My dear dear ones,
I will speak for myself when I say that sometimes when I become aware of a problem, or something that isn’t working for me, my inclination is to jump in to fix it. Or to work really hard to make things be different than they are. And sure, there are times when this works wonderfully. But other times it feels like it perpetuates or aggravates the problem. Can you relate to this? It is almost as if the bracing against the problem becomes a part of the problem.
A few years ago, I started taking Pilates to help my alignment and to strengthen my core. The first few times I went, I wound up in bed the rest of the day with debilitating headaches. Luckily for me, I had a detail oriented and very watchful instructor who helped me identify the problem. I was clenching and bracing while completing the exercises. I was trying desperately (and unconsciously) to protect myself from pain, only to be creating more pain for myself in the end. See, I have chronic shoulder pain and a nasty habit of relying on other muscles to do my shoulders’ job in an effort to save them from the possibility of hurting more.
I learned at Pilates that I had to relax that holding before I was able strengthen the muscles if I wanted to reach my goals of moving out of pain and into greater health. Sure, I could keep doing the strengthening exercises and my muscles would get stronger but it is not until I am first able to relax that I am able to strengthen not at my own expense. I had to trust that the right muscles could do their job. Pushing through, bracing against, forcing it to be different…It just doesn’t work well long term.
How often do we do this in our emotional and spiritual lives as well? We identify something we don’t like or don’t want and then we begin the work of ousting it from our lives by force. We feel a certain way and don’t like it so we do all sorts of things to make it so we don’t feel that way anymore. And sometimes it works for a while, or seems to at least, but it never is a long-term solution.
But what happens when we first relax? When we open ourselves to the vulnerability? When we soften? When we take a breath? I will say that from my own experience, that is when the magic happens. At Pilates and in life at large. It is when I relax that I am best able to connect to my higher knowing. It is when I open myself to vulnerability that I feel connected to myself and to external resources.
So why don’t I/we do it more often? What is it about relaxing that feels so hard? First of all, we can become habituated to being a certain way. I think sometimes tensing has become so much a part of our being that we don’t even realize we are doing it. Remember that even though I spend a lot of time becoming aware of my bodily experiences, it took my instructor pointing out my habit of tensing before I fully realized how often I would brace in anticipation of an exercise.
So often it feels scary to put down our armor and allow ourselves to relax and open. When the bracing feels like a protection it is hard to release it. It takes courage to release and open and to trust that you will be supported through. That is where a practice like the Seven Tools comes in to help you identify the roots of the holding and it can release on its own. So back to Pilates, eventually I will be able to relax into the exercises and know that my body can be safe while using the right muscles. And in the meantime, I can compassionately honor my body’s attempts to protect itself from pain and make the conscious decision to relax before each rep.