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Unassailable Truths

I recently came across the following sentence and it struck me that this is exactly what I discovered to be the benefits of working with the body through the disciplines of the Alexander Technique and Craniosacral Therapy.

“ … to aim at (allowing us) to see an aspect of things which has never appeared to us and the possibility of the existence of the exact opposite of that which, up till then, we had considered an unassailable truth.”

We listen to our minds but the body speaks a different language and it may well have an alternative viewpoint to the intellect, but one that is no less valid. I think it is for precisely this reason that bodywork such as the Alexander Technique & Craniosacral Therapy can help us to see the world with fresh eyes.

We tend see the body as something to be controlled or mastered instead of as another perspective and for the most part we give precedence to the mind, ignoring or disregarding the messages of the body, until we are compelled to do so by discomfort or pain.

It is the reconciliation of these two languages that we can offer as bodyworkers.For example the stress response is recognised to be composed of many different elements, depending on our predispositions. We are all aware of the physical effects of excess stress. Over time physical tension can become stored in the body disturbing the normal tone and causing a reduction in general efficiency. As defence mechanisms become weakened, the body becomes less and less able to deal with further stresses creating a vicious circle and eventually manifesting in various stress related symptoms, for example, insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, high blood pressure, panic attacks, depression and anxiety to name a few. A definition of stress is that it “typically describes a negative concept that can have an impact on one’s mental and physical well-being …. The ambiguity in defining this phenomenon was first recognized by Hans Selye in 1926 who loosely described stress as something that “…in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.” In other words, a negative and self-perpetuating loop.

So, how could bodywork help this situation? I learnt that I couldn’t change the external situation, but that I could start to see how my physical reactions had become part of the problem.

I was fortunate to encounter the Alexander Technique which taught me practical tools that gave the mind a new focus and consciously asked the body to release areas of tension which I hadn’t even realised that I was holding. This sense of release spread to the mental and emotional arenas and that in turn allowed me to experience myself and therefore the whole situation in a completely different light.

Rather than telling your body to stop doing something so that you can continue to focus on your thoughts or analytical centres, the Alexander Technique invites you to notice what is going on physically; to see whether what you are doing is actually appropriate to the situation. It asks if you can, just for a second, stop all activity to give yourself the space to choose whether to continue that activity, to do something else or not to do anything at all.

You can start to release the voluntary muscles such as around the neck and throat, start to see that you are holding your breath and perhaps to notice your feet on the ground. As a result of this your breathing may become more free, your head may not feel so pulled into your neck, your shoulders do not feel so tight and the whole body, your whole self, has a lighter aspect. You have created a positive feedback loop and have opened up a possibility of space from the treadmill of the habitual.

Maintaining the level of tension that most of us carry around in day to day life takes quite a lot of effort. It is, however, simply another habit, but one that we have practised so much that it has become “an unassailable truth”.

The Alexander Technique taught me to be aware of how my bodily state contributed to my sense of stress, which in turn led me to see that I had always felt powerless to alter the situation. It takes a good deal of time and practice and it most certainly is not a miracle cure, but who believes in miracles? It does however work.

I can’t say what the effects will be for you, I can only offer my own experience both as a pupil and as a teacher. Are you willing to give it a try, or are you happy to continue along the same old well-trodden path?

Alternatively, the Alexander Technique can help with back pain.

Craniosacral Therapy offered a stillness that enabled me to look at the original causes that underlay the familiar patterns of tension and anxiety. A useful description that I have adopted of cranial work states that it aims to allow “any imprints of overwhelm to become uncoupled from particular shapes and patterns, … not to expect the shapes and patterns to change to some idealised norm.”

By being quiet enough to observe the feelings of the body without connecting them to the convictions that accompany them, not using the brain but the senses, you can really start to discover what your own body is telling you. Only you can know what your body is feeling, we cannot know what anyone else feels, we cannot therefore know what anyone else needs, all we can do as therapists is to provide the conditions of stillness and quietness that aid the process of perceiving what is really there.

What do those well-known feelings that we shy away from really feel like in the body? What happens when, for perhaps the first time, we turn towards the sensations with interest instead of tightening and recoiling? This is no small thing; it is what attracted me to train to become a Craniosacral Therapist. Never had I experienced such calmness. The bodywork changed my relationship to the situation; it didn’t actually change the situation itself.

Within the mental realms I had explored the stories that I told myself from every possible angle, it was fascinating/ helpful/ healing/ enlightening/ surprising to feel their manifestations through the body. And somehow in a curious way the simple act of just attending to the senses allowed the patterns of tension to be less insistent and overbearing – they had been heard.

Again this takes time to trust the therapist and the process.

Alternatively, Craniosacral Therapy can help with back pain.