Nov 212016
 

wheelAfter a 10-year hiatus, I am back in the pottery studio. It is an absolute gift to reconnect with my craft, and with all the work I’ve done to heighten my body awareness, I get to discover anew how to dance with the clay.

Centering on the wheel is a real challenge: It requires steady effort, and in the past I caused myself serious wrist and forearm injuries by working at it inefficiently, with too much exertion. Now I am thinking about the tiny bones in my hands and wrists and arms, the way force is transmitted, muscles and ligaments and the energy of fluid. I look for all the different ways I can relate to the clay, find balance and support in myself, and above all ENJOY the sensation!

As I explore this process with fresh perspective, I find amusement in the metaphor: When first plunked down on the wheel, the lump of clay is uncentered. With a steady influence, I have to actually take the clay further off-center, asking it to move this way and that so that I can bring it back to coherence, to unified potential.  And then it is ready to be opened and shaped into a vessel.

This Quaker song captures the message perfectly:

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free

‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed

To turn and to turn will be our delight

‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.

Sep 132016
 

Sometimes wonderful phrases come to me in the middle of the night. I’ve been musing over this one, and realize that my latest post perfectly exemplifies it! (Funny how I keep learning the same lessons, in myriad ways, over and over 😉

“Healthy movement and healthy thinking require giving something up.”

cuffsWhen we act and think as if we already know what’s happening, we’re absent from the present moment. We hurry (because we’re already in the future), we hesitate (because we’re in a future that’s a projection of the past), we don’t listen (because we’re already sure of what they’ll say — and we’re practicing our retort for as soon as they finish). In order to be healthy in mind and body, we have to give up this idea that we already know, that we’ve done this before, that we “have to” do something (that isn’t what we’d prefer to do). We believe that to get where we want to be, we have to do more, figure more out; but actually, what will get us there is giving up — the struggle, the effort, the attachment to an outcome that’s distracting us from being in, enjoying, allowing us to fully appreciate, the present moment (ha, I started typing “present movement“!).

Sep 132016
 

clothesFunny how the list of things I (believe I) need to accomplish can get longer and longer, the more I do… This morning felt impossible. Run, shower, eat breakfast, journal, wash the car, get a haircut, talk to a contractor, clean the bathroom  — and I meant to do all that BEFORE starting on the “work” I need to complete!! Well into the frenzy (but yearning for a way out), I found myself torn between wanting to keep my morning meditation and hanging the laundry, both before making a phone call. It occurred to me that I could make hanging the laundry BE my meditation. Ah! Talk about changing the quality of an activity, of myself within it! Rather than moving to grab the clothes and pin them up as quickly as possible, I found myself moving mindfully: gathering things gently, touching the clothespins tenderly, noticing the feel of the fabric in my fingers, the grass under my feet, the call of birds, the sun on my back. I followed my breath. It felt like a dream, like finding myself inside a very pleasant dream where life was being lived as it ought to be lived: quietly, with satisfaction.

Sep 022016
 

impatientDespite the total transformation my life has undergone in the last 15 months, I found myself feeling a bit impatient of late. What’s next? Where are things headed? When will I get more clarity? At a loss for how to proceed (into what?), I consulted a list of yamas I’d posted on my fridge. Based in yogic philosophy, yamas are recommendations for the spiritual seeker in personal conduct. A list of things to refrain from doing appeals to my Alexander sense of Inhibition; what does disengagement from these prohibitions reveal or make possible?

Dhriti is the yama that called out to me: it translates as steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance, fear, and indecision; seeing each task through to completion. I believe dhriti has two components: 1) taking initiative to get things going, and then 2) staying committed to an undertaking. Since things in life seemed not to be moving along as fast as I wanted, I decided to move myself: I started running.

I’m not running for physical fitness; I’m running for mental fitness, to demonstrate my commitment to overcoming non-perseverance. Since this decision came from a wish to engage with a spiritual discipline, I also decided that I would refrain from talking about it. Typically I share share share with all my loved ones about what’s going on for me, internally and externally. It seemed appropriate that trying out an element of “moral conduct” should include another yama: Brahmacharya, typically translated as continence, celibacy, faithfulness, but also as “right use” or not wasting vital energy. I interpret this as retaining, keeping something contained, like a seed that needs protection and nurturing. Thus it felt important to keep the news of my running to myself for a little while, not lose the energy of it by talking.

What I’m enjoying about using dhriti as the motivation to run is that I stretch myself a little bit each time — but from the perspective of overcoming inertia, not falling prey to measures of time, distance, or the possible effects on my body. I apply dhriti and brahmacharya when I call back my thoughts from debating what road I’ll take further ahead, planning in advance when I’ll stop running, slowing down as I approach the place I’ve decided to stop, wondering whether this undertaking will change how my clothes fit.

I’m reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s daily practice of tracking his moral conduct; I’m interested to see where attending to these guidelines of living a focused, conscientious life will lead me.

Sep 022016
 

Most runside-view-woman-running-beach-horizon-sea-background-51068142ners I see pull their elbows back, behind the rib cage; they seem to “hold” their forearms stiff and elbows up high, swinging this bent structure strictly forward-and-back. This pattern coincides with a tendency to push the chest forward, which restricts easy breathing, and correlates with stiffness in the arms, shoulders, base of the neck, and back.StandingPosture

In standing, the arms ideally hang more forward than the back of the ribs, shown by the far right example of this image. You can see that in the middle “military” style posture, the chest is pushed forward and the elbows are drawn back. In the balanced posture, there’s no pushing forward in the ribs, and the elbows drape alongside the torso.

Rather than pulling my elbows backwards when I run, I think about them releasing forward. I find it informative and helpful to think of myself as being a four-legged creature who just happens to be standing on two legs. This enables me to step out of my habitual ways of standing and moving, and provides insights about the mechanics of the body.

running-cheetah-sequences-7722339In accordance with what I know about arm movement, I also think about letting my shoulder blades provide support for the forward reach of my arms. You can see in the running cheetah that the shoulder blades move forward as the front legs stretch out in extension. Rather than hold my shoulder blades glued to the back of my torso, and moving bent arms as if they swung solely from the humeral joint, I let my scapulae glide forward with each swing of my arms. With my hands and arms relaxed, it feels a bit like pawing the air! But anyone who has clambered up a mountainside knows what it is to use your arms and legs together; we just sometimes forget that the arms remain active, even when they don’t have contact with the ground. Thinking of running as a four-limbed activity creates a smoother gait and prevents stiffness.

Aug 282016
 

Designers Ray and Charles Eames were desired not for their demonstrated knowledge of a subject, but for their ability to investigate and innovate. This ability is what all my Alexander Technique teachers and colleagues demonstrate, and what studying AT has made possible for me.

It’s so exciting to be able to take on a new activity and have the means to work out what’s going on, and what would make it easier! Not only does applying the principles of the Alexander Technique activate my ability to execute a sport or movement practice–and consistently improve, but seeing what allows for efficiency in an activity clarifies and deepens my understanding of the Technique.

It’s as if I have a key that unlocks the “how-to” of anything: surfing, dancing, running, yoga, Chi Kung. I can see the mechanism; I understand how things are supposed to work, and how they work when they work well. I understand coordination, how when it’s operating at a high level it’s not just effective, it’s beautiful. This is so satisfying and inspiring that I am filled up with enthusiasm, for the particular thing and to “talk shop” about it with anyone who will listen.

 

 

 

 

In these images, and in surfing videos, I can see the active relationship of arms to torso to legs, and the engagement of the eyes in starting the spiralic movement that follows all the way through to the feet and the board. I see how everything plays out to best advantage. Does that mean I can surf?? Not yet, but it means I know how to approach it, involving my whole body and the dynamics that make it work well.

This ability to figure things out is what I aim to inspire in my students. As my teaching matures, I recognize that sharing my realization of how things works is not nearly as much fun as planting seeds in a student’s experience, like hiding Easter eggs, and then waiting with excitement for them to say, “you know what? I figured out that when I don’t stiffen my neck, when I let my limbs move freely off my torso, when I wait just that one extra moment before going into action, everything is easier!” It’s like watching revelation in real time. Pure delight for me.

 

Here’s the article that inspired this post: “Selling Ignorance,” by www.jonathanfields.com

“Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire.” — Richard Saul Wurman on Charles Eames

What if the single biggest thing you have to offer is not what you know about a given subject, but how you approach it?

What if your unique lens, applied to anything in that special way, is your greatest gift?

Take legendary designers, Ray and Charles Eames. The wife-husband team generally committed to projects that took years to complete. Why? They needed to allow for the migration from novice to expert.

They were experts in their process of inquiry and elaboration and creation. But they constantly took on challenges in entirely new fields. Along the way, they’d need to learn about the specific content, materials, products and needs. But what people were really buying and what they were selling was faith in their ability to figure out it on a level most others couldn’t.

That led to a paradigm-shifting volume of output that spanned a mind-boggling diversity of fields. They designed everything from splints for injured World War II soldiers to entire structures, interiors, fabric, exhibits, images, patterns, brands, games, movies and even toys.

Design firm, IDEO, is another powerful example. On the surface, this now legendary design house is just that. A design firm. Thing is, clients don’t come to them because they’ve got expertise in this widget or that. They come to IDEO because they know IDEO is driven by a process that moves them rapidly from ignorance to inquiry and then genius. And IDEO hires people who’ve demonstrated a similar approach to creation in their own endeavors, along with a capacity to apply that process to new challenges. So, at IDEO, you’ll find everyone from classically-trained designers to writer, musicians, entrepreneur-types and beyond. Because it’s more about the lens.

Reflecting back to the quote that opens this piece about the Ray and Charles, the full quote reads:

Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire. He was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work.

In other words, they were selling precisely what we’re so often told to see as our greatest flaw.

Thing is…

Ignorance unexplored is the seed of impotence.

But…

Ignorance mined is the seed of innovation.

 

 

Jul 072016
 
Last weekend was the annual retreat of my local group of Alexander Technique colleagues. We meet at a lovely cabin on Ripshin Lake in Tennessee and enjoy swimming, kayaking, shared meals, and of course lots of Alexander talk and exploration.

A highlight for me was the discussion around Alexander's concept of Inhibition. Here are my notes:

Not reacting in life allows us to maintain. Exercising the privilege of not knowing allows for progress.

Inhibition, part 1 = Undoing; to stop doing something.

Inhibition, part 2 = Prevention of grasping; to give up thinking that I know what's next (or ought to come next). This plays out as giving that Undoing time and space to reveal itself as something new.

Trust in the power of not doing something. Let go of ulterior motives. Let the non-doing have an effect.

Why would it better to let something new, rather than known, happen? What exactly are we trusting to? To what am I yielding, if I allow something outside of what I now know, to operate?

Perhaps this is where the terrain of the psychophysical meets the ocean of the spiritual, where what is known surrenders to the field of possibility. It looks to me like Life has an overarching tendancy toward organization, more than chaos – although chaos or dissolution is an essential part of the transmutation into organization (an example would be how objects combust to yield light and heat; life forms disintegrate to create the substrate for new things to grow). This organization is necessary for things to keep going, and keeping going is what they do – and must do. There's no escape from Is-ness; there isn't anything that isn't.

How is it a privilege to not know?? I believe it's a privilege to acknowledge that there are much, much larger forces at work than my tiny (albeit significant) perspective. It situates me in a context of the Intelligence of this organizing dynamic. Setting aside my attachment to and compulsion for knowing, exercising the privilege of refraining from this unavoidably limiting function, opens me up to experience myself as part of something unfathomable, limitless – and inherently Good.

 

Jul 012016
 

This week I spent a morning behind bars. That is to say, I attended an orientation at a local detention facility in preparation for volunteering. My sweetie has been teaching yoga there through Light A Path, a service organization that links holistic wellness practitioners with under-served populations. We are proposing to teach a class together, using the book We’re All Doing Time as a basis for bringing yoga, meditation, and Alexander Technique to inmates.

I am excited about this work because it will really stretch my ability to convey the Alexander Techique, since touch – usually a cornerstone in teaching AT – is not permitted in that environment. How will I convey to participants new options for how they inhabit their bodies, using only words and illustrations?

The Alexander Technique offers a practical means to reduce reactivity and pain, improve cognition and self-regulation, and allow the kind of self-awareness that enhances respectful engagement with others and the environment. An AT teacher in the Midwest has been teaching classes and workshops for drug/alcohol and co-occurring disorders at correction and treatment facilities with notable success. I’ll be drawing on her research and class materials as we develop our program, as well as continuing to explore effective methods for resolving trauma and awakening embodiment.

When asked by Light A Path for a short phrase to introduce myself on their listing of volunteers, I said “My name is Michèle and I’m lighting a path for change agents who are temporarily behind bars.” I didn’t know before I thought up that phrase, that that is how I’m formulating the work I’ll be doing alongside my husband. I’m giving myself permission to consider: What if just one person who takes our class learns practical ways to stay calm in a stressful situation, refrain from starting or engaging in destructive behavior, cultivate an inner environment of calm and integrity? That person WILL effect change in every person and situation they encounter. The ramifications are not trivial: We aim to empower people on the front lines of dangerous situations to consciously choose connection over disruption, responsibility over blame, peace over power.

If you’d like to support this cause, please follow this link to Light A Path. Your donations support work that changes our world.

 

 

Jun 282016
 

When I realize I haven't been being present, I know I've been engaging in thought patterns that are so familiar as to be invisible. I may not identify specific phrases of that background commentary, and it may not be blatantly negative, but I can feel the sentiment of it as a general tone of discontent – a function of measuring/assessing the present, re-telling stories from the past, or fabricating future scenarios.

I could, and do, attempt to identify the effect of this background tone on particular aspects of my life. What are my unexamined, habitual thought patterns about my body, money, relationships, work, home? But efforts to re-direct these thought patterns can lead to micro-managing, like herding one stray cat at a time. Yes, it works to a degree, but lately I am more and more curious to discover what would gather all the cats, at once.

What I've come to is this idea of establishing a tone that simultaneously directs my thoughts in a productive direction, and prevents disabling thoughts from having a place to latch on. You've heard the phrase, “the better it gets, the better it gets” (and its opposite); we think and see more of whatever ideas we've already got going. It may be true that I always have the choice to entertain whatever thoughts arise, or refrain from thinking (try that!) or choose a different thought, but there's the issue of momentum in a given direction. It's hard to stop a moving train! Why not establish clear boundaries for which thoughts arrive, early on? Why not put screens in my windows, rather than leaving them wide open – only to chase down every fly that wanders through?

I've been thinking of this tone-setting as selecting a mood, and how whatever mood we practice in fact establishes a degree of immunity. When your (physical) immune system is working well, it's no problem at all to avoid getting sick. Having good immunity doesn't give license to take unnecessary risks; I'm not going to stop washing my hands during flu season. But if I attend to my overall wellbeing, taking appropriate actions (and avoiding deleterious ones) to keep my physical self healthy, then I don't have to question my ability to fend off illness. I believe that mood works in a similar way: If I attend to my overall attitude, taking appropriate actions to affirm my wellbeing (meditate, journal, appreciate) and avoid risky behavior (too much screen time, not enough sleep, trying to get too much done), then I can trust that the tone of my mood will generate momentum in a generally positive direction. Without trying to change specific negative thoughts head-on, I can trust that my overall positive mood will shift my perspective, on every topic, and those thoughts of concern just won't even make an appearance.

 

Jun 222016
 

In my twenties I took a significant number of courses with Landmark Education. The introductory course, the Landmark Forum, is a 3-day event that is carefully constructed to walk participants through complex theoretical concepts – that are familiar to philosophers of all stripes – in a way that makes them coherent and practical. Perhaps the most primary concept is the idea that life is “empty and meaningless.”

At first mention, this idea seems to rob our experience of any value; it appears to be saying that there is nothing good or true or worthwhile about living, loving, or any aspect of being human. But that’s a flawed understanding of the concept. What’s required to grapple with this idea in a way that frees us from the pitfall of despair is stepping completely out of the paradigm that inserts meaning into our life experience as a matter of course — a paradigm that operates so invisibly that it denies its own presence. To feel despair in the face of the concept “life is empty and meaningless” is the result of making it mean something that there’s no inherent meaning in anything. The only way that “empty and meaningless” can be recognized as a workable concept is to measure it from its own criteria: it is empty and meaningless THAT it’s empty and meaningless! It doesn’t mean anything that it doesn’t mean anything.

That life doesn’t “mean anything” is not a condemnation of the experience; it doesn’t invalidate life in any way whatsoever. The whole premise here is that the life experience we are attempting to examine is actually a field of pure potentiality; it doesn’t possess any inherent, objectively measurable significance, because it is, contains, and creates endless possibility. We can, and do, make of it what we will. From the paradigm of “it’s empty and meaningless that life is empty and meaningless,” there is no escape from the totality of freedom of interpretation — just as (in contrast) from the starting paradigm that we do and must “make meaning” of life, there is no escape from the totality of interpretation.

I’m spending time explaining this because I recently encountered a presentation stating that we humans “make up meaning” out of what other people say or do, and that this meaning is pure fabrication. On the surface, I agree, BUT I’ve personally had the fortune of having been hand-held through the minefield of unpacking the revelation that we make meanings up about anything and everything. And it is a minefield! Without fleshing the concept out completely, without recognizing that there isn’t any meaning to the fact that we make up meaning, there is a real danger of getting lost in an assumption of the “fallacy” of our experience. This is what leads to despair, and it’s unnecessary!

To address this issue clearly and succinctly, I’d state it like this:

* We can’t help but make meaning out of what we experience in life, be it our own or others thoughts, words, and deeds. You might say that human beings are “meaning-making machines.”

* This meaning-making is inevitable, unavoidable, and ultimately arbitrary, in that in the world where meaning is made, all meanings are possible — and remain possible, even as some are more frequently selected.

* If meaning-making is what we must and will do, and all meanings are possible, then there is room for us to select meanings that reinforce whatever (larger) meaning we elect to make.

* As participants in a life experience in which we in fact DON’T get to say WHETHER we make meaning, we DO get to say WHAT meaning we make!

 

Jun 212016
 

This past weekend I got to see how my belief that I knew how to communicate was the very thing that prevented it. Over the years I have studied relationships and communication through various paradigms, and I consider myself pretty well versed in being responsible in my speech, willing to admit where I’m wrong, and committed to maintaining connection over winning an argument. The astonishing quality of my friendships and marriage are testament to this.

But boy oh boy did I see how mistaken I am.

For any of many possible reasons, one morning during our blissful four days of camping with perfect seclusion, gorgeous scenery, ideal weather, and fun together, Sweetie woke up in a funk. The mood seemed to even out over the day, so that by afternoon I was caught unawares when the Funk reared its head in a comment that I considered out of place. I watched myself then become increasingly confident in my rightness to point it out and demand that my sweetie revise his thinking. If only he’d consider the wrongness in his interpretation of what he was experiencing, not only would he see the folly of his judgment about me, but HE would assuredly feel better! See how justifiable is my argument – I have his best interests at heart!

As you can imagine, that didn’t go so well.

UnknownOnce I realized that I had an attitude about my sweetie’s attitude –!!– I could see that the real work is actually mine to do, not my beloved’s. I wanted him to change his focus and thus his perspective – but that’s my job, to shift whatever interpretation I have of him, or what’s going on, to remain connected to the deepest truth of my being: I am meant to abide in love, and I love this man. Loving him is Who I Am, not something I feel, and whenever I use ANY excuse to step outside of loving him, I suffer. The work of Byron Katie and Abraham-Hicks is coming clearer and clearer to me (as clear as a ton of bricks on my head!!), and the lesson is nowhere clearer than this. When my beloved and I get off track, when discord arises, when I believe I’m right (about some way he’s wrong), the end result is that I hurt all over. I absolutely cannot bear to hold a judgment about him, find fault, separate myself from living in wonder and appreciation of him. So really it’s completely self-serving to recognize that I never, ever have any justification for believing that he should be or behave in any way other than exactly how he is, and that it’s my job to alter my perspective so that I can remain in an attitude of love.

It (only sometimes, now) surprises me to hear myself speak of love and relationship in terms that sound dangerously close to dissolution of my free-willin’ self. It challenges my painstakingly cultivated sense of autonomy to let everyone else off the hook, and engage all these tools of responsibility and compassion, myself; to locate the fault in myself IMG_5190whenever I feel wronged by another – not as a declaration that I am wrong, but that I’m entertaining a thought/perspective that is erroneous. In Touching Enlightenment, Reginald Ray states that “this journey toward realization…is a process of unmasking, taking off the armor, becoming more and more nakedly ourselves” (p. 234).  In forsaking a thought that takes me out of the state of love, I’m not giving up the self that is my True Self; I’m surrendering the one that clings to judgments and mistaken beliefs –the primary one being that there is anything more important than Being in love.

Really??? Who would choose fame or fortune, being “right” or “realistic,” over the opportunity to live a life in love love love!??!!

 

 

Jun 162016
 

Sweetie and I have been mulling over a multitude of options: How should we handle our finances? What kind of lifestyle do we want? What kind of renovations should we make to our current home? Where do we want to live? And, the questions holding up all others is, what does the other one of us want??

Our days have been busy, so no solutions or even discussion were offered for a week. I was feeling at minimum some uncertainty (and at most some concern) over addressing these issues, hoping that soon we could talk things over — and I would know enough of what he wanted to be able to move forward.

Once we got together and were actually talking, though, as I verbalized that I “needed to know what he thought” in order for “us” to move forward, I realized it was a flawed belief. Not flawed in the sense that I didn't need to know his thoughts — but flawed in the sense that I was still operating from an I and a he. I'd been contemplating what *I* thought about what *we* should do, and wondering what *he* thought on the same. I'd been thinking of myself, and of him, as separate entities from Us, and believing that our individual selves had important things to say about what that “us” entity should do. The realization that arose in me is, there isn't an “I” anymore. The independent, singular “me” that's been accustomed to thinking and making decisions, isn't singular anymore. There is no “I” now, there's only a WE.

The reason I married this amazing man is that I wasn't halfway through speaking these words, when I see him smiling and nodding. “Yes,” he says, “that's exactly it! That's what's been true for me, too! There's no longer an 'I' making decisions. Everything comes from 'We'.”

“Well then,” I continue, “since everything we give attention to builds, since thoughts become things and ideas become reality, then this 'we' that we are giving attention to has its own energy. In a sense, it has its own LIFE — it has the power to compel more of what is in line with it, so that it can grow. By its nature it compels and organizes like energy, which means it has INTELLIGENCE! Since this “we” has intelligence, it can tell us what to do!”

He liked that idea 🙂

I've always been a creator. I make up games, stories, tasty things to eat. When I was a maker of things (as a potter), it was obvious that my creations went on to live lives of their own, in other people's hands and cabinets. I still refer to mugs on my shelves by the maker's name: that one's a Sam Chung, this one a Steven Hill. When I stopped making pots, I took solace in believing that the objects I'd made carried on the energy of me, of my life. I thought of them as breadcrumbs that led back to me; they were evidence of where and who I'd been.

What I'm realizing now is that ALL of my creations, be they thought, word, or deed, leave traces and take on a life of their own. They are sparks of creation, and their energy attracts like energy. Sometimes they gather enough energy to materialize, as in a wish fulfilled — to the point where other people can see it, sooner rather than later.

As creations, they are new: they are the leading edge of what's possible. As manifestations of a newer paradigm, doesn't it make sense that they are better organized according to the newest model of what can be imagined? We all know that science evolves when the holders of old ideas die off; the new scientists see as obvious and given what the old guard doubts.

So I'm giving up the doubts of the “I” that's been operating for a long while, in favor of a new “we” that's got new-fangled understanding of how things work. I'm choosing to defer to that new perspective!

 

Mar 202016
 

Here’s a quick exercise to demonstrate the essence of the Alexander Technique:

Imagine there’s a water bottle on the table in front of you.

1. Don’t pick it up. Notice your response.

Continue to not pick it up, as you choose or choose not to do something else.

2. Now, stop yourself from picking it up. Notice your response.

Continue stopping yourself, as you choose or choose not to do something else.

What was the difference in the quality of your experience?

I tried this experiment with a friend, and what he reported is that his sentiment in the first instance was one of detachment, not caring — liberty. In the second instance, he found himself thinking about how he would go about picking it up; he was simultaneously preparing AND bracing against. One response conveyed freedom; the other, narrowed focus and options.

It’s helpful to notice the mental engagement as much as the physical engagement in this situation. How does this effect reveal itself in our everyday lives?

The essence of the Alexander Technique is this, the concept of Inhibition — as it is recognized in biology: there is excitation, and there is inhibition (of a reflex). Happening, versus not happening. Attachment to an outcome does not figure in. And this is the world-changing effect of applying Inhibition — not simply to a movement (like sitting down or standing up) — but to the ways we respond in all of life. When my thoughts appear: do I pick them up? Do I choose to not pick them up? Or do I attempt to restrain myself from picking them up? When emotions appear, when a person or situation appears: do I do something in response? Do I not respond, doing nothing? Or do I stop myself, constraining and bracing against a response?

In all of these instances, what would it be like to be genuinely free of attachment to an outcome?

Mar 182016
 

There are schools of thought that promote moving from the center of gravity (the center of the pelvis, below the navel), in attempts to correct the tendency to lead with the chest or hips or chin. In various situations that is certainly a most helpful suggestion. But I always affirm that in total, we want the entire physical structure to be coordinated — and so it must include the primary relationship of the head to the spine (of which the pelvis is the root).

Most people have lost an accurate determination of where their head is, in space and in relation to the rest of the body. Your nervous system is wired to, at all costs, prevent your head from hitting the ground, so if you carry your head off-balance, your entire body will tense and brace to prevent you from falling over. An average head weighs TWELVE pounds, so it takes real work to hold it up against gravity when it's off balance. (When allowed to release forward from its pivot point, this weight actually helps your spine lengthen and your body to both stand at ease and mobilize.)

Because in Alexander Technique we are concerned with unifying the organization of mind as well as body, I find it helpful to ask students to consider where they're headed: Where exactly is your head (in space and in preoccupation)? What is its relationship to the rest of you (spine/pelvis, your heart, how you carry out your thoughts)? How are you organizing yourself around it (how do you let its balance on your spine inform your movements, how do you let your intentions lead you)?

Not knowing where their head is (literally and figuratively), most people can't organize themselves around it in a coordinated fashion. They flounder or flail, dragging and pushing various parts of themselves. It's like pushing the caboose to move the train when firing up the engine would move it so much easier…

By nature we then become accustomed to a skewed sense of where the head is, so it takes some creative imagination to have a different experience. This exercise may at first appear to be enormously different from what you believe or sense. I invite you to be a true scientist: Try it out and see, doing your best to suspend your disbelief until you've wholeheartedly acted “as-if” and explored the results.

A high pivot point lengthens the back of the neck

Place an index finger on the side of each cheekbone, halfway bewteen the front corner of your cheekbone or base of your eye socket, and the soft spot in front of your ear. Imagine a bar through your skull connecting these points. Without dropping the bar, tip your head forward-and-up over it. If you do not drop this imagined bar, you'll find the scruff of your neck lengthening as your face drops. Keep it up until you are glancing down from a very high perspective and you'll feel a stretch in the back of your neck. If you tend toward pain between the shoulder blades you may notice immediate relief. Let your shoulder blades drape away from this stretch in your upper spine, without bringing them toward each other in front. If you've been in a slump, keep raising the bar in your mind's eye as you tip your head up and over it, until the lengthening of your spine draws you more upright. Notice that it's not necessary to push from the back, at your lower ribs or pelvis, to bring you into a more upright seated position. If you're standing, you'll notice a different tone come into your legs from pivoting your head around this high imaginary bar.

Is the balance point of your head on your spine between your cheekbones? Not exactly, but there's a distinction between a balance point and a point of movement. In fact the point we've here discerned is called the sella turcica, part of the sphenoid bone, and cradles the pituitary gland. A helpful place leave free and mobile!

Remember that we're interested in exploring a reference point for organization. When you're driving you don't look down at the ground at where you are, you look through the windshield at where you're headed. Notice how organizing yourself into the approaching moment makes for a much smoother ride 🙂

 

Mar 042016
 

As a tool, the Alexander Technique can be used in whatever application you wish. It relieves pain and restriction, improves performance, is an access to greater facility and ease. But it is not completely innocent of agenda.

It's possible to apply the Technique to minimizing or eliminating inefficient movement patterns that interfere with what we believe we want to accomplish — whether that's working pain-free at a keyboard, playing an instrument, enhancing stage presence, or improving athletic performance. It can even help us “know ourselves” more, developing our capacity to calm the mind and body, direct our thinking, expand our repertoire of expression, as well as sit/stand/move with more ease. This can yield enhancements in self-reflection/meditation, confidence, less emotional volatility, and lighter moods.

But if the Technique were simply about learning how to do what we do, better, there's nothing to prevent the inevitable intensification of our current lifestyle — in work and play, we constantly aim for more, better, faster, more comprehensive, more cutting-edge. Are these improvements in doing what we're already doing, or doing more of what we'd like to do, really what the Technique is about? Is that what it's for? Is that the best it can summon from us?

What if the essential message of the Technique (no surprise here) is to not do? Not, “do what you do with less effort”, but actually “stop doing so much”… ?

I notice that my own alarm bells go off at this questions. Wait! I don't want my desires and energy to be stifled! I don't want to give up my dreams, my aspirations! I want to persist in feeling that I have a say in my life, that I am a free, active agent, that I can and do make things happen!

There's a trap I catch myself in: I tell myself that my training in the Alexander Techique should allow me to keep up a frenetic pace in a busy life, but be able to do it “with more ease”. I think that I ought to be able to conduct myself with “good use” while I persist in filling the hours of my days with Important and Pressing Things to Do. I even use pseudo-spiritual talk about “not doing” as a way of “letting things happen” — continuing to presume that things OUGHT to happen, and will happen in the way or time that I want them to, if I am exceptional enough at “not doing” them!

I suspect the Alexander Technique holds an unsettling insight for me; that the real work (and true freedom) is in letting things not happen.

There's another trick here. I can tell myself that I'm detaching from results as a secret tactic to act disinterested in an outcome, while continuing my expectation that something ought to happen.

But maybe it's not a question of letting things happen outside my desired time frame… maybe those things won't, aren't meant to, happen at all.

How do I know what's appropriate to include in a single day, let alone in my life?

Desperate times call for drastic measures

Sometimes when I catch myself misusing the Technique in this inhibiting-and-directing-while-staying-busy way, times when I notice that I “include” stopping in what I'm doing — but I don't actually STOP doing, I entertain the thought that this is my last day on earth.

If this moment now were one of just a few moments remaining to me, in this physical body on this beautiful planet, I wouldn't hurry it. I also wouldn't delay any inspired action. I wouldn't refuse that bite of chocolate, but neither would I make of it more than what it is — I wouldn't substitute it for whatever I might really want.

When I act as if these are some of my last precious moments, I welcome in every nuance. I smell, I see, I breathe; I tread lightly, I feel what I'm touching, I soften myself to receive every whisper of the world's pressure against me. I allow myself to be as whole as I am, experiencing this time and place. I don't aggrandize, and I don't diminish.

This is what I KNOW it's really all about: Letting happen what happens, and letting not happen what doesn't happen.

I can't tell you how much courage I feel I have to summon to meet this letting go, letting not happen. But again, how do I know what my life should include? Is this letting go really a death of a desire, or like winter, is it only the appearance of death — while under the surface, things are gathering force?

Is true ease the ability to let small questions remain, let hints remain unanswered for the moment, so that their reemergence at a more mature time can startle and amaze us? The wonder wouldn't have been there if things hadn't had time to slip out of sight, come to significance behind closed doors. We need to let things rest. We can't even put our trust in their later development; we need to actually forget about them, forgive (“give as before”) their appearance as a hope or wish. It's the only way they can surprise us later with their relevance.

I've been memorizing this poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which about sums it up:

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), “Keeping Quiet”

Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid)

Jonathan Cape, London, 1972, pp.27-29

(original Estravagario, Editorial Losada, Buenos Aires, 1958)

 

Feb 252016
 

I first encountered the writing of French Resistance hero Jacques Lusseyran when I received application materials for an Alexander teacher training school in Philadelphia. Blinded at the age of 7, Lusseyran writes with uncommon insight about the value and qualities of touch, a sense cultivated with special care by Alexander teachers. I recently picked up a collection of articles in which he explains the valuable perspective and experience of blind people. Blindness requires unwavering attention, a skill of which those who see with eyes could make good use.

In order to live without eyes it is necessary to be very attentive, to remain hour after hour in a state of wakefulness, of receptiveness and activity. Indeed, attention is not simply a virtue of intelligence or the result of education, and something one can easily do without. It is a state of being. It is a state without which we shall never be able to perfect ourselves. In its truest sense it is the listening post of the universe.

Being attentive unlocks a sphere of reality that no one suspects. If, for instance, I walked along a path without being attentive, completely immersed in myself, I did not even know whether tress grew along the way, nor how tall they were, or whether they had leaves. When I awakened my attention, however, every tree immediately came to me. This must be taken quite literally. Every single tree projected its form, its weight, its movement–even if it was almost motionless–in my direction. I could indicate its trunk, and the place where its first branches started, even when several feet away. By and by something else became clear to me, and this can never be found in books. The world exerts pressure on us from the distance.

The seeing commit a strange error. They believe that we know the world only through our eyes. For my part, I discovered that the universe consists of pressure, that every object and every living being reveals itself to us at first by a kind of quiet yet unmistakable pressure that indicates its intention and its form.” (The Blind in Society, emphasis mine)

Lusseyran goes on to describe that all of our senses are, in fact, interpretations of universe's touch upon us. “Hearing” does not happen in the ears; the blind realize it is a whole-person experience, whereby they feel sound as it is offered by objects and space around them.

What the blind person experiences in the presence of an object is pressure. When he stands before a wall he has never touched and does not now touch, he feels a physical presence. The wall bears down on him, so to speak. An effluvium emanates from that wall. Conscious perception takes place the moment it meets another effluvium, which originates in him.

Perception, then, would mean entering into an equilibrium of pressure, into a force field. As soon as we pay attention to this phenomenon, the world comes to life in a surprisingly different manner. No single object, no single being remains neutral. The oneness of the world is experienced as a physical event.

The pressure I have spoken of assumes all forms: Absorption, transference, cooperation. Everything enters into an intimate and active relationship with ourselves: the window, the street, the walls of the room, the furniture, the slight movement of the air, living creatures, Finally, even thoughts take on weight and direction.” (Blindness, a New Way of Seeing the World, emphasis mine)

It is not simply the world exerting pressure on us; we too in our thinking exert pressure on the world. Lusseyran asks the question, “Could attention be a kind of touch?” My answer is a wholehearted YES, and I have been contemplating deeply the implications of this recognition. What am I touching with my attention? What is the quality of my touch? How I am going out to meet the world? How available am I to receiving the world's touch?

Gravity is the world's everpresent touch on us, and it's common to think of it as a force which brings us down. People often rail against its apparently unfortunate effects: Stooping, drooping, fatigue. But this force is not our enemy; our response to the pressure or touch of gravity is what determines our experience. A strong force, a heavy pressure — these do not have to weigh us down. In fact, (if we know how) we can organize ourselves better when under greater stress. We can allow ourselves to welcome the touch of gravity, if we recognize that we are designed not just to meet it but to thrive under its influence.

I've been considering other strong forces in my life. How am I organizing myself to receive them? Do I feel weighted or energized by them? The option of finding my sure footing, allowing the force to transmit through me rather than onto me, reveals an “upward thrust” described by F.M. Alexander. If I experience strong forces as fatiguing or burdensome, it is because I have abandoned my own organization, I have adulterated my ability to meet them with my whole capacity.

And now I hope that you will find it easier to accept my paradox, the confession of faith I made in the beginning: Blindness is my greatest happiness! Blindness gives us great happiness. It gives us a great opportunity, both through its disorder and through the order it creates.

The disorder is the prank it plays on us, the slight shift it causes. It forces us to see the world from another standpoint. This is a necessary disorder, because the principal reason for our unhappiness and our errors is that our standpoints are fixed.

As for the order blindness creates, it is the discovery of the constantly present creation. We constantly accuse the conditions of our lives. We call them incidents, accidents, illnesses, duties, infirmities. We wish to force our own conditions on life; this is our real weakness. We forget that God never creates new conditions for us without giving us the strength to meet them. I am grateful that blindness has not allowed me to forget this.” (Blindness, A New Way of Seeing the World, emphasis mine)

And I am grateful to Lusseyran for not allowing me to forget, that I always have within me the strength to meet the present moment, that I can find the blessings of my life by opening to the touch of the world.

 

Feb 212016
 

What's amazing to me (it shouldn't be amazing, really!) is on how many levels I've been affected by this ski/film adventure. In our concluding conversation, I loudly declared how absolutely terrified I felt at many points during the week+. I confronted fear in so many ways: I was afraid of feeling sick/tired/sore, disappointing my teammates by doing a poor job filming, leaving more work to them by skipping sessions to rest, wanting to do right by my teacher while feeling sad and scared and out of control… And all this in addition to the death-defying challenge of actually navigating on skis! As if that weren't enough, provoking myself to face these contextual fears illuminated a ubiquitous pattern in my life: I hold back.

I knew that to control my direction and speed down the mountain I needed to lean forward on the front of my boots and let my head lead the way (you can read about that insight here). But I discovered that I wasn't just resisting letting my head lead; my pelvis was actively aiming backwards, which put me in the fearful crouch position that is often taught to skiers but which deprives them of full control. I could see on others, as well as feel in my own self, when I was in fact “hanging back”; I wasn't fully in agreement with myself about moving forward down the hill. I may have believed that I was ready and willing, but part of me (a significant part!) had some serious misgivings.

There's a wonderful dance that happens in bringing the Alexander Technique to any discipline; the dynamic principles of skiing, tango, yoga, acting, making music, whatever are clarified and execution is invariably enhanced. Meanwhile, engaging in any of these disciplines elucidates the principles of the Technique more fully; they need a field of practice to show themselves. Seeing my habit of holding mixed intentions on the slopes — part of me doubting, hanging back, afraid, while my head attempted to override my concerns through sheer will — brought to my awareness how familiar this pattern is. How many places have I been holding myself back in life? The lesson on the slopes was to really, truly give myself enough time to examine all of my intentions, so that I could be sure I was wholly in agreement and ready to “go where I'm going”.

Not holding back is not simply a matter of plowing ahead; that too would be my habit. What it really means is allowing myself time enough to notice, how much do I want to move forward, how much do I want to resist? As Erik pointed out, either choice takes courage. Giving myself space to feel all that I'm feeling, and time to clarify my intentions, is the safety needed to establish the courage to move forward — or the courage to refrain. Enjoying where I am is a precursor to enjoying wherever I might be going 🙂

 

Feb 192016
 

One concept we've worked on this week has been how to initiate turns. Most ski instruction emphasizes the use of the legs, whereas Erik's Art of Skiing emphasizes the use of the head, and considers the workings of the upper body as essential to efficient skiing. Alexander students who have worked with the Dart Procedures will recognize the following exercise.

We began by lying in prone on the floor, then lifting the gaze to raise the head and shoulders. The gaze is *so* important here; all too frequently we check out from our eyes — which indicates an attempt to “feel” the move, rather than simply (and more effectively) let the movement follow our interest. Once the raising of the head and neck begins to pull on the arms, looking to one side back and over that shoulder starts a twist or winding in the torso that, if unobstructed by either resistance or attempts to “help” (pushing with arms or legs), then the whole body follows the gaze in a spiral.

Erik's instruction to me on the slopes was to let my gaze remain forward, but turn my shoulders to one side and allow the rest of my body (all the way down through my feet) to follow. I was surprised at how effective this movement was at creating an easy turn, if I really allowed the spiral to travel all the way through my skiis. I found myself laughing — “It feels like flirting!” With just a gesture in my shoulders from one side to the other, giving enough time for my skiis to turn in the direction of my shoulders before turning the gesture to the other side, I followed a gentle s-curve down the slope.

Next, Erik asked me to pay attention to the un-winding segment. Could I follow the release of having turned from one side into the winding-up of turning to the other side? We'd explored this segment in standing: If you turn your gaze and then your shoulders in one direction — and leave them facing that way (stabilized by a partner standing above), the rest of the body can un-wind underneath.

It's a lovely thing to feel a little frisky with the mountain; I've been enjoying playing coy with my shoulders, and experiencing an expansion and release through this winding and un-winding as it travels from my top to my toes!

 

Feb 182016
 

It's not just the pressures of foreign travel, skiing, learning, and filming that have been weighing on me. I'm also feeling the terrible sadness of missing my beloved. Strangely enough, this week+ of skiing, in the atmosphere of my mentor, is all about — and helping me come to terms with — what's transpiring in my love life. As if that were something separate from (the rest of) my life… Which, until now, seems to be how I've operated.

What I'm finding about falling truly, madly, deeply in love, letting love wash over me — receiving the loving adoration of another, feeling myself open to cherishing him as deeply as I've wanted to cherish — is that opening to love means opening to feeling a lot of fear and grief.

It could easily be surmised that I'm speaking about the fear of this love disappearing, through a long or slow death of neglect, disappointment, betrayal, choose your weapon. But no. I'm speaking of a different kind of fear: The fear of letting something Be Really Good.

There is a substantial safety in putting your eggs in tomorrow's basket. It's been a way for me to know myself — that I'm holding out for something, living for a future when my real life shows up. And now, wham!! It HAS arrived, and I'm being called to board the train. Which means leaving behind my dreams of a Beautiful Tomorrow, for the fast-paced happening of a Beautiful Now. It might seem like it would be easy to jump into that new reality, but in order to do so I have to actually feel all the suppressed longing and doubts that have colored years of hopeful affirmations. I have to step from the known into the unknown: now THAT's facing a steep precipice!

For how long have I taken refuge in wistfulness, in a staged confidence that *someday* my life would turn out, someday I'd finally meet a man who loved me wholly, without reservation, a man who met me on every level of my spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional being? There's been a whole lot of safety in yearning for someone I respected and adored, a man who was both fun and fascinating, a partner with whom I could feel assured in raising a family. I could pin my hopes on tomorrow, assert my trust in the Universe's plan for me… And in the moments when all that optimism seemed futile, resignation offered a disturbingly comforting blanket of dulled emotion.

Now that the Plan for my life seems to be coming together, I have to admit to how much grief I've been carrying for so long. I've been scared scared scared that my life wouldn't turn out, I wouldn't love and be loved, I wouldn't have a family. Am I really worthy of this?? Am I crazy, am I letting myself be caught up in a fantasy, imagining that goodness has finally descended? Can I let go of the psychotic paradox of pragmatically doubting, while romantically wishing for, True Love?

What do I have to give up in order to have the life I've wished for? I have to give up the self of the past that's been living for a future. I've known her a lot longer than I've known this delusional, love-struck me of the past two months. But facing my fears, FEELING fear the way I have in this crazy ski adventure, is part of a much larger unwinding… I am opening to feeling fear, sadness, longing as part of opening to feeling love.

One of my favorite scenes in The Sound of Music is when Maria and the Captain are in the garden, finally acknowledging their love. With surprise, they observe:

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood

Perhaps I had a miserable youth

But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past

There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me

Whether or not you should

So somewhere in my youth or childhood

I must have done something good

I offer up the same sentiments, to whatever Universal Benevolence is watching over me: Whatever I've done that was good, and true, thank you for letting it be enough — so I could welcome in this Goodness. Te amo, el amor de me vida 🙂

 

Feb 182016
 

This is what it feels like to max out on challenging my fear reflexes. These ten days in the Swiss Alps have been multiple simultaneous projects: learning a new approach to skiing, being in a foreign country, meeting and working with a team of internationals, learning how to use film equipment, using that equipment while skiing on actual mountains in actual conditions of steep slopes/fog/cold/snow/sun/fatigue….

The process of filming is quite tedious, especially since no one on the crew is professional. Remembering to charge (and bring) batteries, packing the camera bags, syncing the walkie-talkies, establishing meet-up locations and times, getting there, determining shot angles, setting up the equipment in constantly changing conditions, waiting waiting waiting while things get discussed, decided, moved, reconfigured, confirmed, before we can roll sound, roll cameras, slate in, call for action; finally someone gets a lesson, they move down the slope, and the whole operation commences again… And all of that is the second setup of the day, since we've already had an indoor class and filming session after breakfast! The evenings have been running late; dinner is (somewhat thankfully) a leisurely affair, taking twice as long as scheduled but mercifully delicious, followed by filmed review/conversation, potentially some Alexander work, stretching my aching legs, maybe a hot shower in there, did someone mention email???

I'll conclude by saying that today I repeatedly just lost it. Yesterday afternoon I was left unexpectedly alone on a slope with a camera backpack (about 10 pounds) and no radio, without a clear sense of who to meet where and when. It happens; communication is by nature insufficient and in stressed conditions such as these sometimes there are breakdowns. I did the best I could, getting myself back up to the top of the lift where I happened to run into another teammate. We left the camera in a locker and took a last run through the fog. It took me several attempts to grab the t-bar chairlift at the bottom of the slope — an indication of my waning energy and attention. Back at the top, I wanted to join some others in a final run, but my teammate's radio wasn't getting a clear signal and, my frustration spilling over into tears, I joined her in taking the gondola down to our starting point, then walking back to the hotel. I managed to cover up my upset with jovial dinner conversation facilitated by wine, but this morning I couldn't fake it: the combination of all these stresses had me SCARED, tired, irritable, and sore. All I wanted was for someone to cradle my head 🙁

I managed to admit to feeling wracked with fear — and receive enough reassurance to make it through the first filming of a lesson on the slopes, but found myself almost shaking with fatigue and distress by its conclusion. No objections were made when I excused myself to head back to the hotel after lunch, for some more tears and an attempt at rest. Really, I can reason out all the ways I am pushing myself, but in the end the body knows: no matter how beautiful the scenery, enough is enough.

 

Feb 122016
 

Day 2 of preparations for filming Ease on Skis, my mentor Erik Bendix's program incorporating Alexander Technique into ski training. Despite the gap of twenty years since I learned to ski in the foothills of Pennsylvania, I made my way reliably down the practice runs I took at Cataloochee Ski in western North Carolina before this trip. My first day (yesterday) on the slopes here in Hasliberg, Switzerland (a huge leap up!!) went well enough, but my boots were too big and my legs got sooo tired and sore from the length and difficulty of the runs.

Clicking back into my skis today, I felt a flush of awkwardness — wait, didn't I just warm up to this a day ago?? How again do I make these foot flippers work?? Our crew of five has been stopping after each chunk of a slope, for the team to check in and confer on the next section. Seeing my discomfort, Erik offered suggestions for the following stretch. Much as I tried, I could not think myself out of my body's reaction to fatigue and concern. I found myself doing exactly what Erik's method warns against: flinching back away from the slope — which not only caused me to stiffen but also sent my frictionless skis forward, accelerating my descent, without control. I could not fight the impulse to pull back and found my voice choking up and my eyes brimming with tears. Fear was alive in me: still jet-lagged, my legs ached so and I worried I would fall and be injured. Especially given all my training and work as an Alexander teacher, I felt embarrassed that I could not follow the instructions that I KNEW would improve my ease. How humbling, to be at the mercy of fear!

Then, something shifted — clarity arose about what it meant to follow my head down the mountain. Not by putting it forward from my torso, which had the rest of my body fighting to find balance, but by letting my heavy noggin nod forward at the top of my spine. Exactly as I tell my own students. And, voilà! I pitched myself forward over my ski tips, letting my face fall as I thought my whole self tall, and I heard Erik exclaim “Yes!!” behind me as I sailed down the next bit. Which seemed shockingly easier. Ohhhh… Unbelievable. It really is the simplest matter of letting go of your head 🙂

 

Feb 052016
 

So much of our enculturation revolves around the idea that success takes effort, that for anything to happen we have to DO something. No doubt, we like to apply ourselves to a task, to see direct results from our actions, to believe that our effort was indispensable — the critical element to the fulfillment of our wish.

BUT we overdo… we let this attitude get out of hand. It becomes a need to control and a belief that we must control, that we must do something for things to happen. Bring that attitude to the question of “posture” and it leads to all sorts of contortions. We tense, shorten, push, hold, and fix in the attempt to stand up straight, sit comfortably, hold a yoga pose… But those attempts add tension to a system that's already disorganized. What would happen if we explored not doing anything in these situations?

Healthy posture actually requires less work than we're used to thinking it does — because what it requires is a different kind of thinking. Every one of us, as an infant, was motivated to sit up, stand, walk — and our bodies organized themselves accordingly, free from any thoughts of how we “ought” to do it! The human body is magnificently structured for movement. Rather than coaching ourselves to engage certain muscles to stand or move well (strengthen your core! Lift your chest! Tighten your glutes!), it is more appropriate and productive to exert mental engagement, to focus on our conscious response, refrain from interfering with our balancing mechanisms, and trust to the intelligence of the body for the best organization to execute the task at hand.

A student of mine noticed significant changes in his yoga practice after an in-depth exploration of Alexandrian Inhibition. We'd played this game: After some time quieting oneself in semi-supine, think about moving a limb — but then don't. Actively consider the action, and refrain. Persist in this practice for 10-15 minutes, and notice the effects on the body. “Background programs” of tension become highlighted, and switch off. A natural expansion and buoyancy is evoked as the body organizes itself differently when it's given time and space to not do anything. By refraining from immediately responding to an internal (during the game) or external (during yoga class) command to move, my student found that his body reorganized in a way that was different, and better, than what he would have done on his own.

Jan 302016
 

Electing to unknowT.S. Eliot
“We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”

We communicate in nonverbal ways to a significantly greater extent than we do with words, by voice or by writing. Yet we often neglect the energetic messages we emanate, in the form of our regard for someone. Our expectations of their presumed response are based on our (by its very nature) severely limited experience of them.

No one exists in a vacuum. And no one IS a certain way…. For every defining characteristic of a person, someone somewhere at some time will experience the opposite in them – or the total absence of that seemingly ever-present “is-ness” about them.
Who among us does not change? Whose moods, preferences, abilities, predilections remain absolutely constant? We unwittingly limit ourselves and other people by believing we know them, believing we’ve encountered this person before. They “are” not who we accustom ourselves to believing/acting as if they Are.

What is the role that we play, in our experience of the world? Exactly what of another person exists outside of our experience of them? How can we experience anything about them that is outside of what we believe/perceive about them?

We forget that we create the people in our lives. The self we are, the self we bring to our encounters with others, creates the manner in which they occur for us. Who-we-are sets the tone for how other people show up. We don’t just perceive people, or describe them; in actuality we conceive them, we evoke select aspects of them. We are the container within which they appear.

This is good news. If no one is a static way, then change is always possible. Someone we experience as enemy or frustration can be re-made into friend or inspiration.

However: While the re-making of another happens within us, within our conception of them, we cannot change another by simply electing to believe something different about them, by changing our opinion of them.

What we are charged with is changing the only thing we can: The who-we-are that conceives, perceives, describes.
Who would we be, in a different experience of another?
How would we be, in being free to discover them as someone new?

We are – we can let ourselves be – the stranger in each encounter… We can discover ourselves newly in every familiar face.

Jan 292016
 

This response was spontaneously composed by a student who has had almost a dozen lessons.

Compare and contrast Alexander Technique with other “modalities” (?) – that last word is vague and also jargon. At any rate, to my understanding AT offers release, realignment, relief… In a manner not comparable to say yoga or/and massage. Rather than “putting” the body, or “pressing” upon the body for “correction” and “proper alignment,” Alexander Technique ALLOWS the body to ARRIVE through its own wisdom at where it needs to be for its proper function. AT is not so much a system of “correction” as it is a revelatory process – almost as if the body becomes “teacher” to the person who presumes “agency” (that is, the self who believes he or she is “in charge”).

— Eduardo Velásquez

Jun 142015
 

A recent NPR program reported on the work of “posture guru” Esther Gokhale. I received several emails alerting me to this article, and I’m thankful for the chance to clarify both differences between Alexander Technique and Esther’s method, and some misconceptions in her work.

While Esther has some valid observations about contrasts in postural comportment between indigenous or non-industrialized cultures and those living modern lifestyles, I see some serious flaws in her approach.

The lengthened spine Esther calls a J shape is what AT has been advocating for over 100 years.

1. Mimicry and effort versus freedom. Everything Esther recommends is something to do, a remedial activity of effort designed to physically mimic what indigenous people are naturally embodying with ease. While many of her suggestions appear to fix the typical slump and contraction patterns exhibited by Westerners, they are also another example of the Western mentality of believing there is something to do — something that requires effort, to “get it right.” But if you consider the examples she provides of indigenous people with great posture, they are not doing anything to have good posture. These people with open, wide shoulders are not rolling their shoulders back, as she recommends; they are not interfering with the natural, good design of shoulders to be open. Your average Westerner is, in fact, actively rolling their shoulders forward — and until that person learns to STOP doing that, rolling their shoulders back is simply an additional effort on top of the original tension pattern… which explains why most people find they cannot sustain their attempts to take on “good” postural habits. Without alleviating the original conditions of misuse, which is what the Alexander Technique teaches for the kind of sustainable results reported in the British Medical Journal, it’s a struggle to hold the new standard.

2. Making it all physical. Alexander’s insight into what he named The Use of the Self is the mental/emotional component to psychophysical coordination. Unlike us Westerners, these good examples Esther cites are not watching the clock, trying to impress, pressurizing themselves with deadlines or thoughts and attitudes of “having to” get this done, make this happen, get it right… The Alexander Technique works specifically at the juncture of thought and action, body and mind, recognizing that it’s not possible to change one without changing without the other. The Technique supports investigation into, and choice at the deepest level of, our preconceived beliefs and reactions to everything that happens in life. That’s why the Technique is revered by performing artists and especially actors, who need freedom of expression rather than stereotyped responses. The Alexander Technique offers a way to deal effectively with anxiety, fear, and pain, and conditions where good posture is not available – such as for actors playing emotionally and physically contorted characters.

3. Quick fix versus open-ended inquiry. While some consider it a good thing that Esther’s method claims to fix the problems of poor posture, from an Alexander perspective this seems presumptuous: can we really, so quickly, presume to know what’s going on with someone’s “poor posture” — and how to fix it? The Alexander Technique is about removing interference, of getting out of the way so that the intelligence of the body can resolve issues, rather than imposing a predetermined solution to a situation. The Technique looks for what there is to STOP doing — narrowing the shoulders, stiffening the neck, tucking the tail, unbalancing the head, over/under focusing the eyes, exaggerating lift, constraining the breath, tightening / stiffening / pressurizing / depressing… Once we STOP doing all these habits of tension, we liberate the natural buoyancy of the human design and allow it to be upright and mobile according to its design.

4. Primal Posture versus Conscious Awareness. Yes, making changes in your posture affects your attitude. But taking on aspects of “primal posture” falls shy of the (typical) kind of insight that an Alexander student of mind recently reported, where making new choices about how she responded to her own internal pressure freed her up to realize that she didn’t have to worry herself about her son’s new business venture. Don’t you think that relaxed her shoulders more than a roll-back? And was good for him, too??

In sum: if you are misusing yourself in typical Western ways, Esther’s method will show you better patterns of posture and movement, as something you can do. But if you want to challenge and change your thinking, question your preconceptions, engage in a lifelong investigation into the ways we obstruct — and can consciously liberate and embody — our freedom to be present in the moment, call your local Alexander teacher.