The Alexander process addresses not what we do but how we do it, and what I discovered initially was that not only did I not have awareness of how I was doing things, I literally did not know what I was doing as I did it.
It began to dawn on me that I treated myself rather harshly. They way I toweled off after a shower, brushed my teeth, styled my hair, held a glass, stirred a pot, walked down the street – I performed these routine daily tasks with a great deal of roughness. I used too much energy. I was hard on me.
When there is something I don't understand, if I remember to notice the tension that arises around "not knowing," I can release it before it begins to cloud my brain with panic-based messages. I feel this tension in my neck and behind my eyes; other people get upset stomachs or jaw pain or sharp headaches. I observe myself striving to understand a new way of doing something, using different controls, and in the striving, I tighten. So I let go of trying at the same time I let go of the tension in my neck. I think everyone gets anxious when they have to learn something new, even if it is something they are excited about learning.
Includes a Bodymind experiment for you to “do or do not.” But no try.
The truth is, we don’t need to do anything with what we experience in any given moment. When we allow ourselves to simply be with whatever it is, that’s where the teaching is. And the beauty of this is that everything is a teacher.
Like so many of you, people I knew and cared about died or were permanently disabled on September 11. Yet we also came to life that day. I met neighbors I had never known, connected with other Alexander teachers, birth doulas, ministers and healers to help the first responders, supported the local businesses on 7th Avenue in Park Slope where we lived, and found so many sweet, authentic connections. I saw in action what we talk about when we talk about community.
The motivation to begin Alexander lessons came primarily from my curiosity about this method I had heard about for years. The actors and dancers I knew swore by it, saying it kept them injury-free or was a huge help in recovering from the physical demands on people who use their bodies for a living. On a less intellectual level, I felt a nagging pull toward anything body-based, because I suspected that my relationship with my physical self was not what it should be or could be.
The truth is, I had almost no awareness of my body, my senses, or the way I moved through life. I was senseless.
More and more, I'm seeing that stepping back and searching for the big picture in any situation is often all that's needed. Taking the long view is called for right now, don't you think? I'm hearing some discouragement around questions of whether one's individual efforts can make a real difference. Whether in relation to socio-political chaos or about daily mindfulness practice and changing movement habits, folks are expressing doubts about the power of tiny repeatable actions. Is calling your senator effective? Can one big splashy march truly change hearts and minds? Is moving my computer monitor higher or lower really going to stop my neck pain? Is it really so bad to skip a day or two of meditation?
I had my first Alexander Technique lesson 30 years ago. I arrived with a belly full of butterflies and a head full of curiosity. Even then, I was aware enough to recognize the feeling of being on the verge of something significant, the sensation of being carried along by a flow not of my own making.
First in a series of reflections on 30 years of Alexander practice.
The Alexander Technique is a place of refuge. “Refuge” is a Buddhist term that can mean different things to different people, but essentially it points to how the practice of present moment awareness provides a resting place, an unhooking from our conditioned way of being, a return to center, a renewal of wholeness. It’s akin to the notion of “sanctuary,” in the sense of abiding in a sacred space and being protected there. As a practitioner of Vipassana meditation, I am still at the beginning of my understanding of Refuge. As an Alexander teacher and lifelong student, I have daily experiences of what I can legitimately call “taking refuge,” and for that I feel boundlessly grateful.
Awareness = Choice. It’s an equation I have experienced many times under a variety of conditions. Until we’re aware of something, we cannot make authentic and fresh responses, but remain reactive in our fixed ideas. If I want to change a habit, I must first know it thoroughly, catch it as it arises. One of the most common habits is known as endgaining. Endgaining is an Alexander term for getting ahead of ourselves, pushing forward no matter what else might be happening in the present. Endgaining causes dysregulation in the body, is in fact dysfunctional thinking. There are many examples of endgaining in our culture: No pain, no gain. Lean in. Just do it. We are rewarded for reaching the goal, not for the way we get there.
A common question from people new to meditation is, “What am I supposed to be doing?” The best and most helpful answer I have received boils down to, “Get interested in what’s happening and be kind about it.”
Do you ever feel lost in your own life? In spite of the privilege, the accomplishments, the satisfaction in certain key relationships, people often tell me that they feel disoriented or confused about how they got to where they are or how to move forward, and what steps they should take to do so. Although specific situations sometimes prompt this feeling, it has less to do with external circumstances and is typically more about how one relates to those circumstances.
It is so easy to get sucked into despair. Remember that life is a “both/and” proposition. Yes, we’re facing some truly urgent situations, but also – and this is both true and comforting – right now people are doing amazing, heroic, loving things that need to be acknowledged.
Generosity is a wonderful thing to keep in mind, because it instantly transforms the attitude and energy of any given situation. Although we typically think of financial giving when we hear this word, there are many ways to be generous. One of the most powerful ways is to give full attention to something or someone.
You possess a power that gives you ease, resilience, emotional and mental clarity, postural and spiritual alignment, and improved health and wellness. You are doing it right now. Or rather, it is "doing" you. Breathing.
People who come for Alexander lessons anticipate that their balance will improve, and that's almost always a predictable result. Yet most people are surprised to learn that balance is dynamic, not static. One doesn't maintain balance by holding on, but by letting go. Or, to be more precise, by letting flow.
If you study and practice the Alexander Technique, it will change your life for the better.
This is a statement I can make with complete confidence and zero doubt. I can say this to absolutely everyone, no matter their condition or circumstances. There is no one who can't benefit from the principles and the process created by F. M. Alexander and developed over the past century by those who have followed his path.
Why should we engage in practices we dislike or find uncomfortable? Why does it matter whether certain habits are indulged in or not? And why does change take so long? How come things improve but don't stay that way? Why so much beginning again and again? As Carrie Fisher famously said, “Instant gratification takes too long.”
Are you sitting right now? Chances are good that you are, and if so, let me ask you something: Did you choose the way you are sitting, the arrangement of all the body parts? For most of us, the answer is no. Sitting is so common, and we have been doing it for so long, that we really pay almost no attention to it until something hurts, or until someone asks us to notice. (Did you change your position when you read the question about choice just now? Bet you did.)
I sometimes wonder about the description of the Alexander Technique as "a skill set that can be applied in every situation" — how might that sound to someone unfamiliar with the work? It's a pretty big claim. Every situation? Really?
Yes, really, because Alexander work teaches a way of being, in the same way that practicing meditation creates new ways to be in relationship with reality.
Most people practice sitting meditation, either in the classic crossed-leg lotus position, or in a chair. A majority of meditators complain about pain or discomfort while sitting in meditation, at least after more than 20 or 30 minutes, and/or over a long period of practice, such as on retreat. While the practice encourages the acceptance of discomfort as it arises, and there are mindful ways to respond to pain during meditation, it makes sense to establish a balanced, easy pose in the first place. What does Alexander Technique offer in support of this?
Whenever I notice my jaw clenching, I let it go. It's a simple solution that works every time. There's nothing subtle or complex about it. Releasing the jaw is easy to do, when you know what it is you want to release. Here are some facts that are important to understand if you want to ease your jaw tension
Ever had a movement experience that was so unified, so much in the flow, that it felt like the running/walking/biking/swimming was doing itself? Your primary control was fully operational. A healthy relationship between your head, neck, and back was possible, and it triggered this organizing reflex, which then in turn clarified the relationship of all the parts to the whole.
Regular daily practice definitely has a stronger impact on my life than when I was only sitting now and then. The discipline to meditate even when I don't feel like it has been hugely beneficial, carrying over to other instances in my day-to-day where I don't want to participate but now choose to stay with what is happening instead of resisting or running away. I am becoming more skilled at focusing, I now have "tools" for managing my anxiety, rage, grief, and despair (also joy and enthusiasm and faith). I treat myself with more respect and kindness than before. Sometimes this spills over into how I treat other people.