It Only Takes a Moment
By Jean McClelland
As we enter the holiday season even the calmest and most organized amongst us can begin to feel stress with all the myriad tasks and responsibilities we have. It’s easy to let ourselves be pulled in all directions. We never seem to have enough time to finish everything we need to do, and as a result, we often hold our breath. We don’t exhale fully, and stress and tension build up in our bodies. If we were to notice our breathing, we would find that we’re taking shallow breaths and breathing quite rapidly.
More often, we aren’t aware of our breathing at all. We’re ruminating in our heads, forgetting that we even have a body. If a well-meaning person encouraged us to take time for ourselves, we might be tempted to say, “I don't have a minute to spare.”
And yet, it only takes a moment to change the entire dynamic of our body. It’s instantaneous and one of the great mysteries and miracles of the human mind-body. FM Alexander said, “You can change the habits of a lifetime in the twinkling of an eye, if you use your head.” He meant that when we become aware of our habits, we can choose whether to continue to do what we’re doing or shift to something better for ourselves. However, we must first become conscious of the tightening in our bodies and the grabbing for breath when we’re under stress.
Start by becoming aware of yourself when you’re rushing around trying to accomplish everything on your “to-do list.” What does your body feel like as you manage grocery shopping while coordinating it with picking up your children and mentally going through the tasks unfinished at work or at home? Would you say you feel “up tight?” This habit of “rushing” gets us more and more tense. It feels impossible to get out of our heads.
When you recognize what is going on within you, simply stop for a moment. There is enormous power in recognizing how you’re tensing, and then making a choice to be more present and in the moment. A nourishing way to shift is by simply looking up at the sky with “artists’ eyes.” These are eyes that allow images to come to them rather than straining to try to see. This way of seeing engenders a sense of wonder in you and reflexively you will take a deep breath. The chatter in your mind quiets down and you may become transfixed by the sky and the clouds. Instantaneously, you went from being locked in your thoughts to being fully present. You have come into alignment with yourself and your coordination. This happens automatically without your trying to make something happen. It is the miracle I spoke of. You will feel clear-headed and renewed and this transformation happened, “in a twinkling of an eye.”
Jean McClelland is on the faculty of the Graduate Program in Acting at Columbia University and a guest lecturer in the music department at William Paterson University. She is an AmSAT certified senior teacher of the Alexander Technique and studied with Carl Stough at his Institute for Breathing Coordination. She is one of fewer than a dozen people worldwide personally selected by Stough to teach his work. In addition, she has performed extensively in musical theater and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association. She teaches in-person at One Spirit Learning Alliance, in addition to other in-person and virtual private lessons and group classes. For more information, visit JeanMcClellandVoice.com.