The most pleasurable activities in our lives are those which are really absorbing, ones where you lose time. And that’s great, we don’t want to stop doing these things: they are the best parts of life! However, that absorption can mean that we stay still for too long, or overdo it and suffer the consequences. If that then puts you off doing something you love, that’s a real shame.
And when doing something less fun….
Most of us to want to finish a task once we have started it. And we are nearly all massive optimists about how much we can achieve in a set amount of time. This means that you need to pace yourself for whatever reason; fitness, pain, fatigue, we are generally terrible at it.
Gardeners are a prime example of this. After a winter they rush at the first sign of Spring to dig and sow and organise. And then disable themselves with back pain for weeks.
This is just a case of trying to do too much, too soon. Our bodies are very adaptable, but they need time to adjust – so expecting to be able to pick up your spade and do as much digging as you were doing at the end of the season is asking a lot.
The same is true of things like having a loft clear out or moving house. If you are usually pretty sedentary, then lifting and shifting all day is likely to result in some twinges somewhere. That isn’t because lifting is dangerous, or you did it badly. You just weren’t fit for it.
This is where having enough activity in your everyday life can be protective of acute back pain episodes ( see more about pain and exercise here). You can then cope with a busy day, because you have enough underlying fitness.
When faced with a task ( even something pleasurable) it is good to consider“Am I fit for this?” So, in the case of gardening if you have been active in other ways over the winter maybe you only need a week or two building back up those digging muscles. If you don’t do lots of lifting on a regular basis, then breaking down the garage clear out into manageable chunks, on different days, seems sensible. The trouble is our desire to get a job finished overrides all these sensible thoughts. Which is where using a timer might come in!
Pace Staying Still Too!
We tend to think of the need to pace ourselves only in regards to exercise or physically demanding activities. Of course, there is a risk of injury in the case of exercise, but fatigue or complaining muscles will usually tell us we are overdoing things, as long as we choose to listen.
Where it is easier to forget to pace yourself is when it is physically easy. 3 hours with a good Netflix series can fly by! It’s fine for the occasional binge, but do you end up struggling up from the sofa feeling stiff and uncomfortable most nights?
A lot of people suffer from back pain from desk work. If you think of it as an 8 hour sitting marathon it becomes a bit more understandable! That’s not something that will be fixed with a more expensive chair. You need regular breaks to move about, and to try to be active rather than sitting outside of work too (a semi-supine after work can be restorative).
With a static activity you might look for ways to make it more dynamic. If you were doing a craft of some kind, you might find sitting at a table better than sitting on the sofa. You are sitting upright and can be moving a little at the hip joint regularly, and be able to reach items easily. It is easier to get up and have a little leg stretch every half hour when you aren’t disappearing into a soft sofa. You might be more comfy at first in a soft seat, but if you end up being completely static for 2 hours your body might have some complaints.
How can Alexander Technique help you to pace yourself?
Alexander Technique is about how you do things.
It helps you become aware of your habits of movement, or being, so that you can change them. Eg if you sit very tensely at your desk you can notice that and gradually change your habit to sitting upright with less effort. Our old patterns (eg “I must sit up straight!) die hard though, and you may find that when you start to get tired you slip back into a ‘grit your teeth and get on with it’, tighter way of moving. This can be a really useful indicator that you need to stop and rest, or change your activity. It often happens before actual pain or fatigue kicks in, so can really help you identify a useful stopping point where you won’t suffer for it later.
By checking in on your body on a regular basis you can avoid pushing things too far. Alexander Technique teaches you a habit of observing yourself regularly: to notice if are you being tense , or “holding” a posture, or that you are collapsed, or breathing shallowly.
For instance, you might catch yourself picking up a box, whilst holding your breath, clenching your jaw, tensing your arm muscles strongly to hold it. By just breathing, letting go in the arms and letting the weight drop through your body lifting that box is a much less effortful thing to do.
When you do things less on automatic you can use more movement variety. Our bodies aren’t keen on doing repetitive movements, especially when they aren’t used to them. If you have had back pain episodes in the past, you may find you are a bit wary or guarded in your movements, which can mean you actually move in a more repetitive way. Exploring movement to find lots of subtly different, comfortable ways of moving can bring this variety back. You then can keep your body happy. Even when you have to just finish this last thing….
Do you have trouble trying to pace yourself? I would love to help. Try your first lesson half price.