A calm September morning full of the promise of a glorious early Autumn day..
I stopped at the park on the way to York Rowing Club to do some stretching and Qi Gong. As my breathing slowed and deepened, I drank in the glowing golds and russets of the first Autumn leaves and quietened my irrational fear of getting out on the river in a single scull for only the third time ever, but the first time in four months.
I had just started rowing at the beginning of summer (and getting back to tennis, swimming and Ceroc), when I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, and several operations put paid to any form of exercise for a while.
It’s September, and a challenging month for me. After a couple of years in York, I am beginning to build a reputation for my work, but my main source of income is still York University Music Department, and for the students, it is still summer vacation.
For everyone else, it is a new year and subscriptions are due and I am having a mental argument with myself about doing things that take time and cost money, rather than that earn it.
I chose self belief, and to follow the advice I had read recently:
“If you want to double your income, treble your learning”
As well as something I learned years ago:
“It’s not the things you do that you regret, it’s the things you don’t do” – actually that has also got me into all sorts of trouble, so not necessarily to be followed slavishly, but it seemed reasonable to apply it under these circumstances!
I have had an absolutely wonderful morning on the river. I have exercised by cycling and rowing, I have returned home feeling the elation of both exercise and the completion of a new and challenging task. I am sure that I will accomplish as much this afternoon as I would have done had I given myself the whole day for development, planning and administration of my business.
So here are my positive life thoughts from my morning:
1. Feel the Fear and do it Anyway.
I don’t know why I felt so anxious about rowing today. I have spent a reasonable amount of time in my life in various boats/kayaks/canoes/sailing dinghies and I love swimming (though not in the Ouse River, preferably). Something to do with expectation maybe, as I had done well in my first two times out on the river, but was not feeling confident of being able to reproduce that today.
I countered this by making sure I was in the best shape for success – stretching, meditative movement, breathing, and a practise session on the rowing machine.
Then I showed up, felt the fear and did it anyway, and of course, guess what? As soon as I was on the water, using my Alexander Principles (tips to follow), I felt fine! Exactly the same thing happened when I went back to skiing after six years, only that time I put it off for a day, and felt physically ill by the time I got myself onto the slopes – then had to deal with the frustration of wasting an afternoon’s skiing for no good reason…. sound familiar? If not, you’re lucky!
2. If you are feeling down, get out of the house and exercise/meet people for a boundaried amount of time in order to shift gear mentally and return to your tasks reinvigorated.
I appreciate this may not apply universally or all the time. But as I have to motivate my entire life and work myself, I found after moving here that it did me the power of good to get out and make sure I knew the world was carrying on around me, to breathe in the balm of nature and the river. And when occasionally I wonder if I am going to be able to keep making this all work by myself, I find it’s a sound strategy to employ.
3. Say yes to life.
It’s amazing how simple this is – and how powerful. So when there is a choice – just say yes and see what happens.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” Goethe
ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE TIPS FOR THE NOVICE ROWER
1. As with many practical skills, the first key to success is your mind. Was going to use the term mindset, but it is flexibility of thought that translates into flexibility of action.
2.Keep flexibility of eyes. Fixed vision often translates directly into fixed musculature. Maintaining the use of peripheral vision (check out my other blogs if you don’t know what this is!) maintains fluidity that is essential for smooth sculling.
3. Maintaining a constant relationship of head neck and back (Primary control in Alexander Technique Jargon) contributes positively to a smooth rowing action. In other words, don’t stiffen your neck, and conversely don’t let your neck bend backwards as you throw your hands and move forward in the seat. (Apologies to any serious rowers if my rowing jargon is not yet up to speed!)
4. BREATHE! This may seem obvious, but in my many years of working with people, I find that most people who are anxious hold their breath, only allowing minimal respiration. Of course, once you are rowing well, and competitively, you will have to breathe, but when starting out, and being tentative, it is not such an obvious requirement.
I have found it true that if one is tense it is impossible to breathe freely, and the corollary, if one is breathing freely, it is impossible to tense!