To pause is not foreign to most of us. The phrase “sleep on it” is a form of pausing. It means do nothing and be open until a later time.
I first learned about this pause when as a child I was told by my mother to count to ten so as not to morph into a full blown temper tantrum. As I remember, most of the time I counted to 10 as though it was part of the tantrum – not exactly the nervous system calming pause that Alexander indended!
When F.M. Alexander first ran into problems with his voice, he might have given up, thinking, as his doctors suggested, that he needed to stop speaking altogether to avoid hoarseness. Instead, he observed himself speaking while surrounded by mirrors. It wasn’t long before he discovered that just before he began to speak, he tipped his head back, causing a downward compression in his neck and the rest of his spine.
He learned that in stillness he could reorganize himself in a way that enabled expansion and spinal lengthening. While this was an important revelation, he could not stop his compressive habit after giving himself the cue to speak – an activity requiring movement that translated into a familiar, yet harmful response.
What followed was years of observation and frustration. The key to his stopping his habit finally came in the form of ‘doing nothing’ which became a core principle of the Alexander Technique. He called it inhibition, or more simply ‘to pause’.
When we ‘refresh’ our Inbox, we are inviting new email messages to appear. Similarly, when we refresh our kinesthetic systems by pausing, we are doing the same thing – letting the old habits dissipate, leaving the door open for new messages to stimulate our nervous system.
But somehow the idea became imbedded into my unconscious and I referenced it during the first part of my training. What I learned though, was that it is possible to pause and stiffen, tensing unnecessarily.
The pause that Alexander wrote about is different, it is the stopping of the energy going down the wrong pathways (as in compressing), requiring a form of ‘non doing’, or being quiet with oneself.
With that space opened up, something new can happen; something more expansive and in accordance with how we are anatomically designed to move. The Alexander Technique is a rich source of self-care education combined with gentle touch designed to spot habits and to change our relationship to them.
The next time something or someone stimulates you to become anxious, angry or tense, pause, and release the grip of your neck muscles and notice what that does to your mood, your level of tension and your breathing.
As we wish for more freedom, expansiveness, and lightness in our body, can pausing be the thing we need to do first?
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