Expanding Awareness

Unscrunch yourself

By Michael Ashcroft | 4 min read
Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash

As a little experiment, I'd like you to 'scrunch' yourself.

Consciously tighten a bunch of muscles in your face, neck, shoulders, back, wherever, and hold for a couple of moments. Get a sense of what you're doing to add all this tension to your body and then in a single moment, all at once, simply choose to stop doing it. Unscrunch yourself.

I'm guessing this exercise, where you create tension to allow a deeper ease, is familiar from 'relaxation techniques' you've tried in the past. That's fine and good, but there's more available.

I'd like to invite you to repeat this experiment a few times, paying particular attention to the 'move' you make in the precise moment that you unscrunch.

Notice what it's like to stop doing something you're already doing. Notice how it's markedly differently from doing something else. To use more flowery language, what you're noticing is the cessation of doing, rather than layering on more doing.

See if you can get a handle on "the thing that it's like" to stop doing all that tension.

Now here's the fun part. Keep reading as you normally would, without scrunching, and then make that unscrunch move again. And then gently assert it again, and again, and again.

If this works for you, you might notice a further easing of tension beyond your previous baseline. What's happening is that you're learning how to stop doing tension that you don't even realise you're doing. We often fail to notice what's familiar, so you probably don't notice how much tension you hold most of the time.

This is something I encourage you to play with in day to day life. For example, while walking, working, cooking, or brushing your teeth, gently assert that unscrunching move a few times and see what happens.

I say 'a few times', because our longstanding habits are powerful and reassert themselves quickly without us noticing. So consider that unscrunching is not something you can expect to 'do' once and retain forever. It's more like a choice you keep making again and again, moment by moment, every few seconds. At first this will seem hard and tedious, but it becomes a habit of its own.

I should point out a trap, here. Where this may work at first, it's all too easy to try too hard and confuse the 'cessation of doing' move with 'doing something else'. Walking around trying to relax is emphatically not the same as walking around ceasing doing tension.

The unscrunch move is, by definition, effortless. If it stops working for you, or if it seems to create more tension, you have forgotten the simplicity of what's actually required. We are so used to trying hard that the easy, simple moves can be not only inaccessible, but unnoticeable. If you get stuck, just repeat the scrunch/unscrunch experiment and notice how uncomplicated the 'unscrunch' move really is.

(I want to share that this teaching tool is not my own innovation. I think I got it from a wonderful AT teacher called Kajsa Ingemansson, who I believe developed it from her teacher, Cathy Madden.)

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