What Is and What Should Be

Yesterday, while taking a jog through my local park, I sprained my ankle. It was one of those disorienting moments where one second I was thinking about how nice it would be to eat a hamburger for lunch and the next I’m sprawled in the dust with the sound of a loud crack still ringing in my ears. I knew immediately it was a bad twist and that I was not going to make it back to my apartment on my own. My day flashed before my eyes—work, errands, packing for a vacation I was to leave on the following day—and felt a frustration and disappointment and throbbing pain that brought tears welling up in my eyes. I pulled my head back and down into my neck, compressing my spine. I started getting angry. If only I had stayed on the pavement. If only I had turned off the alarm this morning and slept in like I wanted to—why was I being punished for doing the right thing and getting some exercise? Who lets this path get so uneven anyway? How am I going to get myself on a plane tomorrow? My trip is ruined!…

When there is a divide between What Is and What (we think) Should Be, we are often thrown out of the present moment. We spend our energy on regret or waste time running through looped scenarios of what might be but usually isn’t. That’s not to say we shouldn’t plan ahead or spend time learning from our past mistakes, but we have to honestly ask ourselves, how much of our daily lives are spent thinking pointlessly about yesterday and tomorrow?

The Alexander Technique is a method of teaching one to be here, fully present and engaged with the now. Sitting in the dust, my ipod and house keys twisted under me, I became aware of how tight my neck, back, shoulders and jaw had become. I stopped, allowed my neck to be free and easy, and allowed my head to delicately come to balance on top of my spine. Suddenly my world came a bit more into focus. My erratic breathing evened out, my heart slowed, and I was able to think more clearly.

A fellow jogger approached and asked if I was alright. I made a joke and she laughed, putting us both at ease.

Most people think Alexander Technique work is about posture—and it certainly is. But above anything else, it’s about learning how to give yourself a choice regarding how you respond to what life throws at you. When you react automatically, when you lash out, or find your emotional life out of control, you naturally contract into a fight/flight response which compresses your neck and acts as a parking break on your whole neuro-muscular system.

Try this: the next time something doesn’t go according to plan, whether it’s a broken glass, a traffic jam, a snafu at work or a disagreement with your partner, see if you can stop and give yourself some internal space before you react. See if you can allow your neck to be free and easy and let your spine lengthen. Step back and observe your thinking and breathing and see if you are lead to a different choice than you might have made only a moment before.

In the end my ankle sprain wasn’t nearly as bad as I had suspected. Generally I find that the hurdles that inevitably spring up are never as bad as I fear they will be.