Tension is the pressure that slowly builds up around us and within us. It’s a pressure that begins on the outside, sometimes very far away, but it somehow finds its way inside us. At first it’s not perceivable, then we notice something but don’t quite know what it is. Then, as things build further, we know what is but want to ignore it. Then and after feeling things are mostly out of hand, we finally we admit to ourselves that yes, we are wound dangerously tight. Some of us are good at then identifying the problem and fixing things back at the source. If things are unfixable we find another controlled and logical way to release the stress. And some of us are not good at identification and self correction, so we just explode, usually after it’s too late. Either way, if we could at least detect the problem earlier, or at least see that there is a problem earlier, we could make things better in the end. Sounds easy.
Over the past week I have been thinking of a few of my own interactions with tension, and helpful things I have heard from others. The key here is betting in better touch with the early signs that tension is brings to your body. Even the least amount of mental tension gives us physical tension. Noticing the physical tension early, so that an early correction can be made, will do wonders for relieving the mental tension. I’ll use a few very simple non-fertility related scenarios as examples of little ways we can understand ourselves better.
1) Some of you may know that I practice Bikram Yoga. It’s not a religion for me, I get there when I can. Frankly, I don’t really love being there. But I was born remarkably inflexible, so I do gain a tremendous benefit, primarily improving my performance in a slew of recreational activities. Bikram also builds strength around the joints, a few of which are in disrepair. During a yoga practice, the instructor typically leads the class through a number of positions, the order of which is deliberately organized. For each position there is the ideal form and degree of bend, and the instructor goes through a list of points for the body and mind directing the students towards these goals. Of course most of us are far from ideal, but getting close, or closer, is quite a workout. If you are involved in formal instruction of any type i.e. music languages, sports; you have recognized that instructors repeat the same thing over and over. Even after months or years into practicing we still are told the same things. This works because as we progress, we hear things differently and eventually things start to click, but it really may take quite some time. So this week, in the middle of my 90 minute class, I am putting on my usual miserable display of form, and sweating insanely. Vowing to stick with it, I strain to align my body and put body parts in places they should never be. Obviously struggling, the instructor says, “relax your face”. “My face, my face? “I say to myself, “are you crazy, my face is the last thing on my mind right now.” But then, after hearing it now for probably the 200th time, it finally made sense. I relaxed my face and my whole body followed along. So the point here is when you feel the infertility tension perking up, check you face first. It may be difficult to melt your body stiffness instantaneously, but the face is more controllable, and if you can start there, the something good may follow.
2) Most of you don’t know that I like to play golf. I play well enough to move along but that’s about it. I like to sink my teeth into my hobbies, so I try to get in a few lessons and practice here and there. Like many players in my bracket, non-relaxation can be a big problem. Last time out I noticed something that I hope will help me considerably. I found that while waiting to tee off, my shoulders were so shrugged up that they almost were touching my ears. There was absolutely no reason for me to be in such a knot. But in anticipation for my next shot, I was doing something that was only making things worse, and until that day, I had no idea it was even happening. I still do it, but I catch myself and let my shoulders fall, which makes me feel better and may, let’s hope, help my game. So try to be conscious of your body in stressful times. Maybe there is muscle group that is acting out, without you being aware. Maybe you sit in an uncomfortable position or bend you back in an awkward way. When the body is out of kilt the mind is right along with it. Taking away hidden physical tension will free up some of the mental tension. Now it would be nice if we could just release the mental tension first so that our physical tightness could resolve, but we all know that is not the reality.
3) Many of you may know that I love to ski. Of all my many little distractions, skiing is my favorite. Over the years I have been involved with ski clubs, ski groups and lessons. One day I was working with a coach and I was in the starting gate for an amateur race. I put my poles over the timing wand, visualized the hill and turns, bent back and awaited the countdown. My coach, who I didn’t even think was watching, looked over and said, “for how long are you going to hold your breath?” That was a big awakening for me. As I prepared for my start, I was doing everything except the most important thing: breathing. How is it possible to initiate a mentally or physically challenging task without oxygen? Not only should we breath, we should take in extra strong deep breaths ahead of time to make our bodies really ready for whatever job is at hand. Getting in shape involves having our bodies become accustomed to an increase in demands, but half of that is just getting our lungs to work earlier and faster to get the air in. Tension pulls away our awareness of basic breathing. Then, after becoming oxygen starved we become more tense irritated and short tempered, all while we have no clue as to what even is going on.
So that’s it for today. Three little personal vignettes relating tension to body tightness and breathing. I used examples related to athletic activity, but the principals apply to having blood drawn, getting an injection or having an embryo transfer. It can even apply when talking to your boss, family member, contractor, and the list goes on and on. Try to pick up the stress signals as early as you can, and this will hopefully lead to easier traveling.