Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Self-Care You Take With You

Even with the best of intentions to take time for self-care, many of us struggle to fit it in. When we do carve out an hour, it is never enough. There aren’t enough massages or walks or cups of tea or softball games in the world to make up our deficit in taking care of ourselves. It’s like trying to fill a swimming pool with a dropper.

What if there was a way to move self-care from the periphery of the day and apply it to our activities, in the moment? What if we had practical skills to be aware of and self-correct our movement, posture and manner of reaction before we get into a state of crisis?

This is what the Alexander Technique (AT) teaches. The 120 year-old method of self-awareness and self-regulation helps us untangle bad habits – physical and mental – that so often lead to pain, fatigue and stress. AT has been shown, in several large-scale controlled studies, to be a highly effective intervention for chronic back and neck pain.

How does a person make this shift? It requires a change in thinking and a change in behavior. Here are two steps for getting started:

Stop

Take a moment to pause.  Right now, while you are reading this.

Now that you’ve paused the forward momentum of getting things done, take a moment to notice what is going on with yourself. Are you holding your breath? Let it out so it can come back in.

Are you pulling your shoulders up to your ears? You can let them release. Gripping your jaw? Tightening your glutes? Curling your toes? Whatever you notice that is unnecessary, let it go.

Whatever you just let go of is probably going to come back as soon as you hit play again on your life. So in order to make a dent in these habits of unnecessary activity, you have to stop often. It can seem impossible because we are in a lather of constant doing, doing, doing. Everyone screams, “I don’t have time”, but unless the UPS truck is barreling toward you or your partner is about to give birth in the car, you probably do have the 2-5 seconds that it takes to stop.

So stop.  Right now. Again.

Take a moment to stop at anytime, but here are a few suggestions: before you get out of bed in the morning, before you drink your coffee or tea, before you head out the door, upon arrival anywhere, before eating, before you brush your teeth, while you are brushing your teeth, before you get in bed for the night.

Lighten Up

This is always good advice. In the “don’t take yourself too seriously” sense, as well as the “stop using excessive muscular tension” sense. After you have stopped and let the breath out, it can come back in.

“Notice that you are pulling yourself down and give yourself permission to stop doing it. Let your head balance easily at the top of your spine. Allow your spine to be uncompressed and your torso to open effortlessly. Let your shoulders and chest be open and light.”

The above text is a simplified version of Alexander Technique principles that was used in a recent study conducted at OHSU.  In the study, participants were given the opportunity to think about their posture in traditional “pull up” terms (engaging their core, lifting their heads, pulling their shoulders back, etc.), to think of relaxing, or to think these “lighten up” directions.

Compared to pulling up or relaxing, thinking the “lighten up” directions helped participants achieve more uprightness, less rigidity, and a smoother transfer of weight as they went to walk.  The participants in the study suffered from Parkinson’s disease, but we can all benefit from this mode of thinking.

Stop and Lighten Up. Two self-care routines one can practice anywhere and in any activity. Making them a daily process can have a profound impact over time on how we function.

Eve Bernfeld is an AmSAT certified teacher of the Alexander Technique.  inbalanceAT.com/503.915.7400