Have you ever tried something new, and decided “I’m going to work hard to get this right?” Think back to that time – maybe it was a new exercise regimen, or learning to play an instrument. How did “working hard to get this right” go for you? For many people that kind of approach to a new experience – or even a familiar one – leads to tension and stress. Tension and stress can sometimes lead to mental and physical pain; over time, even injury.
When I work with a new student or teach an Alexander Technique workshop, I often ask people to conduct a little experiment about Effort and Ease (my thanks to Imogen Ragone and Meade Andrews for the idea). If you like, try repeating the following phrase three times to yourself. You can say it silently, in your thinking, or you can say it out loud. You might notice what happens in your body as you think this experiment:
I have to do it right, and I have to do it fast. (3x)
Did you notice anything? Often, the people I work with experience an increase of strain or tension in the neck and shoulders, their breathing may become more shallow, and many report an increased heart rate – just from thinking.
Now here’s the opposite experiment. Again, try repeating the following to yourself, and notice what you notice in your body.
I don’t have to be right, and I have the time I need. (3x)
Did you notice anything? Many individuals report a release of tension in the body, a calming of the breath, and a slowing of heart rate. People also sometimes express a feeling of disbelief (“There’s no possible way that I don’t have to be right, and I really have to do this fast!”) Notice if that disbelief was part of your response in this thought experiment. If it is, you can try an alternate wording: I’m at ease in myself, and I have the time I need.
I shared a draft of this article with a colleague, and she responded with a story of her own that perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about. With her permission, I share it with you:
This morning was rough in our house. We were rushing around. My son wasn’t getting ready, and when we walked out the door I knew I barely had enough time to get him to school on time. Then he opened the car door and said, “Where’s my booster seat?” It was in the OTHER car…the one his dad and sister had just driven off in about 5 minutes before. So, I called and told them to turn around. By the time they got back to the house and we got the booster seat in my car, we both knew he would be late, so I turned on some fun music and we drove with ease. Getting there on time didn’t matter anymore, because we accepted that he would be late. We pulled into the school right on time, and when I walked him in the school administrator told him to go on back, that he had just made it. We could have driven to school with anxiety and panic, but we accepted his lateness and instead settled into the ease of the drive and enjoyed the music…and he made it on time after all. I wonder what our mornings would look like if we always practiced “ease”?
I’ve had many, many moments (especially mornings!) like this one, where I was in a rush, and I haven’t always chosen ease even though I know what an amazing impact that ease has on my day. When I choose ease, I feel better in my body, in my thinking, and my mood…I’m also kinder and more present to the people around me.
Ease doesn’t necessarily mean relaxation. You can have ease in running a race, or lifting something heavy. (I just moved! LOTS of boxes. I can vouch for the Alexander Technique’s ability to help me lift boxes and furniture with less strain and effort!)
For me, Ease means using just the energy I need for an activity, in a way that preserves my poise and peace of mind. Ease in thinking could be synonymous with curiosity or fascination. Rather than “I have to get this right,” I try to approach a new activity without any particular end in mind.
The next time you try something new – or the next time you do something routine, like opening a door or turning on the light – remind yourself that you have time.
It’s not always simple to remember to choose Ease, but little moments to pause can make a world of difference. Try adding some “appointments” with Ease throughout your day in the coming year. (You can even literally add them to your calendar!) When you approach the new or the familiar with an attitude of ease – instead of strain – what freedom might you discover?