DO you hold yourself on the chair, or does the chair hold you? When you are subject to the laws of gravitation give up to them, and feel their strength. Do not resist these laws, as a thousand and one of us do when instead of yielding gently and letting ourselves sink into a chair, we put our bodies rigidly on and then hold them there as if fearing the chair would break if we gave our full weight to it. It is not only unnatural and unrestful, but most awkward. So in a railroad car. Much, indeed most of the fatigue from a long journey by rail is quite unnecessary, and comes from an unconscious officious effort of trying to carry the train, instead of allowing the train to carry us, or of resisting the motion, instead of relaxing and yielding to it. There is a pleasant rhythm in the motion of the rapidly moving cars which is often restful rather than fatiguing, if we will only let go and abandon ourselves to it.
This was strikingly proved by a woman who, having just learned the first principles of relaxation, started on a journey overstrained from mental anxiety. The first effect of the motion was that most disagreeable, faint feeling known as car-sickness. Understanding the cause, she began at once to drop the unnecessary tension, and the faintness left her. Then she commenced an interesting novel, and as she became excited by the plot her muscles were contracted in sympathy (so-called), and the faintness returned in full force, so that she bad to drop the book and relax again; and this process was repeated half-a-dozen times before she could place her body so under control of natural laws that it was possible to read without the artificial tension asserting itself and the car-sickness returning in consequence.
The same law is illustrated in driving. “I cannot drive, it tires me so,” is a common complaint. Why does it tire you? Because instead of yielding entirely and freely to the seat of the carriage first, and then to its motion, you try to help the horses, or to hold yourself still while the carriage is moving. A man should become one with a carriage in driving, as much as one with his horse in riding. Notice the condition in any place where there is excuse for some anxiety,–while going rather sharply round a corner, or nearing a railroad track. If your feet are not pressed forcibly against the floor of the carriage, the tension will be somewhere else. You are using nervous force to no earthly purpose, and to great earthly loss. Where any tension is necessary to make things better, it will assert itself naturally and more truly as we learn to drop all useless and harmful tension. Take a patient suffering from nervous prostration for a long drive, and you will bring him back more nervously prostrated; even the fresh air will not counteract the strain that comes from not knowing how to relax to the motion of the carriage.
A large amount of nervous energy is expended unnecessarily while waiting. If we are obliged to wait for any length of time, it does not hurry the minutes or bring that for which we wait to keep nervously strained with impatience; and it does use vital force, and so helps greatly toward “Americanitis.” The strain which comes from an hour’s nervous waiting, when simply to let yourself alone and keep still would answer much better, is often equal to a day’s labor. It must be left to individuals to discover how this applies in their own especial cases, and it will be surprising to see not only how great and how common such strain is, but how comparatively easy it is to drop it. There are of course exceptional times and states when only constant trying and thoughtful watchfulness will bring any marked result.
We have taken a few examples where there is nothing to do but keep quiet, body and brain, from what should be the absolute rest of sleep to the enforced rest of waiting. just one word more in connection with waiting and driving. You must catch a certain train. Not having time to trust to your legs or the cars, you hastily take a cab. You will in your anxiety keep up exactly the same strain that you would have had in walking,–as if you could help the carriage along, or as if reaching the station in time depended upon your keeping a rigid spine and tense muscles. You have hired the carriage to take you, and any activity on your part is quite unnecessary until you reach the station; why not keep quiet and let the horses do the work, and the driver attend to his business?
It would be easy to fill a small volume with examples of the way in which we are walking directly into nervous prostration; examples only of this one variety of disobedience,–namely, of the laws of rest. And to give illustrations of all the varieties of disobedience to Nature’s laws in activity would fill not one small book, but several large ones; and then, unless we improve, a year-book of new examples of nervous strain could be published. But fortunately, if we are nervous and short-sighted, we have a good share of brain and commonsense when it is once appealed to, and a few examples will open our eyes and set us thinking, to real and practical results.