One of the biggest emotional factors that contribute to back pain is stress. We are living in the ‘age of speed’ where, although we are surrounded by a vast range of ‘timesaving’ technological machines, a great many people still feel they don’t have enough time. Back pain and a feeling of rushing from one task to the next are very much connected, as can be seen in common expressions such as being ‘pressed for time’, ‘pushed for time’ or ‘under pressure of time.’ This feeling that we don’t have enough time often causes harmful tension throughout the body, but this lack of time is more of a feeling or a thought than a reality. As young children, we felt we had all the time in the world, and we were firmly rooted in the present moment. The summer months seemed endless. Young children have little or no concept of time; they do not run because they feel late – they run because they enjoy the feeling of running. This feeling that they have all the time in the world is reflected in their graceful posture and free movements.
As we get older, however, time constraints put on us by the school or work commitments cause us to become more and more concerned about the consequences of being late, and we are actively encouraged to be over-concerned for the future, thus being less and less engaged in the present moment. Our lives as adults are commonly filled with appointments for specific times, and if we are late we feel that that may cause trouble, even if we are simply meeting a friend for coffee. These emotional feeling can often manifest as muscular tension, which can cause the vertebrae and discs to be pushed out of place.
We are generally taught that doing things quickly is far better than doing things well and as a consequence, many of us feel that every job we undertake has to be done at speed, and yet this takes the enjoyment out of everything we do. Even as far back as 1910, Alexander believed that this was affecting people’s health in a detrimental way. Today this kind of stress multiplied beyond anything Alexander could have imagined. Have a look at people in the city rushing to get to their destination. Typically, their shoulders will be hunched up and pulled forward, their heads will be pulled back and down onto their spines to back pain, so a vital step in preventing future back pain is to begin to give ourselves more time in everything we do. Realizing that life is not one long emergency really helps us to reduce muscle tension.
The Habit of Rushing
The habit of rushing from one thing to the next is a problem that not only affects us physically, but it also affects us mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Feeling that we do not have enough time affects us mentally: by over-stimulating the mind, eventually causing mental blocks, an overactive mind that gives us little or no control over persistent unwanted thoughts, and endless worry for no reason. It affects us emotionally because it can cause us to lose control of our anger and react irrationally, which eventually can damage relationships with family or friends. It can affect us spiritually because it prevents us from being in contact with the peace and tranquillity that should be the very essence and foundation of our lives. Stress prevents us from ‘being human’ in the truest sense of the word and turns us into ‘doing machines,’ which in time will start to break down.
At first, we may actively enjoy the buzz of the adrenaline as it rushes around the body when we take on new and exciting challenges, but sustained over a long time, stress can rob us of everything that is important. It can take away our good health and replace it with an aching neck or back, or one of a wide range of other stress-related disorders. Many of us today have forgotten the art of how to be at peace.
Changing the Habit of Rushing
The first thing to do is to notice how you feel when you are in a hurry. Notice the position of your head and shoulders. See if you can feel tension in other parts of your body, for example, the back, the legs, the arms and even your jaw. Ask yourself how important is it that you get to your destination as quickly as possible. You may realize that there is actually no hurry and that you are rushing out of habit. It is important to differentiate between doing things quickly and rushing our movements: there is nothing wrong with doing things quickly, it is constant hurrying that harms us.
1. Lie on the floor with your eyes closed.
2. Think of being in a stressful situation, such as being late for work and you have lost your car keys, and then imagine you get stuck in traffic on the way to work and then finally you get a puncture!
3. See if you can feel a change in the tension in your muscle, your breathing, and heartbeat.
Now repeat a different scenario:
1. Again lie on the floor with your eyes closed.
2. This time think of relaxing on a beach or in your garden on a beautiful summer’s day. Imagine that you are feeling content and everything feels perfect.
3. After a few minutes see if you can feel a difference in muscle tension.
4. Is your breathing and heartbeat different than before?
Remember it is only your thinking that has changed, but you are probably aware that your thinking has affected your physical and emotional states. This exercise clearly demonstrates how the mind, body, and emotions are, in essence, one thing. Sometimes a back problem can be life’s way of slowing you down if things have become too frantic and stressed. If you can take stock and use this time to really examine your life, you may find that your backache is a symptom of stress, and if that is the case, try to make some fundamental changes to your life so that you become the master of time and not the other way around.
‘Back in Balance’ p 115-118 – by Richard Brennan
Alexander Technique Five Day Immersion Programme with Richard Brennan takes place from 14th to 18th May.
More details here: www.emmauscentre.ie/programme/alexander-technique-immersion-2018/