Stop Early, Before the Pain Gets You

Here in Sheffield today its a glorious sunny bank holiday weekend.  I’m sure I’m not alone in taking the chance to do a spot of gardening, some spring cleaning and some clutter clearing.

I find the sun energises me and I feel enthusiasm to tackle an icky job, to finally make time to sort out an area of my house which needs my attention.  And the garden is growing a second lawn of dandelions amidst the paving stones!

Part of me wants to get it all done now and work like a beaver until its finished.  Have you ever had a busy day doing various jobs which have lurked waiting for the sunshine and a clear day off, only to find yourself shattered in the evening and sore the next day?

Me too.  Many times.  I’m learning that there is another way.

I didn’t set myself any specific goals but had an idea to clear out the cellar head so I can more easily get the vacuum cleaner in and out, to do some Next Steps with clutter clearing some furniture and spend time in the garden on this beautiful sunny day.  Once I had taken out a whole heap of things from the cellar head, wiped around, I gave it a once over with the vacuum cleaner and then sat down whilst I considered the ‘stuff’.

Sitting down is an important ingredient here.  Its a choice to really stop.  To acknowledge what I had done, not so much with the stuff, but with myself.  Then I decided to spend a few moments to undo any tension, kinks and compression.  Giving my Alexander Directions.

Our thoughts are powerful, so I’m choosing carefully ones which I know are most likely to let me decompress, release tension and allow my whole back to fill up and out again.  (NOTE:  I am not talking about stretching, pulling myself straight or any other such actions – simply thinking, and allowing myself to fill out again).

Then I check to see what I want to do next.

Obviously the ‘stuff’ on my dining room floor shouts for my attention.  I notice this, and check with myself, a drink of water next please.  So I drink.  Then I go and see the sunshine and decide to spend some time in the garden.  I’m doing a few different activities, filling up the compost, sorting out the bean poles I hope to use soon, sweeping, emptying some pots of dead bulbs, and getting the dark corner behind my house cleared.  (Turns out this job was well overdue!)

And I’m staying aware of myself, attempting to breathe through my nose to filter out the pollen and dirt in the air before they get in my lungs, and take myself with me.  I’m not rushing ahead of myself and pulling myself out of shape, nor am I so task-orientated that I forget I have a body – I’m going with myself, steering myself along as I go about my work.

hhmmm  Now I’ve got two messy areas.  Time to sit down again.  This time in the sunshine with a cuppa tea.  The sitting down is punctuation.  The end of a paragraph or page.  Its also a discipline to counteract the voice in my head which says “You’ve started so you must finish”.

I soak up the sunshine, read a few pages of a book, check messages on my phone and decompress.  Consciously sending myself messages to help me return to my fullness.

Now my mind comes back to the tasks in hand, and I can smell petrol.  I remember the old can of petrol I had in my car, I thought it was a good idea to carry a spare litre of petrol ‘just in case’.  Sadly the car stank and I just left the jerry can in the shady area at the back of my house until I could ‘get round to it’.  Today is the day and now is the time.  Now it was out and asking for attention.   I gave it a scrub and emptied it into my car’s petrol tank.  Washed and scrubbed the can and nozzle and left them in the sun to dry.

Now there are several pieces of furniture I have wanted to say Goodbye to, a small white side table, an unused rebounder trampoline, my uncomfortable wicker dining chairs and my son’s unused bike he’s grown out of.  So I label them all up ‘FREE’ and put them on my outside wall.  (This took about 6 trips up and down stairs btw carrying items and negotiating the steep Sheffield stairs with care.)

I carry on sorting the cellar head items, choose what to put back in, put things in the recycling and see that several items have already gone from the front!  Hurrah.

I do some weeding, I pull up a few dandelion heads, dig out the weeds from some of the paving slabs and go back and forth to the compost.

I start to feel a tiny niggle in my back.  I stop, think up and stand up.  Time to stop.

Its not easy for me to stop whilst the job is not entirely finished.  But I find with gardening there is always more to do.  As I put my tools away and wash my hands, I notice there are other areas in my house which would like my clutter-clearing attention.  I start a bag for kids clothes to pass onto a friend’s son.  And decide to leave it there for the day.

Now I’ve lain down in semi-supine for about 15 minutes.  I’m going to have a shower, some early dinner and go singing with friends tonight.

I know some of you may amazed at how many things I’ve done (Oh yes and I gave a 3 hour workshop this morning), others may judge me as Xyzzy for not finishing off the dandelion game in the garden.  And thats OK.  I’ve learned from past experiences to stop working on these kinds of jobs early  BEFORE I incur the debt of pain tomorrow.

Now I feel pleased with some jobs started, some progress made in a few areas, some items cleared and gone to a new life, and plenty enough energy to enjoy my evening ahead.

I call this self-care.

Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique teacher who loves to share the process with others to contribute to more health and happiness in the world.

Written by Lucy Ascham, Body & Soul Energy Expert

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