Going Towards Tension

Essay for TVF Retreat July 2019 -- “Going Towards Tension” By Molly Kittle

Sometimes when studying work that evokes, invites, and integrates the qualities of freedom and grace into our lives, we get the idea that we need to move away from tension and always go toward ease, because that’s where we thrive as beings. And while there is truth to that, it’s not necessarily the whole picture.

In fact, sometimes I can be hard on myself for not being “easeful” enough, especially if I’m often noticing my tension habits and feeling the need to constantly improve. This can be a slippery slope, because I start to think I should be different than I am. When this happens, my body tightens, my heart grows heavy, and I have much fewer resources to make a useful shift or be the person I want to be in the moment.

When studying to be an Alexander teacher, it was important for me to learn how to be more easeful with my arms, as I discovered I carried a lot of tension there. In fact, as I began exploring how I used my arms — especially my right arm, which is my dominant side — I realized that how I typed, wrote, chopped vegetables, and grabbed objects usually had quite a lot of squeeze and grip going on.

As I continued to learn about using my arms according to my innate design, about halfway through my training I ran into a bit of a struggle. I began to think I would never get there — I would never have the ease, grace, and integrity in my arms that I wanted. I had moments of freedom and lightness, but they felt fleeting. I saw my peers moving with such ease — why couldn’t I also have that experience? Was something wrong with me? Was I the gal with the weird, unfixable arms?

This discouraged mindset was challenged quite regularly the more I progressed through the Alexander training, and as I began to work as a teacher. There are two instances worth sharing in which I received a gift of clarity that helped me fundamentally shift my struggle.

The first was when a friend told me “your arms are perfect as they are.” Something about how she said this sentence struck me. She said it with such authenticity, such embodiment of truth and acceptance, that it brought tears to my eyes. I paused to consider that I was, in fact, already perfect as I am, and that my body has always been acting out of brilliance. I realized it was my job to claim this as the truth, and what a deeply important job it is to practice unconditional self acceptance! I would later learn that this is a key part of not only the Alexander work, but to discovering life’s beauty.

The second instance was when I found myself recovering from a surgery and doing rehabilitative movements with a Pilates instructor. I learned that even though it felt counter-intuitive, actually going toward the tension in my upper arms somehow satisfied my system and relieved what felt like my constant efforting to avoid my old tension habit. The instructor cued me to acknowledge the tightness I felt without trying to make it go away, and then briefly and mindfully do small phrases of feeding into or exaggerating both the movement and feeling of the tension, and then coming to rest. These moments of exploration and permission to be tense allowed my body to soften and I began to simultaneously accept where I was in my process and discover a wider range of motion. The phrase “there is no wrong movement, just movement poorly done” has been quoted to me several times by several teachers, and in my recovery process, I started to understand more of what that meant.

So what does it mean to “go towards” tension in any instance?

Going towards means welcoming what is.

If we are willing to lean in to what is uncomfortable, and willing to acknowledge that tension shows up for a reason -- that it’s even aiming to be helpful and informative -- and that we don’t have to fix ourselves because we aren’t actually broken, something magical can occur.

Magic can be defined as a condition existing outside what you currently believe to be possible. When we welcome what is showing up for us in our experience, we are no longer fighting to be different than we are. And when we aren’t fighting to be different, we can become more aware. And awareness itself is the place from which shift and change can happen. And this is magic - because it goes beyond limitation into potential. And we don’t actually have to work hard to make it happen. In fact, through acceptance, we can let go of holding on to “shoulds” or judgment, and in this act of surrender, we re-direct fuel from limitation towards creation.

This very principle applies to our thoughts, emotions, movements, and how we show up as ourselves in the world. And as singers, it applies to our relationship and skill with our voices and our ability to share authentic expression and artistry.

In my case with my arms, my perspective of “not getting it” and the judgments I had about my body’s limitations created the condition for limited movement. In a mixture of both confusion and discovery, I slowly began to understand and develop a sense of trust that my arms could actually do less and still get the job done. To this day I’m still playing with it! And I always have to ask myself -- what if I can be fine with where I’m at now? This act of welcoming myself as I am in the present moment has become the magic moment.

Do we want to sing with exaggerated tension? Obviously not. However, when we can allow ourselves to appreciate and accept whatever is true for our experience and for our bodies and spirits in the moment, we can become open to possibilities and abilities that we couldn’t have foreseen or anticipated. And this is magic.

Have a magical week. Welcome both discomfort and joy, and discover what you can create.