Do I Have a Choice?
For some people, decision-making is a simple task. Then there are those like me, who can't even decide if they are the kind of people who find decision-making easy or difficult. Nevertheless, making decisions is imperative to our growth and direction. Every single day, and throughout our lives, we have all sorts of important decisions to make--both big and small. Some are existential, such as, "Is this what I want to do with my life?" Others more visceral, like,"What should I eat for lunch?"
In the course of a typical day, our minds are flooded with choices. We are constantly bombarded with options, which often pull us in polar directions. Left or right? Find a closer parking space or walk? Paper or plastic? Burger or salad? Reply to message now or later? Take a nap or workout? Cook dinner or take-out? The funny thing is that we've become so accustomed to living this way that we don't even think about it as making a choice, it's just a part of our life. And that would be fine if living like that was good for our bodies. But it's not. Having to make so many decisions so frequently can be stressful to our nervous systems.
As humans, we have natural reflexes. When someone steps on our toe, we respond with an "Ouch!" If someone hurts our child, an angry Mama or Papa Bear will emerge with fury. But isn't that good? Shouldn't we respond to danger or fear? Yes, of course we should but our bodies no longer respond to just danger and fear. Stress and anxiety trigger a similar response from our nervous system. They cause us to tense our necks, tighten our jaws, and even sweat. We've evolved from the days of hunting and gathering (and fearing bears, lions and tigers) to sitting in front of screens (and feeling stressed or anxious due to deadlines, our boss, spouse, children and anything/anyone else that needs something from us). This is further aggravated by the fast-paced lifestyle of Western culture, where stress and anxiety have every opportunity to permeate through our lives. What's more is that we've gotten so complacent with stress and anxiety, they actually feel 'normal'. Yet, while living with them might be the norm, they are anything but good for us.
In addition to our reflexes, we human beings are also social creatures. We thrive on acceptance. We desire to be well-liked, appreciated, and of course, succeed in whatever it is that we do. A typical day is filled with responsibilities and obligations that are accompanied by many decisions. What if one of those decisions went awry? What if we took the wrong turn and were late to the meeting? What if we woke up late and didn't have time to eat or drink?
If one of those scenarios didn't go according to plan we would be starting our day either late, irritable, hungry, thirsty, or stuck in traffic: the perfect formula for stress and anxiety. Once we get to work, or wherever we need to be, we have much to do. People are depending on us. More pressure. More decisions. More stress and anxiety.
Now some of you might be thinking, my day isn't that stressful, I just sit at my desk or in front of a screen. Well, let me ask you this: what's the difference in your body from when you are going on a nice long walk (without your phone) and when you are sitting in a chair? Is your body relaxed in that chair? Is your neck free of tension? Are you sitting upright and not slouching in your chair? If not, your body is experiencing tension on some level--by simply sitting in that chair. That tension is palpable through your posture, whether you are aware of it or not.
What I would like for you to think about is the sum and implication of life's little stresses. Over time, we have evolved to react to continuous daily triggers with the same response from our nervous systems as being in grave danger. We tighten our necks, clench our teeth, tighten our jaw, and become stiff. Our body becomes defensive while sitting in a chair. We either collapse and tighten, or over-correct and arch by tightening. There is nothing tranquil about it. We respond to stress and anxiety by tensing and we do this frequently throughout our day.
I will leave you with one last thing to think about. Imagine a cat who just saw a mouse. The cat is excited. The cat is patiently waiting to make its move. When the opportunity presents itself, the cat will strike forward, thus causing tension throughout its body. If the cat does this once or twice a day, it will easily go back to its resting state, no harm done. Now imagine that that same cat had to respond to that same stimulus (the mouse) throughout the entire day. Namely, that mouse was always there. That cat would be filled with tension throughout its body all day long, because it was constantly being reminded that it had to respond to that stimulus. Sadly, we are like the cat in the second scenario. We mentally pounce and react to the stimuli around us. We want to respond, and our thoughts trigger tension in our bodies because we are perpetually reminded of all the things that we have to do; the decisions we have to make. Our bodies have become so used to this tension that we don't even notice it anymore. That is, until we feel pain. Then we pay very close attention to our necks, our lower backs, our headaches, our joint pain. We only notice when our bodies are screaming at us to stop doing whatever it is that we are doing that is causing us pain and discomfort.
Believe it or not, there is a way to free yourself from these habits. Moreover, there is a way to heal the body non-intrusively and without succumbing to surgery. The Alexander Technique is an educational tool that facilitates the recognition of bad habits and relearning of body usage. It is a 100-year-old method that is used all over the world. The British Medical Journal published a study about the long-term benefits of Alexander Technique lessons and there are countless other studies about the improvement seen in people suffering from pain and poor posture through the use of the Alexander Technique.
Our Western culture isn't showing any signs of slowing down. And it would be naive to suggest that we eradicate every stimulus that causes us tension. That isn't reality. Reality is working hard, paying bills, raising ourselves and our children, and doing the best that we can. However, there is no reason for us to do this all on our own. We have resources and tools to help us through life. The Alexander Technique is one such tool. A tool that increases awareness and growth, and improves the quality of life.
Whatever tool you decide to use on your journey, remember that even in the midst of the chaos there are always pauses; moments of reflection. In those moments we have a choice. Do we have a say in our thoughts, or do we follow them blindly? Do we respond with fear, tension, stress or anxiety through tightening our bodies? Or do we pause after identifying the trigger and reflect? We can choose to free our necks, redirect our thinking and stay present in every thought. Furthermore, we can take the time we need to decide what our next step will be. The triggers may be fast and ubiquitous, but our responses don't have to be.