Time can be problematic for me. I often feel like I don’t have enough time. I have a fear of being late. I have a fear of being early. I often think tasks are going to take a lot longer than they do. I sometimes think things will go a lot quicker than they do. I could go on.
These feelings around time cause me problems, not so much in the way I plan my time – in fact my fears mean I’m good at making sure I’m punctual and allot plenty of time for appointments and tasks. The problems come from the tension in my body created by my anxiety about time. And that tension, if I don’t pay attention, will distort my body shape – my posture – and create pain.
It turns out I am not alone!
When I introduce the Alexander Technique to new people, I often have them try this little experiment (many thanks to Meade Andrews for the idea):
Read the following sentence, then close your eyes and think it to yourself a few times:
“I have to do it now and I have to do it fast.”
What happens to your breathing? What happens physically in your body? If you didn’t notice anything the first time, go ahead and try it again.
Now read this sentence, then close your eyes and think it to yourself a few times:
“I am at ease in my body and have all the time I need.”
Again, notice what happens to your breathing and to your body in general.
Everyone I’ve tried this with reports experiencing increased tension at least somewhere in their body, along with holding the breath or shallow/restricted breathing for the first sentence, and a calming of the body and easier breathing for the second. This nicely illustrates the unity of mind and body (i.e. our thoughts are not separate from our physical body), but also shows that time is a common trigger for anxiety.
My reading group is currently reading Change Your Posture, Change Your Life by Richard Brennan, an Alexander Technique teacher in Ireland. In the chapter entitled, “The Secret Key to Good Posture” Brennan writes that, “Posture and time are very much connected, as can be seen in common expressions such as being ‘pressed for time’, ‘pushed for time’, ‘under pressure of time’, or ‘moving at breakneck speed.'” As we discovered in the experiment above, just thinking that we don’t have time is enough to create harmful tension in the body. In fact, as Brennan says, “Lack of time is more of a feeling or a thought than a reality.”*
Alexander Technique has been invaluable in helping me become aware of and manage my relationship with time in a way that helps me breathe easier, improves my posture and decreases my tension and anxiety, while still allowing me to get things done! It has helped me to be present to what is actually going on now, rather than letting my fears about lack of time (the future) take over.
If you feel your own relationship with time “pulls you down” – literally – start off by just noticing when you have thoughts of not having enough time. Whether it is true or not, focusing on that will not help you. Instead give yourself the gift of thinking “I have time” and pay attention to the steps you need to take – one by one – to get your task completed, if possible staying aware of your breathing as you do so. I also recommend finding specific times during the day to pay attention to the present. There are many practices which do this including meditation, and of course my personal favorite, Constructive Rest.
How is your relationship to time? Did you try the thinking experiment for yourself? If so, what changes in your body and breath did you notice? Do you have strategies or practices that help you? Please leave your comments in the space below. I’d love to hear from you.
* Brennan, Richard, Change Your Posture, Change Your Life (London: Watkins, 2012), p. 76