Soothing Yourself In Anxious Times
This headline caught my eye this week, and has been haunting me for a couple of days: An Anxious Nation (the original print headline). It really backs up a theme from my last blog entry on “Energy Up, Energy Down” with some sobering facts: the majority of people feel quite anxious daily. The New York Times piece outlines a lot of contributing factors, but let’s focus in on one major life trend: we never stop going. We now have the means to be connected/productive/sharing/consuming information all the time, and it even creates stress even when we choose not to, because we then worry might be missing out (the pernicious FOMO). As I mentioned in my last post, the article equated the new popularity of meditation centers with a driving need for respite from the endless stimuli we are bombarded with.
I joined one of these meditation centers over the winter, Inscape, in the Chelsea area. It’s spa-like and gorgeous, indeed very soothing, and good for beginner meditators like me. It costs about $21 to go for a half-hour group meditation.
On the down side: it was often a challenge to get there – I’d have to match the class to my schedule, and build in a little time for a commute even though it was close to my teaching studio (you certainly don’t want to have to rush out at the end), and it the cost added up.
In trying it for a few weeks, I realized I already use a similar tool already to quiet the mind – the Alexander Lie Down. It can be done anytime, anywhere, all you need to a space on the floor (ideally a hardwood floor with a bit of padding like a carpet or yoga mat is best) and a couple of paperback books to put beneath your head. You can do it for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10-15 (there’s the sweet spot of optimal length!), or up to 20 or 30. You can do it several times a day: to wake up and focus on the new day ahead; to press “reset” in the middle of the day after sitting a great deal; post-performance or workday to transition to your next activity; as part of a vocal or movement warm-up; or at night to settle down before sleep. You choose what works in your schedule and for your needs.
Some benefits: your nervous system can quiet down as you let the ground support your weight, rather than having to be engaged in coordinating balance and movement. Your mind can slow down as you direct attention throughout your body, noticing where excess strain as built up, and using your thought to invite the muscles to release. Your breath can return to easier coordination as the whole 3-dimensional torso expands. Gravity encourages your spine to lengthen, and the spongy discs between the vertebrae to be bathed in fluid. It’s rejuvenating, calming and yet you keep your eyes open and stay connected to the world around you, so can easily transition into activity when you finish. Many students of AT have reported that doing lie downs has been a great relief, and an effective antidote to their racing mind and body. Sometimes it's hard at first to be still and stop - be assured that very short lie downs are absolutely fine, and get up when you need to.
You can find a number of guided lie-downs online that can talk you through the Alexander process, but they are absolutely DIY once you get the hang of it (Click here and scroll to the bottom of this page to find some I like by Carolyn Nicholls.) No cost, no equipment needed. From the sound of things, we need these tools now more than ever. Consider giving yourself this gift of 10 minutes - or 3 - of quiet today. Meet yourself on the floor for a few, and experience a different sort of connectivity – to yourself.