April 21, 2021

Tension

The silent killer. The assassin on your livelihood. The feeling that you’ve simply accepted as being a part of who you are. It’s your raised up shoulders. It’s your clenched up jaw. It’s that pit in your stomach that feels like an immovable brick.

It’s the feeling when you wake up late for work, or when your girl or boyfriend doesn’t text you back. It’s when your boss calls you into his office, or when you meet someone who you find intimidating. And even when these situations end, the feeling still lingers and carries residual energy. It hangs around you like a clingy best friend.

It’s time. It’s time to release the breath, relax the body, and soften your gaze. It’s time to breathe away this poison that has overtaken your body.  

Have you ever noticed moments when you catch yourself holding your breath? Or when you suddenly realize that your shoulders are raised up to your ears? And then we wonder why we have headaches or back pain, or shoulder pain, or a thousand other health problems.

When you wake up late for a meeting, what is your immediate response? The self-talk begins almost immediately – blaming yourself and treating the meeting as being the most important thing in the entire world. Your body becomes hyperactive, you clench up your muscles, and your automatic reaction is to force your body to go faster. The issue is not going faster or trying to make up the time. The issue is how unaware you are of what is happening inside of you, and the corresponding bodily reactions.  

We have been manipulated to believe that tension is necessary for focused and effective action. When we were kids at school, and our teacher called us out in class because we weren’t paying attention – what was our natural reaction? In order to show our teacher that we were trying to focus, we would narrow our eyes, and clench up our bodies in a sort of rigid state. We would try to sit perfectly erect, with our stomach muscles hardening, forcing ourselves to focus (as if that was even possible). Age and maturity has not made us wise to this fallacy. Your boss has just replaced your teacher.  

We perform much better in a relaxed state of being. Great boxers for example, are always on their toes, moving around like they are dancing. Their shoulders are loose and limber, so when they throw a punch, it snaps like an elastic band. If you were having an operation, you would rather have a surgeon who was at ease, and maybe even made a few jokes to display their confidence. The great performers are those who can let go of the result and trust in all the work they have put in.

You can’t force tension away. You can’t go into the gym, and do a specific workout to rid yourself of tightness in your traps or neck. It will not sustain itself. You can’t go through a routine of self-talk to convince your body to stop being tense. It doesn’t matter how many books or articles that you read or YouTube videos that you watch. Tension is too powerful and cunning to be defeated by such methods. In fact, tension cannot be defeated. You can definitely alleviate symptoms temporarily, but without addressing the root cause, the symptoms will always re-emerge.

Tension is a result of not accepting what is. It is a conflict between the inner and the outer. We want something different from what is happening outside of us. Tension is not a bad thing. It is simply alerting us to negative thinking patterns. Tension is always a byproduct of something beyond itself. Tension has its birthplace in the mind so it is our thinking we must address to get to the root of our tension.

Unwatched tension is what most people experience. Unwatched tension is when we only feel the byproduct of the tension – the symptoms. However, the step after unwatched tension is tension that you become aware of. You will be able to feel the initial cause of the tension and then how those feelings correspond to certain reactions in your body. You will feel your shoulders rise up towards your ears or how you hold your breath in “stressful” situations. You will become more aware.

The breath is of utmost importance in dealing with tension.

But it’s not just about the breath. Some people get too caught up with only that and they try to force the breath, as if that was even possible. They try breathing techniques, but breathing is a natural and spontaneous process so techniques can help only if there is a deeper understanding.

All you have to do is simply watch the breath happen. And as you do so, you can give attention to the part of your body that is most tense. Fill your body up with each inhale, and as you exhale, feel yourself breathing the tension away. The exhale is more crucial than the inhale. It is the breath of relaxation, when you can let go of unnecessary toxins. The exhale also provides you with a great opportunity to become present to life.

Enjoy the process of relieving the tension. It will not go away in a day, and it will not go away in a week. And even if it doesn’t go away in a lifetime, continue to live in a manner that does not promote it. Make the tension uncomfortable by living comfortably whether it is there or not. Definitely, do not be in a rush to be rid of it. Because that effort itself will be a breeding ground for further tension. Sink into the feeling in your body and learn how your body responds to certain stimuli. Watch your reactions – paying as much attention to the inner as the outer.

Just remember, you have all the time in the world. There’s no rush and so stop being so impatient. The ideal sensation in the body is no sensation at all. Emptiness and relaxation. Understand completely that our thoughts and tension are intrinsically linked. You cannot be rid of the tension if you cannot become aware of what is happening inside of you. Tension can be a great and a beautiful blessing. If only you can let it be.

Michael Bains

Currently 29, he lives in the Yaletown district of Vancouver. He enjoys staying physically active and is an avid reader and writer. Hooped is his first published novel.