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Rush hour on the Schuylkill Expressway.

(If you live in Philadelphia, you know that nothing good can come of an opening sentence that includes “Schuylkill Expressway,” let alone “rush hour.”)

Traffic was its usual snarl. My lane had just merged from the left, always a tricky maneuver, and I was safely crawling along behind a black Toyota Camry.

In my rear view mirror, I watched a Jeep gather speed for the merge. A little too much speed. There was no way it was stopping short of my rear fender.

Tension crawled up my back and through my shoulders. I held my breath, eyes glued to the mirror.

Thunk!

Luckily there was no “crunch.” The side panel on my car popped off and that was, I thought, all the damage.

A few days later, I was at the chiropractor, with slight whiplash and a back that was all kinds of screwed up.

“I don’t get it; I really wasn’t hit that hard,” I told him (him is Damian over at Rhino Chiropractic. If you live in Northwest Philly, you really can’t find a kinder, gentler D.C.).

Damian explained to me that all the pre-tensing, breath-holding, and staring in the rear-view mirror amplified the force of the hit.

He had me reenact my position, foot on the clutch, head angled toward the rearview, and showed me how the lines of tension and rigidity had increased the force of the impact.

It was an enlightening moment. And one that applies to life in general, if you want to avoid whiplash: relax.

Earlier today, I shared this story with a client. She was tensing for an emotional blow that seems pretty inevitable, preparing her lines of defense and wrapping herself in pre-anxiety.

We talked about her concerns and fears …. and how those emotions can only amplify the push-back that she knows is coming.

Softening, instead of tensing, in front of a fast moving emotional-front is not an easy thing to ask of yourself or anyone else. We are used to girding our loins, gathering our defenses, preparing to repel and push back.

But what if you breathed? What if you relaxed? What if you flowed like water and let the storm swirl around and past you?

What if you kindly acknowledged the hurts and gently released them? Or had a bonfire and burned them to cinders? Either way choosing, instead of tension, to be in the moment and then to let it go?

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a pro at this (heck, I might just be hitting enlightened amateur status!) but it’s a daily practice for me now. Let it in, feel it, let it go. Or as Miyagi says in The Karate Kid:

Wax on, wax off.
Breathe in through nose, out the mouth.
Wax on, wax off.
Don’t forget to breathe, very important.
Wax on, wax off.
Wax on, wax off.
Go, find balance.

Need some tools for staying soft?  In the plant world, self-heal is for softening hardnesses.  You can use the tincture if you need a physical dose or the flower essence for a more energetic dosing.

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