You are about to engage in a ground-breaking revolution in using posture to manage stress, tension and negative behaviour in one simple course. The methods reflect cutting edge research in behavioural techniques and ancient insights into the best and most natural ways to release stress and transform your posture, attitude and perception.
You will find this course easy to follow, dramatically simple to do, a must-have handy guide for busy people everywhere.
Relieving pain is one of the primary goals of changing your posture and The Change Your Posture, Change Your Life Course is designed to help you do just that. Safely, naturally, organically, effectively.
In this Change Your Posture Course you will join the thousands of individuals who have benefited from these techniques and experience the difference in your life. Ten simple steps. The pathway to transformation.
Welcome to a simple, powerful and highly effective way to bring about positive and meaningful change into your life. That's right. This is about making powerful and positive changes to your life and the way you live it. And I'm here to help you succeed. We're going to use the next ten days to make some radical changes to your life and to help you understand directly, in unmistakable terms, how easy it is for you to take control of some of the most vital aspects of your existence. It's just ten days. But that's enough for us to begin a major revolution in how you live your life.
The message is incredibly simple. The methods are totally effective. Follow the programme and feel the results immediately. It really couldn't be easier. But what's the secret behind these techniques? How can we really make important changes to our lives in just a few days? The answer couldn't be simpler or more surprising. It's all in our posture.
Our posture absolutely and completely reflects how we feel. Posture impacts directly on how we see the world around us. It influences our internal landscape and encourages us to experience a whole range of specific emotional reactions. Posture deeply reveals how we really feel. Posture either encourages or inhibits our creativity. Our posture connects directly to our health. The way we live in our bodies reflects our emotional state. But if we change our posture, even in seemingly small ways, we immediately begin to influence how we feel and how we behave.
Perhaps that's why so many self-help books ultimately fail to help. So many books and self-help courses try to force change by persuading the conscious mind to do things differently. That's challenging, to say the least. You know why? Your conscious mind is not in control of most of your thoughts and feelings. It's the behaviors and conditioned responses encoded in our subconscious from early childhood that drive our behavior. And that programming connects directly into our posture.
Change the posture and you begin to change the programming. Modify posture and our entire outlook shifts. Learn to use the body in a more positive manner and our thoughts and feelings become more positive too. Because they're deeply connected.
This is not a new idea. These concepts have been with us for thousands of years. They're a fundamental aspect of the human condition. So welcome to an important moment in your life. A moment when things really can begin to get better. And it all begins with our distant evolutionary past!
Evolutionary biologists describe our distant ancestors leaving the African savannahs to disperse across the world's landmass and they estimate the time of the dispersal at around fifty thousand years ago. Compared to our modern, technologically sophisticated world, the differences in the way we lived then and now are almost impossible to imagine. Yet we are essentially the same creatures.
As a species we have spent most of our existence developing ways to survive in an often hostile and challenging environment. The behavioral traits that ensured our survival as a species over those thousands of years are very much present in our behavior today. This is important to remember.
Most of our existence as a species has been spent as hunter-gatherers and these characteristics can still be discerned in our seemingly civilised behavior today. The stress response, for example, developed at about the time of the great human dispersal from Africa and has been an integral part of our behavior ever since.
There's no doubt it provided a very useful advantage for us, an advantage that helped to protect our distant ancestors and give them an edge to survive the dangers and life threatening situations which they were likely to encounter every day.
The body's ability to produce powerful chemicals to help us fight an attacking predator, run for our lives and stop wounds from bleeding excessively gave us advantages that eventually enabled us to dominate our environment.
The stress response, however, came at a price. In the face of danger, our senses focus narrowly on the threat, ignoring peripheral data, digestion slows dramatically, blood flows to our extremities and the body produces powerful hormones in the form of adrenaline and cortisol.
Evolution endowed us with these immediate and dramatic responses to increase our chances of survival. The response was supposed to last for a few minutes, long enough for us to engage a threat or escape.
Almost everyone today has stress all the time and the effects can be extremely harmful to our health. This heightened level of constant stress is not natural and most of us don't even realize that we are stressed. We're so used to it, it's become just an everyday part of the background noise of our lives. And that 's how most of us live, completely unaware that there are alternatives. Until, of course, something goes wrong.
We simply did not evolve to be stressed all the time. It's completely unnatural. In the distant past, it was essential for our ancestors to be calm and alert, totally aware of their environment, identifying potential sources of food, water, shelter or danger at the greatest possible distance. They had to be calm in order for their senses to function optimally. Relaxed, calm and alert. These are qualities that encourage creativity and that have been the cornerstone of our success as a species.
Relaxed, calm, alert and creative. This is the natural and most efficient way for humans to behave today. It's simply the way we evolved. Most of us are all too familiar with the fact that stress has been linked to a wide variety of fairly unpleasant medical disorders. The tragedy is that stress has slowly but surely grown to become such a dominant element in our lives. We experience stress all the time, even when we're asleep, and so our bodies, our senses, our health, even our creativity ultimately pay the price. This is not how we are supposed to be.
If you listen to your body, this is most definitely not the way your body wants to feel. Our bodies are magnificently efficient masterpieces of the evolutionary process. It's time to learn how to respect evolution's generosity and start to work with your body rather than against it. But enough of the science. Let's get to the fun part!
As a Pilates and Yoga teacher, it's been my privilege to work with some extraordinary people and witness the total transformation of their lives. I've seen people recover from crippling injuries, survive life-threatening illnesses, release their past and learn to embrace life with strength, optimism and enthusiasm. Recognizing your own postural type is a good starting point for your new programme. So which postural type are you?
Let's assume that your posture isn't as perfect as it could be. There are five conventional ways of describing poor posture and we refer to these terms all the time when we use Pilates exercises to correct spinal and pelvic misalignments.
So here goes:
1) Kyphosis - the familiar hunchback position with the head too far forwards that we see far too often today. Not helped by those long hours spent hunched in front of computer screens!
2) Lordosis - the exaggerated curve of the lower back or lumbar region that puts enormous stress on the lower vertebrae and surrounding muscles. Often made more severe after pregnancy.
3) Flat back - lower back is typically flat and the pelvis tilted upwards, increasing strain in the lumbar region and legs. Incorrect exercise routines can make this condition worse.
4) Sway back - the kind of posture where the individual tends to lean backwards and slouch with the head forwards, placing considerable pressure on the neck or cervical vertebrae as well as the lumbar region. This is the posture we usually associate with teenagers.
5) Scoliosis - the abnormal side wards curvature of the spine that can contribute to imbalance in the head, neck, shoulders, hips and legs. This condition is usually present from birth but it can be improved.
Those are the most commonly described poor posture types and there's no spelling test for the technical terms! Did you spot yourself in any of the descriptions?
If you take a moment to look in the mirror, you might begin to notice that your body isn't particularly well balanced. That's fairly normal these days but can you tell what postural type you are from the list above? Here are some more clues:
1) Kyphosis - The basic hunchback impersonator with the rounded, stooped shoulders, the prototype Quasimodo, leering expression not included?
2) Lordosis - The gorilla guy or girl with the deep curve in the lower back, knuckles disturbingly close to the ground?
3) Flat back - Straight out of the box, on parade, ramrod straight back, as uptight as the uniform permits?
4) Sway back - So laid back it's a miracle you can manage to stand
5) Scoliotic - The original corkscrew, twisted and way out of line?
I know. I'm exaggerating. Happily, our posture does not necessarily reflect IQ! Nor does it always reflect your personality. But sometimes, just sometimes, it does.
Before we begin our powerful programme for transformation, I need to remind you here that there must be no pain or discomfort during any of the movements. It might seem like an obvious point but your body's probably suffered enough without you adding yet another unnecessary measure of misery! Don't strain or try to force your body to do anything related to these techniques. Gently and carefully are the watchwords. Less really is more when it comes to revolutionizing your body. If it hurts, your body's telling you that you're doing something wrong. Listen to your body. It's smarter than you imagine.
All of the postural conditions listed above can be improved or corrected using classical Pilates techniques. Once the 'core' muscles are engaged, everything begins to change. But that takes time and, whilst I would strongly recommend the benefits of the Pilates exercise system, we're here to take more immediate action.
Your body cannot always distinguish the difference between a real and an imaginary danger. When you watch an exciting scene in a movie, your body behaves as if the scene were real. Pulse rates go up. Your body produces adrenaline and cortisol. You react as if the scene were really happening. That's why cinema and most of the visual media work so well. You sit in a darkened room, watching colored lights on a white screen and behave as if you were actually taking part in the scene being played out at the cinema. The movie isn't real. We behave emotionally as if it were. Our reactions are a product of emotional habits.
Most of our stress response is nothing more than a persistent habit, a conditioned reflex that we learned when we were very young. We can see the results in our posture. Whether the danger is real or not, our shoulders become rounded and are pushed forward in a permanent defensive position. Our instinct is to protect the heart so, just like a professional boxer, we 'cover up'. This position reinforces our instinctive need for protection, makes our breathing much less effective and takes away all sense of personal power and potential.
Unfortunately, this round-shouldered position often becomes permanent. But here's the great news. Humans are hard wired to respond to the shoulder position. That's right. The shoulders. They're so important that we're putting them right at the top of the agenda. Our shoulders. You'd forgotten you even had shoulders, hadn't you?
The moment we begin to relax our tired, stressed, slouching shoulder muscles, we begin to feel a change throughout the entire body. It's that simple. Our ancestors developed this method tens of thousands of years ago to switch off the stress response as soon as the recent danger had passed. They'd meet up with a hungry, snarling, saber-toothed tiger and have to confront the beast or make a very hasty departure. That's when the stress response would kick in and give our distant relatives a major boost to increase their chances of survival.
But once the danger had passed, squatting round their camp fire, our ancestors would immediately engage their built in stress release behaviors to get back to normal, efficient functioning. These days we don't bump into sabre toothed cats so often, but we behave as if we were under threat all the time. Even though we are not in danger all the time.
See the problem? We're conditioned from childhood to over-react, using our imagination to constantly focus on real or non-existent threats. Enough of the stress. All you have to do is learn to use the same built in anti-stress response that evolved in our ancestors some fifty thousand years ago and relax your shoulders and it's much more subtle than you might expect. Let's try it.
1.Take a gentle breath in through the nose, move your shoulders gently just a couple of centimeters to the rear and let them sink without effort into a slightly lower position.
2.Now breathe out and really let the breath go.
This incredibly simple combination bypasses all your habits and conditioned reflexes and goes right to the deepest level of our behavior. Your stress levels plummet. Your blood chemistry goes back to normal. Your breathing becomes calmer. Your digestion comes back on line - nothing like stress to interfere with normal digestion! - your awareness opens up and the world looks like a different place. I am not kidding. All this from relaxing and releasing your shoulders. Just about the most important mood changer since pole dancing was invented.
Relaxing your shoulders produces instant results. You can repeat your sacred mantra, use your personal affirmations, stroke your lucky talisman but relaxing your shoulders is the real game changer.
It's even difficult to stay angry or afraid when your shoulders are relaxed. Try it. Try it now. It's so easy your body will start to send you Thank You notes. You don't need any equipment, you don't need special clothes, you don't need anything other than to remember to r-e-l-a-x your shoulders.
Don't just read about. Do it. And keep doing it until the moment you find yourself starting to tense your shoulders again and it just feels completely, weirdly, utterly wrong!
Now you're on the right track. We've had this beautiful method for optimizing our mental, physical and emotional condition for around fifty thousand years. Let's make it a permanent part of everything we do from this moment onwards.
Body language can reveal so much about our thoughts and feelings and it's clear that what we say might not always be matched by what we're really thinking and feeling. These differences often show up in our postural habits but one less obvious and usually less visible area of the body that can play a part in our campaign for a stronger, calmer, more powerful way of being is - the derrière.
That's right. The part of the body that most of us use to sit on. We're referring here to the gluteal muscles and it's surprising how often they tense up at the least provocation. Sometimes the problem is postural because we try to use the back muscles far too often instead of the good old 'core' muscles that are the focus of the Pilates exercise system.
But those butt muscles inevitably tense up as a sign of stress, as if we're bracing ourselves for combat. Most of the time, we're not even aware of this tension below the belt line. As we become aware of what's happening to those particular muscles, we can learn to deliberately relax them and that's a powerful strategy for overcoming stress in most situations.
Now, we've touched on the shoulders in Day One's Action Plan so we know that tense shoulders equal stress. When the shoulders tense up, the butt usually tenses up as well. It's all part of those ancient defensive strategies 'Holy Mammoth Meat - that's one enormous saber-toothed tiger trying to take me home for dinner.... How can I refuse without causing offence?' that enabled us to fight or run and, most importantly, to survive.
The best way to reset the glutes is to take in a gentle breath, tense those butt muscles as hard as you can, hold the squeeze for a couple of seconds, then breathe out deeply and let go of the clench. Checking your own glutes is absolutely fine but you might want to resist the temptation to check other peoples'! The judge might not understand that you were only trying to be helpful.
So the tense butt muscles work like the shoulders: once you let go of the tension, the whole body begins to relax, you feel calmer, more like a natural human being.
Today's Action Plan is to learn to tense and relax the glutes. Your shoulders are settling into a more relaxed position so now we can let go of our unintentional defensive attitude by relaxing the derrière. It's strange that we tense the butt in the first place.
Evolutionary biologists have concluded that the glutes really only make sense for running. Before the invention of the supermarket, we evolved to jog across the wild plains of Africa looking for something to eat. The glutes don't even help much with walking. So give them a break. Switch off the stress. Let them relax and feel the difference. Your body will notice the difference. You might find yourself feeling a little calmer, less aggressive, more creative, more at peace. It's the most natural way to feel human and even a lot healthier.
Relaxing the rear can help you to unload some of the tension in your lower back too and since it's become a painful focal point of discomfort in many peoples' lives, it's time to give the area a welcome break and let go of the tension. As your shoulders assume a less defensive attitude, you might notice people's behavior towards you beginning to change as well.
As you relax your glutes, your fear factor will diminish. When you're less afraid, you're more likely to feel more confident. Confidence is one of the key ingredients to success. Are we setting up a virtuous cycle of positive behavior here? Yes we most certainly are! And the answers were in your posture all the time.
If you've been practicing the shoulder release and the butt relaxation exercises for the past couple of days, well done! They may seem like very simple exercises but the effects can be dramatic. Sometimes we make things too complicated, believing that in our complex world only complex methods can work for us. The body responds to signals from our posture.
Change your posture and your body behaves differently. Mastering your feelings by unlocking a lifetime of habitual tension is a major step on the pathway to well being. Shoulders and glutes are important indicators of how we feel. Now we're going to recognise another part of the body where we tend to hold our stress - the jaw muscles.
Have you ever noticed how often you clamp your jaw, grind your teeth, and tense your mandibles? Don't worry. You're not alone. Jaw tension is everywhere, a sure sign of the constant pressures and tensions that characterise the modern way of life.
Often this all too familiar tension represents frustrations and an unwillingness to express ourselves. Tensing the jaw prepares us for conflict, getting us ready to withstand a blow to the head. You can understand how the reaction developed as a protective measure in the far, distant past but we seem to use it all the time, even when we're sleeping.
This is our challenge. We need to recognize the high levels of tension in our bodies and then systematically release the knots, blocks and restrictions that get in the way of feeling truly wonderful.
In the Taoist system of Yoga, the jaw is linked to the lower back: immobility in the jaw is seen as evidence of immobility in the lumbar region. The Taoists also recognize the jaw as a crossroads for four major energy meridians.
So if we loosen the jaw and encourage normal mobility, our lower backs can also release structural tension and our major organs get the energy they need to function the way they're supposed to. All this from the jaw? Well, yes. I said you'd be surprised at how simple and effective these techniques can be.
Your Action Plan for today is to move your jaw. This does not involve chewing, chatting or biting complete strangers to vent your tension. It's much easier than that and won't bring harm to your fellow travellers! You already know how good it feels to relax your shoulders and unlock the glutes so now all you have to do is move your lower jaw slowly from side to side. No strain. Just gentle movements from side to side. About eight to twelve movements should be enough for one session and remember, even though we've mentioned this point before -absolutely no pain! None of the movements with any part of the body should cause any pain or discomfort. Less is always more with these techniques.
Whilst you're unlocking your jaw and freeing up your blocked energy meridians, why don't we add another simple but related Taoist technique to the mix and accelerate your progress even further? Our Taoist cousins suggest that the eyes can also project energy so if we move the eyes from side to side as we move the jaw, moving in the same direction and with the same tempo as the jaw movements, the overall effect is increased.
Now I am a huge fan of these techniques but you might not want to use the jaw/eye method whilst travelling on public transport or queuing at the grocery store. The overall effect to onlookers can be slightly disturbing to say the least. On the other hand, it's a great way to guarantee lots of space for yourself on the bus!
People report that if you use the technique five or six times during the day, even whilst seated at a desk, the results are surprisingly effective in relieving back stress and boosting energy. Now that you've learned to loosen and relax your jaw, you might not feel so tempted to bite any of those really annoying people who used to cause so much stress in your life!
Yes. You're learning to let go of the anger, frustration and aggression that creep into our behavior when we're not paying attention. Relax your jaw muscles. Move the jaw from side to side. Energize your body and start to feel so much more positive. It really is the natural way for humans to function optimally.
If you can learn to relax your shoulders, glutes and jaw muscles, you will be amazed at how different you'll feel. Take away those nasty old habits of stress and tension and life begins to look and feel very different. You might even find yourself smiling more often, sleeping better, enjoying a lot more energy and looking forward to whatever the day may bring. You might begin to feel more confident in yourself and in your life in general. Change your posture and you change your perspective. We've always known these things. The knowledge shouldn't come as a surprise to us.
But we get so distracted by everything going on around us, we forget the basics. We forget the essentials. These techniques are absolutely essential for sustainable well being. Now that you've been working on your shoulders, glutes and jaw muscles, it's time to try something a little easier.
We learned to use our eyes during yesterday's exercises and today we're going to experience what happens when we learn to relax the muscles around our eyes. Perhaps you're like most of us and you screw up your eyes when you're concentrating, or you squint pretty fiercely when you're feeling stressed. Of course, if you squint to try to see better, you should make an appointment to get your eyes tested!
But most of us screw up the muscles surrounding the eyes as a reflex reaction when we're under pressure, when we're concentrating or simply when we're - did you guess it? Yes! When we're stressed. I knew you'd guess the right answer! You've been paying attention. So just as we learned to contract the butt muscles for a second or two to maximize the tension before completely relaxing, we can apply the same technique to the muscles surrounding our eyes.
Breathe in gently through the nose, squeeze your eyes shut as tightly as you can, then breathe out gently and r-e-l-a-x those muscles. Feel the tension slipping away from your eyes as fresh blood surges into the tissues. Did you feel other muscles in your face relaxing too? That's part of the benefit in relaxing those eye muscles.
Your whole face relaxes and you start to look, well, younger, less tense, more relaxed, more open, and more aware. It's like seeing with a fresh pair of eyes.
So that was your Action Plan for Day Four. Did it feel too easy? Good! But don't underestimate the power of this simple release mechanism. All of these techniques have been explored and developed over thousands of years. Each method is important, even the eye relaxing exercise. Sure you'll feel better if you only use a sample of these methods but when you combine all of them into a daily routine, the results will be so much more effective and your body will certainly appreciate the help and support you're learning to provide.So, shoulders, butt, jaw and eyes. Before long, you'll be able to release all of them with one simple breath. And that's where we're heading
Halfway through the program's agenda and you're right on track to mastering the most subtly powerful dynamics of the human condition. That's right. These methods have been researched and validated across countless cultures and civilizations for millennia because - they work! They've survived countless interpretations and re-discoveries because the human condition has remained largely unaltered for thousands of years. And this brings us to one of the most powerful methods for taming our reactions and regaining control of our emotions and thought processes. It's called breathing and the sad fact is that most of us hardly breathe at all. If you watch people, I challenge you to catch them breathing. It's that bad. It's as if the entire population went to some secret Ninja training academy to learn the art of Invisible Breathing. 'Don't let anyone actually see you breathing or you might spontaneously combust!!!'
Things are so crazy that when I breathe 'normally', people think there must be something wrong with me. 'Are you having a heart attack?' 'Should we call an ambulance?' 'Do you have medical insurance...?' We're so unaccustomed to 'normal' breathing that it looks and sounds freaky. But that's not going to stop us, is it? We're on the pathway to self-mastery and learning to breathe effectively is part of the process.
Most of us only breathe with the upper part of the lungs. A fascinating study from the Netherlands concluded that if we don't exhale deeply, the toxins that accumulate in the bottom of the lungs are re-cycled back into the bloodstream. This leads to some disturbing conditions: insomnia, anxiety, depression, low energy, and digestive problems. The list goes on.
The startling conclusion was that if we could teach people to breathe a little more deeply a little more often, we could cut down on our dependency on anti-depressants, tranquillizers, sleeping pills.... are you getting the message yet? Yes. It's about breathing more deeply and cleansing your body and feeling a whole lot better.
Do you remember our little story from Day One about the ancient ancestors who'd experience a scary incident, get revved up on adrenaline, survive and, once the danger had passed, would drop their shoulders and exhale powerfully? This is the original release mechanism from our ancient past. Still works today after all those thousands and thousands of years. That's some serious field-testing! Exhaling powerfully sends a signal to the body that the danger has passed and so it can return to its normal, super-efficient functioning once again.
So why did we wait until Day Five to introduce such an important topic? We didn't wait. You've been breathing in gently during all the previous relaxation and release techniques, haven't you? Sneaky? Absolutely!
In classical Yoga, we're taught that 70% of the body's ability to detox occurs through - breathing. Surprised? It's breathing, my friend. Because breathing happens all the time. Once you stop for more than a couple of minutes, without external help, the game is over.
The science of breathing is alleged to be so powerful that in some Yoga traditions, the techniques are treated as sacred secrets. We don't have to worry about that though because we're simply aiming to breathe a little more deeply than usual and a little more slowly. That's all there is to it. It's also important to avoid the temptation to breathe in too deeply. In Yoga we always remind students that the throat should be relaxed. If you breathe in and the throat begins to tense, you're taking in too much air so that's a handy reference point for breathing in.
Remember that the experience must always feel comfortable. No straining or forcing. Ever. As you relax your shoulders, glutes, jaw muscles and eyes - yes, that's the full complement to date! - breathe in gently through the nose until you feel your ribs expanding just a little. You don't have to exaggerate. Wait for one or two heartbeats. Then breathe out slowly and deeply until you feel that you've just about emptied your lungs. Wait a second or two and repeat. That's it. That's the entire method.
Four or five breaths should do the trick. It'll calm you down, switch off the stress response, open your awareness and widen your perception. You can go from stressed to chilled in seconds. If you're having a particularly stressful episode, you can restore calm by breathing out deeply but more forcefully. This powerful exhalation tells the body to let go.
The only surprise is how quickly your body responds to a few deep breaths. So that's your Action Plan for today. Practice breathing. It's another of those really effective ways to support your health and well being. Make it a habit. Do it every hour. Notice the changes. Enjoy the new energy. It's called being alive!
We've begun a powerful process of transformation by identifying the key ingredients of our inherited stress response. By letting go of the physical elements of these deeply ingrained stress habits, we can radically change the way we experience our bodies, create a much calmer, more balanced way of living and access our deeper levels of energy and creativity.
In short, as you learn to use these methods, your life can be dramatically enhanced at every level. The only mystery about this simple array of ancient techniques is why everyone doesn't use them all the time. Perhaps it's a question of culture or education but once you've integrated these methods into your daily routines, everything starts to get better. It's normal. It's to be expected. It's why you're working through these methods with me right now.
At this stage I'd like to offer my congratulations to you because far too few people have the will or the motivation to carry out this kind of programme from start to finish. It may seem incredibly easy to follow these amazing techniques but we are so easily nudged off track these days by the slightest problem or distraction, it's a miracle that we ever get anything worthwhile done.
If you're still with me and practicing these amazing and easy techniques every day, you're an exceptional individual and deserve a pat on the back. The techniques are very effective but your body really needs them every day.
Practice them, adopt them until they become a natural extension of who you are, an unconscious yet powerful way to put you back at the center of your life. That means you're becoming calmer, more balanced, more creative, happier, healthier.
And if you're feeling as well as I want you to feel, share the ideas with the people around you. Good ideas should always be shared. That's why I was motivated to get these techniques into a permanent written format in the first place. Now they're always available to whoever needs them. And they absolutely belong to you too now so they're yours forever.
So what's next on our agenda? We're going to focus on our hands. Another surprise? Well, our hands are such important parts of our everyday experience that it's too easy to forget to take care of them. Our hands, and I'm including the wrists as well here, are pretty much in constant use all day long. They need a break. They need a stretch. They need some careful attention. No wonder people suffer from repetitive strain problems. The hands are so neglected and they deserve more respect, better treatment, some recuperative therapy – I can hear them applauding from here!
So let's get started. Handling objects, pens, a keyboard mouse, keyboards, shopping, purses, driving – the hands are almost always in use. When we get stressed and our senses narrow their field of perception, palms get sweaty and we tend to clench our fists, sometimes wringing our hands as a sign of frustration or distress. Sound familiar? Isn't it amazing that we have these dozens of little stress habits but we only notice them when someone points them out?
Many hand gestures reflect earlier arm and hand movements that we picked up as small children. Under stressful conditions – and that seems to be most of the time – our hands make those old, familiar gestures we used in childhood but on a smaller scale. The meaning remains the same. Stress, fear, doubt and anxiety live on in our hands. So you've probably guessed where the next fabulous release technique is heading, haven't you, you smarty-pants? Right again, my swiftly progressing friend. We're going to relax those hands.
Anyone who's had even a mild flirtation with Yoga will remember that one of the easiest ways to relax a muscle is to tense it first. So if we take one of those deeper breaths we've been talking about throughout the programme and tense the hands, making tight fists and really squeezing all of the air out of the palms – I always liked that description – all we have to do is breathe out and let go of the manic grip in our hands and – yes, we can feel the tension slip away like a gentle calming breeze blowing through our hearts and minds.
I keep emphasizing how incredibly quickly we can change our entire framework of perception, our thoughts and feelings, our interactions with ourselves and everyone around us with just a few simple, controlled, physical releases and a deep breath or two. It almost seems to be too simple but most things in life are infinitely much simpler than you might imagine.
As you relax your hands you might want to give each of your palms a gentle massage, moving a thumb or pair of fingers gently round the edge of the palm in slowly decreasing circles. Then move the pressure out along each thumb and finger, a few moments to make gentle circles around the back of the wrists, breathing gently.
Does that feel better? Of course it does! Your repertoire of techniques is building beautifully. You have some amazing techniques at, well, the tips of your fingers so use them as often as you can. Keep practicing. This entire programme is aimed at moving you on from that tired old prison of anxiety you've been living in for too long and making you feel wonderful. Go on. Admit it. You truly deserve to feel wonderful! Let's make 'wonderful' our daily, natural condition!
There's a real possibility that the next couple of exercises are going to feel even easier simply because of the work you've already done. These techniques fit together perfectly, each one contributing to the effectiveness of the others. Did I say 'Work'? We weren't working. We were relaxing! And since we've developed some pretty amazing skills to bring ourselves easily and rapidly into a much more balanced and centered condition, let's move to the other end of the body and focus on the feet.
Anyone who's ever enjoyed a Reflexology massage will know that the soles of the feet are connected to the rest of the body. If we relax and stretch the feet, we can influence every part of the body and encourage a more relaxed and powerful state of awareness, turning down the stress response and heightening our creativity.
We're rarely aware of the feet unless there's a pain or other discomfort. Tension in the toes or soles of the feet reflect tension in the body. So, naturally, the moment we unlock the feet and stop trying to grab the floor through the soles of our shoes, the body begins to relax into a more comfortable and natural position.
As with the hands, the easiest way to feel the release is to deliberately tense the feet first. So, breathing in gently, scrunch up your toes and feet. Feel that you're trying to pick up a tennis ball with the sole of your foot. Then – you guessed right again! - breathe out deeply and release all that accumulated foot tension.
You can try this exercise with both feet at the same time or with each foot individually. Next, try pulling the toes gently backwards as you push the heel forwards. Best to be sitting down when you try the toe retraction! Then let go. Relaxing the feet is one of those fantastic short cuts to feeling better fast. Wriggle your toes. Move them up and down. Get some refreshing blood circulation going in those feet!
If you want to take the technique further, gentle massaging of the feet can work wonders although most of us would prefer to let someone else handle the massage so that we can really relax in a comfortable position and let the good feeling spread throughout the entire body.
Again, there must be no pain when you're tensing, moving or releasing the feet. All of these techniques are completely natural so they really shouldn't hurt or cause any discomfort. The purpose is to let go of the tension so that your body recovers its natural composure and you start to feel much, much better. If it hurts, there's something wrong. Pain only encourages the body to tense further.
So now that you're becoming an expert in the art of letting go of all the lifelong habits of stress, tension, anxiety and fear, you might be noticing some unexpected benefits from the techniques we've been practicing for the past few days.
1.Are you sleeping better?
2.Have you noticed any improvements in your digestion?
3.Are you breathing more easily?
4.Do you have more energy?
5.Are you beginning to feel less stressed?
Whilst we're focusing on the feet, it's worth remembering that any imbalance in the pelvis can lead to an unnatural way of walking, increasing pressure and wear on the foot, ankle, knee and hip.
There are many ways to correct this imbalance and the Pilates system of exercise is one of the most effective. A better balanced pelvis reduces tension in the feet and contributes to a much more efficient way of using the body.
Take great care of your feet. Only wear comfortable, well-made shoes. My granny used to say you should always have the best shoes and the best bed you can afford because if you're not in one, you're in the other! I think she was a very smart lady.
Everyone deserves to have good health and vitality. Everyone needs to function at their full potential. Everyone wants to feel good, to look good, to enjoy life. Efficient exercise, effective nutrition and stress resistance are the keys to making the very most of this precious gift we call Life. We need the right food, the right exercise, and the right rest in the right quantities. But what is right for you?
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Greg Parry whose background has been related to motivational training, marketing skills management and inspirational guidance. Greg's qualifications include a PHD as well as master level certification in Pilates, Spinal Rehabilitation, Yoga Therapy, Lifestyle Coaching and Motivational Guidance.