Lengthen and Broaden: A Self-Compassion Technique to Decrease Anxiety and Increase Empowerment and Ease.

Before we get into this technique it is important to understand from where it has been repurposed.  Originally developed in 1890 to treat breathing difficulties and help folks that were losing their voices during public speaking, the Alexander Technique has evolved into a method that improves posture to alleviate muscular and mental discomfort.  Perhaps it is a bit of an oversimplification, but the basic tenets of the Alexander Technique are to broaden and lengthen.  You broaden your shoulders and extend your neck to reduce tension on the muscles and joints.  Some folks even use this technique to stand taller!

To get an idea of how this works, let’s try a quick exercise.  If you are sitting or even standing up, relax your body, feeling it soften, then gently broaden your shoulders and extend your neck.  Notice how this naturally draws your head back into alignment with the neck, and situates your torso in line with your hips.  Notice the reduction in tension you experience in your muscles, particularly your back.  I am sure that the benefits are even greater when working with an expert in the Alexander Technique, but you get the idea.  So, why have we repurposed the Alexander Technique, and how do we use it from a self-compassion perspective to reduce anxiety and increase empowerment and ease?

Why We Repurposed the Alexander Technique

 In daily life, we are exposed to many stressors.  Our response to stress is often to tighten up and close our posture, almost as if we are trying to disappear from stress’s view completely.  The funny thing is that this body posture alone causes stress on the body and maintaining this stress overwhelms the body’s resources, which, in turn, produces anxiety. 

We come by this maladaptive postural development naturally.  Evolutionarily speaking, tightening up helped our ancestors be ready to respond to all kinds of threats. Looking down or turning in their posture let all forms of life that might be incited by aggression know that they were not a threat.  Since this trait has endured until today, it is pretty safe to assume that it was a successful survival skill.

The problem we face is that our postural response to stress is not helpful now.  Before we go on to how the Alexander Technique can be repurposed to help manage anxiety and increase self-agency and ease, access your self-compassion.  Notice that taking on a stressful postural is normal, and that we come by it naturally.  Give yourself permission to acknowledge this suffering without judgment, and make some space to give yourself some kindness to power up in preparation for the self-compassion technique we will discuss in this entry.

 How We Use the Repurposed Technique to Decrease Anxiety and Increase Empowerment and Ease

 We don’t want to spend too long using the term repurposed technique because it is quite a mouthful, so we are going to call this new innovation the Pterodactyl Technique.  We use this name because this intervention is about broadening and lengthening, and who broadens and lengthens better than the Pterodactyl!  Have you ever seen the wingspan on one of those guys?  Plus, dinosaurs are awesome.   

I think your favorite part of how the Pterodactyl Technique will be its ease of use or perhaps its invisibility like the ninja hug from an earlier entry.  We understand that a stressed out posture involves a contraction of the body.  Consequently, we are going to use our self-compassion skills to notice it, and name the feeling connected to it (probably stress or anxiety).  We are going to make space for it, and slowly let our body soften.  Once our body has softened, we are going to extend our shoulders up and then back, and lengthen through our neck so that our head, neck, and torso are in alignment.  Then, we are going to check in with ourselves, and see if we are willing to take up a little more space, perhaps by resting your hands by your side, opening up your hips, or extending the distance between your legs whether sitting or standing.

Now that we have addressed how to use this technique with the physical, I want you to think about how you might use it internally and externally in a relational way.  See if you can give yourself permission to take up a little more room in your conversations with others.  See if you can make some room in your thoughts for healthy ideas and activities designed specifically for your well-being.  See if you can give yourself permission to take your time when crossing the street, driving, or participating in an activity for which there is a line.  Giving yourself permission in these areas will allow you to extend and lengthen your cognitive and emotional self, which much like the physical interventions will lead to less stress and more ease.

The goal of this technique is not only to reduce anxiety by allowing us the opportunity to engage in behaviors and thoughts that allow us to bring more relaxation to our physical and mental facilities, but also to pursue our greatest potential of empowerment through self-acceptance.  That is what we are talking about in the end, isn’t it?  Allowing yourself to take up more space in all ways is about giving yourself permission to be human and to receive well being where there was once stress and anxiety.  The best part is that you only have to do one small thing to reward yourself, and the consistent practice of extension and reward is empowering in itself.

So, be kind to yourself.  Find subtle ways to extend and lengthen.  Reward yourself for even the smallest gains.  Set reasonable short-term goals, and imagine where you might be in a year or even two years with this practice.  In the words of one of my favorite mentors, it is never a bad time to advocate for your own self-compassion and well being if done with good intentions.  Practice the Pterodactyl technique, even if you have to do it literally.  Don’t tell her, but I actually extend my arms, and race around the living room making Pterodactyl noises while my girlfriend is sleeping.  It’s not magic, but I always feel better after.

365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion.  Day 45.  In the Books.