The biggest mistake I see people make in regard to mind wandering is the reluctance to stop, recognition of what they are doing and usually no awareness of how they are breathing. It’s deeply inconvenient to stop and think about what you are doing. Why can’t you just get on with it? This is a waste of time! Would be a perfectly normal response to the very idea of stopping, after all it’s a change in attitude that is really taking place. And like any habit, particularly a mental habit, the habit to do, do more and get on with it, it has become so ingrained that it’s very hard to seperate themselves from it.
Sadly it's a belief that puts them on autopilot, because there really isn’t much thinking involved or that thinking is a special and infrequent event called on at times of desperation. Desperation is a fair word to use because when someone has lost their key they haven’t acknowledged something that they did. A simple everyday action has slipped below the level of consciousness and has become taken for granted. All we needed to do was pay attention. It's the same thing when we go into a room and forget what we went in there for. We don’t stop to think we are just running on autopilot, so we are unable to sustain a thought and it gets lost to anything else that can be suggested, or whatever our subconscious throws up. Even if that’s just drawing a blank.
So when you do give yourself time you are acknowledging to yourself fully whatever it is that you are doing; putting your keys down, lifting your head or moving your leg. Without this basic awareness you will regress, because you will never be present. So there must be the stopping and the recognition.
That should have some effect on your breathing. Your breathing needs time to work. It’s very easy to do with the breathing, there are many breathing exercises out there, even Alexander Technique ones. Ranging from the simple advice of “take a deep breath” to things that verge on hyperventilation like the deep breathing methods found in some forms of yoga. Now these can have a positive effect but they also come at a price. You will do the breath and focus on it so much that it will give you tunnel vision. Your attention becomes so concentrated that you can’t sustain your other thoughts. It becomes a sledge hammer on your nervous system and you lose your ability to keep other parts of you body going.
However, if you go for a 20 to 60 minute walk you'll get your body to breath in a very natural way and you will create natural response breathing; movements that you can follow when you are at rest. This is the easiest and most effective way to deepen you breath and does not endanger overly contacting you diaphragm or belly muscles in anyway. You also keep your wits about you because this is a more indirect approach; the walking asks the body for a response. This is better than any breathing exercise. You also cannot function doing breathing exercises all day or you really will forget what you went into a room for. We need to balance our inner and outer attention. They both need to happen.
I am aware that I am telling people to slow down, stop, calm down and to give themselves time a lot. That’s because we tense up too much in order to do normals tasks. We tense up because we get into habits and those habits form beliefs. I’m not talking about the religious type, but belief in contracted muscle. Or rather, overly contracted muscle. Giving yourself time is a rather excellent way to prevent or at least engage with this tightening up.
Bearing that in mind, it’s also important to consider timing. If you break the timing of something then you really will end up in a lot of trouble. You can’t just stop when you are crossing a potentially busy road. If you are queuing at a shop and you decide to stop for too long, so as to hamper the momentum of the queue, then you will encourage outrage from your fellow shoppers.
But if you have the time why not take it, if the moment allows you to? Of course you need to stop reacting in habitual ways, but that doesn’t mean it has to take a long time. It’s the recognition of the habit that is so important. Because without the recognition of what is happening nothing will really change. Delaying is a poor substitute for leaving yourself alone, or giving yourself time. When you say to yourself (hint: you don’t have to say it out loud) “pause, stop, no, I give myself time or I decide to leave myself alone” ; if all you did was delay then nothing will really change. But if you observe and wait for the change, for it to take over, then you are on the right path.
Of course these moments of stillness that you are giving yourself is time for you to acknowledge what is going on with yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s not meant as a way for you to repress yourself. To resolutely say no to everything! It’s so you can consider what you are responding to in that moment. Is it making you tighten, is it sending you up, is it calming you down or is it stimulating and exciting you to do something?
So with this time that you give yourself you are exerting a control or power over yourself. You get to choose how you respond to life. Be they mental, physical or spiritual or all of them at the same time. There is no right answer. Sorry if you wanted one, but there isn't any. However, there are more accurate ones and if you don’t take the time to consider your own responses then everything will just happen to you. You will be a victim of your own, or other’s subconscious. Give yourself a moment to think and time to listen to yourself and you can change the habits of a lifetime.
It’s not hard to get a sense of gravity in your body. Very simply it’s the weight you can feel running through your body. Some people have the attitude that gravity is something that we must fight. If you really take that attitude the only thing you are going to fight against is yourself. Gravity or weight is experienced in yourself all the time. There is no moment in life where gravity is not taking effect on how your body works.
Even in your sleep. Astronauts returning from space really do need a great deal of time to recover. The muscles they normally use, to counter balance themselves against the downward force of gravity, are simply not being used. They are forgotten about, they atrophy. When they experience this force again, every part of them is put under a lot of pressure as they try to workout how to do everything again.
Most of the time we experience gravity in our feet if we are standing, or weight in our sitting bones if we are sitting. It’s not very difficult to get that sense of weight in our bodies and take it for granted. Stress makes us aware of gravity. We get relief by taking the weight off our backs. Otherwise we forget to remember.
When our startle pattern becomes exaggerated, although we may not realise it, we are actually fighting gravity. Stress or body misuse can cause this. We have places in our backs where we like to keep that weight, it’s part of how we hold ourselves. And as the other areas in the body compensate for that we learn to cope with the body working that way even though we work against ourselves. If the weight is distributed evenly throughout the body and in particular the spine, a great deal of this pressure can be taken off. It can be taken off anytime you like.
We basically need the head to go upwards and the hips to go down. You might think this is already happening, but this is rarely the case. Our necks are usually pulling on our head. And our butt, belly and leg muscles are squashing the hips. The hips generally need to be about ten times heavier than we think they do! The same is true for just about every joint in the body. Each joint must be released away from the other joint.
So your head and your hips go in opposite directions, shoulders and elbows, elbows and wrists, hips and knees, knees and ankles etc. The more this stretch takes effect the more evenly gravity or weight runs through the body. Your back needs gravity to load the back with more even distribution. This makes the back more efficient and takes the pressure off. This makes you feel lighter and freer to move or more mobile. Its how many people like myself recover from injury.
The funny thing is that we are born with these stretches in the body and for various reasons we interfere with them. So in a way you are not stretching everything out, you’re just letting go of a lot of holding on, tensing and tightening up. The more you do this the more you can use gravity. Our heads can go up to meet gravity.
If you imagine a large cube just light enough for you to balance on your head but heavy enough for you to know its there, like a big hat just hovering there. Now the cube drops on to your head, but instead of just letting your head become heavy you allow the neck to release and think of the top or crown of the head just meeting the cube and the cube bending around the top of your head. Keep your attention on the crown of your head. Just use your attention, don’t throw the head about.
FM Alexander (20 Jan 1869 – 10 Oct 1955) was an interesting man. Gambler, Actor, Horseman and Teacher. The first of ten kids growing up in Tasmania. He was surrounded by actors and horses all the time. His dad was a blacksmith and his mum was a midwife that had to hoof it on horseback cross country at a moments notice to births and to nurse people. He would also see visiting performances from bands of actors and eventually became inspired to try and make it as an actor himself, moving to Australia.
He specialised in reciting Shakespeare and was making a name for himself when he started to loose his voice. He tried everything the acting teachers, doctors and specialists threw at him, without success. Rest brought it back, but it would go again at some point in the performance. In a moment that can only be described as Sherlock he deduced that if he had his voice before, it must be something he was doing during the performance that made him lose his voice. He observed himself in a mirror for a couple of years. Long story short he developed an amazing power over himself. FM Alexander continued acting but got sidetracked teaching the technique to others and eventually started using it to make money. It then became what we now know as Alexander Technique.
Having a lesson from him was an incredible experience. He came to England on a bet winning £750 on a horse! In 1904 that money went far. While he was successful, he did get addicted to gambling on horses. He had a boy named George place bets for him in between lessons. You would have seen him riding a unbroken or green stallion through Hyde Park in the morning because he loved the untamed spirit. He liked roller skating and fencing too. Check out this video of him teaching, it shows you a spritely old man who looks in good shape for his age (82). I hope that it inspires you to think that you can still be in good shape later in life. Although he has passed away his technique lives on from his teachings and continues to benefit mankind through all sorts of problems.
You can read more about FM Alexander by following these links
Discipline is an odd word for some it has the implication of being strict with yourself. It doesn't have to be that way. It's just about reminding yourself of what you want, in an easy way.
We walk into rooms and forget what we went in there for. Using a phone or computer most of the time ends up distracting from the original task. You might say that in order to be successful at body learning you must pay a rather large amount of attention to yourself. To the extent of what most people would publicly say was selfish, but privately agree.
If you bear in mind that left to our own devices, most of us prefer to go on a kind of autopilot, rather than stop and consider our choices. It can seem incredibly rude or that we are hesitating when we stop, but that time is vital for our own sensory feedback and awareness. When people are tired and they throw their keys, phone or wallet down they pay no attention, they don’t stop to take it in and the sensory information is cut off. So when we go to find them they feel lost when they try to think about it. There is a great deal of quiet persistence of discipline that is needed.
FM Alexander used to spend 1 hour in the morning first thing, everyday working on himself. You can do that too although you will be better off starting with some semisupine to begin with. There's no need to start with a full hour. You shouldn’t view it in a endgaining perspective of just putting x time in and expecting a certain result. Test out 20 mins, see what you get and take it up or down from there.
So you can remind yourself when you are struggling, to stop and take your time. You will also help yourself by putting in a set amount of time for yourself at the beginning of the day. But you will have to want it. Without the wish, the will and the want behind your stopping you won’t be as sharp , you won't remember and that simple level of discipline that you can ask of yourself will become a shout, and probably quite a strict shout. And if it gets like that you do want to stop it!
Fear is a physical, mental and spiritual experience. When you are able to prevent it, you give yourself confidence, success and faith. Knights jousting in medieval times used to wear face guards that would slant from their chin up to their eye line. They would come in all shapes and sizes. Most of them would have these face guards. So when they were jousting, at the point of impact they could tip their heads backwards to avoid getting splinters in their eyes.
It would be considered an act of bravery or “without fear” if a rider at the moment of impact, the critical moment, did not pull their heads back to protect their eyes. It was also more practical to be able to see what was happening at the critical moment. And you would give yourself a better chance of not being knocked off your horse! Or winning, depending on how you look at it.
Although I doubt many people are jousting, they are pulling their heads back and down at certain critical moments in their lives. To get any grasp over this kind of habit you must decide to stop. You have to stop to get any control over this form of fear or startle pattern. Now that is very different from forcing your head to stay in place. Forcing your head to stay in place or fixing is easy and can be done in less than a second.
Stopping is much harder. Stopping requires you to give yourself time and you may feel more vulnerable. However, when you are able to give yourself time you can exercise a great deal more choice. I’m afraid that our choices become more narrowed when we have to rush. We tend to make decisions form tenser and shorter perspectives when we do.
If we want to stop fear based thinking and gain confidence we have to really take a moment and give ourselves time. It has to become your first response. It doesn’t mean that your going to say no to everything. But it does mean you are able to take time over it, before you do something. Now you don’t need to wait for a knighthood or take up jousting to do that.
You can give yourself time when you are about to get on a train by allowing the others to get off first. Keep saying to yourself “I give myself time” if you still feel the desire to rush on. Just my opinion, but I think that it's a form of chivalry or respect. Others will appreciate this, although a knighthood is unlikely. And for those who are still rushing you can be an example to them.
Physical, mental or spiritually there are no right answers. They don’t exist. You can take a fixed view that when you make a mistake you are wrong and if you’re right you’re right. Of course to some extent that is perfectly true, but it doesn’t help us to learn beyond a certain point.
“Turn left, no! Your other left!” - Black Hawk Down
The soldier above understands perfectly well this idea and uses it to execute an instruction to his brother in arms to correct a mistake that could cost them their lives. Instead of telling the soldier to turn right, go the other way or start explaining the problem, he uses what went wrong or the mistake to take them in the direction they need to go. If he had taken one of those other options the fixing, brain fuzz, or mental leap required by the driver would have resulted in them not turning the corner and cost their lives as well as the others riding with them.
Now if I told you that modern scientists are actually using the same idea to get results you might raise an eyebrow. OK they do it a little differently, but its still this same basic idea. Rocket scientists in the 60s were trying to fire a missile in a straight line. Doesn’t sound hard does it? They kept trying and kept failing. The straighter they tried to make it the more it went off target.
This left their team purplexed, apart from one man who thought differently. Instead of trying to make the missile fly straight, he wanted to find out what made it go off course. What made it go wrong. And don’t try to change it. Just find out what it does. Then he attached a gyroscope to the front of the missile to rebalance it, and keep it on course. That way they could use the thing that was going wrong and counter steer it. The counter steering would give a more accurate or less wrong course.
So instead of just thinking the missile going off target as a failure he used it to get to what he wanted. The missile firing in a straight(ish) path. Straightish because it goes off target and constantly adjusts because it has to go wrong to know when it has to correct itself. So it becomes more accurate.
So you are using the wrong thing to get to the right. With your body you will notice more and more that it goes wrong and tightens up . The more you try to hold it in place by directly putting your chest out, shoulders back, the more trouble and pain you get yourself into. With this approach it's like we are trying to be right all the time without listening to our bodies. Unless we can stop and observe what is going on this will never change.
“Stop doing the wrong thing and the right thing will do itself” - FM Alexander
Perfectly true, but in order to make use this deal you have to make friends with the wrong, you have to have a blueprint of what it means and then you have to invite that awareness in so it becomes easy for you to access, use or become aware of the interference as it happens rather than an after effect at the end of your day. So you just want to keep an eye on things even when they are not doing what you want them to. Don’t rush or make that knee jerk reaction to put your body in place. If you can do that you are on the right path.
Our eyes can’t see tension and twisting in the back happen the moment we do something. It’s like we have blocked out all our ability or sense to feel this when it happens. We become so outwardly focused that we can’t acknowledge what we’re doing with ourselves. I think a big reason for this is that we'd rather go on autopilot. We don't like to think. When it does get bad we just tell ourselves that we’ll do some stretching or exercises later. But what if later is too late? Wouldn’t it be better if there was something you could do in the moment? Or whenever you felt like it? We can use Alexander Technique at any moment, which is the beauty of it. We just have to make the mental leap.
You may well be moving, engaged in an activity. It doesn’t mean you have to stop it entirely, but you do have that choice. You give yourself time; you are saying no to thoughts that are irrelevant to the situation at hand or that make you over excited. It’s important to acknowledge them as thought traps we can get ourselves into.
You don’t overcome them by denial, rather than acknowledgement. If you find yourself avoiding the cracks in the pavement you can just say "superstition" to yourself and stop it. We must acknowledge the thought, not deny it. There is no need to forget yourself. You mustn’t do that. You do want to carry on at variable paces for instance and by experiment see if your heart rate, breathing and coordination are affected in a positive or negative way. We do many things too fast, but we also carry out many actions too slow.
You need to keep your senses engaged and not switch them off. You don't want to dull them. For us it’s easy to say “Yes I know” and stop listening, stop taking in information, stop observing and stop learning. And that’s a huge problem you’ve given yourself there, because when you do that you block out new information. You can only deal it out if you do that. Learning new things becomes muddled in the habits of the past. The past is holding on to your mind. Everything you learn is a different kind of version of what you already know. A different kind of badly.
I can’t tell you all the factors that go into this, but your attitude towards time will make a big difference to how you sense things. Of course, if you're in a rush to get things done there’s very little hope of picking up anything new, apart from finding out that you wished you hadn’t rushed! And you had given yourself time.
This state, manner or attitude increases the likelihood of picking up more sensory feedback. Quietening down and actively listening, means feeling more. So if you want to feel more, then you really do have to make that wish to give yourself time your first response. You have to make it a strong wish. You also have to expand this idea and see how your time is affected throughout your life. If you don’t, you may find inconsistencies in your life; panicking and rushing in unexpected moments because you haven’t considered what’s important and what’s valuable to your needs. If there really is something you need to take immediate action on then it will become apparent. But most of the time you can make better use of yourself by giving yourself time rather than throwing it away.
We want to feel more, that’s the problem and also part of the solution. Feelings only tell us what is happening in the moment. They don’t tell our bodies how to change directly. We need to change because feelings only give us experiences we already know about. You need the unknown experiences to get change in your use.
We need a way out of our normal experience otherwise we will just keep doing what feels right. If we just do what feels right nothing will ever really change, because we just do what we already know. Somehow we have to make a jump to the unknown.
“To see one must go beyond the imagination and for that one must stand absolutely still as though at the centre of a leap”. John Cage
Without a still point, without a pause there is no way to change anything. We have to think. But for most of us when we think we are thinking, we are in fact feeling. And when we think we are feeling we are actually thinking! So much of this happens unconsciously. And the “I’ll just get on with it” or “Just do it” attitude has a lot to do with throwing ourselves out of sorts.
So how do we start to identify these habits? Well, it is useful to observe the startle pattern and practice giving yourself time when you notice it happening. In the same way it’s also important to acknowledge your emotions, especially the negative ones so you can start to see them before you act on them.
If you ever find yourself wishing you had thought before you had opened your mouth, this is essential. It’s not an act of repression, but so many negative emotions are needless and get in the way of clear thinking. If you can watch them rise in your mind and keep acknowledging them, they eventually pass.
Anger, fear, doubt, boredom, craving and irritation are very good things to observe. Equally there are many emotions that are positive that can have the same effect. Confidence can turn to arrogance and excitement into mindlessness. Of course the time will come where these responses are actually needed, but most of the time they will be out by many degrees. The keyword here is needed.
"Man, know thyself" is an old axiom, but in my opinion the more fundamental one is "Man, know thy needs" - FM Alexander
We are easily distracted by many things in life; from past relationships to cats playing pianos on the internet. If you strip back what you are doing in relation to your needs you will get much more accurate emotional responses. It will also save you a great deal of time. Our mind wanders easily, if we let it and you have to observe it if you want to stop walking into rooms and forgetting what you went in there for (for example).
The same is true with physical tasks and when lifting heavy objects for example you may find yourself tightening and tensing up a lot. Of course you are aiming to minimise this by giving yourself as much time as you can and thinking about what you are going to do before you do it