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shutterstock_63389545Spanning the Hudson from Manhattan to New Jersey, the George Washington Bridge is quite a sight. At night it is bejeweled. And both night and day it is, like us, subject to all manner of stress: buffeting of external forces, friction, traffic, gravity, time, temperature, commerce, and current. The bridge flexes within a range of motion, and sends all those forces right to the ground, none the worse. Would that we can do as well.

We, unlike our bridge, are accumulators of stress. We live in anticipation of it, in an overly vigilant state of fight or flight. We may awake in dread of our office, our boss, the classroom, or a pugnacious co-worker. We wear our tribulation, not like a rose, but like a nettle under our saddle, a constant irritant.

Our habitual response to stress is hard-wired in our brains. In at least one respect, the neurological, our habits never change. They remain as tendencies, inclinations, ready to appear when the stimulus is great enough. If our buttons are so easily pushed how shall we change?

If we can’t fully change our habits, we can learn to circumvent them. At the approach of our boss or the arrival of a large file, we might find ourselves tensing up. We can choose alternatively, to breathe, to free our wrists, our necks, our ankles, making sure our torso is not trying to annex our heads and vice versa. We can get our feet under us, one slightly forward of the other, fully letting into and receiving the support of the floor. We can choose to let our pelvic floors open downwardly and outwardly as we breathe.

We can let our hands rest palms up in lotus position atop our thighs, let our wrists breathe, so to speak, as they rotate outwardly and upwardly to alight on our desk palms down, our elbows opening outwardly. We can spend a few moments there, palms down, breathing. No one’s going to notice or mind. Do it once, twice, and you will have gained confidence, made your self, in some small way, a new man or woman. It will feel wonderful, empowering. And you’ll want to do it again and again.

You can’t say no to a stimulus, to stress, any more than a bridge can. You can only say no to your response. Stress—like that other thing—happens. Breathe. Free your neck. Let your head belong to the sky and your feet to the floor. Go ahead. Make your day. Photograph: eddtoro