Self-care is not Selfish
What do we mean by Self-Care?
Sadly, this is often a foreign concept to many, or recently, smugly derided as part of a pampered culture. I need to advocate for it for just a moment, or likely more. Alexander is often described in brief as ‘a practice of self-care’, but this aspect of AT is one of its most powerful and tangible benefits.
Both Grammy winner Adele and recent Tony winner Ben Platt have come under public scrutiny for having to prioritize themselves over their fans and then humbly expressed forgiveness for needing self-care. There is a dark lens through which self-care is viewed as selfish or indulgent- which is entirely wrong. For performers like Adele and Platt the intensity of demand creates an amplified stress response on the system that is far beyond what most experience in a lifetime let alone on the day-to-day. Part of being able to perform at the level that they do is by learning when they must stop and restore.
But, it isn’t just high-level performers and athletes who need to know how to rebalance, but all of us. Stress takes its toll on everyone, in sneaky and quiet ways sometimes or in ways we don’t attribute to stress until after we’ve ruled out everything else. You may think you’re handling everything fine but your digestion, respiration, sleep, mood, energy, may be telling you otherwise, screaming in distress in some cases. If you don’t stop to listen you may miss it. Or often we hear it, but try to ignore it, push it down as a sign of weakness and soldier on. This is simply not sustainable, and in time it can erode away at overall health. With Adele, her vocal health interrupted her current tour, causing her to disappoint and anger her fans, but the alternative would be to risk career ending damage.
Humans need balance. It’s how we walk upright on the earth- the balance between our whole self and gravity. It’s how we heal, it’s the key to homeostasis, it is why there is so much duality in our primary functions. Respiration is inhale and exhale. Circulation needs both veins and arteries, our Nervous System stays in check with both sympathetic (fight & flight) and parasympathetic (rest & digest). We sleep and wake.
So it stands to reason that we simply cannot exist exclusively at full throttle and the hyper-drive of ambition. The push of effort requires balance. I find so often when I teach performers, the fear of ‘am i working hard enough’ to get what I want. The answer is maybe? Probably? Could be? But then I try to reframe the question to- how am I working? well, efficiently, or wisely? mindfully? That might be better to check in on. It may be hard to tell, and many of us really entangle work and effort (struggle, push, force)- So, if that’s a hard habit to break, at least offset it with moments of pause. Giving yourself the time and space to reset is necessary to build resiliency.
Alexander Technique is described as ‘a practice of self-care’ generally because it teaches non-critical awareness and intention and improves mobility, breathing, stamina and postural support. But the practice of Constructive Rest is the best at-home on-your-own procedure to build in for moments of self-care or to interrupt habits of tension and effort. Try it out when you’ve been sitting at the computer for a long time (like I have been right now- going to take a quick moment for myself to lie down...)
More about Constructive Rest in a future post- the link above will get you started, or refresh your practice if you already do- until then, simply begin paying mind to yourself. How do you talk to yourself while ‘working hard’? or when you're not, for that matter. Listen to the feedback that your body is giving you while you work, or when you’re feeling agitated, or even just a little foggy or not at your best. Can you stop doing anything harmful? - very simply, are you holding your breath or gripping your jaw? have you been still for too long, or going without a break for a while? Begin noticing the feedback you’re getting, listen with kindness, and change what you can. Your whole self will thank you.