and then my faith in external advice shattered
Years of body tension due to following external advice badly. Resolved by "What if I use my breath to expand the part that's tense and cramped?"
About five years ago I must have heard some random advice about how one specific mechanical way of breathing is the best, and I was like well I wanna breathe the best way, so I acted to make that 'better way of breathing' into a habit, and made it stick. I thought I was doing the right thing.
Anyways, starting in 2020 fall I had a bunch of problems with my neck and shoulders and upper back. On a few days I almost couldn't move my neck. I attended physical therapy and consistently did the assigned exercises, and it helped, but only a bit; ~7/10 bad → ~5/10 bad. So I was carrying a persistent tension there, and I didn't know how to relieve its root.
Later, in the midst of my 2022 depression I was meditating while on a hike in a quiet forest outside of London, and my attention was brought to that tension in my upper back and neck. In this moment I simply thought, What if I use my breath to expand the part that's tense and cramped? So I did. And for perhaps the first time in years I breathed fully, with responsiveness to my body in the moment.
The first thing I noticed when I did was that I now felt stronger and more powerful. And the second thing was What? This was possible the whole time? But I just wasn't *feeling and paying attention*?? — I had been relying on some heuristic for how to breathe “properly”, a heuristic that I had picked up from who-knows-where, and now it had been decisively shattered with a mere single application of focused attention.
A week later I was meditating again, this time on my standing and walking postures, and I had a similar but broader realization: it became clear to me that "good posture" wasn't a thing that I could, for example, look in a mirror and figure out from outward appearances (not "oh I could put my chest up, and adjust my shoulders a little bit, and put my hips like so…"), as I previously had thought. But instead it was more of something I could find by simply gradient ascending on the result of asking "what feels best?" and "what feels strongest?".
Moreover, it became obvious that "good posture" wasn't a static and legibly describable state of body position (as I previously had believed), but instead a dynamic and reactive function with countless inputs. And now that I've felt what it's like, I couldn't imagine anyone ever effectively teaching that function anew to another person. And just like that all forms of object-level "do this to have good posture"-advice lost credibility for me.(Fortunately, this function seems to exist innately in intuition, so it needn't be 'taught'.)
In the time since, my neck-back tension has subsided further from ~5/10 bad to 3/10 bad or better.
I think that these realizations were surprising to me at the time because I used to have a habit of looking for and really paying attention to forms of "general advice" (e.g. perhaps a youtube search for "what's the best way to breathe/stand/move/talk/interact/think/...?"). But on that day my faith in the efficacy of this general approach shattered. — And, fortunately instead, "oh, I can just feel what's going on inside of me and then figure out solutions just from that."
Yeah, no one else could have told me the best way to use my body and my mind. No shit.
subscribe for more stuff! Also I’m writing a few posts about how this same idea applies to stretching, flexibility, exercising, and massaging oneself
Well I think there’s probably something valuable to advice like "try doing X and see if you feel better", however. Overall the way I explain this to myself is “Let’s use external advice as an aid only to initial exploration, but not to longer term exploitation.” But gahhh the paradox in saying this!