I was attending a conference recently in a remote part of the country and so to simplify my journey I chose to pick up a hire car from the airport. When I arrived at the car hire desk I was given a free upgrade to a new, luxurious, high spec car.
I spent time familiarising myself with where everything was and adjusting the mirrors and seat for visibility and comfort and double-checked my map (despite having sat nav. in the car, I still prefer the old fashioned method where I can see the overall plan in front of me).
Once I felt confident I knew the car, felt comfortable in my seat and knew where I was going I started the engine and set off on my trip. About 5 minutes into the journey I came to a set of red lights and put my foot on the brake and stopped. Almost immediately the car engine cut out and I felt a sudden sense of panic that I had broken down. I lifted my foot off the brake and the car engine immediately started up again.
I realised this car had built into it, what a friend had recently described as an engine stop-start system, which preserves fuel by cutting out the engine when you have stopped for more than a few seconds.
Having never driven a car like this before it took me a little while to trust that when the engine stopped it would simply start again once I lifted my foot off the brake, but as I trusted more I began to appreciate that I was saving fuel and that the car engine was getting a chance to rest.
As I pondered on this great system I considered if my own body had stop start times – times throughout the day when I brought an absolute stop to my body and simply rested.
As a physiotherapist and great advocate for sharing the benefits of rest as well as exercise with my patients I felt to ask myself in that moment to be honest about how often I truly rest my body within my day. Was I actually living what I was sharing with my patients?
What I found was that I was tricking myself into thinking I was resting when I wasn’t. I would run a bath with the intention of simply resting, enjoying the feeling of the warm water surrounding my body but would end up playing in the water with an empty shampoo bottle, filling it up and squirting little fountains of water out. I would rest on my bed and close my eyes but would have my mobile phone beside me just in case I needed it. Inevitably just at that moment a text or call would come in and I would go “oh no”, when actually I was meaning, “Phew, I am let off the hook, I don’t have to feel my body.” Or I would sit at work in my tea break with my eyes closed for a few minutes but allow lots of thoughts to come in and disturb the moment of grace I was giving myself.
What I realised was that despite having many opportunities there were very few times in the day that I allowed my own engine to simply stop and be, and that most times I came up to a red light with the intention to stop I was fooling myself – my engine was still running exactly as before. I had in fact become a master of avoiding feeling my body.
At the conference I chose to bring regular loving stops into my day, either resting on my bed or sitting in a chair. I would close my eyes and breathe gently and simply be with my body. At first I allowed myself to be distracted by all that was going on around me, the voices in the corridor, the banging of doors or the clip clop of a horse passing by outside the window.
As I committed to keep bringing my focus back to my body and my breath it was not long before I could feel what I had been avoiding – exhaustion.
I had been running my body on empty for a very long time and rather than accept this, take responsibility for it and make changes in my life I was avoiding looking at it.
It has been amazing to see since then how many times in the day there actually are for me to truly stop and connect to me. Sometimes it is only for a minute but even a minute is precious when my stop is absolute. I have found that there is an enormous difference in the quality of rest I give myself in these moments for I connect deeply to how my body feels and can then choose to respond to its many and constant messages. I might feel tired, joyful, sore, tight, light achy, sad, amazing, gentle, hard, tender or precious.
It might not always be what I would like to feel but with a willingness to stop and be honest about what I feel, I get a deeper awareness of my body and thus a deeper understanding of myself in that moment, and it is that which I take forward to my next moment.
What I have also come to realise is that each moment I connect to me, I naturally connect to everything and everyone around me.
My hire car and its energy stop-start system has taught me there is a vast difference between keeping my engine running and allowing myself a true stop moment. I don’t need any fancy high tech solutions to do this, simply a willingness to stop and feel.
By Jane Torvaney, Chartered Physiotherapist, Tayport, Fife, Scotland