esther m palmer

4 simple steps to manage what troubles you

Today, one of my students seemed surprised to learn that I, like she, am working through knee and back pain.

Yes, even yoga teachers walk around with aches and pains. We are pretty darn human šŸ˜‰

Why is it that being human causes us physical pain? Why are we sooo susceptible to habits that hurt us? And I'm not even talking about the obvious stuff like drugs, alcohol, and mindless eating. I'm talking about how by sitting too low in my chair, my wrists are strained as I type this and even though I'm in pain, I still haven't gotten up to get something to make myself sit higher.....

Ok, I got a cushion, and yes, being propped up higher in relationship to the keyboard is better for my wrists. I really hated getting up, though. Why is that? I knew the solution was five feet away (half the battle) and yet I wanted to plow through the pain and then have it magically disappear without my having to do anything. Really it's a little bit more complicated than that (ain't it always?): adding the cushion to my seat means my feet don't comfortably reach the floor, so then I prop my feet up on my chair legs, which creates tension in my hip flexors and strain in my feet. Arrrrgh! All we're talking about here is me sitting at my desk writing this blog, and it's full of whining and butting and nothing being perfect.

No wonder I have back pain, knee pain, and wrist pain.

So, what can I do to address these oh-so-large problems of mine?

  1. Stop whining.
  2. Make the changes.
  3. Allow myself a little whining (hopefully not out loud)
  4. Observe what I am doing and how it's effecting me, and change it if the effect is anything other than awesome

Easy. Right?

Yes and no. Here's what I need to do all that stuff above:

  1. A genuine motivation to change (pain in arm, check)
  2. The decision to change (writing a blog post, that's pretty decisive)
  3. Adequate knowledgeĀ to effect change (knowing from my Alexander Technique studies that I needed to change the relationship of wrist to keyboard by lifting my whole torso higher up)
  4. HELP making change happen (teachers!)

This isn't the first timeĀ I've touted theĀ benefits of the Alexander Technique (AT), an approach thatĀ isĀ suspiciously difficult to describe generically, but here's a nutshell for my purposes: AT teaches you to let your body move with the greatest efficiency possible (or not move, in the case of maintaining a position).

ATĀ is not a quick fix, it is not, for most, easy to learn, and it is a lifelong practice. I've been studying it for over three years and I feel like I've only just started to "get" it. Maybe. But the grand thing is that in that "maybe," there have been enormous changes in my body and how I walk, sit, and move in general. Many of my chronic pains are now manageable -- meaning not that I can handle the pain, but that I can manage how I use my body to prevent or reduce pain, or, at the very least, ease muscle + joint pain away with movement and rest once it creeps back in. AT isn't solely responsible for this --yoga tools are a big part of it, too. But more often than not, what I learn from AT informs my practice of yoga, rather than the other way around (unless it is to notice overlapping intentions and effects).

That's what I told my student today. It's in the lifelong, daily maintenance practices from AT knowledge and yoga tools that I keep my pain-inducing habits at bay and no longer walk around frustrated by my back pain. I know what to do now, whether or not I get up off my lazy bum to do it. Awareness is the first step. Knowledge is the second. Action must always accompany it or nothing will change. (But please allow for change to also happen slowly over time as needed! Demanding too much of oneself is a fast track to overwhelm.)

I would love for you to take action now by 1). noticing how you're sitting or standing as you read this (can you feel anything holding or tightening that doesn't need to be?), and 2). letting me know what questions you have about the Alexander Technique and yoga in the comments below.

And if you want those questions answered through your own experiences, you should check out the workshop that my AT teacher (Amira Glaser) and I have put together on applying the Alexander Technique to your yoga practice. It's gonna be one pretty fabulous September afternoon (Saturday the 8th) of learning, experiencing, and discussing said learning + experiencing. You'll walk away with a whole new take on asana!

Until then, hari om tat sat, my friends!

Thoughts or questions? I'd love to hear them.

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