Which came first? Bad posture or weak muscles?
Many people who go to the gym or P.T. believe that they have muscles that need to be strengthened. “My core is weak,” “I have weak abdominals.” “My posture is bad/neck hurts/I can’t sit comfortably for long/I hurt myself because of weak…(fill in the blank)” They think strengthening the weakness will resolve the issue. In the short run, it can sometimes help. But all of the diligence at the gym also increases strain and tension, eventually leading to more discomfort and pain. Then people believe they aren’t doing enough and work even harder, especially if they initially had some relief or success when they started working out. The good news is that fitness training is becoming more whole body oriented, but the common belief is still that effort should always be dialed up, more, more, more. Few seem to be talking about the role of your brain the the coordination of your muscles.
Weak muscles are because of strong habits. Changing a habit is potentially more effective than adding 12 more reps to a workout. In fact, working harder reinforces bad habits. Use the Alexander Technique to learn how to dial down on excess tension in overused muscles, and to move your body more skillfully. Skillful movement will reduce the dynamic of excess tension/weakness. Then you can take your new skill to the gym and work-out smarter.
A friend with smarts about brains tells me there is a neurological reason for procrastinating. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I’d say that my procrastination is a habit which, because it feels familiar, feels like the ‘right’ or only possible way to get things done. My friend’s suggestions for developing a system to get tasks done more efficiently seem terribly regimented and tedious and drain the spontaneity I crave out of the process. A tremendous resistance arises when I begin to try to implement any of his suggestions. Even thinking about trying some of his ideas causes me to check-out, go into avoidance mode, and distract myself from my work. The only time I can seem to get anything done is if there is time pressure, or a burst of inspiration that has a feeling of urgency to kick me into gear. Methodical, organized, disciplined action seems impossible. I crave the urgency, the rush, of rushing.
When I lie on the floor in semi-supine to rest I am practicing the art of not rushing, not forcing. This brings me a great sense of ease, yet doesn’t quite help me to get up to go and adopt the methodical approach to work that my friend recommends. I must commit myself to the discomfort of trying a new system that does not give the familiar rush, and therefore feels ineffective, even scary. New results are promised, but I need to work out for myself the motivation for taking the leap of faith.
The catchphrase ‘less is more’ is commonly used to describe simplicity, elegance, and functionality in design. It is minimal effort for maximum effect. A great deal of thought, trial and effort goes into good design, and yet the result seems effortless. Nature is full of good design because survival requires efficiency. Life cannot sustain wasted energy.
As living beings, we want to be efficient in order to stay healthy and avoid getting worn out. Yet there are a million ways we get tricked into doing too much. Phrases such as ‘hold yourself together,’ and ‘get a grip’ point to the trap of too much effort. Perhaps seeking to do ‘just enough and no more’ is a better approach.
Try it out. Just ask yourself “Is there anything that I am doing right now that is not needed?”
What extra effort can you let go of, right now?
Everyone who has ever been to a gym probably knows where the trapezius, quads, glutes, and hamstrings are. Many of my clients tell me what they are working on strengthening, where they are tight, what needs stretching…. It seems as if people are targeting bits and pieces of themselves.
What about the coordinated functioning of the whole? Nobody talks about USE unless they have been exposed to the Alexander Technique. Use essentially means how you coordinate yourself as a whole. Strengthening and stretching (and of course massage) help reduce the tightness and pain that result from poor Use. Why not go to the source and improve your Use before problems arise?
By changing the way you deploy all of your muscles you prevent tightness and pain at the source: your USE.
Most people are familiar with the three finger salute, or Control Alt Delete. It’s what you do to reboot your cranky computer so that you can start afresh.
Our backs get cranky too. Holding ourselves upright leads to tension, knots, sore places, and fatigue. And our reactions to the discomfort lead us to strain even more to try to find the right position. Ow!
Instead of straining, try this method. Find a quiet place. Lie down. Yes, that’s it! Support your head with some books so it’s not tilted forward or back. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. Fold your arms so your hands can rest on your abdomen. Leave yourself alone. Rest for 5-10 minutes. Voila!
This is how you reboot your back.
What is a habit? It’s what feels familiar. We develop habits because they are more efficient than thinking through everything we do as if for the first time. Our habits are comfortably familiar, but they can be flawed. For example, it may feel normal to brace your legs when you stand. But always bracing your legs can lead to reduced mobility and joint issues later in life. We need our habits in order to function, but sometimes it is a good idea to leave the comfort zone and explore our options.
Here is a common motivation for leaving your comfort zone: Mother Necessity. Something is wrong and you want to fix it. FM Alexander had voice problems. This led him to invent a completely unique modality. You have back pain? Doing things the same way you usually do them is not going to yield better results.
Mother Necessity is calling for you!
driving with the emergency brake on
I was driving the other day and my car started making the most awful noise! Uh-oh, I thought. Time for another expensive repair. When I pulled into the parking lot and removed my seatbelt, I saw that I had engaged my emergency brake and forgotten about it. Embarrassing! This was not the first time, either.
I’ve learned that I do the same thing with my body. I forget that I am tensing the muscles of my hips, butt and pelvis, and am unpleasantly surprised when my low back starts to hurt. It is harder to sit upright and to stand up and move when I have the brakes on!
The Alexander Technique is all about disengaging the brakes that we have forgotten about in ourselves.