“We ask: where does it hurt and that may be the question that makes life impossible. Why not ask, where is it comfortable? That is the question to train.” Mia Segal
Shifting the focus away from symptoms can be useful. Pain matters, but it’s not the only thing. Sometimes just that- realizing pain is not the only thing happening- can be a breakthrough.
Finding what is working, what is waiting quietly, what is perhaps forgotten, all these can change how we feel and how we react. Instead of total overwhelm, we begin to recognize capability. This is a shift out of our victim mind set, and into survivor mode.
We can train ourselves. Test pilots are trained to talk through any malfunction. They try one thing after another, talking into a recorder, and often that steady implementation of skills gets them out of the jam.
I would not try jumping off of a cliff in a wingsuit. But I have to admit, there would be lots of instant learning. Fortunately, we can practice that without risking our lives.
Next time something seems uncomfortable try asking yourself what small change you can make first. Then continue that for a number of steps. It’s a skill we can practice.
It lead to both successes, and to self knowledge.
As Steven Levine succinctly stated, “Pain sucks.”
It makes us pay attention. Pain means tissue damage. We are getting injured, and we need to know.
Any pain, however tiny, is still pain. It still means we are getting injured. Finding ways to block the pain messages (drugs, dissociation) leaves us vulnerable to more damage.
“No Pain, no gain” is a familiar saying. It’s nonsense. Pain means inefficiency, waste, resistance, struggle, inaccuracy, overload. None of these are helpful.
When we feel pain, we flinch, wince, grimace and recoil. These are all actions that spend our physical resources on something other than the task at hand.
Pain tells us when we are off track. Action that is 100% effective is joyous. When we ignore pain, we override our discernment.
Learning to work without pain can take practice and attention. We have been drilled in the art of denial and self destruction. To get a clearer perspective, we have to put time in accepting our pains, and all sensations, just as they are. This could be formal meditation, or it could simply be moments when we stop and let ourselves feel.
The next time something is frustrating, try pausing for a breath. Check in with your physical sensations. Let go of whatever task or external concerns you have been focusing on, just for a moment. Notice if you are comfortable and relaxed. Notice where and discomfort is located. That might be very clear, or it might be vague. Stay with it, and you will gain a bit more accuracy. Over time, with repetition, this gets faster and more powerful.
Recent research indicates that having your knees lower than your hips makes for less pressure on your spinal discs. This means having your seat high enough so that it is downhill from your hips to your knees, rather than the more common sitting position where knees and hips are at right angles.
Sitting low, like in modern desk chairs, encourages slumping. It might feel nice at first, (the initial stretch can feel great), but curling forward squashes your digestive organs and stretches your back muscles so they overwork. Most of us can’t sit for long in a low chair without slumping. If you have tight hamstrings, the tension will pull your pelvis under and start the slump eventually, no matter how careful you are.
Your feet should easily sit flat. On a tall stool, you will need a prop for your feet, like a wooden box or bench. Any lifting of your feet, or even a partial tilting, will reduce your sense of stability and cause your hip muscles to tighten. This pulls your pelvis out of position, tipping the foundation for your spine. As a result, all your spinal muscles will tense to maintain your balance. Over time, this can lead to massive problems, including the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, general back pain, and sciatica.
A firm seat is better than a soft one. Soft seats allow us to sag into our favorite spots, and eventually create a depression that almost forces us into bad habits.
The back of a chair is decoration. You should never lean back and work. Leaning back means you have to work your neck very hard to be able to see forward, and then strain to lift your arms to reach the keyboard. Likewise, slumping down, so that you round your low back toward the back of the chair, is brutal for your neck, shoulders, and back. A tall stool makes both of these problems easier to solve. Adjustable stools, like doctors’ exam stools, are nice, but may not go up enough. Lab stools are a better bet. For long-legged people, it will take some hunting to find a tall enough stool.
There are motorized height adjustable desks available, and these are great if you share your workstation, or if you just want to impress people with your cool toys.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a very interesting writer. He is an economist, and a philosopher. His book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder offers some useful insights into dealing with uncertainty and chaos.
I look at most things through a somatic lens. My interest is in bodies and the experience of embodied living. It’s odd and refreshing to me to find information in the writing of an economist. The parallels in finance and physical reality are fascinating.
Taleb implies a bold and wonderful idea right in the title- Some things gain from disorder. Entropy is not automatically a drain on the system. The challenge of disorder can stimulate a growth response. An example of this in a physical context is running over rough ground. Variation in terrain is certainly a challenge, but it is in some ways a lesser challenge than the numbing sameness of artificial surfaces. Running on pavement or other flat surfaces tends to allow us to lose focus in a way that natural ground does not.
A good test of long term strategies is to see how they respond to introducing some chaos. If the highly improbable happens, do we still have a viable response? If not, we are fragile- at least concerning that particular challenge. Doing something to change that status seems wise.
The way it is… a common saying, for sure. And it has its uses. Acceptance is good, often wise, and can be a great relief.
Resignation is not. Resignation is defeat, a choice to withdraw, to bail out, to endure pain and loss- all without engaged response. It is an abdication of our adult capacity. It always comes with a price.
What are you thinking is written in stone? How do you come to that conclusion? You might be right, especially if you set the bar for change too high, or make your time frame too short. Even stone expands and contracts with temperature changes. And water and wind will erode it. Everything changes.
We get leverage when we look for the tiny signs of change. Dynamic processes are often quiet and small. Remember being a child and getting a new math book? The problems toward the end were usually incomprehensible. By the end of the school year, some of that made sense. One page at a time, with some rest on the weekends, and we learned. We changed. Did we remember it all? No. We changed again.
We get stronger. We get weaker. We learn, we forget. How do we forget we always are changing? Perhaps some of our mistaken belief in unchanging nature comes from sources who profit by suppressing our awareness of change. Fear is a powerful tool. We use it on each other, and we all use it on ourselves.
It’s worth asking “Do I have to scare myself to live well?”
Next we can focus in a bit closer asking “How am I limiting myself by feeding my fear?”
Is there some small way to experiment? Finding a useful perspective allow a sense of safety. It’s possible to learn to feel safer by working in smaller increments. We don’t have to change everything at once.
Looking closer at anything deepens perspective. Letting ourselves see more accurately is a skill, and skills can be built and strengthened. What is really written in stone? Maybe only stones.
I was teaching a movement exploration during an advanced training for massage therapists. They were all successful working practitioners, many extremely intelligent. The material was complex, and some people were intensely challenged.
One of the therapists was struggling, and had backed out of the group. I valued her contributions, and I had a lot of respect for her insights and capabilities. Not wanting to lose her, or for her to miss out, I tried to think of a strategy that would keep her involved- without changing the class for anyone else!
Necessity is the mother of invention, so I improvised. I went near her and quietly spoke these words,
“Find a way to stay connected.”
Not brilliant perhaps, but the best I could muster on the spot. It worked. She solved it for herself. Along the way she taught me that I also could become more resilient, more creative in my learning, and more committed to my own development.
How did she overcome her fears? Honestly, I never asked. She did it, she benefited, and about 15 years later she told me that she chose to continue to live by those words.
We all have moments where we want to withdraw. Withdrawing can be a very good thing. But it also helps to know we have a choice.
Amy Olson and Nancy Carter
“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Werner Heisenberg, physicist, and author of the uncertainty principle.
An “Umwelt” is the perceptual world of a being (person or animal). It’s a bulky concept, but easy to understand. Think about what a dog can hear or smell, which includes so much more than we humans can sense. But dogs are color blind, and they can’t read this. You can probably see in color, and you definitely can read. Each species has powers of sensing and perceiving that are unique. And so does each person.
What we see is determined by how we look, and our perceptual faculties. How we look is based in how we move, because your eyes have to point toward something for you to see it.
Someone who hikes sees a different world than someone who is house bound.
Once you know you have an Umwelt, you can act to change the range and flavor of it. Some actions are simple. If I clean my windows, I see the outside more clearly. If I open the door, I can smell the air outside. Noticing how these choices impact my emotions can create and accumulation of experiences. From there I can deliberately change how I am sensing the world, and how I am feeling about life.
Recognizing you have an Umwelt is a critical part of maturing. Acting to shape it is one of the most powerful skills an adult human can possess.
“You don’t owe your identity anything.” Jenn Stauffler
We all adopt an identity. It exists partly independent of us, as a social construct. Other people help form it. We take it on, and shape it to our desires. Comfort and safety play a big role in how we tailor it.
It is always outdated. It’s a mix of old things, what we call experiences, and old ideas, which we can call hopes and fears.
What we think we want is limited by what we think we can allow into our awareness- without destroying our identity. The identity we shaped to our desires now shapes our desires.
It’s hard to be satified when striving for the wrong things. Compulsion and addiction are based in a simple fact- You can’t get enough of what you don’t really want.
Be gracious. Say thank you. Then leave your identity to fend for itself while you have a life. Don’t worry about being lost with no identitiy. It will catch up with you. It’s a magic snake skin, one you get to wriggle out of over and over. Like a snake you will find that shedding clears your vision and gives you room to move.
The perfect is the enemy of the good. Fussing with our posture can get obsessive. It becomes another excuse for beating up ourselves. There is a time for attention toward detail, and a time to let it go and move on. Too much attention to detail, or too little, is not balanced. And, of course, balance is fundamental to good posture.
Hope Serpentine. You can find her at aerialempowerment.com
Tight rope artists do not maintain exact posture centered over the rope. They allow some slack, because they know that rigidly trying to be prefect will make them tense and interfere with the ability to make tiny adjustments.
“Any posture in itself is acceptable in itself as long as it does not conflict with the law of nature, which is that the skeletal structure should counteract the pull of gravity, leaving the muscles free for movement. The nervous system and the frame develop together under the influence of gravity in such a way that the skeleton will hold up the body without expending energy despite the pull of gravity. If, on the other hand, the muscles have to carry out the job of the skeleton, not only do they use energy needlessly, but they are prevented from carrying out their main function of changing the position of the body, that is, movement.” ~M. Feldenkrais
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