I have had this website, ‘Leaves of the Tree,’ for a few months now, and although I set it up because I wanted to start writing, I hadn’t known where to start. When I originally created it I had no idea that we were rapidly heading for a Covid-19 lockdown or that I would suddenly go from being an Alexander Technique teacher with a busy practice to having zero clients. One of the consequences is that I have been inspired to write my first blog: about stopping.
This may seem a rather ironic topic for the start of a new blog project, but it actually makes obvious sense. The first thing I teach a new Alexander student is how to stop (or how to ‘inhibit’ in AT jargon), so it’s fitting that here I’m starting with stopping. Most of us lead incredibly busy lives, in fact our culture makes a virtue out of being busy. Even if we don’t lead externally busy lives, we are often busy internally: we have racing minds, restless bodies, high degrees of agitation and anxiety. Our minds tell us we mustn’t slow down, rest, or stop. Over time, we may even lose the ability to slow down and the act of trying to slow down itself creates more anxiety! Sometimes, our bodies scream, ‘Enough!’ and we are laid low with some illness or another in which all we can do is stop and succumb to our profound exhaustion.
The practice of stopping is, as counterintuitive as it may seem, a skill. In the Alexander Technique, we learn how to stop holding onto the sort of excess muscular tension that causes pain and discomfort or that impedes our performance of activity. We learn to stop unhelpful habits, including mental/emotional ones such as excess worry. We learn to hold more lightly to concepts and ideas. In learning to stop, we allow for new, more creative responses to occur, which lead to improved health, functioning and outlook.
Stopping in this way may seem trivial in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but it is highly relevant and is a practice that can be applied on a much larger scale. This was recognised by the founder of the Technique, F.M. Alexander himself, writing almost 100 years ago. He wrote:
I venture to predict that before we can unravel the horribly tangled skein of our present existence, we must come to a full STOP, and return to conscious, simple living, believing in the unity underlying all things, and acting in a practical way in accordance with the laws and principles involved.
I think it’s safe to assume that F.M. (as he’s usually called by AT teachers) would rather we came to a stop voluntarily, rather than having a stop imposed upon us. Be that as it may, the choice has been taken out of our hands and the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to stop. Obviously this ‘enforced stopping’ varies in its intensity depending on our individual circumstances, but the one thing we all have in common is that certain aspects of ALL our lives have ground to a halt. Even the planet herself is quieter; she is vibrating less because people have stopped travelling around the place!
Perhaps in the midst of all the disruption of this crisis we can treat our time of enforced stopping as an opportunity. F.M. suggests:
Surely it behoves every individual to stop – and I mean this in its fullest sense – and reconsider every particle of supposed knowledge, particularly ‘psychological’ knowledge, derived from his general education, from his religious, political, moral, ethical, social, legal, and economic training, and ask himself the plain straightforward question, ‘Why do I believe these things?’ ‘By what process of reasoning did I arrive at these conclusions?’
It seems that in our enforced stopping we have the opportunity to consider precisely these kinds of questions and many have started doing so. Despite the fear and anxiety, the disruption and anger, we are noticing some of the benefits of lockdown. According to a recent YouGov poll, only 9% of British people want life to return to ‘normal’ after the coronavirus outbreak is over. We are noticing clearer skies, less noise and pollution in the cities, more wildlife in our gardens and public spaces. Local communities are coming together and supporting the more vulnerable. More people are cooking real food and spending less money. We are asking ourselves, What are we valuing now? What do we want to put back in our lives? What do we want to discard? What might our new ‘normal’ look like?
Many of us have discovered during this time of enforced stopping just how exhausted we are, how deeply exhausting our lives were. There is little desire to return to previous levels of busyness. We are beginning to question our compulsion to fill every hour of every day with ‘stuff’, whether that be actual tangible stuff such as managing an overwhelming daily to-do list or intangible stuff, such as excessive worry and preoccupation with an endless stream of mental chatter. We are in the middle of a once in a lifetime (hopefully!) chance to completely reevaluate our ways of living.
Let’s take it.