Years ago, a friend of mine had a series of Alexander Technique lessons. Her posture really improved: I asked her how she’d done it.
‘Well,’ she replied, ‘if you stop doing the WRONG things, you make space for the right ones to happen on their own.’
Also, desperately challenging.
I do know what she means though. The first thing I teach new yoga students is how to watch their breath. As they become more aware of how they breathe, they notice that they constrict their diaphragms and tense their necks when they are stressed. They learn to soften those places, to make space for a more comfortable breath.
Sometimes, it takes people a long time to learn to soften their breath in this way: perhaps they learn to open their bodies first, because it’s an easier, more obvious process. Doesn’t matter, as long as the skills are developing.
The great thing is, once you can make space in your body and breath, you can also do it in your mind and emotions. It’s the same skill.
I have, for most of my life, been a Habitual Suppressor. It comes from having to put on a brave face when life is horrible: going to the breakfast table the morning after my dad had ‘visited’ my bedroom, trying to hold myself together. I would push my anger, fear, horror, down into an ominously explosive ball just under my heart.
When I could feel the ball threatening to blow up, I would take Emergency Measures. I’d starve myself, or get drunk. Or exercise until I was at the point of collapse. These things sort of helped. But, you know, not really.
Eventually, at rock bottom, I thought: hang on.
What if I allow myself to feel these things? What if I just acknowledge them?
What would happen? Could things really get any worse than they are now?
So I opened my body to the feelings. And the strangest thing happened.
They didn’t expand to fill all of me and overwhelm me, which was what I had been afraid of. Rather, the intensity of the feelings diluted because they had more space.
And I felt lighter. It was the emotional equivalent of relaxing my neck muscles in a yoga pose. Everything just felt easier.
It is such a relief. It’s a way for me to be in the flow of life even when it isn’t quite the way I want it to be.
By letting go of the unhelpful behaviour and thought patterns, I started to make space for new ones to come in all by themselves!
Breathing deeply and comfortably even when life stinks.
Life is often less than ideal. This I know from age and experience. I also know that we suffer a lot more if we tense against the experience: it’s so much better to soften around it and then find a way through and out. To flow like soft breaths. To make space for change.