The University Boat Race 2012
This year’s boat race was dramatic and fraught, with a man swimming between the two boats and an oar breaking. At the end of the contest one of the crew, a 27 year old student doctor, collapsed and had to go to A & E. He said that he ‘didn’t remember anything about the race after the blade breaking’. The Oxford coach Sam Bowden was quoted on the BBC as saying “I think it was just (just?) somebody rowing themselves into a state of exhaustion”.
The use of the word ‘just’ gives away the predominant attitude in our society that such an occurrence is to be expected. But is this really a good way to look at things?
F M Alexander certainly did not think so and, referring to a photo of the 1931 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in which he thought the young men looked either ‘ tortured on a rack‘ or ‘in a trance‘ in their attempt to win the race, FM wrote:
‘Surely a university boat race should be a friendly contest between men animated by the sporting instinct…. It should be an experience of pleasure… not an unnatural struggle involving distortion and a loss of consciousness through the “determination” to gain an end even at the cost of personal exhaustion and damage…. in the long run he will defeat himself by his habit of concentrating on his end, without having first thought out the means whereby harmful by-products will not be created in the process of gaining it’. FMA – The Universal Constant in Living 1941.
This year, the exhausted bowman recovered the by the next day, thankfully. But is such a race – or even the jobs that keep so many people over-working in order to achieve ‘urgent’ goals – really worth the damage and illness that such end-gaining causes? It would be great if this young doctor-to-be could think about these issues before he starts taking on patients himself.
A young woman has just started taking Alexander lessons with me in order to address the damaging over-work in her life, that results in regular migraines and raised blood pressure, because of the tension and constantly high stress levels she experiences. This young woman has been end-gaining constantly, tending to focus on deadlines and other people’s needs, at the expense of her own health. She has wisely decided to change that way of working.
We cannot always alter the level of stress in our lives but where we can, it’s sensible to change things to make life more manageable for ourselves. What we can do, is learn to change the way we react to stressful situations so that we can calm our nervous systems and musculature, reducing over-tension and discomfort. When we learn and apply the Alexander Technique in our daily lives, we gain an incredibly useful tool to use, to help us cope with stress. One study has even shown that practising the AT helps reduce high levels of blood pressure.
The semi-supine lying down procedure is a good place to start the process of calming ourselves down and then we can gradually include the Technique more widely and think about the way we perform our activities so that we can look after ourselves as well as our work – just as in Ella Fitzgerald’s song in the previous blog entry.