By Luis S. R. Vas
Here’s how to eliminate anxieties and release creativity through the famed vittoz method
T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, was not only a major achievement in 20th century poetry; it was also the product of a period of severe psychological distress in the life of the poet. The poem was mostly written in 1921 when Eliot was 33 years old. During the previous two or three years, Eliot had been exhausted, depressed, anxious, become a hypochondriac, and dreaded a psychotic disintegration. By late 1921 he was unable to continue to work. He obtained a three-month leave of absence from his junior executive position in a bank in order to enter psychiatric treatment with Dr Roger Vittoz, a noted psychiatrist in Lausanne, Switzerland. The therapy led to the composition of The Waste Land which won Eliot the Nobel Prize The exercises below comprise the famed Vittoz method:
Start the exercise by concentrating on your right foot, the way it touches the ground, the sensation you feel as it supports your weight. Then do the same with your left foot.
Become aware of your ankles, your knees, your thighs, your hips, the way your spine moves, the way your arms swing and balance, the way you hold your head. Feel your entire body in perfect balance and control. Feel the amazing mechanism that is your body as it moves in perfect harmony, on a simple command from your brain. As you concentrate on your walking, you will be so flooded with sensations that it will be impossible for your mind to wander.
This is an extraordinary exercise for calming yourself down, regaining a sense of harmony, and getting rid of fatigue. Compare your mental state before doing the exercise, and after a few minutes of conscious walking. You will be sure to feel the difference.
Whenever you’re under a lot of stress, when you get some bad news, or suffer a serious setback, one or two minutes of conscious walking is enough to re-establish your sense of inner calm. Set yourself a daily route, and practice conscious walking regularly. It can be a short distance, from the garage to the car, for example, or up the stairs to your office or apartment. When you are used to doing the exercise, you can make it even more effective by adding conscious breathing.
Whenever you feel stressed or start thinking negative thoughts, your respiratory rhythm changes; you take shorter breaths, leaving some of the tainted air in your lungs, thus providing your body with less oxygen, which in turn makes you even more tense. As you can see, the effect is very much a vicious circle. By becoming conscious of your breathing, you can control your respiration, and free yourself from this harmful cycle, so that your lungs expand more fully, and remain more flexible. Concentrate and feel the air flowing up through your nostrils to the back of your throat, then down your trachea, and into your lungs. Feel the cool fresh air entering your body, and regenerating you. Synchronize your rate of respiration with the conscious walking exercise (one deep breath – inhaling and exhaling – per step).
You can also inhale for 10 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds, and start again.
For those lacking willpower, Dr Vittoz advises practicing control on little everyday activities.
• Every time you have to do something you don’t want to do, every time you feel under an obligation, take some time to think and find the reasons why you want to do whatever it is you think you should do. There are always reasons why you want to do something, and if there aren’t, you’d better not do it. Ask yourself the question, Why?
• Define what you want precisely rather than in general terms: What? When? Where? How? How much? With whom?
• Possibility. It would be futile to mobilize your willpower if what you want is impossible. Knowing yourself and your capabilities, and also generating confidence in those abilities, are essential stages in the process (of getting what you want). Ask yourself, “Can I do this?” and try to feel the answer in the depths of your being. A yes or a no will condition your future commitment.
• Sincerity. Before committing yourself to a voluntary act, ask yourself one last question: “Am I really sincere?” There may be hundreds of reasons for undertaking something that you don’t really want to do: pleasing someone else, keeping up appearances, staying on top of the corporate ladder, or trying to be perfect. Answering the question “Am I really sincere?” will prevent you from doing things for the wrong reasons.
Start with very simple actions like drinking a glass of water, getting out of bed, arranging the objects in a room, getting the mail, turning the TV on or off, phoning someone, or paying a bill. Then move on to more complex actions like preparing a project, going out, meeting people, and so on.
Finally, set goals for yourself and use the same process to achieve them. Dr Vittoz recommended performing 20 such voluntary actions every day.
Graphic exercises 1: These concentration exercises are mental. You will have to reproduce the following graphic figures in your mind – in other words you will have to “visualize” them. You can create a mental support for yourself in the form of a blackboard on which you write with chalk, or a computer screen or a TV screen, or any other device which will make visualizing easier.
If you find visualizing too difficult, don’t persist. Remember that these exercises should be treated like games – they are not meant to make you tense or add to your stress.
If necessary, start by actually drawing the figures on a piece of paper.
Then redraw them in your mind, with your eyes closed.
A continuous broken line
• The infinity symbol (Don’t try to draw it perfectly – the aim here is concentration, not artistic skill! Practice drawing the infinity symbol in various positions.)
• Straight lines (Randomly place two points on your mental screen, and then join them with a straight line.) Keep all the lines you have already drawn fixed in your mind throughout the session.
• Ladders (Start with the two vertical lines, and then add the steps, one after the other)
Graphic exercises 2: In this second series, draw two lines simultaneously, as if you were using both hands.
• Rose motifs
• Calligraphy exercises
When you start becoming adept at visualizing lines, you can practice mentally reproducing these kinds of figures:
Elimination and de-concentration
The aim of these exercises is to teach the brain to first set aside troublesome thoughts, and then to eliminate them completely. This will prevent you from being overwhelmed by worries, and help you eliminate negative thoughts or obsessions.
Exercise #1: Eliminating Objects: Place three to five objects on an empty table. Observe them carefully, then close your eyes, and draw a mental image of them.
Now open your eyes, and remove one of the objects from the table. Look at the empty space, then close your eyes, and once again create a mental picture of the table, this time without the missing object.
Open your eyes, remove another object, and so on. Repeat the exercise until there is no remnant of any of the objects in your visualization.
Exercise #2: Mental Elimination of Objects: Repeat the above exercise, only this time do not physically remove the objects from the table. Imagine that you are removing them, and visualize them disappearing. The physical objects, however, remain on the table.
Make sure you terminate the exercise by imagining the table covered by a white tablecloth, devoid of any objects.
Exercise #3: Eliminating Numbers: Visualize three numbers in your mind, for example:
3 2 1
Now eliminate one number…
And a second number…
And the last number.
If you have trouble with this exercise, you can cross out the numbers instead of completely eliminating them, using 4 or 5 numbers instead of three:
3 2 1 6 9
3 2 1 6 9
Exercise #4: Eliminating Graphics: First choose a drawing:
Then eliminate parts of the drawing one after the other.
Exercise # 5: Eliminating Letters
Visualize a series of letters that have no special significance.
Write them on your mental screen, then erase the last letter, the next to last letter, and so on.
A S D F G H J K L
A S D F G H J K
A S D F G H J
A S D F G H
A S D F G
A S D F
A S D
Do the exercise again, after changing the order in which you eliminate the letters.
A S D F G H J K L
A S F G H J K L
A S F G H K L
A S F G H K
S F G H K
S F G H
S F H
Exercise # 6: Eliminating Words
Instead of using random letters, choose a series of words which do not have any special significance for you: New York, Paris, London, dog, cow, mountain, car
Exercise # 7: Eliminating Opposites
This time, use pairs of opposites: war – peace, hard – soft, dark – light, cold – hot, stress – relaxation, noise – silence.
Eliminate only one of the words in each pair, and repeat with the one that remains.
Exercise # 8 :
Now use words that are meaningful – that represent negative thoughts which you wish to eliminate. For example:
Failure or Worries
Exercise # 9 :
In your mind, draw two vertical lines, and one horizontal line: between the borders of the lines, write a series of the number1, making each smaller than the one before it. As you write each number 1 in decreasing size, erase the number before it. The last number 1 should be so small you can hardly see it. Then erase that too.
Exercise # 10 :
A very effective combination: add a word that carries some negative connotation to the number 1 in the preceding exercise. As you erase the numbers, you erase the negative word as well.
Exercise # 11: Transforming Negative into Positive
This is the final phase of this series of exercises. Not only are you going to eliminate a word with negative connotations, you will also replace it with its opposite. For example:
LOVE of my mother instead of HATE
Exercise #12: Eliminating Noises
Imagine a very loud noise (aeroplane, motorcycle, car, siren, saw, gun, etc.) moving farther and farther away from you until it disappears.
Concentration on Ideas
Dr Vittoz recommends doing concentration exercises, in particular on the three following ideas: CALM, ENERGY, CONTROL
Louise Bron-Velay, author of A Practical Guide To The Vittoz Method (Levain Publications, 1979), suggests doing the exercises in the following manner:
“After writing the word CALM in your mind, underline it with a curved line. Now try and remember a time when you felt agitated, hurried, pressured. Experience the feelings of tension this situation produced in you. Write the word “AGITATION” under the arc of the curved line. Now erase the word “AGITATION” and reject the feelings associated with it completely. Recall the state of calm, and make it your own through concentration and assimilation of the feelings associated with it. Reject the negative idea. Recall the state of calm and possess it.”
You can now use the same procedure for the other two positive concepts: Energy – Inertia, Control – Impotence
Concentrating on the Number 1
Write and repeat the number 1 in your mind three times in succession, without thinking of anything else. Empty your mind before each repetition.
If you find this difficult, start by actually writing the number 1 three times on a piece of paper, with your eyes open.
Use a lead pencil if necessary, so that you can erase the numbers afterwards.
With some practice, you will be able to do this exercise under any circumstances. It only takes a few seconds, and is an effective way to regain control and re-establish your sense of inner unity.
You are now set to release your creativity just like T. S. Eliot.
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