Michele Drivon

Mar 032018
 

“I feel hunched over, like a monkey!” is a common response to an Alexander teacher’s guidance into an ACTUAL upright stance. In the picture on the left, this student’s back and pelvis have been guided to provide support for her neck and head — but she feels “tipped over”. When asked to stand in her usual way (on the right), she reverts to LEANING BACKWARD, pushing her hips and abdomen forward, which puts enormous pressure on her low back and vital organs.

We become accustomed to our habitual ways of standing, of moving, of living in the world. When guided or invited into something new and different, it “feels weird” — which is why Alexander advised against using “feelings” as a gauge. Instead, I tell students to gauge any change by the effect it has on the breath:  Where can you breathe easier, in the weird place or in your usual stance? There’s no better measure of life force, and it always benefits from better overall coordination and relationship with gravity.

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Feb 242018
 

I want to be lazy — it’s Saturday! But there are dishes in the sink…. and in a flash I realize that to be lazy now creates more work for me, later, in every subsequent moment that I look at the dishes, recognize that I still haven’t washed them, I can’t get

started on the next cooking project, I’ll have to get to it eventually anyway, ugh… all of which leaves me feeling sh***y about myself. No, I don’t want that! Instead I wash up, I feel inspired, and now my kitchen is clean and ready. Yay!

We are wired for energy conservation, that’s a function of survival. True wisdom is recognizing what work is worth doing now, to save energy later. Being lazy seems like less work, but only on the front end.

This conclusion just as true in postural awareness. Last night I went out to watch a 2-hour performance, and it took real work to manage upright poise in a chair that didn’t fit me. But that work was worth it, because I don’t hurt today!

How frequently do we opt for collapse, thinking it’s easier than staying upright? What do we pay for that, down the line?

Thankfully, we can learn the right kind of work to do, and see the payoffs — sooner than later! Paying attention to how you organize yourself as you’re moving, sitting or standing, frees up the energy it costs when you hunch, slump, or stiffen. That investment in awareness pays it forward your whole life.

Six lessons can make all the difference: The British Medical Journal reported an almost 50% reduction in number of days with back pain — a full year after intervention!  The results last because Alexander Technique doesn’t just soothe your aching muscles in the crisis, it actually teaches you how to take care of yourself. That’s work worth doing!

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Jan 182018
 

A current student generously shared his experience of using Alexander Technique to minimize the suffering of having a pile of dirty dishes!

Standing at the Sink

On the counter sat a long line of dirty dishes. “Time to get started!” I said to myself, leaned over the sink and started scrubbing away. As I continued, the stack of plates, glasses, pots and pans was slowly shrinking — but I could feel tension in my shoulders, my neck and into my lower back. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood. I thought for a moment about what I could do to change the situation.

The answer to my discomfort was waiting for me. I stepped back, took a deep breath and remembered the Alexander Technique principles that I had been ignoring. I adjusted my body so my heels and ankles were working together at the base and then thought how they would  work in relationship with my knees. I continued to adjust my body until I was at the top of my head. I even incorporated a soft gaze.

It look less than a minute but I could tell that this was going to work. Almost immediately I started feeling physical relief. As an additional bonus it started to change my attitude. The pile of dishes didn’t look so daunting and I proceeded to finish my task.

The next time I was standing at the sink, I found myself hunched over in my old dishwashing posture. The same tense feelings started to emerge. Fortunately, this time I thought about Alexander Technique much earlier and adjusted my body (and attitude). In the weeks since then, I keep asking myself “where can I use this technique?” and realized I could feel better while cooking, making coffee or doing anything else in the house. It’s a game and it has worked for me. I have to keep reminding myself, but that’s okay. I know that with practice and time it will become a natural part of the way I live.

 

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Dec 302017
 

I didn’t wait for January 1; I decided to use the week preceding to ramp up to my 2018 resolutions. I figured, if I work out the kinks in advance, I’ll be ready with a program that I can keep up! So I’ve been setting an alarm for much earlier than I *want* to wake, to do some gentle movement and meditation followed by writing. My motivation is to take consistent small actions that I don’t “feel like” doing, as a way to build resolve, stare down demons, and generate some flow.

I’ve been inspired by a mix of podcasts and books. Two interviews by Marie Forleo of Tim Ferriss and Todd Herman, both giants in the realm of inspiring and creating positive change, caused me to “script setbacks”—to anticipate my resistance and identify an evacuation route for when the whining “idohnwanna” strikes; and to look squarely at my (imagined) worst case scenarios so that I can take meaningful action to prevent or remedy whatever I fear might go wrong. The book Small Teaching has given me permission to focus on solidifying simple but fundamental practices, like keeping to a daily routine and writing small bits consistently. Finally, I’m rewriting limiting beliefs through the exercises in Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass at Making Money.

These authors and the actions they’ve inspired in me all speak to the necessity of courage, because making Conscious Choices requires choosing to be uncomfortable. We innately conflate the feeling of familiar with “normal”, so whenever we attempt to initiate a new habit, our “feeling” will tell us that it’s “wrong.” The answer, the foundation of courage, is to not rely on feeling, to not reference the standard of the past when determining the actions of today or the possibilities of tomorrow… to refrain from looking in yesterday’s garbage for today’s dinner. The answer is to script a response to the feeling of reluctance and resistance: “Yes this feels wrong, I was expecting it to feel wrong. Thank you Feeling, you’re completely right that this isn’t what I’m used to, so thank you for proving my point that this step is different. Lucky you, you’re off the clock today—today’s response is governed by Commitment, not by Feeling. I said I’m gonna do this, especially because I don’t feel like it, and so here I go. One small step at a time.”

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Dec 262017
 

On the days when I don’t wake up feeling freshly sprung, vital and limber, ready to meet the world with both barrels blazing—but instead feel a bit achy, slow, stiff, or pressured, these are the mornings when Alexander Technique helps me most. Fatigue and pain are ideal reminders that I ought to use those handy tools and practices that help me find more ease. Because in these moments of discomfort I can’t press on, I have to give myself time to pause, receive support from the floor, be conscientious in the way I put the clean dishes away. And man, it feels so much better! Really, the overriding question is, why don’t I treat myself this gently more often, before it hurts ?! The improvement in my physical and mental experience is immediate. It recognize that I am demonstrating to me that I am worthy of being taken care of, and that I have within me all that I need to lighten my load, unburden my shoulders, unstiffen my back, ungrip my legs. I can rest my gaze on any surface and feel the relief of actually drinking it in: I see the texture of the food, the color of the coffee, the curve of the cup. I remember how much I love my kitchen when I give myself time to see it afresh. All these choices feed my heart. They fill me up, they soften me—and the world softens in turn.

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Jun 282017
 

My teaching is deepening, as I incorporate (make in my corpus) all my recent studies to perceive/receive a student’s embodiment. It’s like learning to distinguish more of the “voices” of instruments in an orchestra: it gives me a richer appreciation of how they interact, complement (or argue with) and rely upon each other.

As I’ve been learning more about the body’s organs, glands, fluids, embryological and anthropological development, I can call upon their various intelligences. Whereas I used to work from the musculoskeletal system, moving limbs around and “setting things straight”, my work now is more like entering a room of foreign diplomats and humbly greeting each one.  “Hello liver, well-met heart. How are things in your country? What’s going well? How are relations with your neighbors? Where do you need support?” When I pay homage to the power and beauty inherent in all the elements of the human being’s design, I gain allies of incomparable merit. Together we co-create new possibilities for ease, connection, enjoyment.

I just finished a 7-day training in patterns of movement, beginning with simple vibration all the way to upright walking. It’s given me a new range of conception and action, empowering me to “get back to basics” so that imbalances have a chance to self-correct.

The biggest imbalance is our separation from the Earth: we are constantly affected by it, we walk all over it as we argue with its gravitational field — and there is so much to be gained by surrendering to its support. Earth never leaves us, and is the foundation for our ability to reach, run, fly. Reviving awareness of its unwavering immensity is key to receiving the support we need for every action. You can’t leave this home; it is always there for you. And that’s a very good thing.

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Jun 072017
 

“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder‘.”  — Aldous Huxley 

 

Practicing kindness toward myself has been the biggest growth opportunity of my life. Being stern with myself has always seemed necessary and normal, but I now recognize that it doesn’t actually help me accomplish my aims — or feel more at ease, which I now see is a prerequisite for success! For that I have the Alexander Technique to thank; learning to be (more) comfortable with being uncomfortable has made it possible for me to be receptive, explore, express, and — MOST importantly — have FUN.

Being okay with feeling awkward was the foundation of learning to dance, taking my first classes at age 29 and progressing from modern dance through swing, blues, and salsa to Argentine tango, while dabbling in 5Rhythms, Nia, and who knows what else. I discovered I could PLAY: in addition to dance, I’ve gotten a kick out of comedy improv, contact improv, getting to know my innards by rolling around on the floor, exploring movement like a baby, sharing games with my students and classes, and acting foolishly in general 🙂

Lightening up is a kindness I offer myself. To be clear: I don’t ALWAYS exercise this option, by default, but I have access to it — on the occasions when I do remember, or I am reminded by a kind friend. “Oh, that’s right, I’m being rather serious about this…” Finding ways to make something less of a big deal is a “general organizing principle” that serves my emotional, mental, and physical well-being, because it makes me receptive to the positive intent of Life. Because I do believe that Life is good, and well-being is the order of the day, and that when I don’t get all “heavy” about the details,  l e v i t y  shows up!

Huxley, Aldous. 1977. MOKSHA: Writings on psychedelics and the visionary experience (1931-63). New York: Stonehill, p. 291.

 

 

 

 

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Jun 032017
 

“Our current view of infectious illness in children is that these episodes are caused by unseen viruses and bacteria that invade us, overwhelm our immune systems, and should be prevented, avoided, or gotten rid of as quickly and as aggressively as possible. In other words, our philosophy of illness pretends that these episodes of sickness are more or less unrelated chance episodes and there is no good outcome from being sick.” – Tom Cowan, MD

I’m certain I’m not alone in wanting to avoid getting sick, or hurry along whatever discomfort arises. But perhaps like me, you’ve had the opportunity to get sick when you didn’t want to, when you tried everything to prevent it, or else you stayed sick much longer than you were “willing” to or wanted to believe you “needed” to be. As Dr. Cowan points out, this reluctance / fear of illness is widespread, and certainly makes the experience of being sick that much harder to bear. But what if illness serves a purpose?

In an earlier post I wrote that pain clearly serves a purpose; it lets us know when something is amiss. Where we get into trouble is by making the pain wrong, being upset or angry that we have pain, or holding responsible whatever body part is complaining. But pain could be considered the perfectly appropriate (and helpful) response to conditions; if we can look upstream to what’s causing those conditions, we can address the source of discomfort.

What’s a similar perspective on illness? Dr. Cowan suggests that fevers are a way of “remodeling” the body: breaking down and clearing out old or defective cells, to make way for the creation of new, stronger cells. If that’s the case, the best approach to being sick is to exercise trust that the body knows what it’s doing, and to accommodate the transition to greater health by remaining calm, comfortable, and at rest. (As in, don’t try to be productive! Try doing nothing!)

I’m writing on this topic because I confess that deep down, I still expect that if I “do everything right” then I will never get sick — so when I do fall ill, it occurs as a moral failure, my punishment for working too hard, stressing out, not taking (as) good care of myself (as I ought to). But Dr. Cowan reminds me that maybe it’s not my “fault” for getting sick; maybe there is a larger process “working me over” to clear out garbage and set the stage for new capacities. The best thing I can do is look on the bright side, chill out, maybe even get curious about what might show up out of this mess!

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May 042017
 

My computer has been giving me trouble — the little rainbow wheel spins and spins, I can’t scroll, the keyboard is out of communication, pages take forever to load, then the whole thing freezes up. My dear husband has weathered my concerns by running extensive diagnostics, deep cleanses, reboot, rebuild… finally we took it to the Geek Squad. They performed serious stress tests and sent it home “cured”, only the exact same problem started up when it returned. Aggravation! We took it to them again, and in conversation with the agent we discovered that we might, in fact, have had a different problem altogether…

My mentor Erik Bendix has on numerous occasions reminded me of a quote from F.M. Alexander: “the hardest problems to solve are the ones that don’t exist.” Turns out it wasn’t the computer’s problem at all: apparently routers go bad after a few years. We replaced the router and Voilà! Computer works great! High-speed ahead!!

Sometimes our attempts to solve an apparent problem yield no improvement because that problem doesn’t exist — we’re looking in the wrong place. You can’t fix something that isn’t broken. If your knee is giving you pain, is the knee the problem? Maybe the knee is responding appropriately, perfectly in fact, to the conditions at hand. Maybe we need to look upstream at what’s paining the knee! Is it really my body that’s hurting, or is it my heart? Do I have a pain in my neck, or am I being one, or persisting in the belief that someone else is??

In short, it yields better results (more creative thinking) when I ask myself, “What if nothing’s wrong here? What if no one is misbehaving?” If this apparent problem isn’t the problem, what else might be going on? Hearing the answer, well… that’s where courage comes in.

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Apr 232017
 

For my birthday, my husband gave me a book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’d skimmed it a few years ago, and thought I had incorporated enough of its lessons that I could count myself accomplished — after all I am *so* much tidier than my parents!! But no: this time I actually read the book straight through, and got to work transforming my home — and my sense of self.

Neat… but still cluttered!

The premise is simple, its application unrelenting. The criteria for determining whether clothing, books, papers, or memorabilia should stay in one’s possession is to actually hold the thing, and ask: “Does this bring me joy?” I thought I’d already winnowed my belongings to what was “most important” to hold onto, and surely I’d already considered the “joy” element of each item. But, once again, no. When I followed the instructions to pull every single item of a given category out of closets and drawers and touch them, I discovered how much (unnecessary stuff) I was holding onto. Which is where we get to the crisis part.

What makes this little book so earth-shaking is that it asserts, and I can confirm, that “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”  This project was not simply about clearing clutter. This was a quest to shed everything that’s been holding me back from the Me I now want to be. But that process provoked a significant amount of anxiety!

In pulling out all my earlier writings, workshop notes, letters, and books, I felt my attachment to who I had wanted to be rear up for examination. I had gathered all that material because I wanted to know things, and I believed that those sources were clearer and more developed than my own ideas. Letting go of all that (codified, organized) information meant that I was taking a leap of faith, that either I had learned the lessons, or I could learn whatever I needed to know, on my own, through my own experience. I had to talk myself into trusting that I have access now to new information and inspiration — and releasing all of that old stuff was the only way to see it.

My dream writing space!

On the other side of this process, I feel soooo much better! I’ve asserted faith in my own experience, my own insights, trusting that whatever I need to know or have now will show up exactly if / how it needs to. And my space now beckons with invitations for rejuvenation and creative expression, rather than scolding me with papers and unfinished tasks. Ah, sweet relief!

In response to this post, my greatly respected fellow teacher Idelle Packer beautifully linked my clearing process to the essence of the Alexander Technique: “I look forward to talking to you about trusting what we know, making our lives more spontaneous, and really having fun with our knowledge. After all, we put in the time and did the work to know what we know. Now we can have fun passing it on in new and creative ways. Going through the objects in our home and office appears to be just the right metaphor to lightening up.”

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Apr 072017
 

I’ve been working with a young man who has terrible neck tension, a result of computer work. He never had pain or discomfort in all the years he was an athlete, but now he feels stiff all the time. Eight hours a day at a desk job will do that to you.

My main message to him has been, if some area of the body is tight, it’s because it’s missing support. Finding the support of the ground all the way through his spine will relieve the tension his neck is exerting to hold his head up. Today we worked on his ability to sense the contact that his sitz bones (what you feel on a hard bicycle seat) could make with the chair, providing upward support for the whole of his spine.

To distinguish what it means to “allow the sitz bones to release” into the chair, I asked him first to pull them up away from the chair, and see what that did to his neck. Try this, and you may notice that this is akin to “sitting up straight” for most people–it tenses the back and neck, requiring effort that can’t be sustained. You might also notice that it’s harder to breathe while pulling the sitz bones up. By contrast, releasing the sitz bones into the chair allows the entire length of the spine to release, and now the neck isn’t the only part available to support the weight of the head.

The contrast between contracting or releasing the sitz bones becomes even more pronounced when leaning the torso forward, as when typing. What’s harder, holding a 10-lb bowling ball at arms length, or close to your chest? The further the head is angled away from its base of support (point of contact with the chair), the more we need to release into that support below, so the neck can release above. 

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Mar 292017
 

I’ve become a soccer fan, thanks to my husband. What a pleasure to appreciate such agility, strength, endurance, acrobatics! While watching a game in Bogotá, Colombia, he asked me, “what would the Alexander Technique contribute to soccer?” My first thought was that I would coach the players on one thing to never do: clasp their hands to their head.

We express emotions through the body, and our body language can predispose or initiate emotions. Can you guess the sentiment expressed by these players and coach?

 

 

 

 

In addition to disappointment (“that shouldn’t have happened”), there can be an element of culpability, of recrimination (“I shouldn’t have done that, I can’t believe I did that”). As much as we operate as if scolding or blaming will “teach” us to “not make that mistake again”, this habit is not at all helpful for improving subsequent performance. Who feels free and inspired to give their wholehearted best after such punishment? In fact my husband had long-ago intuited this: While coaching his young son to play soccer, he forbade the boy to ever clutch at his head if he missed a shot. His rationale matched mine: If you don’t demonstrate the self-reproach and despair expressed in this gesture, you won’t practice the associated beliefs. (I’ve since met this young man, and he took the lesson to heart: he doesn’t get upset about anything!)

It’s interesting to note that not all players respond to a mistake by putting hands to their head. Everyone goofs, misses, forgets. What’s it like to simply acknowledge that, as a thing that happens, and move on? I’d like to measure the effect on players and fans of giving up this expression of aggravation, disbelief, condemnation. I realize my suggestion calls into question how seriously fútbol fans take their national pastime, but… once again, we get to choose: habit, or freedom? Let’s use the game as an excuse to marvel at athleticism and sportsmanship, and not get hung up on how it’s “supposed” to go!

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Jan 092017
 

We want to be happy.

Isn’t that the point of every effort we expend, whether it’s work or play, self-improvement or self-punishment, relationship or isolation?

If I might paraphrase Forrest Gump, “Happy is as happy does.” Happy is the word we use to describe a certain quality or characteristics we see in ourselves and others.

My class today listed some observable characteristics of “happy”:

expansion                     spontaneity, freedom                  calm energy

movement and thinking are light, easy                          quietness in mind and body

freedom from resistance, drag, complications; less expenditure/waste of energy

seeing things without the thought “I need to do something about that”

Wouldn’t it be fair to say that “happy” is characterized by less effort? THAT is what the Alexander Technique makes possible. The reason to take Alexander lessons is to learn where you are unconsciously exerting excess effort, engaging resistance, tangling yourself up in being busy or thinking you need to “do” something about whatever. Once you learn how to stop doing that, you can start embodying the characteristics listed above.

When your thinking and movements are characterized by the qualities of “happy”, reaching for your coffee mug can be a joyful experience. Standing in line can feel like relief. Everyday movements can be a chance to lighten up.

You don’t need special circumstances to be happy. You don’t need Alexander lessons, either! But if you find yourself unable to access the observable characteristics of happiness, taking lessons is a great place to start 🙂

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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.

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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“!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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!??!!

 

 

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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!

 

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