When the turtle needs protection, its head and legs retract into its brilliantly designed shell until the threat has passed. Human beings behave similarly. In reaction to stressful, dangerous, startling, nerve wracking, or even just uncomfortable situations, we often pull our heads, arms, and legs into our torsos. We tense our necks and shoulders, grip our hips, stiffen our legs, and hold our breath.
This is a natural response. However, while the turtle knows that it can emerge again once the situation is safe, we human beings often get stuck inside our metaphorical shells. We repeatedly retract our heads and limbs into our torsos, and over the course of our lives, it becomes habitual for us to hold ourselves and move in this way.
When we move about the world chronically pulled down and in to ourselves, we trick our nervous systems into thinking we are in constant danger. This can contribute to chronic underlying feelings of anxiety or stress in your life, even if you logically know that everything is all right.
In the Alexander Technique, we investigate our own personal patterns of retraction, so that we may emerge from our “shells” into the world once again, as the safe and fearless turtle is wont to do. So below are 5 steps to help you access your own personal Turtle Power. Try it out and let me know how it goes in the comment space below. I want to hear from you!
5 STEPS to TURTLE POWER
1. Start by standing and notice if your head is pulled back or down on to your neck. Release any excess holding in your neck muscles. Let your skull free away off the top of your spine, which is up between your ears. As your neck muscles continue to release, and you allow your head to balance easily on top of your spine, you can let your neck elongate.
2. Check in with your arms. Are you pulling them into your back by tensing or gripping the tops of your shoulders, armpits, or biceps? Are your shoulder blades squeezed together through your upper back? Now let that tension unravel through the tops of your shoulders, armpits, biceps, and between your shoulder blades. And once you’ve allowed that to happen, send a message to your arms to widen across your back like wings, and grow all the way through your upper arms, forearms, wrists, and out your fingertips.
3. Now bring your attention to your legs where they root into your lower back and pelvis. Notice if you are tightening through your gluteal muscles, pelvis, or hips. Can you release that gripping? Can you also let go of any tightening through your thighs, calves, and shins? Let your feet soften and open in contact with the ground. Notice, too, if you are tightening around your knee and ankle joints, and see if you can let those be easy. Now with all of that, imagine that your legs are pouring or emptying into the ground, which is just another way to think of sending them out of your back so they are not pulling in to your torso, but they are releasing away.
4. Now allow those three steps above to happen all at once, so you are simultaneously releasing and aiming out the crown of your head, out your fingertips, and out your heels and toes. Let this overall expansion spread throughout your whole back and torso too, so you are emanating from your solar plexus out through your extremities.
5. Now go eat some pizza and tell April I want her yellow jumpsuit for my spring wardrobe.
TURTLES in a HALF SHELL! TURTLE POWER!!