported high stress levels but believed that stress wasn't bad for them not only showed no increased risk of mortality, but had the lowest mortality rate of any group in the study.
The implications of this are staggering. What is suggested is that it is not stress itself, but the way we interpret it that leads to negative effects on the body.
F.M. Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, used to say the purpose of a lesson was to "to be able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it". Essentially, it is the science of choosing whether you will respond to any given circumstance with freedom or whether you will let your habitual negative reaction restrain you. This translates physically into responding to a stimulus by using it to send you 'up' (lengthening in the system with a sense of space) or 'down' (contraction and shortening). Interestingly enough, in the above study they found that individuals who believe stress is bad for you experienced constriction in their blood vessels as a result of that belief, while those who had no such association had no corresponding physical reaction. They believe this might account for the difference in mortality among the two groups.
One of the possible explanations for this is that if you believe stress is bad for you, the experience of it would introduce a fear response in your system, which causes constriction throughout the body (as detailed in my earlier blog 'The Physicality of Fear'). So by countering that response and introducing length into the system when one encounters stress (as one does in an Alexander lesson), one may be able to avoid negative physical consequences. This might explain why after a lesson my students often report feeling 'less stressed', or after a course of lessons they will report more freedom in their overall life. It's not that they are less stressed, but that they no longer pull down around it. And that can make all the difference.
This is really just a riff off of Dr. McGonigal's excellent talk, which I HIGHLY recommend watching or reading the transcript of (there is a link above just below the video). Her work is a testament to the power of the mind to effect the body and to change our lives.
I would like to leave you with one of my favorite quotations.
"[...] for there is no thing good or bad, but thinking makes it so"
--William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.