by Jenn Krebs, N.D.
We live in a country that celebrates hard work. We tell our children that if they work hard enough they can accomplish anything they set out to do. In many ways, this is a wonderful message. It can create confidence and a sense of responsibility, as well as instill a motivation to work hard and excel. A lot of good comes from hard work.
In my own life journey so far, I have seen many wonderful things come from my own hard work. And yet, I have experienced enormous amounts of stress, tension, discomfort and pain from working too hard or working too much. There is a huge distinction to be made for me between when I am present, engaged and connected to the work I do and when I am mindlessly rushing through a task, tense and frustrated while trying to finish a project, or exhausted and overwhelmed as I push through my day.
When I talk about working too hard with patients, I often get this response, “Well what choice do I have. The work has to get done, and I am the one who has to do it.” My response is always the same, “We do have a choice. We can choose the way in which we approach our work.”
Many of you know that I was an avid student of the Alexander Technique for many years. This brilliant technique has informed everything I do and everything I know, because it reminds me daily that we have a choice. We can move our bodies mindlessly with poor postural habits and tension, or we can choose to live in our bodies with ease, breath, and comfort. This choice is within our control. It takes a lot of “hard work” to feel, know and understand ourselves enough to let go of long-held habits, postures and imbalances, but the benefits are enormous and profound.
Many years after finding the Alexander Technique, I came across a book that spoke to me in a similar, life-altering way. Many of my patients know the book because I recommend it often – The Art of Effortless Living. In the book, the author Ingrid Bacci addresses how working and trying too hard is not to our advantage, and how approaching all aspects of life with ease and effortlessness can actually make us more efficient, productive and happier human beings! When we embrace the concept of being rather than doing (or being present and engaged rather than having our nose to the grindstone), we can produce efficiently and, at the same time, feel healthier and happier.
Whether our work is at home or in an office, indoors or outdoors, physical or sedentary, we have the choice to be mindful in and of our bodies. We can take a moment to feel our inhale and our exhale, and we can catch ourselves if we are holding our breath. We can notice if we are clenching our teeth, tensing our neck and shoulders, or slouching in our chairs and over our computers. We can be aware of how much energy we use to perform our daily work activities; do we really need all that tension and effort in our bodies as we sit, type, look at a computer screen, talk on the phone, drive, etc. We can be conscious of the way we approach a task, with dread or with excitement, and the way we approach our life, with heaviness or with ease.
Sadly it is not frequent enough that we feel completely happy and fully engaged in our work. Rather our work manifests as tense bodies and busy minds. The goal I set in my work is to find the place where hard work and ease intersect. It is a challenge worth facing, and I am quite confident it has something to do with finding less tension and less busyness in our lives … and more ease, more breath, more happiness and more connection.