A couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend Kris and I fled the cold and rainy streets of of New York City for the windswept shores of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. We got a really awesome deal at a swanky, high-end resort in Playa del Carmen. It was the most wonderful place, one of those set-ups where they really knew what they were doing. The staff were incredibly nice and the property was gorgeous. I had a great beach book to read and my yoga mat to practice with.
The hotel itself was a little bit back from the beach. You had the option of taking a boat, a buggy or you could rent bikes to get to the ocean. We thought we’d be all sporty and ride to the beach every day. The second day we were there, we saddled up and headed out, not entirely sure of where we were going. We must have taken a wrong turning at one point as we found ourselves on a road that wasn’t as nice as the rest of them. We came over a hill to find the other side quite a bit steeper than the side we went up. As I slide down the hill I hit my brakes. My back brake wasn’t working properly and as I hit my front break I tumbled over the handlebars and landed on my hands and right knee on the gravel.
It was not fun. I ended up with my toes and hands scratched up really badly and my knee seriously banged up. My body did the only thing it could do, which was go into total panic mode. My sympathetic nervous system, the “fight-or-flight” mode, kicked in big time. I was shaken and in huge amounts of pain (or would have been had the adrenaline not been pumping through me) and, frankly, really scared that I’d done serious damage to my knee.
One of the primary tenets of the Alexander Technique is inhibition. This means taking the time not to react habitually to whatever stimulus is before you. In that inhibitory pause you then have the option to reframe the situation and to redirect your body in such a way that you can free up your head/neck relationship, expand your torso and lengthen your spine and generally take care of yourself.
So there I was, battered and bleeding on a Mexican back-road, adrenaline pumping through my system, pain and fear nipping at my awareness, I was faced with a choice: curl up into a ball and start wailing an unknown distance from anyone who could help us, or say no to all of that, pick myself up and get to the beach house. It might sound like I’m being melodramatic, but in the moment I was really in shock.
I took the path of inhibition. I got up, somehow got back on my bike and rode the rest of the way to the beach house. (Turns out it was all of 3 minutes away.) It was an interesting exercise in sustained thought. It took about an hour for my body to really calm down. In all that time my entire focus was on keeping my breathing easy and my weight lifted off my injured knee as I tried to stay connected to the environment around me. It took an awful lot of energy to stay in that place of functional remove. I felt as if I were to surrender to what was going on I might not be able to put myself back together again. Inhibition was the only real choice in that moment.
Kris took the picture above as I was being tended to. It’s a classic portrait of the startle response. My head is practically in my chest, it’s so pulled down. My shoulders are hunched and pulled in and my chest is collapsed in a protective posture. Perhaps if I’d been a little further along in my training I might have been able to direct myself into more openness (!).
The plus side of the experience was I actually rested on the vacation as I couldn’t ride the bike any more or do yoga. Also, everyone at the resort knew me from seeing me hobbling in every morning and asking for a bag of ice to put on my knee as we laid by the beach and read. Everyone was incredibly kind and cheery. Swollen knee and hamburger hands aside, it was lovely vacation.