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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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 🙂


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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!


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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 🙂


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