For years I’ve taught group classes at my local community ed program introducing students to the history, principles, and practice of the Alexander Technique.
In the very first class, we always sit in a circle. We go around and each person introduces themselves—as you would in a lot of workshops. With one exception. Each student has to pause before speaking.
This exercise is one I’ve adapted from my creative colleague Anne Johnson in Philadelphia. Basically, after one person is finished introducing herself, we take a 2-count pause (count it: One Two) before the next person begins to speak.
Because it’s their first time with this I count the pause out loud. After the introductions, they go around the circle again and share their experiences taking the pause in between, as they again take a 2-count pause (count it: One Two) between when the person next to them finishes and when they start.
The student experiences are interesting and often varied. Some feel uncomfortable with the “dead air”—and if that’s you, that’s a useful thing to understand about yourself. Others enjoy it. In one recent class, a man mentioned that taking a pause helped him to listen better to what the others were saying.
Pausing also makes it easier for you to listen better to yourself. And if you’re struggling with excess strain and tension in your body, finding and pressing your Pause Button is a good skill to add to your repertoire. Let me explain.
Imagine the last time you were sitting with a group of friends as they were relating stories or events, which is often what happens when people get together. Suddenly, when one of your friends was in the middle of telling something it triggered a memory in you, and you began planning what you were going to say when she stopped talking.
As you were planning what to say and waiting for that strategic moment to hop into the conversation, were you listening fully to your friend? When I find myself in such a situation, I’m not. I miss out on part of the story.
If you find that a lot of your life is like this where you’re planning ahead and not fully present with what’s going on right now, you can learn to change that—by pressing your own Pause Button more often.
When you press your Pause Button it means to stop. Full stop. Be here. And listen to yourself.
What do you hear?
Are you unnecessarily tightening your shoulders? Or holding your breath? When you press your Pause Button it gives you an opportunity to know more about what you do to yourself. How you are.
Most important of all, it gives you a space to choose to do less of the things you don’t want to be doing.
Right now, make a fist and squeeze it as tight as you can. Hold it for 5 or 10 seconds. Then just stop squeezing it. Your hand will still be fist-shaped, but it will now be loose instead of tight.
A lot of the time you’re reacting to things during the day by tightening or squeezing your whole self just like you did with your fist. And it becomes a habit. That’s the way you are. But you still wonder why you have chronic tension in your neck and shoulders and upper back.
If you do, it’s probably in part because you’re habitually squeezing and tightening your neck and shoulders and upper back. By pressing your Pause Button now and again to listen to what’s going on in you may gradually become more aware.
And with awareness comes choice.
You can choose to unclench yourself. Even just a little bit. A little more often.
Your body will thank you for it.