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?

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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.

 

 

May 282015
 

Learning to inhibit our reactions means that sometimes we actually feel an emotion we previously would have suppressed (or attempted to suppress). Avoiding the full experience of a powerful emotion could seem a reasonable response, and certainly there are times (like in childhood, or cases of severe trauma) where the mind and/or body are not equipped to process events as they transpire. Alexander argued that a person who was mal-coordinated would have been more prone to perceive events as disruptive, and be further unbalanced by them, whereas someone with better coordination would be less likely to perceive events as disruptive, and more able to re-calibrate to handle disturbances. Think of surfing: the ocean is constantly moving, but a surfer who is sure-footed on her board is able to navigate ebbs and swells without losing her balance — and can even maximize her response to such changes, such that she can harness the power of the waves and go for a ride!

If we have a history of avoiding strong emotions (and most of us do, whether it's anger or shame or joy) it can be an exercise in suffering to allow those sensations to be acknowledged in our awareness and to pass through the body. We tell ourselves some version of “I can't handle this,” in the belief that we're successfully avoiding feeling the feeling. But this attempt to diminish or stifle the expression of an emotion just saves it up for later — and in fact locks it into our nervous system, so that the reaction it activated persists at a low level, unresolved and ready to fire up again at the next hint of danger. By contrast, allowing ourselves to feel what we're feeling can be crazy uncomfortable in the moment, but allows for resolution… And can turn out to be not that bad after all!

Here's what happened to me: I took a risk expressing interest in spending time with someone; their response indicated that my interest was not reciprocated. Next thing I knew, I found myself hurrying to gather my things (and get outta there!). I caught the slight trembling in my upper torso and arms as I fidgeted with my jacket, and in the moment, I simply let that go… I dropped my hands to my sides, directed my attention to feeling my feet on the floor, and just stood there feeling my nervousness. “I'm embarrassed,” I thought, and just let that be so. I decided I didn't have to do anything about it. I let myself feel the flush of strong emotion, and just hung in there with it. They kept talking, I stood and listened, and soon enough the intensity of the feeling passed. It remained true that I felt somewhat exposed, but I didn't compound the damage by pressuring myself to hide or act. It's a source of pride, and makes me feel mature, to know that I can withstand some uncomfortable emotions — and live to tell the tale!

 

May 162015
 

Some positions within the Dart sequence demonstrated by Judith Muir

I use the Dart Procedures in lessons and classes to help students explore Alexander Technique principles via movement through a variety of positions. Working on myself in this manner has yielded tremendous results in changes to my posture and strength, and are an unending source of revelation about spirals in the body — and the ways we interfere with our natural design.

In anticipation of teaching a 6-week class on the Dart Procedures, I’m quoting *all the text below* from Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the Missing Link, by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and Luc Vanier, teachers of dance as well as AT. You can learn more about their work at www.dancealexandertechnique.com. Click here for a video.

Who was Dart?

Dr. Raymond Dart

Raymond Arthur Dart (1893-1988) was an Australian anthropologist, neuroanatomist, doctor, and educator best known for discovering and naming the Australopithecus africanus, known as the Taung Child. In his book, Adventures with the Missing Link, Dart postulated his discovery to be a missing link between apes and humans because it had features of both, including evidence of upright posture and dental characteristics of a human, along with a small brain and facial attributes of an ape. This discovery, although controversial in the beginning, was eventually given the recognition it deserved. Dart’s work led to significant insights into human evolution, and he is widely recognized now for his major contributions to science and human knowledge.

The Dart sequence

Dart’s experiences with the Alexander Technique began when he sought lessons for his infant son, Galen, who was born premature and suffered from cyanotic attacks, leaving him brain-injured and spastic. Irene Tasker, assistant to F.M. Alexander, worked with Galen for two years, bringing about significant changes to his bite and posture (Murray 2006). Dart was profoundly influenced by Alexander through lessons with Tasker and continued practicing and exploring the technique on his own. Within four years of being introduced to the techinque, Dart had written several papers about what he had learned, including “The Postural Aspect of Malocclusion” in 1946, and “The Attainment of Poise” in 1947. In 1949, Dart had a single lesson with F.M. Alexander himself.

How the Dart Procedures Came About

Joan and Alexander Murray met Raymond Dart in 1967 after twelve years of studying the Alexander Technique. The path that led the Murrays to Dart began when Alex Murray and his Alexander teacher, Walter Carrington, were discussing the role of the jaw in the balance of the head. Carrington recommended that Murray read Dart’s paper, “The Postural Aspect of Malocclusion.” Murray was captivated by the article: it so intrigued him that he copied it out by hand (Dart 1996, xi). In the paper, Dart described a sequence of evolutionary stages, or what he called “the pronograde and ventigrade phases of postural evolution,” which he suggested were useful for the exploration of “posture and poise” and to show the relationship between posture and malocclusion of the jaw (Dart 1996, 106). Alex was fascinated with the links between the Alexander Technique and the postiions described by Dart, and he patiently worked through these postiions on his own, exploring Dart’s writing by physically doing the movements as they were written. Joan and Alex worked together, putting the positions into a sequence and looking to see how the Alexander principles could help in bringing about the best use while doing the movments. This experience gave them new insights into human movement that were completely in line with what they had understood of Alexander’s work.

Developmental Movement: Toward Understanding Alexander’s Principles

Spirals in movement

The Dart Procedures contain a series of positions that, when linked, become a movement sequence that retraces the path of developmental and evolutionary patterns. It is not the movement sequence itself that is important, but the principles implied in each movement segment that provides the vehicle for experimentation. Learning the movements or positions is only the beginning of the journey toward learning about one’s movement patterns. “Working with these procedures will not teach one the Alexander Technique, but patient and intelligent investigation by one with no Alexander experience may still lead to a certain enlightenment by revealing inefficient patterns of movement and helping to discard them. Undertaken with the guidance of a skilled Alexander teacher, they are a constant source of insight and a point of reference in one’s patterns of behavior. One can continually return to these as to Alexander’s ‘positions of mechanical advantage’ in which category they certainly belong” (Murray 1988, 69).

Works cited

Dart, Raymond A. 1996. Skill and Poise. London: STAT.

Murray, Alexander. 1988. “The Dart Procedures.” Direction 1, no. 3: 68-71

———. 2006. “Raymond A. Dart and F.M. Alexander.” AmSAT News 71 (Summer 2006): 16-18.

Nettl-Fiol, Rebecca and Luc Vanier. 2011. Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the missing link. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 252015
 

I’ve heard people with “forward head posture” tell me they’ve tried to remedy this issue by sleeping on their back without a pillow. This is a BAD IDEA. The simple reason (aside from the new pain they report) is that years of “forward head posture” compresses the cervical spine in an exaggerated curve; going without a pillow doesn’t un-do this compression, and leaving this mal-positioned head without support only strains the numerous delicate muscles of the throat (and causes a host of other strains).

The phrase “forward head posture” is commonly used to describe a postural imbalance where the head is carried forward in relation to the torso. What the Alexander Technique distinguishes is that, in fact, the head is tipped BACKWARDS in relation to its balance point on the spine; it may be forward from where it “ought” to be, but in order for this poor soul to see straight ahead, s/he has actually tipped the head backwards to compensate for a PULL DOWN in the cervical spine – and, in fact, a pull down in the entire torso (see how the tail is tucked and the guts are squished?).

Sternocleidomastoid in red

I can appreciate the intention behind typical recommendations like these: “strengthen weak neck muscles” with chin tucks, “open the chest” with shoulder blade squeezes, and “think of a string pulling your neck into length.”

But squeezing the shoulder blades together doesn’t open a narrowed chest, it squeezes back muscles. Tucking the chin (from this position) pressurizes the throat and cervical spine. Stretching the back of the neck doesn’t release the downward pull of the very strong sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is shortened after a lifetime of sitting (in poorly designed chairs/cars/seating of all kinds), feeling pressured to “get things done”, and an appalling lack of healthy movement.

Many delicate connections!

The relationship between head, neck, torso, and arms is d-e-l-i-c-a-t-e. Years of misuse and shortened muscles cannot be undone by going without a pillow or forcefully tucking your chin; that just causes more pain. It IS possible to change “forward head posture”, but it takes a comprehensive approach to learn how to STOP DOING all the bad habits that created this mess.

Head is supported in Constructive Rest

Head is supported in Constructive Rest

The classic Constructive Rest practice supports the head and allows a lengthening in the entire torso. Releasing tension across the chest by learning a new way to move the arms, freeing up the hip joints so the legs and pelvis can provide support and stability, activating the organs to support the length of the spine and width of the torso, clarifying an understanding (and experience) of how the body is designed to move and balance… These are the tactics I’ve employed to alter my own postural habits, but first and foremost they came from a willingness to question my mental and emotional attitudes that created pressure and interfered with the natural buoyancy and support structure of my body.

In the collage below, you see me at age 25 (blacksmithing and playing guitar), with noticeable head-forward posture, including hunched shoulders. If you draw a line along the arc of my neck through my head, you’ll see that the curve angles forward and DOWN. On the bottom right of the collage, you’ll see me at 41 — looking down, but the arc of my neck is forward and UP, and my shoulders are no longer hunched up.

 

 

Mar 242015
 

For the past few years I've been grappling with some health issues. While I'm making significant progress, some of my symptoms still reoccur — bouts of intense abdominal pain that include leg spasms, or all-over joint/muscle pain that feels as if every cell of my body is constricted. Of course these episodes usually happen in the middle of the night, when I'm mildly delirious. In times like this, the Alexander Technique has been an immeasurable blessing.

Grasping...

Last night was one of the all-over aching ones… likely a food reaction (I've experienced similar consequences when I eat nightshade vegetables). After getting out of bed around 2am to move around, I realized this was a reaction I would just have to let pass through. So, lying in bed in a dull constriction of pain and sleepy fog, I set to Directing.

“Gentle wishes” are how my trainer describes Directing. It's a process of expressing an intent, without making any effort to DO anything about it. You cannot force this kind of outcome, you can only invite it — and wait.

Gentle touch

So with kindness, I began to wish a softening upon my cells — a sort of opening to the pain. Opening to the pain itself, or opening in response to the pain? I can't say. I just went about visiting all my limbs, digits, skin, torso, face, head, neck with the lightest of mental touches, wishing for softness.

I know that I drifted back off to sleep, and also awoke finally with a reassuring sense of delicacy. Not of fragility, but an experience of myself and of all the objects I'm now touching with lightness. I don't have to grab a cup I'm taking from the cupboard; I can lay my fingers sweetly on its surface and expend the least amount of energy to lift and move it. I can hold the spoon lightly as I stir my breakfast. It takes hardly any weight at all to slice through butter, to pull a sweater over my arms. I like meeting my world in this way… Thank you, Alexander Technique — AND pain.

 

Mar 122015
 

In this week’s class at NYS3, we considered these questions:

What is habit? What are the qualities of habit? How do we recognize when habit is operating? How can we respond to habit? What’s possible when we assert CHOICE in the face of habit?

What is meant by “direction”? How do we engage (with) the directions specified by F.M. Alexander?

What’s in-between a) recognizing habit, and c) directing ourselves?

The phrase “one after the other and all together” indicates the interrelatedness of the phases involved in activating choice.

imageWe start by recognizing habit (or even just presuming it’s operating, since likely it is!).

Habit is characterized not only by a sense of the familiar, but by “checking out” or an absence of presence, a sense that we “already know” and therefore don’t need to pay attention or be curious; we’re running on autopilot. Once we recognize that habit is operating, we can discontinue giving consent to the continuation of habit (whether it be a mental attitude or a postural coordination or muscular tightening) — by saying “no”, or pausing, or believing that it’s possible to say no to habit. That’s taking a foot off the accelerator, so that there’s room to un-do the patterns associated with habit.

Un-doing is a sort of re-routing of energy, calling it back from unnecessary places and intending for it to go other places. These intentions or “gentle wishes” are what we mean by Directing. Trying to “do” anything, like re-position parts or even tell the psychophysical system what it ought to do, is all just more of the same: Habit, thinking we already know, masquerading as “getting it right.”

Effective Directing is a matter of Allowing. We’ve managed to identify reliable trends in that allowing — when we say “no” to stiffening the neck, the head releases forward-and-up; when the torso isn’t shortened and narrowed, it lengthens and widens; when the hips are not held, the knees go forward-and-away. But we can’t receive these benefits by trying to do anything about them. Directing is more like rolling out the welcome mat than it is strong-arming your guests through the door :)

Will the circuitous nature of Awareness-Inhibition-Direction create conditions for ongoing improvement or ongoing deterioration? The desirable result will depend on how we make our choices, with an attitude of allowing, with clarity in our body’s anatomy, and with the layering of experiences that give us a glimpse of a new way of working. The more we activate good Direction by being aware and inhibiting, the more quickly we’re aware (before habit gets too far gone), the less mess there is to un-do, and the closer we become to realizing our true potential.

Jan 062015
 

Everyday slouchToday, I heard someone comment sadly that she’s been “trying to fix” her posture for ten years now; her back hurts all the time, and yet she “can’t seem to remember” to sit/stand/whatever how she “should”. I realize now — after fifteen years of study, three intense years of training to teach, and the deepening yield of my ongoing work — that applying inhibition and direction, what in the Alexander Technique we call “working on oneself,” isn’t the kind of thing you “remember” to do. The true application of this work is really in itself the result of a decision — but for me, it wasn’t so much a decision I made: IT made ME. I wanted to say to this young person, there just comes a moment (sometimes it drags out, but in hindsight you can see the shift), there comes a moment when you’re just done, or ready, or whatever it is for you, for this work to be something that takes you on, that becomes you. Then it simply is who you are. It’s never necessary to “remember” who you are; the world is showing you, always, and now there’s an awareness of it, a sense of Self that stands outside the self you see. You know there’s a You that’s choosing what’s so right now, and you can choose again.

Once you’ve made this first choice, the choice to recognize that choice is possible, the more power Choice-Making has, the more it demands its own activation. I want to admit: I’ve often chosen to abdicate my power of choice. That might not be apparent from the outside, but to me it seems that only very recently am I daring to touch on the true power of choosing — choosing to stop; deeply and and truly STOP. I catch myself in the moment of compulsion, of habit, and though it seems like the worst idea ever, (sometimes) I simply stop, and wait, and watch. Let me be clear: stopping like this is unutterably terrifying. The sensaSpeeding traintion is one of turning to face a speeding train that’s hot on my heels: A grisly death seems unavoidable. Yet asserting my intention to stop (and continuing to assert it! Moment by moment!) seems to sweep me right on top of the train, and if I keep my focus on being with the train, rather than running from it, its momentum slows and the panic dissipates.

I never knew how much stillness was possible, how much freedom. I know I’ve only caught a glimpse of it. Stopping like this isn’t something I have to remember to do; I couldn’t now forget how, not for anything. That does not in any way make stopping less painstaking, Still pondonly inevitable. Although it takes all my courage to stop, the habit of complacency just seems less tenable. Now Awareness is chasing me down, to where I feel a sense of choicelessness, that I MUST choose. The choices are making me. I see myself on an unyielding trajectory of awareness that is eased and pleased by my active participation. I’m going there anyway, to the Deep Quiet Self, but oh how much fullness is allowed when I surrender to it now!!

Apr 152014
 

I've been taking vision lessons with a Bates Method practitioner since last September. Having worn glasses for 32 years, “elation” describes what I feel as flashes of clear vision come more and more frequently. While I certainly believed in theory that my eyesight could improve, my past solo attempts yielded no results. Now that I've been working with a teacher I can see why: Not wearing glasses is not the same as learning how to SEE without them. However much I wanted to see clearly, thought about it, talked about it, proselytized the sense of it, I hadn't actually stepped into the reality of actions that would bring about my desired result until I started taking vision lessons.

Once I started having flashes of clearer vision, it was easier to notice the conditions under which I reach for my glasses: being in a hurry, feeling out of place, concerned, annoyed or frustrated, or wanting to be efficient and “get things done.” Lucky for me, my Bates Method teacher is also my Alexander Technique student, and like all good students he teaches me about what I'm teaching him! The lure of old habits — of thought and mood, as much as habits of movement — is powerful. I know the value of stopping to pause, consider, assess, and choose a new response, but hearing it reflected back to me is an incredible gift.

I've made giant strides in negotiating my vision habits. But a particularly challenging one has been noticing how comfortable I am with things being fuzzy.

I don't like this fuzziness, but I'm used to it. I see this pattern in my students, as I recall my own process of studying Alexander Technique. We get used to being uncomfortable. Ornery, encumbered, pressured, tense — these states feel normal, customary. It's how we know ourselves. To let go of these familiar ways of being requires letting go of fundamental ways we self-identify. In short, to give up the perceived validity and necessity of being in pain, being constrained, being limited requires that we give up who we know ourselves to be.

What does it take to be willing to be someone, some way other than what/who we already know and (despite our wishful thinking, or perhaps because of it) expect ourselves to continue to be?

For some it is the unbearability of the status quo; pain is a powerful motivator for change… but it's not the level of pain but one's unwillingness to continue tolerating it that initiates change. Analagous to boiled frogs,* people can accustom themselves to inordinate amounts of discomfort.

There's no question that this stage is an uncomfortable one. Or maybe it's only uncomfortable when I notice how it conflicts with my practiced patterns of self-belief. If I follow Sherlock Holmes' admonition, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”, then the remedy is in disbelief! When I stop perpetuating my old beliefs, I find evidence for new ones.

To shift my experience of seeing clearly, I've had to practice anticipating differently, thinking of myself as someone who CAN and DOES see well without glasses. This inspired me to go back to ground zero, spending more time with the most basic vision practices. Deliberately chosen beliefs and inspired action lead to desirable results, and I can happily report that my progress is clear and satisfying!


*A frog placed in a pot of tepid water will continually adjust its body temperature if the pot is slowly heated to a boil – boiling the frog in the process.

 

Mar 172014
 

No, I'm not talking here about prejudice. One of the mixed blessings of studying the Alexander Technique is that you lose your tolerance for moods and behaviors that don't serve you. Yesterday a student of mine reported that she was full of ease after doing the Constructive Rest practice, when her husband called her over to review some photos on his laptop. As soon as she'd spent a minute craning over his shoulder to see the screen, her shoulder hurt worse than ever. I explained that once we open up stuck places, going back to the old patterns of tension becomes intolerable. Muscles that have finally come even the least little bit free from old tensions are loathe to return — and will let you know! A once-comfortable sofa becomes a nighmare of collapse. Curling up with a book is muddying and unpleasant. Pressurizing (stressing) oneself becomes abhorrent. We can no longer abide our old ways of being, of thinking, of responding.

Of course, we always retain the right to engage in those old habits of thought and deed. But no longer can we claim ignorance of the effects, or our complicity. All the ways we've rationalized or ignored our mistreatment of ourselves, in fact our prejudices against life, just don't hold water.

It may not seem fun to lose the illusion of those old comforts… Freedom is not for the faint of heart.

If we knew that undertaking this work would transform us in ways unimaginable, if we knew in advance that we would lose the self we think of as “me”, who would begin?? The desperate, the enlightened? Pain is a powerful motivator, but there are unseen forces at work too.

My guiding philosphy is that Expansion is the nature of the Universe. We can fight it, a little or a lot, but always it will have its way with us. Surfing is an apt anology here: The ocean is doing its thing, and we can despair at being tossed about, or learn to navigate its powerful ebbs and flows with respect, skill, enjoyment. Learning to go with that expansion — even, or especially, when it unmoors us from the carefully crafted Self we call home — is the game that opens the door for recognizing the limitlessness within.

Truth hath no confines.

 

Triumph of the Human Spirit

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Feb 192014
 

While walking to the class I teach at the “College for Seniors” I encountered one of my students who has kyphosis – he is dramatically hunched forward in his thoracic spine, so that his head is carried in front of his chest. He nevertheless remains quite physically active, but has obvious concerns about the effect of his posture on health and vitality.

Although the class is titled “Poise, Posture, Presence” I’ve emphasized repeatedly that it is not my aim to tell students a “right” way to do anything – sit, stand, walk, climb stairs. Instead they’ve been observing themselves and each other, questioning their habitual approaches to ordinary activity (in attitude as well as muscular “readiness”), and investigating how to allow better balance and psycho-physical organization to coordinate movement.

This student shared a success that, to me, epitomizes the power of Alexander Technique to effect subtle yet profound change, the gem of which is self-determination.

He described: “Every day I reach up to a shelf to retrieve about ten different prescriptions. I open the bottles, take out a pill, screw the cap back on, and replace each bottle on the shelf. Invariably I knock one off the shelf or drop a cap or spill a bottle’s contents and have to clean it up, which takes extra time and energy. But I’ve started pausing for just a moment before I pick up each bottle from the shelf, and before putting each lid back on. I’ve been inhibiting a less-coordinated movement so I have time to think about what I’m doing. And in the last week I’ve not dropped a single bottle!”

When it comes to “improving performance”, the Alexander Technique doesn’t prioritize fine art or executive presentations or Olympian athletics over small, mundane actions like keeping hands steady enough to re-cap a pill bottle. Perhaps more than any grand act, these tiny moments of accomplishment accumulate to formalize our sense of self, how we know ourselves – capable of awareness and directed intent for whatever we wish to achieve in life.

 

Superattunement to What’s Going On

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Feb 122014
 


I just read an astonishing article about a 94-year-old woman athlete — who didn’t take up track and field until she was 77. Attempts to define what’s special about her that could help others retain and improve their fitness reveal it’s not diet or genes that keep her from injury; it’s interoception, a practiced attunement to the body that allows her to keep improving as she gets older!
This is what we’re practicing in Constructive Rest: Taking time to pause, wait, observe, tune in. See what author Bruce Grierson says in What Makes Olga Run (emphasis mine):

Many masters athletes pop anti-inflammatories like candy. Olga doesn’t. Anti-inflammatories mask pain so that athletes feel they can then push on, often into the damage zone. But if you’re alive to the first stirrings that there’s a problem—it may be a problem of technique, or a muscle imbalance, or just overuse—you can step away before you start shaving away the cartilage, creating more inflammation, compounding the problem, and eventually hobbling home on your new titanium knee (or rolling home with your new titanium hip). By stepping away and resting, she leaves the repair work to nature, which has had a few million years to get it right. “The body,” she says frequently, “is built to heal itself.”

When something starts to feel a bit off, Olga stops doing it. When she senses she’s being overtaxed, she withdraws from the tipping-point event. She doesn’t owe anybody anything— not some sponsor, not meet organizers, not fans. The buck stops with her. Her position reminds me of that of Kenyan Patrick Makau Musyoki, the world-record holder in the marathon (2:03:38). Like Olga, Makau is coachless. That way, “you can listen to your own body and take time to recover after training,” he told a reporter recently. “Sometimes a coach pushes too much.”

There is a name for this faculty of superattunement for what’s going on inside your body. It’s called interoception. To be interoceptive is like being introspective, but to sensations rather than emotions or thoughts.

Receptors throughout the body are continuously recording information. They track changes in cardiac output, hormonal and metabolic activity, even immune-system activation—the level to which we are “run-down.” There are receptors scattered all through the fascia—the network of connective tissue that wraps every organ and every muscle and connects to every ligament—and they are hair-trigger transmitters of “tensional strain” anywhere in the body.

All this information goes into the brain. And here differences between people emerge. Some of us are better than others at picking up those faint signals and dredging them into consciousness.

There are signs that Olga is adept at this. She says she can feel a cold coming on, and when she does she takes a baby aspirin to “get out in front of it.” She’s conscious of what to eat, and how much, and when. She has a great line of communication with her gut.

Killer attunement to your body’s signals is a fine thing to have if you’re an athlete—and not just because you can stop before you cause an injury. Studies have found that it actually boosts performance. Elite marathoners pay close attention to their internal landscape—breathing, heart rate, cadence, how the muscles feel—while nonelite marathoners do just the opposite: they try to distract themselves from the pain. Some evidence suggests that tuning in, rather than dropping out, could have other benefits, including healthy longevity.

Source: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/seeking-the-keys-to-longevity-in-what-makes-olga-run

 

Meeting Ourselves

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Oct 142013
 

TouchI just attended a workshop with Tommy Thompson, an Alexander Technique teacher from Cambridge, Massachusetts. The focus of the day was on Touch, or more accurately on Contact — the contact we make both with our physical selves and otherwise…. What is the contact we make, with ourselves and others? How aware can we be of the Self we bring to any and every encounter? In what ways do we touch, and allow ourselves to be touched?

We explored several ways of bringing awareness to ourselves as we interacted with a partner. Tommy reframes the Alexander principle of “Inhibition” as “Withholding Definition.” First we looked at someone and identified the ways we define them: their looks, manner, characteristics, the conclusions we make based on all that. Then we looked again, refraining from labeling anything we saw. What is it like to remain open, questioning, undefined in one’s observation of another? Can we find ourselves as open as the way we perceive them? Can we refrain from defining ourselves even as we meet them?

I found that the practice of withholding definition creating a profound level of connection, of intimacy, with someone I’d just met. My experience of myself was deeply touching, and the quality of the Alexander work we then exchanged was amazingly clear and uplifting.

I am looking forward to sharing this new level of awareness with my students!

The Stories We Tell

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Jan 192013
 

I’ve been interested lately in how I use my voice — listening to both the words that come out of my mouth, and the quality of what I hear. Already there are layers to what I’m describing. By “quality” I mean both the resonance of the sound of my voice (is it full or constricted? lively or dull?), the way you would describe the tone of a musical instrument; and also the value of the words I am choosing (are they words of upliftment or criticism, hopefulness or pessimism?). I also notice how this quality seems to indicate, or maybe create, a dynamic with my listener. Behind my talking self, I’ve found myself noticing occasions when I seem to be pulling my voice away from the person, rather than giving it to them. This occurs for me as a sort of clamping down in my vocal cords and is mirrored in what I’m saying or with the “done/sure”-ness of the content. It seems to me that I more often notice a substandard quality of my voice when I am already not feeling happy with what I’m saying or how I’m saying it — as if there are multiple levels on which I register “my” agreement with what’s coming out. That “my” is of a higher level of awareness, the Me that is aimed toward appreciation, expansion, joy.

So what I noticed the other night was both a feeling in my throat, like the beginning of a sore throat (oh no, I thought I was over this!), as well as a raspy quality that seemed a direct result of the story I was telling. I was describing to a friend a very distressing situation at my day job, one I’ve both voiced and thought A LOT about lately. I woke the next morning feeling full-on sick.

I’m a believer in the energetic source of events, not merely physical; so while I set to making from-scratch chicken soup with homemade fermented pickles, sprayed my throat with Thieves (antimicrobial) essential oil, and took a hot bath and a big nap after getting home from work, I also employed essential oils to clear negative energy (White Angelica, Lavender, Myrrh) and set an intention for my bath of forgiving and releasing my anger.

Later in the evening I noticed how much better I felt. And this morning I feel REALLY GOOD. In my bath I explored what I’d RATHER be putting my attention on than this distress, and was deliberate about focusing there as often as possible. As I fell asleep I felt cradled by my – and the Universe’s – good intentions, and sure in the prospect of actualizing the future I am excited about. The trend to dwell on the indignation and righteousness I’ve been practicing is still there, but I keep reminding myself of what I’d rather think about. This bit of improvement makes it more possible for me to notice where else in my body those harsh thoughts land — how my back stiffens and my breath shortens when I think like that. But I have a choice now: I know (oh boy do I know!) that I don’t feel good thinking about that situation, and I can in fact direct my attention to what feels better. I’m making that deliberate choice. I’m telling a new story now, one that serves me better and sounds a whole lot more fun!