Last week, I was cleaning the mats that my students at IU use for Constructive Rest. It could have been a chore (12 mats, two sides, lots of squirting the cleaner and wiping). I had just been presenting on some of the core principles of the Alexander Technique, including the idea of process-oriented (as opposed to goal-oriented) action, and of releasing into length (as opposed to “stretching”). Each moment of movement – releasing to fold to a kneeling squat, then lengthening through my arm and back as I made each wipe of the mat – became a moving meditation. It was simply enjoyable just to be moving freely, sensing my own dynamic poise in action.
Mat cleaning is not glamorous, and in itself, perhaps not something one would consider “fun.” But quiet attention to activity allows us peace and presence, not to mention relief from tension and strain. What do you do each day that might offer you a few moments of simple movement pleasure? Folding to reach milk from the refrigerator for your tea, or to retrieve the carrots from the crisper? Opening the curtains to the morning sun or closing them at dark? Washing a plate or bowl?
The first step is to “say no” to rushing onward to the next thing. Draw your attention to the process. I can say from experience that it doesn’t actually take any longer, but you will have more time if you’re not telling yourself you have to rush.
Then allow yourself to release into movement. This might mean letting your feet meet the floor, if you’ve been holding yourself “ready to go” to the next activity. It might mean releasing strain from your neck, back, and shoulders before you begin to move. For example, in the action of folding to clean the mats, I might observe myself in the following ways:
- Allow my whole foot to meet the floor, including my heels.
- Allow my neck to be free, to allow my head to lead me in movement as my back releases into length and width.
- Fold from my hip joints and at my knees, sustaining the buoyant integrity of the torso as I lower in space.
- Lower one knee to the floor, continuing to allow the back to lengthen and widen.
- As I hold the cleaning cloth on the mat, release my hand and fingers away from the back, allowing the whole arm to coordinate in movement as I lengthen through the shoulder and ribs.
- Allow the spine to be gently flexible as I draw my hand toward me in the down-stroke of cleaning.
- Notice how my breath flows easily as I move.
When I was finished cleaning the mats, I was more present, calmer, and happier. As an added bonus, the mats were clean, and I felt free in my body, with no residual tension from over-working. And it only took a few minutes: I didn’t move slowly, but I did move presently.
If you added a few spaces of moving meditation to your day, how much more would you enjoy your self? What benefits would you discover?