Friday, 28 March 2014

On 16:16 by Victoria Stanham in ,    No comments
When you embark on a process of change (that is, in any learning process) you’re taking a step into the unknown. You entering new territory, where there’s no trodden path to follow.
The problem here is that, quite often, this is scary. Where do I start? Which way do I go? What’s the shortest path to my goal? And the safest? What monsters and dragons will I find down this road?
Although you may have a compass & map to navigate, it is never the same as actually knowing the territory. And sometimes, the mere fact of being alone in that vast and desolate place can discourage you from taking the next step… so you turn round and return to where you came from; only to live eternally with the question “Who would I be today if I had taken the leap of faith and walked the path of change?”
Do not despair. You are always on time to take up the road again and start walking. What you need is a guide; someone who already knows the place and can walk with you a while and show you the main features of the territory and introduce you to its inhabitants… Until you feel confident enough in the new place to blaze a trail on your own, courageously fathoming the unknown.
So, the question now is: how do I choose a good guide?


Sometimes you don’t have much to choose from, for you know only one inhabitant of this new place, and all you can do is accept his guidance or walk alone (and sometimes it’s better to walk alone).
Other times, there are so many available guides that you don’t know which one to choose, nor which criteria to use to make your choice. All offer something of interest and value. Which is the best fit for you?
Choosing a good guide can make all the difference when it comes to actually enjoying the process of change. The best guide for you might not necessarily be the most versed in the new territory, but the one who knows how to adapt the best to changing circumstances in the new territory, and can therefore show and model the process of adaptation that you need to undergo.
Although it is imposible to be infalible when making your choice, I venture to give you the 8 tips that I use to recognize a good guide. Use them as a checklist for when you’re choosing a teacher, guru, leader, mentor, facilitator, coach or therapist; that is, when choosing any person who’ll show you how to start your journey through the new territory.
1) Around him/her you feel safe. If you’re in any way worried about protecting or defending yourself against the behavior of your guide you are in no place to absorb new information: all your focus is directed towards survival. Feeling safe is a direct result of your ability to self-regulate, and a good guide can help you with that when he/she had developed that ability in themselves.
This is the MOST IMPORTANT point; all the following tips are useless if this first point is not satisfied. Moreover, all following tips are just different variables that allow you to feel safe around your guide.
2) Knows how to listen. A guide may know the whole breadth, width and depth of the territory and every available road within it, but if he/she can’t listen to what you’re asking, he/she might lead you astray. Of course, it’s your responsibility to ask a clear question to get a clear answer. However, the best guides are also able to help you clarify your question if you’re not even sure what that is in the first place.
3) Knows a little bit more than you about the territory. He/She does not need to be an expert in the matter. Sometimes all he/she needs to be is a step ahead of you, so that he/she may leave a footprint that shows you the next step on your journey.
4) Gives clear explanations. It is important that your guide is able to explain to you the next step in a way that you can understand and that captures your attention. We all learn in different ways, and a good guide knows how to adapt his/her explanation to suit yours.
5) You share principles. Every guide bases his/her work on certain key principles or fundamental beliefs about ‘how things are’, which underlie his/her explanations and concrete methodology. If you want to enjoy the journey he/she invites you on, it is important that you resonate with his/her philosophy.
6) Walks the talk. You want a guide that acts and lives in coherence with what he/she teaches. A guide who only knows the theory of the problem and solution is useless for all practical purposes. Only a guide who walks the talk will be able to understand the obstacles your face at each stage of the journey.
7) Takes responsibility for his/her role. This means that he/she is conscious of his role in your life and acts in consequence, accepting the responsibilities that come with the role, and never misusing the power that comes with it too. His/her idea of what this implies will be based on his/her principles (see item 4).
8) Is flexible and humble. As you advance in your journey through the unknown, you’ll become confident enough to elaborate your own ideas as to where you’d like to go and how you’d like to get there. A flexible guide allows you to freely express your burgeoning curiosity and supports you in your forays into the unknown. A humble guide knows when your questions, interest, or needs go beyond his/her resources or would be better satisfied by another guide. The best guide is he/she who will then bless you and allow you to fly free to look for another guide, happy that his/her mission in your life has been successfully completed.
Tu sum up, when you choose your guide make sure that at his/her side you feel that you can unfold your full potential, the whole span of your wings. We are all different and different things make us feel safe; therefore there is no one guide who is the best for all. The supreme guide is within you, it’s that voice that tells you, “Follow this person for a while, he/she has the next piece of the puzzle to your journey.”
Nevertheless, a great guide can’t ensure your success. If you don’t take the chance to walk a bit on your own, at least in those stretches of road that you have already walked with your guide, in order to habituate the new patterns, you’ll never be truly free in the new territory. A guide is not meant to be a crutch for life, he/she is meant to be a trampoline into it!
How is it that we achieve this freedom in the new territory?
Next blog we’ll explore the 3 basic tools you need to make the new territory your new home:
1. The role of the guide (pushing the limits of the unknown)
2. The role of the practice group (practicing the tools to successfully live within the new conquered territory)
3. The role of your personal practice (securing the conquered territory and giving birth to new questions that will take you onto new discoveries)
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Image credit: pixabay

Friday, 21 March 2014

On 19:05 by Victoria Stanham in ,    2 comments
In my last blog I posed the following problem:
Going from your actual posture to your better posture is as simple as taking a step… but that single step can be so monumental in its transformative powers that we might be left standing with our foot dangling in the air, unsure if we want to take the plunge at all.
¿What to do then?
Today I’ll give you the solution.
What you need are 4 basic things:
·        attention
·        a compass
·        a map
·        a guide.
Let’s look at each point separately.

ATTENTION
Living with a new sense of posture (no matter how comfortable and elegant it is) is like moving neighbourhoods. At first you will be a little disoriented. If you’re not paying attention while you drive your car from work to home, you’ll end up in your old neighbourhood. It’s a habit, you’re just used to taking the old route without thinking.
This, believe it or not, is the hardest bit about change. Rembering to pay attention. When I’m working with pupils on their posture and movement, I remind them again and again before they move to: 1) stop (keep calm), 2) remember their general direction (creating space for movement), 3) release habitual tension in key areas (feet, around the sitting bones, armpits, eyes, jaw). Only then can movement start in a new direction, because only then are they able to pay attention to what is happening along the way.

A MAP
If you’ve moved into a new neighbourhood, you’re going to need at least a minimal notion of the layout of the place in order to move around confidently. A map allows you to know where the most important places are, which buildings and other landmarks can act as markers for you to orient yourself in space.
With regards to your posture, there are certain key bony structures and other areas of your body that are worth to know and recognize in yourself. They are your markers, and will give you an idea of where your different bits are in relation to each other. They are also key areas where tension tends to accumulate without us realizing. This unnecessary tension greatly affects your chances of comfortably keeping your poise.
The key areas I teach my pupils to recognise are:
-      the feet (your toes have their roots half-way down the soles of your feet, you can release them from there, instead of thinking only of the last two phalanges)
-      the sitting bones (those are meant to be sat on, as opposed to your coxis which is meant to be free to wag like a dogs tail. While you’re at it, release the space between your sitting bones)
-      the armpits (which is in reality your shoulder joint, and it needs space. Check this post where I guide you through an exercise for releasing the area)
-      the eyes (get back some of your peripheral vision, soften the focus for instant upper neck release)
-      the jaw (its joint is right in front of your ear. Think of releasing your jaw all the way from there)
I’ll be exploring specific ways to release these areas in future blogs. Don’t miss them!

A COMPASS
If you’re in a new place, and you want to go from your house to the mall, you need to know in which direction the mall is in the the first place. A compass allows you to define a direction that relates one point with another on your map.
When it comes to your posture, what you need is to learn to perceive not only where each key structure is, but, above all, what space relationship there is between key structures. As you enhance your perception of the spaces within your body, your sense of orientation within it gets better: you start to recognize and perceive your true length and width and depth.

A GUIDE
Imagine now that you have moved to this new neighbourhood, but the map you were given is written in a language you don’t recognize, and your compass (unbeknownst to you) is not correctly calibrated. You’re already all moved in and cozy in your new hood, but you have no idea how to move around in the place. ¿What do you do then?
You look for a friendly neighbour, one who speaks your language and who can help you navigate the new place.
A good guide fulfills some key functions:
·        Helps you recognise key features of the terrain so you can orient yourself better within it.
·        Can tell if your compass is off, and can help you adjust it, and teach you to use it.
·        Can give you clear and concrete instructions to get from one point to another.
·        If your destination is imposible to explain in words, your guide can guide you non-verbally towards it, perhaps even by walking with you the first few times. He or she might do it several times, until you can build your own mental map of the place, with your own references… Until one day you may find yourself giving directions to some new lost-neighbour!
Same thing happens when you’re trying to change your posture. It’s like your moving into a new definition of YOU. It’s not a completely unknown place, it is still your body (you’ve moved neighbourhood, not countries or planets), but you perceive it as different and strange enough to have you disoriented for a while. What you need is the possibility of asking someone who already inhabits that place to guide you through the basics.
All in all, if you feel like a change of postural habits is long due, and you don’t mind the added benefits of elegance and freedom of movement, you’re going to need to change some ideas, learn new things about you, and have a lot of patience with yourself, because adaptation can take some time.
Good news is you don’t need to go through this transition alone. The road is a lot more enjoyable if you have good (and knowledgeable) company. There’s people who have already travelled the road you’re only starting, and they have great insights to share with you that will get you to your destination quicker and safer.
Next blog, I’ll give you the tips to recognise these ideal neighbour-guides, so you can befriend one… because there’s no need to know on the door of the block’s resident grouch, and have his massive vicious dog come after you.

See you next week.

Friday, 14 March 2014

On 08:32 by Victoria Stanham in ,    No comments
Bad Posture is one of those silent evils, like cholesterol or bad breath: you don’t really notice it until it becomes a serious problem (an unsightly hump, a herniated disc, a tension headache, a bout of back pain that leaves you out of business for several days).
Perhaps you only remember your bad posture when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror, when your back aches after a long day at work or minding the children, or when a friend, spouse, mother (or tactless acquaintance) tells you, “Oh darling! You really must do something about that posture of yours. If not, you’re going to end up humped like a camel!” 
Then, and only then (and only for a short while I might add), you actually do something to mask the problem: You tighten your back muscles to pull yourself up straight (this lasts you until it you can’t stand the strain any longer… which is not long); You go shopping to get yourself the latest ergonomic chair and gadget on the market (which seems to help, but you soon figure out how to “get comfortably slouchy” in it too); You Google the phrase “quick posture exercises” (which you practice, at most, once or twice and then drop because they make you achy).
The thing is that deep down inside you know that posture is not something you can fix with band-aid. You need to take the matter a whole lot more seriously… and that’s what’s stopping you from actually doing anything about it: “Oh dang it! I really must actually change something, mustn’t I?
Here’s some good news for you: Changing your posture is actually simple and extremely pleasurable.
It’s simple because the fundamental change occurs in an instant: suddenly, as you release the habitual muscle tensión patterns that were keeping you down, you go up, expand, grow… and you do it with no back-pain! It feels strange, pleasurably strange.
Here’s some bad news I’m afraid: Keeping the change going isn’t easy.
Learning t olive from that new place takes time: you need to grow into that new way of being and feeling… And pleasurable as it may be, the truth it you have no clue how to act from this new self-identity. You might even fear that people will look at you strangely and say, “You look different. What’s going on? Are you still you or are you involved in something strange?”
Why is this so?
The answer may well be in the word “posture” itself.
The word posture describes not only a physical form. We also use the word posture in expressions like, “The woman refused to change her posture on the matter.”
In this case the word posture does not relate to the woman’s straight or hunched back; it relates to her point of view or attitude. Interestingly enough, your point of view is rooted in where (and how) you stand (both literally and metaphorically). [If you’re interested in the subject of posture and mindset you might want to check out this entry, or this one for more on the subject of words and their interpretations].
Therefore, when we talk about “changing our posture”, we’re not only talking about changing our physical appearance. What we’re also delving into the delicate area of changing how we face Life.
In February of this year I gave a series of workshops on posture to a varied group of people. In the short space of an hour and half, all participants could walk the path that lead them from their habitual posture to a more upright and elegant state of poise, that required no excessive muscular effort to hold.
However, the ability to hold that change in time requires an inner shift: a shift in the way you think about your posture. And that’s the tough bit about change… sustaining, until it becomes naturalized, a new way of thinking.
Change requires energy, and that can tire you. [Check out this entry for an exploration on the subject of change fatigue].
Change requires you to live for a while in a state of uncertain equilibrium, and that is scary. We all have our habitual equilibrium states (however efficient or inefficient energy-wise they may be), and change challenges that delicate equilibrium. When undergoing a bout of change, we must live for a while without knowing all the rules, without having all the answers. The situation gets better with time, but at the beginning you’re a beginner, you don’t know, and that might feel like an uncomfortably vulnerable place to inhabit. [If you’re interested, in this entry and this one I tell you about my own experiences in this area].
Change requires you to learn to live from the new place in different situations. Perhaps you can hold your new perspective on life while you’re leisurely taking a stroll down the beach, having a nice cup of tea, or during your relaxing yoga class… But… What about those moments when everything goes bezerk at work? And when you’re having an argument with your spouse, your kids or a friend? Or when you’re about to face an important interview, meeting or conference room? And standing around in 4-inch heels at a party with no visible chair in sight? [My most basic advice for these cases is still what I mention here, but I’ll look into each one of these situations in future blogs].
It’s frustrating, I know. Going from your actual posture to your better posture is as simple as taking a step… but it’s a step into the unknown. That single step can be so monumental in its transformative powers that we might be left standing with our foot dangling in the air, unsure if we want to take the plunge at all. We have to tool and the directions for change, but we hesitate to start walking the path. We can’t go back to acting like we don’t know how to change our problem… but we’re afraid to fail at the change. In that space that’s neither here nor there, doubts come quickly calling: “And what if I look strange? What if I’m criticized by my loved ones? What if I do it all wrong and hurt myself? What if I don’t like what or who I turn into? What if I try and fail?”
What to do then? What compass will orient you in this new territory?

This blog is already long enough. Let’s tackle the answers to these questions next time. See you soon! 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

On 09:24 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments
The academic (school) year begins, and in Uruguay that means the year sort of finally begins for everyone… (and it finishes “beginning” after Holy Week... don't ask... it's complicated).


What does that mean for many people (she-who-writes included)? 

Stress… stretched across several weeks.

What specific form of stress? 

Scheduling-stress.

Why does scheduling produce stress? 

Decisions, too many decisions, and not all depending solely on your preferences or your times.

If you have kids you know what I mean: juggling your schedule around your kids’ school and extracurricular activities, so that everyone (and that includes you) is where they have to be on time.

Do I have a solution that will remove all stress from this time of the year? 

Unfortunately, no. I’m afraid that, at least for the time being, I’ll have to accept it as part of Life.

Every beginning, (be it of the year, of a new project, of a new home, of a new member in the family… or whatever) will put stress on your system.

Why? 

Because we don’t yet have routines (i.e. habits) around it. It’s a new stimulus that’s challenging our status-quo, our current equilibrium point. All our previously carefully planned systems and routines are put on their heads, everything is up for grabs, and whatever wasn’t seriously rooted in our being, will be gone with the winds of change.

At those times, we’ll bank heavily on our deeper, more ingrained, habits… those we don’t have to think about at all because they’re firmly rooted in our self-definition. If you’re a smoker, you’ll smoke more, if you’re a worrier, you’ll worry more, if you’re a binge-eater, you’ll binge more.

Why? 

Once again, decision fatigue. While trying to deal with the stress-factor, all our mental energy is used up, and there’s no self-regulatory power left for other areas. You’re too tired to cook a healthy meal (unless eating healthy is so ingrained in you that you can’t imagine not doing it) so you end up eating out, or calling for a pizza. You’re too tired to keep up your exercise routine (unless exercising is something you can’t imagine living without), so you fall off the bandwagon. Get the picture?

What to do about it? 

To begin with, don’t try to change too many things at once. Choose only 2… and deal with each according to its characteristics.

There’s already one area that needs your attention, is the highest stress inducing stimuli, and dealing with it depends solely on you (i.e. nobody else can arrange your schedule for you). That change-inducing stimulus comes from outside of you, from your context. The amount of stress it generates will depend on your personality and the characteristics of your own particular context (i.e. how many balls you’re juggling at one single time).

These types of changes are the urgent (but not always or necessarily important) type. They spring up on you unawares, and there’s not much you can do to anticipate their consequences. For example: arranging schedules at the beginning of the school year.



The second area of change is that stressor which you have placed upon yourself, in order to improve your conditions (your health, your posture, your finances, your relationships, etc.). 

These are the types of change that are important, they produce long-term satisfaction. But since they don’t always seem urgent (which doesn’t mean they’re not), they tend to get postponed until the latest crisis is dealt with (by which time a new crisis may well have popped up on the radar… such is life).




How can you keep that second, life-bettering-change going when Life throws a curve ball of scheduling-frenzy your way? 

Get help that will enable you to create change-inducing routines.

Help of this type comes in many guises, depending on the type of change you’re dealing with: a group, a friend, a class, a therapist, a teacher, a coach, a cook, a nanny (Get the picture?). 

The important point is getting some of the decision-angst off your shoulders, delegating some of the decisions onto someone else who is better prepared to shoulder the hugest bulk of the burden… so that you can concentrate on the essentials.

This is why we take lessons, join classes, go to gyms, join meditation groups, enroll in courses, etc. What we want is the results and the joy of doing something for our benefit… with only as much thinking and decisions as we can currently handle, and so avoid being completely swallowed up and paralysed by them.

For example, when you start taking lessons in some form of dance, it’s already hard enough to grapple with the learning itself, with being a complete beginner all over again. It’s plenty hard to know which foot to place where, in what sequence, to get the timing, the rhythm, the feel, etc. You don’t want to also be deciding which music to play, what step to learn today that will build up on your previously learned step, how to find a suitable venue and time for your learning period, etc.

Going to a teacher for lessons (be it an individual lesson or a group lesson) takes away all that responsibility off your un-prepared shoulders: your job is to be student and learn the dance (the essential point)… the rest, your teacher can take care of, that’s what she’s prepared to do.

Undergoing your change-effort in good company helps you remain motivated throughout the process (despite the scheduling-frenzy or other external stressors).

It puts order in your life by creating a routine that you can follow (e.g. lessons are Mondays at 2pm. Period), which takes a away many energy-swallowing decisions you’d otherwise need to be making. This means you have energy for the actual change. It also helps you create a habit of change: it puts the steps in order, it gives you the time and space to practice, it challenges you to take yourself to the next level of achievement.

So what are you waiting for? 

Life won’t stop sending you curve balls. Perhaps, what you need to learn is how to bat them without even flinching, with grace, elegance, and a smile. 

So, go! Find yourself a teacher! Become a Master of Change.


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Image credits:

"Back To School" by samarttiw /freedigitalphotos.net

"New Life Or Old Life" by mrpuen  /freedigitalphotos.net

"Man Sleeping On The Couch" by artur84  /freedigitalphotos.net

"Urgent Stamp" by Stuart Miles /freedigitalphotos.net

"Important Stamp" by Stuart Miles /freedigitalphotos.net